TORONTO — In Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, lawyer Gabriel John Utterson sets out to investigate the odd occurrences and similarities between his good friend Henry Jekyll and the violently evil Edward Hyde.
On Tuesday night, at Scotiabank Arena, I endeavoured to do much the same as Utterson and figure out just who the real Boston Celtics are: The Dr. Jekyll-esque squad bursting at the seams with championship-level talent up and down the roster or the Mr. Hyde-like collection of individuals who are vulnerable to lowly teams like the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls?
Based off the 118-95 thrashing the Toronto Raptors handed the Celtics, it’s looking more like the latter.
Tuesday night was the story of Boston’s season, played out in 48 very telling minutes.
Much like many of the optimistic pre-season prognostications about the Celtics, the game started so well for them. They scored 32 points on 52.2-per-cent shooting and saw almost all of their weapons get a piece of the pie with Jayson Tatum scoring seven, Kyrie Irving five, Al Horford four and Gordon Hayward three. Blissful, cohesive harmony among the many scorers Boston has was being struck as the Celtics held a two-point advantage to end the opening frame.
Then it all came undone in the second quarter.
A stunning 18-0 run by Toronto wiped out any hope the Celtics had of winning the contest, along with the fragile cohesion the Celtics appeared to have built up during the first 12 minutes of play.
With just under nine minutes left in the second quarter, and the Raptors’ game-finishing run well underway, Jaylen Brown barrelled towards the paint and ended up getting called for a charge, infuriating teammate Marcus Smart, who was setting up in the right corner and had a wide-open three if Brown hadn’t been as tunnel-vision focused on trying to make something happen.
After the game Tuesday, Smart was asked about this particular play, but seemed to forget it happened — or maybe, rather, wished it didn’t happen.
“It obviously wasn’t that important that I can’t remember it,” Smart said. “We’re good. Whatever it was, me and Jaylen are cool.”
But are they? Or, more to the point, is the entire Celtics locker room cool with each other? The sombre, mortuary-like mood in the visitors’ locker room would suggest things aren’t alright with this Boston team.
“We’re just not together,” said Smart. “Not together at all.”
“I think it’s been a thing with a lot of expectations and we’ve struggled with everything,” said Horford. “At times we’ve played really good, at times we’ve struggled. … When the going gets tough, we need to stick together. I feel like we can figure this out.”
“We’ve got too much talent to not be able to respond when we get down like that,” said Marcus Morris. “We’ve just gotta play harder, man. We’ve gotta stick together and keep fighting.”
“We have to be a lot more connected as a team,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It’s been a theme for a while.”
Generally speaking, championship-calibre teams don’t need to remind themselves the importance of working towards a common goal as a singular unit.
This is where the Celtics are, however, and have been since the season has started, as Stevens alluded to.
Stevens also pointedly stated after the game that his team was “taking a lot of shortcuts” lately, and the result has been three straight losses following the all-star break, including a loss to the lowly Bulls and now this 23-point dismantling by Toronto.
Boston’s inconsistency has turned a season of great expectations to one of great disappointment as it sits in fifth place in the East, but with little hope of moving up as it faces a tougher road the rest of the way compared to the four teams ahead in the standings.
Grimmer yet for the Celtics is that they seem to have no idea why this is happening and how to fix things.
“This is something we’ve been trying to figure out for a little while now. We’ve been up and down [all season long],” said Morris.
“I don’t know,” said Irving of what’s ailing the Celtics.
Finishing with seven points on a dismal 3-for-10 shooting, Irving was completely disengaged with Tuesday’s match after his team got down big. Sitting at the very end of the bench, his mood was captured by the broadcast cameras as he looked on with a deadpan expression.
Kyrie is fed up pic.twitter.com/bi1LUp3OGq
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 27, 2019
Irving has expressed frustration this season, even calling his teammates out publicly before, and Tuesday seemed to provide further fuel to the fire that he’s looking to leave Boston in free agency this summer.
From the on-court displays of anger, to the Irving’s passive aggressive act, it seems clear that things aren’t right with the Celtics, and as things stand as they are, there’s not nearly enough potion to prevent Mr. Hyde from destroying their season.