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Celtics Searching For Identity After Another Embarrassing Loss

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) --  The Celtics put together an embarrassing effort. Again.

So Isaiah Thomas has called out his team. Again.

It's early, but the Celtics have fallen into a handful of disturbing trends throughout the first seven games of the season. For one, they're not playing defense. At all. With their 118-93 loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, the Celtics now sit dead last in the NBA in defensive rating and defensive rebounding. Their 112.7 points allowed per game ranks 28th in the league.

"It's frustrating. We're in a bad funk right now," Thomas said following the loss, a game in which the one-win Wizards jumped out to a 34-8 lead in the first quarter. "We're not the hardest playing team anymore. That's what made us special, that's what made us good: us playing harder than the other team. Being scrappier. Getting loose balls. Rebounds don't come to us because we're not playing hard."

The Celtics were out-hustled and out-muscled on the boards Wednesday night, as Washington out-rebounded them 54-31. The Wizards pulled down 19 offensive rebounds, and it was too often one player on Washington beating a group of Celtics to the loose ball. The end result was 33 frustrating second-chance points for the Wizards.

Their defense not showing up has been normal for the Celtics this season, but they usually kept things close thanks to their offense (a bizzaro Celtics team, if you will). Boston entered the night leading the league in shooting percentage, but even that side of the ball failed them in the nation's capital. The Celtics shot just 4-for-22 in the first quarter, allowing the Wizards to jump out to such a lopsided advantage before the first 12 minutes were in the books.

The slow starts, the lack of intensity on the defensive end, the poor showing on glass -- these are all unacceptable traits for a team that gave their full effort nearly every night last season. Seven games in to the 2016-17 campaign, the Celtics sit at 3-4, but more alarming than that record is the fact these Celtics don't know who they are.

They came into the season with hopes of being a top defense in the league, but have shown little effort to actually go out and earn that title. Part of their struggles can be attributed to the absence of Al Horford and Jae Crowder, but no player will use those injuries as an excuse, and nor should they. The bottom line is the Celtics have lost the grit and the heart that fans fell in love with last season.

"It's about playing hard. It's leaving it all out there on the floor. That's who we were," Thomas said (via ESPNBoston's Chris Forsberg). "That's what made us one of the best defensive teams in the league. That's what made us win 48 games last year. We have to find that swag, we gotta get that back. Because, if we don't, it seems like we're going off talent, which we really don't have that much talent, including myself.

"I think if we get that hard-hat [mentality] back, where we're the hardest-playing team, we're going to be in every game," Thomas continued. "Just like last year, we didn't get blown out like this. Even though it's early, two really bad games for us, we didn't have these type of games last year."

It's great that Thomas has been so passionate after each of Boston's back-to-back embarrassing losses, and the Celtics deserve all the heat they're feeling at the moment. The players deserve it for their lack of effort and Brad Stevens deserves it for not having the team prepared. It's some uncharted territory for a team that could essentially do no wrong as lovable underdogs last season.

It's still early, and some first-month adversity could pose as a great learning experience for a young team. Getting key players like Horford and Crowder back (whenever that may happen) will certainly help Boston regain their mojo, but the Celtics can't expect to just flip a switch when they return.

The Celtics prided themselves as a defensive team last year, and rode that identity to 48 wins before a disappointing postseason ousting. Until they get back to that identity, there will be more frustrating evenings like Wednesday night in Washington and Sunday night against the Nuggets.


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