Over the course of any season expectations change, sometimes on a daily basis, but typically at certain benchmarks of the season. The Boston Celtics started their season ready to prove to everyone that they are better than what people expected. They were going to play with Celtic Pride. Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green stepped to the forefront as leaders.
The defiance this team showed helped them to a solid start to the season, they found themselves sitting atop the Atlantic Division. Suddenly, the expectations that the players had within the locker room spread to its fan base. Could a top 4 seed (which is earned with a Division Title) be a possibility considering the poor play in their division? Is 40+ wins actually within reach if Rajon Rondo returns in January?
All of these questions provided some semblance of hope. Hope that reached beyond tanking and hoping for a lottery pick. The lottery was not even part of the conversation anymore.
Now, all of a sudden, expectations have shifted again. The Celtics had run off six wins in eight games from November 23 to December 3. Since December 3, they have gone 3-6, and are staring at a daunting January ahead. Even Grantland's Zach Lowe is thinking that the Celtics might still be in the tank zone.
Boston quietly within tank striking distance -- lost 4 of 5, about to start brutal Western Conf road trip...— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) January 1, 2014
On Tuesday, during their game against the Atanta Hawks the Celtics gave up yet another big lead. This time the starters let the team down. The bench was superb. However, the bench play was not the only thing garnering attention.
During the third quarter Jeff Green and Brandon Bass had a strange exchange on the bench. It was unclear what the issue was and if it really was a big deal. What we do know is that the two players did not play another minute in the game. Was Brad Stevens benching them because they were playing poorly, or was it more than that?
The one hint we have comes from sideline reporter Abby Chin, who reported that Green told her that is was a misunderstanding and that the players are "tired of losing." Thanks to CelticsBlog for finding that gem.
We are only two months into the season and Green and Bass are already tired of losing? The frustration is understandable. It's been a tough stretch for this team, and with the Toronto Raptors suddenly making noise with an 8-2 record in their last ten games (including a win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night), the Atlantic Division does not suddenly seem so easily conquered.
The bright side of this altercation between Green and Bass is this: we finally saw a little bit of fire from Jeff Green. He is typically stoic, so it was good to see him react and get upset about something. The scary part is that this team, with 13 wins, has over-performed so far. They have a tough road trip ahead of them following their Friday night game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Is this going to get worse? Will it fester, or is it water under the bridge?
Winning is easy. It builds chemistry within a team. However, losing can slowly errode a team and the philosophy that the coach is trying to instill. We saw it with the Boston Red Sox all too recently. It's incredible how expectations can alter how a team reacts to disappointments. A 10-12 record following a December 3 victory over the New York Knicks had this team feeling good. A playoff seed was in sight, and so was the return of their All-Star point guard. Then Rondo said he will not be ready until February and the team lost six of nine games.
Suddenly, a 13-18 record is not good enough and players are bickering, or guys like Courtney Lee are complaining to the media about Stevens' rotations.
Expectations can be a dangerous thing. The Celtics need to calibrate what success is again. Stevens has been preaching the process, but now players are arguing because they are sick of losing. The losses will continue to come. Once they are at peace with that, this team will get it's legs back under them.
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