The Celtics have a stripped-down look about them every night, Tuesday with three starters sidelined, and right now the level of competition doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the result.
The Celtics took it on the chin for their third straight loss, 119-115, from an Oklahoma City team that had just lost its previous 14 games.
Not even a 39-point performance from Jaylen Brown or a career-high 28 from Payton Pritchard could make up for a horrific (10-for-47 from three) team-wide shooting night. Marcus Smart, with 14 points, hit his first 3-pointer in the fourth only after missing his first nine downtown attempts.
Evan Fournier has a challenging task, shedding his post-COVID rust, and it showed Tuesday night in the swingman’s 11-point, 4-for-14 performance.
But as usual, Tuesday night’s power drain wasn’t about missing shots, though the Thunder took delight in daring them to launch those 47 3-pointers by ducking under almost every screen.
Instead, the shortcomings again showed up down the other end, where the youthful Thunder scored 41 points in the fourth quarter, including a 16-4 run that put the Celtics in catchup mode the rest of the way. This time their tormenters had names like Ty Jerome, Lu Dort and Damien Bazley.
With 10 games left, starting with tonight’s game against the same Charlotte team that whipped them Sunday, the Celtics have a porthole-sized window to figure things out. Jayson Tatum and possibly Rob Williams should return to the floor tonight — Kemba Walker is now dealing with a nagging side strain — but their full lineup hasn’t been much better.
They are tied with Miami for the sixth seed, and two games behind the Knicks and Hawks. But Brown believes that the Celtics can, once and for all, resolve their issues in these 10 remaining games.
“Find that inner flame, man, it needs to be ignited,” he said. “The passion needs to show on the court, the urgency needs to show. We need that desperately — we need that fire, we need that fight, we need to stop getting hit in the face and try to respond. We have to punch first as a unit. Everybody has to be engaged on that.
“I still believe that 10 games is enough time to find it, enough time to get things going. We have to be committed to it,” he said. “We had some guys out. We had some guys injured. It hasn’t been an easy season. But I believe in this organization, I believe in the guys in this locker room, I think we can find that fight. I know we can do it. I know people are tired of hearing it, but until we show up every single night it’s going to be tough. We can’t wait until the playoffs. Now is the time. We have to be better man, I don’t know what to say.”
The keyword for this season, though, is getting a little tired, worn out. The Celtics are once again talking about urgency as if it’s a priceless, unattainable item. The rest of this four-game homestand includes games against Charlotte, San Antonio and Portland — all teams fighting for playoff position.
Can the Celtics match their urgency?
“Yeah, man, (expletive), we gotta play with more of a sense of urgency,” said Brown. “Tonight, I feel like we didn’t have the sense of urgency that we needed across the board. And a team that has some young, talented players came ready to play and we got beat. We gotta come and have some pride and play with some urgency.
“I didn’t think tonight was the night we played with urgency, especially after a tough game against Charlotte two days ago where we got our ass kicked. Everybody should’ve came ready to play with more urgency. And we didn’t, for whatever reason. Next game is a new day. Back-to-back against a team that beat us pretty good last game. We gotta find a way to win.”