BOSTON — The Celtics kept the locker room closed for 36 minutes following Friday night’s 120-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden, holding a team meeting to clear the air after losing a third straight game.
“Much needed,” Celtics guard Kyrie Irving said of the discussion. “Much needed.
“I think everyone can see that we’ve obviously had some inconsistencies regarding our play, so I think it was just time to address it.”
The most pointed criticism of the team’s recent play — and the reasoning behind the meeting — came from Irving, who repeatedly cited a lack of “cohesion” and said there has been “some selfish play” among his teammates.
“At this point it comes down to cohesion, being able to trust the pass, trust what we have going on out there,” Irving said. “Obviously some selfish play out there where … we have some really talented guys, but we’re better as a team sharing the basketball. And if it’s late in the shot clock, that’s when we start shooting our iso plays, as opposed to if we have nothing in transition shooting with 16 or 17 on the clock or shooting a fadeaway, something like that.
“I get caught up in that as well. For me it’s a hard challenge, because there’s a balance I have. I literally can do anything I want out there, but at the same time it’s what can I do for my teammates to be more successful. I have to be very conscious of that.”
While Irving didn’t name any players specifically, those references — the quick shots in transition and the fadeaways — applied to shots Jayson Tatum took during Friday’s loss. Tatum was yanked out of the game by Brad Stevens after one ill-timed stepback midrange jumper midway through the first quarter and again after taking another bad shot early in the second, a mistake he compounded by then getting called for a technical foul as Milwaukee continued to blow the game open.
Irving, as he has several times this season, pointed out the team’s youth as part of the issues the Celtics are attempting to work through as the year progresses.
“I’m playing the game I love every day,” he said. “Sometimes being in the journey there can be some dark spots going on, you’re challenged, you don’t know what to do, and that’s fine. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve dealt with my own challenges to be more consistent in the defensive end, do things for myself that would be more beneficial for our team. To be honest, I’m not playing the minutes I would want, the role I would want, that I selfishly would want for myself.
“That all goes on the back burner to being patient with what I have to do to grow as a leader of this team and help these other young guys to be more prepared for what they’ll encounter as they get older in this league and are going through right now. That’s part of the deal that I have, as opposed to how many shots I get or how successful I am. It’s how successful we are as a team.
“I want to make sure these guys are comfortable out there, and it’s more their success as much as mine. That’s an important thing — being consistent with that and patient with them.”
Another of those young guys, Jaylen Brown, had one of his best games of the season, scoring 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go with 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals. More importantly, he was aggressive at both ends, including both stripping Giannis Antetokounmpo in the half court and, later in the game, dunking over Milwaukee’s superstar forward.
“It’s not about me,” Brown said. “It’s about us. We’re trying to be a unit. Either we’re going to be all-in or we’re not.
“I didn’t take anything personally from it, but we all got to be better.”
It was only a week ago that Boston beat the Atlanta Hawks, giving the Celtics their eighth straight victory and seemingly putting the team’s inconsistent 10-10 start behind them.
But then they lost in Detroit to the Pistons on Saturday and at home Wednesday to the lowly Phoenix Suns before falling behind by as many as 26 points to the Bucks on Friday night. After taking a 10-1 lead in the game’s opening minutes, Milwaukee outscored Boston 57-22 over the next 16:24 of game time, opening up a 58-32 lead. The Bucks would proceed to hold on to the lead for the remainder of the contest.
In theory, Boston had a reasonable excuse for the performance: the absence of starting power forward Marcus Morris and starting center Al Horford with knee injuries and of backup center Aron Baynes to a broken hand he suffered in the opening minutes of Wednesday’s loss to the Suns.
The team, though, clearly thought otherwise and spent more than a half-hour talking about exactly why before allowing the media into the room to ask them about it.
“I think that for us, sitting from where you guys are sitting, thinking that the offseason and thinking that we all like are together 24/7, we all just are supposed to come together as human beings coming to play the game we love,” Irving said. “It’s a lot easier said than done in terms of building a championship team or even having aspirations to be on that championship stage, and it starts with our habits, it starts with our preparation, how we go about treating each other and going out there and putting on a great performance every single night regardless of whether the ball is going in the rim or not.
“It’s just trusting one another. So that’s an everyday thing. I know everyone would like to think like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ It’s just not easy. It’s an everyday job. I’ve been saying it since the beginning of the season. It’s not going to look pretty. It’s not going to look great at all times. But the biggest thing for me is just patience and also being honest with one another about how we feel and being able to talk to one another without anybody talking it personal.”
There were already questions about the veracity of Boston’s win streak, given all eight wins came against teams that are below .500 — and several came against some of the league’s worst opponents. Things won’t be getting easier anytime soon, either, as Boston has five straight games against teams with .500 or better records to end December.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Tatum said, when asked for an answer to the team’s inconsistency issues this season. “I wish I had an answer.
“But we are going to be all right.”