Celtics Continue to Struggle: Who’s to Blame?

After dropping four of their first six games, it was looking like things could only get better for the Celtics. That was before they blew a 19-point lead against the Bulls on Monday night.

If the loss itself did not leave enough of a sour taste in fans’ mouths, what Marcus Smart said following the game certainly did the job.

At first glance, this quote appears to imply that the Celtics are in the midst of a nuclear meltdown just over two weeks into the season. Luckily, there is more to the story.

“That’s something they’re going to learn. They’re still learning,” Smart went on to say. “We’re proud of the progress they’re making, but they’re going to have to make another step and find ways to not only create for themselves but create for others on this team to open up the court for them later down in the game where they’re always going to have to take those tough shots or take tough matchups when they do get the 1-on-1 or they bring the trap.”

Photo: (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

With some additional context, the original quote doesn’t seem as bad, but it is still a clear cause for concern. It shows that there is some disagreement in playstyle between Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Smart, who just so happen to make up the foundation of this roster. If there are three players on this team that absolutely need to click for Boston to have success this season, it’s them. Clearly that is not happening right now.

Celtics Fans Start Pointing Fingers

Losing does not sit well in any city, let alone Boston, and fans have not been shy to let their opinions on this team fly. Everybody is trying to identify the root cause of the early issues, and in a sense, many are seemingly pinning the duo of Tatum and Brown against Smart. Some are suggesting dealing either Tatum or Brown to bring in a package of assets while potentially reducing Boston’s reliance on isolation basketball, while others claim that Smart is the odd man out.

Everyone needs to take some blame for the slow start, but it almost seems wrong to pin the Celtics’ losing ways on the few players that have been in this system for years now. If there is one man to blame, it is the one who has changed things around the most, and that man is Ime Udoka.

Udoka’s Impact at the Helm

Photo: (Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe)

Simply put, Udoka looks like he is in over his head. Boston is no easy place to land your first head coaching gig and the Celtics do appear to be awfully lackadaisical on most nights, but as head coach, it is your job to get that under control. For someone who has been so adamant about running a tight ship, ensuring that players are disciplined and changing the team culture, it looks like Udoka has already lost control of his guys.

Brad Stevens always got backlash because he supposedly went too easy on players. There were times where things got out of control, like the time Smart had an outburst in Boston’s locker room after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but things never seemed this bleak this early in the season.

It also looks like Udoka does not have any solidified rotations or go-to plays that can help the Celtics find their rhythm. For the most part, you knew who was going to be playing on a nightly basis with Stevens. Players had an idea of how much action they were going to get and could plan accordingly. It allowed the Celtics to click. Obviously this year’s team has a different set of personnel to work with, but Udoka still has yet to craft a rotation that can put together a prolonged winning streak. He also has not shown that he can draw up plays like Stevens in important situations, a skill that that brought Boston a lot of success.

Looking Ahead

Tatum, Brown and Smart are in their fifth year together, and in that time the Celtics have made the Eastern Conference Finals twice and have been a playoff-caliber team in each of the past four seasons. The trio might not be playing with an elite supporting cast this season, but on paper, Boston has the talent to be a playoff team at the very least.

The only thing that will hold this team back is continued mismanagement by Udoka. He has plenty of time to get back on track and win over Celtics fans, but the clock is ticking, and the Boston faithful are not going to let him off the hook anytime soon.

Photo: (Charles Krupa/AP Photo)

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