Boston Celtics

Celtics are stuck in neutral if defensive effort isn’t restored

There is no immediate gratification to playing sound defense in the NBA. Unless it’s a blocked shot that the defender swats into the balcony, the chances of a defensive gem appearing on ESPN’s top 10 plays are dim.

Maybe that’s why the Celtics gave up 137, 117 (twice), 111 and 110 points on the five-game road trip they finished in grand style Friday night. They lost 111-90 to the Phoenix Suns, and some may be willing to claim that as a consolation prize.

The Suns share the best record in the league with Golden State, both standing tall at 21-4.

The Celtics have slipped to 13-14, No. 10 in the Eastern Conference and No. 4 in the New England’s hearts, badly trailing the Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins. Presumably, they remain ahead of the Revolution, at least in the TV ratings and merchandise sales.

For those who do not cringe at the numbers 13 and 14, let’s put it this way: The Celtics are barely ahead of the Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks, and Indiana Pacers. A quick dusting and new wall hangings are not going to transform the Celtics’ abode into a penthouse suite.

Fans who didn’t stay up to watch the C’s Western journey are better rested but may not fully grasp the depths to which their team sank.

Poor outside shooting has become a Celtics staple. Chucking up the first open 3 on most possessions, without regard to the game’s circumstances – like the score – is maddening. Maybe Marcus Smart’s shooting touch has infected his teammates.

Watching them play defense as if they were bone tired and ready for nap time is enraging.

Defense is all about effort. Style is not a prerequisite. Knowing your assignments and sticking to them requires an attitude, in the snarling sense of the word.

For the Celtics defense is an absolute necessity. They are not capable of covering up their offensive misadventures unless they bear down on the other end of the floor.

They didn’t have Jaylen Brown for their road trip as he continues recovering from a hamstring injury that has dogged him for weeks. A returning All Star can’t help but give any team a boost.

But if the Celtics continue playing defense as if it were optional, their problems will remain far from solved.

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