Tomase: Did the Celtics just give up on their season in Toronto? It sure looked that way

John Tomase
February 27, 2019 - 12:17 am

The Celtics had an identity once. They pounded opponents with unrelenting waves of energy for 48 minutes. They routinely erased deficits of 15 and 20 points with steely nonchalance. They "played connected" in the parlance of head coach Brad Stevens, covering for each other on defense and finding open teammates on offense. They were a joy to watch.

You've probably picked up on all that past tense. Whatever the Celtics used to be has been replaced by something bickering, disjointed, and grim. And on Tuesday night in Toronto, they hit a new low.

Forget about the two losses to the Magic, the inexcusable defeats at the hands of the tanking Knicks and Suns, or the back-to-back choke jobs against the Staples Center's tenants.

What the Celtics did on Tuesday provided the clearest evidence yet that not only are they no threat to win the Eastern Conference, they might not last a round. They look like a team on the verge of packing it up and hoping the summer brings massive changes.

Listless doesn't begin to describe their effort in a 118-95 defeat to the Raptors, who outclassed them in every imaginable way. It wasn't just that the C's allowed 17 3-pointers while making only six, or that Toronto erased a 34-30 deficit with an 18-0 run as part of a 36-13 second quarter. It's what they looked like while doing it.

Point guard Kyrie Irving, fresh off an unconvincing declaration that everything would be fine in the playoffs "because I'm here," played one of his worst games of the season. He scored seven points on 3-of-10 shooting and was shockingly passive. After scoring 91 points with 35 assists in three games vs. the Raptors, he was repeatedly torched on defense and made little effort to attack the paint on offense.

He looked like the principal culprit in the parting of the Red Sea that allowed Pascal Siakam an uncontested dunk in transition, he totally lost Jeremy Lin on a backdoor cut and layup, and he let Danny Green spin him like a turnstile on the block. Offensively, he waved at a slightly errant Marcus Morris pass with the body language of a grouchy toddler, he dished the ball around the perimeter as if to say, "someone else win it tonight," and one of his few lane forays ended up swatted into the seats. ESPN's cameras caught him staring into space in the fourth quarter beneath a veneer of disgust. It was a horrible look for a supposed leader.

But leadership seems in short supply this season, as became clear after an ill-advised Jaylen Brown drive and charge. Marcus Smart, wide open in the corner for a 3, punched the air in exasperation. Morris threw up his arms and Brown and Smart talked it out on the sidelines. Though Smart was clearly right -- Brown is reckless in transition and gets tunnel vision -- calling him out publicly hardly seemed like the most effective means of inspiring a player who battles confidence issues. If ever a scene served to support Morris's contention that basketball isn't fun anymore, this was it.

So where do the Celtics go from here? If they really think they can just flip the switch in April, their postseason will last about five games. For all the talk of how their talent matches up with anyone, they're nowhere near as good as the Raptors, especially now that Toronto has added All-Star big man Marc Gasol from Memphis.

The Raptors are deep and skilled, they play together and they play hard, and they trust star Kawhi Leonard to bail them out when needed.

The Celtics are basically the opposite of every item on that list, and their superstar, Irving, already seems to be counting the days until July 1.

This is no way to contend for a title. Whatever the Celtics used to be, those days are gone, replaced by this joyless march to oblivion.

Related: Can Kyrie Irving carry Celtics to Finals?