Jaylen Brown summed this Boston Celtics season up quite nicely.
"I know it's probably tough to watch. S***, it's tough to play."
The night after they calmed frayed nerves with a win over the Denver Nuggets, the ragged Celtics allowed the Atlanta Hawks VIP access to their basket, allowing 60 points in the paint.
If there is any one constant in this season, it's that this team's defense is nothing close to what it used to be.
"It's a team dynamic and this year we aren't as connected as past years as we have been," Brown said. "This year, we aren't as physical as in past years. This is a unique year and we're a unique team, a new team, a young team and we are trying to put the pieces together."
Right now those pieces fit as well as a varsity jacket on a 50-year-old heading back to his high school reunion. It's going to take a lot to make this work.
"I'm a firm believer where the five guys on the court gotta coach each other and hold each other accountable," Tristan Thompson said. "The coach is looking at the game from a different lens. For us as players, we're all out there. When we're in a defensive stand, we can all see what's going on. I think that's what we need to start doing. Keep holding ourselves accountable. I think it's about time that we kind of light a fire under each other's ass. If I see something or a guy slacking, I'm going to say something."
Thompson is both part of the problem and, the Celtics hope, part of the solution. He's been coming along lately, but the extended experimentation with multiple-big lineups has been a contributing factor to the lack of cohesion. Different lineups and combinations, by choice and by circumstance, haven't allowed for the Celtics to put consistent groups on the floor to find their chemistry and timing. And without time to rework things on the practice floor, the process of finding it is going to be a longer one. Until then, they have to rely on somehow finding enough energy to put up a bigger fight.'
"Having Saddiq Bey have 30 and other guys having career nights against us, that’s unacceptable," Thompson said. "We’ve got to understand that teams are not going to sleep when they see us. At the end of the day, it’s still the Boston Celtics. ... We’ve got to understand that it’s not even about us. It’s about what wearing the jersey means. So we’ve got to understand every night that if we don’t put our best foot forward, we’re going to be in for a dogfight."
A situation like this can wear on a team. So far, they still seem to be holding together through the darkest stretch of their schedule. Maybe it's the promise of more help on the way when Marcus Smart gets healthy and Kemba Walker can play more. Maybe it's just knowing that they're getting a couple of days off in a couple of weeks.
Whatever it is, they continue to keep a positive outlook about the most troubling aspect of their season. Soon, there will be no more defending their lack of defense.
"We want to go on runs like we did earlier in the season, but it’s just growing pains, fighting adversity," Jayson Tatum said. "I believe it’s going to make us more together and make us tougher in the end. But I think this is just a part of it. But we’ve got good spirit. We’ve got a good group. We care. It’s just tough right now."