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Sounding the alarm? Celtics' early-season struggles raising some caution flags in Boston

·3 min read
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From afar, the Boston Celtics look like they have a good situation.

Two players with All-Star talent — Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. A defensive stopper in Marcus Smart. An organization with deep resources. A smart front-office exec in Brad Stevens and promising new coach in Ime Udoka.

Up close, the Celtics are in a bad spot.

They are 2-5, and all caveats about it being early in the season are noted. In a much deeper Eastern Conference, the Celtics already look like a team that will struggle to make the playoffs.

Aside from losses and concerning statistics, the words coming from press conferences don’t sound good.

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After a home loss to Washington last week, Udoka said, "For whatever reason they were lacking in intensity and focus this morning, and I told them they’re going to get their ass kicked tonight if you come with that focus in the game and for three quarters we played the same way."

The comment turned heads around the league. Just five games into the season, intensity and focus shouldn’t be an issue.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka chided his team's lack of intensity and focus after their loss last week to the the Washington Wizards.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka chided his team's lack of intensity and focus after their loss last week to the the Washington Wizards.

Following Monday’s 128-114 loss to Chicago, Smart told reporters, "Every team knows we're trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen. Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody's scouting report is to make those guys pass the ball. They don't want to pass the ball."

They don’t want to pass the ball.

Smart couched it with, "They're still learning. 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."

It’s obvious that problems exist. The loss to Chicago — the Celtics' third in a row — was a game in which Boston led 96-77 with 2:28 left in the third quarter and were outscored 51-18 the remainder of the game by the Bulls, who are among the teams in the East who look like they leapt over the Celtics.

Boston is 19th in offensive rating, 27th in defensive rating, 29th in rebounding percentage and it is among the worst fourth-quarter teams in the league with a minus-25.6 net rating.

A new coach and new players generate uneven play. But there’s enough concerning aspects of Boston’s start, and the schedule doesn’t do it any favors. Of the Celtics’ 14 remaining games this month, all but three have better records.

Not much is determined in the first two weeks of the season. But trends begin to emerge.

Veteran forward-center Al Horford said after a loss last week: "There’s a lot of work ahead for us."

And don’t think rival executives aren’t paying attention. If the Celtics aren’t in a good spot ahead of the trade deadline, don’t be surprised if teams try to pry away one of Boston’s better players.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Celtics' early struggles could signal deeper issues