Clippers pull away from slumping Celtics, 129-119

Charles Krupa | AP | BDN

A few weeks ago it seemed like the road to the NBA Finals would be paved through Boston, but that avenue has so many potholes now that it's too unsafe to navigate.

Stevens has suggested throughout the season that the Celtics may not be as good as their record has indicated.

"I've said all along I don't think we're all that we were cracked up to be during our 16-game winning streak, and it's probably hit us more in the last month than it hit us before", said Stevens. "We have no excuses. At the end of the day, excuses are contagious - go play". "We've got so many guys who draw a lot of attention, and I was able to roll and kind of make the defense pick whether they give up shots or rolls, and my teammates did a really good job of finding me tonight". The Rockets (44-13) has won 10 straight to claim the top seed in the Western Conference heading into the All-Star break after the Warriors (44-14) lost in Portland despite Kevin Durant's 50-point effort. If we're not even doing that, then we don't have a chance in any game against any team. I know I want that motherf***er.

"This is like the stakes are at their highest". Teams are starting to sneak into playoff positions and teams are starting to shape into what they're going to be going into the playoffs. And that's where my focus is. "We've taken a big step back on that, it's obvious, the last few games".

They still have the best head coach in the east but he must use the All-Star break to figure out a way to get his team firing on all cylinders again.

"Teams are raising their level". "Other teams are starting to get their gears". "We'll look at everything".

"I think teams have outplayed us", Stevens stated.

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The signs in recent games have been worrying for the Celtics, but there's no reason to panic.

"Right now, we're not where we need to be as a group".

If there's one person from this young group that understands how important the fourth quarter of the season is it's Irving, the only member of the Celtics with a championship ring who's coming off of three consecutive finals appearances.

Irving knows what the stretch run is all about, and how, with the way the Celtics are now playing, they're not ready.

Unsurprisingly, rookie Jayson Tatum and sophomore Jaylen Brown have cooled off in terms of production having hit a sticky patch in the last couple of weeks.

Aside from Saturday's loss at Philadelphia, which came on the second night of a back-to-back, the new-look Clippers have been among the league's best teams over the last five games. Unfortunately, those are the kinds of teams the Celtics have been losing to lately. That's exactly how it's played out so far, with some high highs, low lows and wild loops in between.

The Celtics were outscored 36-28 in the final period. We'll find out who the real Celtics are soon enough.

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