Boston Celtics need to get their swag back following All-Star break

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 23: Kyrie Irving
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 23: Kyrie Irving /

The Boston Celtics have basically been outplayed the entire month of February and need to regain their hunger to stay relevant in the Eastern Conference.

The NBA All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time for the sliding Boston Celtics.

Now two games behind the first-place Toronto Raptors following a 129-119 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, this young squad need to regroup and find that defensive identity that made them an Eastern Conference favorite.

Following another night in which they were outplayed, the veterans on the team recognize the effort that has been missing.  While the struggles offensively have been there all season long, their lack of defensive intensity has contributed largely to their woes.

Al Horford certainly knows the value of that defense.

"“We’re a group that’s built what we have so far based on the defensive end,” Horford said following Wednesday night’s loss.  “We’ve taken a step back on that in the past few games, so I think the break came at just the right time for our group.  We need to really get healthy, get refocused, and get ready to have a great second half of the year.”"

In fact, health has played a large part in the team’s inefficiency on the defensive end.  Without Marcus Smart the last few games, the team has lacked the perimeter defense that helped propel them to the top of the East.  That void left by Smart was evident in the team’s losses to the Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Clippers Wednesday night.

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Yes, Smart does take something away from the team offensively, but it is being proven on a nightly basis that his hustle is the glue that allows them to play as a unit on the defensive end.

Without Smart, team still needs to play smart

But, one player can’t change the identity of a contending team.  This is a team that has won without Al Horford and Kyrie Irving during stretches of the game.  They have also proved they can with without Smart, so what is really wrong with the Boston Celtics?

Fatigue and injuries aside, the hunger they had at the beginning of the season is missing.  Perhaps young players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have hit a wall or have become too complacent or perhaps the team just needs the time to focus mentally.

Irving, who carried the team offensively with 33 points, knows what it is going to take to get out of the funk.  However, he is still looking for that response from his teammates.

"“Going into All-Star break, I’m thinking about what’s happening after,” Irving said, via ESPN.  “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.”"

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No Kryie, that attitude and commitment to improvement is exactly what this team needs.  They may also benefit from being out of the spotlight for a little while.  Let Cleveland and Toronto manage all the hype while they get their swag back.