Are the Boston Celtics Turning Into What They Were Last Year?

For the last two weeks, the Boston Celtics have experienced a bit of deja vu. And it’s not the kind they wanted.

It seems like the Celtics have gone back to their old ways when they struggled to find themselves in the early part of the season last year. Under first-year coach Ime Udoka, the 2021-22 Celtics struggled mightily out of the gate. Effort was questioned multiple times. Judging by Boston’s last six games, it seems like the team has taken a step backward.

The Boston Celtics are looking like an old version of themselves

Boston Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla watches from the bench in the fourth quarter during Wednesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. | Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

After underachieving their way to a 25-25 record last season, the Celtics turned things around. Something clicked, and they never looked back, making their way to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

Up until two weeks ago, the Celtics continued that momentum into the 2022-23 season. A nine-game win streak highlighted Boston’s strong start to the season as the Celtics jumped out to a league-best 21-5 record.

They picked up right where they had left off, and the Celtics showed they were the Class of the NBA through the first third of the season. The Celtics hadn’t faced nearly the adversity they did through the first half of last season when frustration continued to mount. Everything was good. Players were having fun as the team racked up the wins.

Then came a six-game road trip that began with Boston winning the first three games, including a blowout win over the Phoenix Suns. Boston then was on the wrong end of blowout losses to the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers before rallying from a 13-point deficit with less than four minutes left in an overtime win over the LA Lakers.

When the Celtics returned home, they had what appeared to be an easy start to a seven-game homestand. They opened with two games against the Orlando Magic before hosting the Indiana Pacers. They lost all three.

Have the Celtics become what they used to be?

All teams go through slumps. The Celtics find themselves mired in an ugly one right now. Boston has lost five of its last six games heading into Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s not the fact that the Celtics have hit a roadblock that’s concerning. It’s how they’ve lost that’s the problem. In Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers, the Celtics flat-out didn’t come to play in the opening half and found themselves trailing 71-43 at halftime.

There was no sense of urgency after two home losses to the Magic. The Pacers outhustled and outworked the Celtics for the first 24 minutes. Losing isn’t the issue. It’s reverting to last year’s lack-of-effort ways that’s disturbing.

Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla was asked how concerned he was with the lack of effort his team showed early. Even Mazzulla’s comment was somewhat concerning.

“Not really concerned about that in the sense that it’s the first half where we really got outplayed from an effort standpoint,” he said. “It would be more concerning if we didn’t play a completely different style in the second half. We have a choice to make: What team do we want to be, the team that was the first half or the team that was the second half?”

Not being concerned about the team’s lack of effort in the first half because they played much harder in the second half is concerning in itself. As the Celtics showed in the second half of last year, playing hard for 48 minutes is what’s needed.