BOSTON — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he will explore possible rotation changes after his team stumbled into the All-Star break playing maybe its worst basketball of the season.
For the second time in as many outings, the Celtics allowed a season high in points during Wednesday’s 129-119 loss to the LA Clippers. Boston, which got steamrolled at home by the rival Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, has now lost three straight, four of its past five and nine of its past 15 overall.
After spending much of the season atop the Eastern Conference, the Celtics find themselves two games back of the Toronto Raptors at the All-Star break. Boston once seemed like a lock for one of the conference’s top two seeds; but it must pull itself up from its tailspin, especially as LeBron James and the new-look Cavaliers show renewed vigor.
“It’s going to be a tough ending if we don’t change a little bit, and I’ll look at what I can change, as well,” a visibly discouraged Stevens said after Wednesday’s loss. “I think we’re probably due for some of that.”
Pressed on potential changes, Stevens said he’ll examine all aspects of Boston’s play.
“We’ll look at everything,” Stevens said. “Obviously, you’re always looking for small tweaks defensively and offensively, but we haven’t gotten enough out of our rotations and subs and all those things. We’ll take a deeper dive into that.”‘
Celtics All-Star guard Kyrie Irving said he would leave any changes up to Stevens and trusts the coach will put the team in the best position to succeed after the break.
But Irving struggled to even look ahead to his upcoming All-Star appearance, given the way that Boston has struggled recently.
“Going into All-Star break, I’m thinking about what’s happening after,” Irving said. “How we respond and what we’re doing after and where our focus is and where we are mentally.
“You gotta want it. I know I want that m—–f—–. Excuse my language.”
Irving will make his fifth All-Star appearance this weekend, but he didn’t want to talk about an exhibition.
“As you can tell by my mood, I’m not even thinking about All-Star break,” said Irving. “I can’t even think about All-Star or anything. I’m thinking about so many things right now, just from a standpoint of how to be better, because I know what’s coming. I have to communicate that with our guys. And just prepare them better. So I gotta prepare for myself and then go from there.”
Stevens has consistently noted this season that his team might not be as good as its record has suggested, particularly after an improbable 16-game winning streak at the start of the season — this shortly after losing Gordon Hayward to a fractured ankle on opening night.
“I don’t think we’re all that we were cracked up to be during our 16-game winning streak, and it’s probably hit us more in the last month than it hit us before,” Stevens said.
“We have no excuses. I told our guys excuses are contagious. Everybody else has been playing too. … At the end of the day, excuses are contagious — go play.”
The Celtics are hoping to get Marcus Smart back on the court when they open the second half in Detroit on Feb. 23. Smart lacerated his shooting hand while punching a glass picture frame in Los Angeles last month. Boston, which still owns the best defensive rating in the league (100.9), hasn’t been nearly as crisp, even before Smart got hurt. But Smart’s return should give them a needed jolt.
The question is whether Stevens will consider bigger changes, including potential tweaks to the starting lineup. Rookie forward Jayson Tatum and second-year swingman Jaylen Brown have been key contributors but also have had rough patches in recent weeks. Stevens has leaned on both Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris in starting roles next to Al Horford, depending on the opponent.
Asked for his message to his players heading into the break, Stevens said, “Go and do whatever you’re going to do, but treat yourselves well, treat your body well, and then come back ready to compete at a level better than we did.”