The Boston Celtics are stumbling again.
Just when they seemed to be making strides ahead of the playoffs, the Celtics have lost three in a row, and Tuesday's loss might be their most puzzling. The Oklahoma City Thunder, owners of a bottom-five record and losers of 14 straight, went into Boston and beat the Celtics 119-115 at TD Garden.
The Celtics were shorthanded and played without Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Robert Williams III, but Jaylen Brown wasn't interested in making excuses. Brown called out the Celtics' lackluster performance.
"We've got to play with more of a sense of urgency," Brown said. "Tonight I feel like we didn't have the sense of urgency that we needed across the board. A team that has some young, talented players came ready to play. And we got beat."
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Jaylen Brown did not hold back tonight when asked about the game
Quote of Note Presented by https://t.co/Av8GdCAzPApic.twitter.com/PvyhFAUWSL
Brown had a game-high 39 points and 11 rebounds, but he was upset the Celtics didn't respond better after a 21-point loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday.
"We've got to come and have some pride and play with some urgency," Brown said. "I didn't think tonight we played with urgency, especially after a tough game against Charlotte two days where we got our ass kicked, everybody should've came ready to play with more urgency and we didn't for whatever reason."
Just over a week ago, the Celtics were riding a season-high six-game win streak and had seemed to finally put their early-season struggles behind them.
Boston has lost four of five since to fall into a tie with the Miami Heat for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. There's little margin for error with 10 games remaining. With another key matchup against Charlotte on Wednesday and two more games left against Miami, the Celtics are in danger of dropping into the play-in tournament.
Jaylen Brown and the Celtics have three in a row and four of five. (Photo: David Butler II, USA TODAY Sports)
Asked about the Celtics' options, coach Brad Stevens said all they can do is focus on the next game.
"I'm going to get ready for (Wednesday's) game. I think that's what we have to do," Stevens said. "I'm not going to beat up the group that was out there. We should've played better. We've could've better. They played better than us, and they deserved to win. I'm going to get ready for the Charlotte game (Wednesday) night."
Here are four more things to know today in the NBA:
Luka vs. Steph showdown fizzles
Any thoughts of a duel between Luka Doncic and Steph Curry ended early Tuesday when the Dallas Mavericks took control in the first quarter and blew out the Golden State Warriors 133-103. The Mavericks closed the first on a 25-0 run for a 36-12 lead and never trailed by fewer than 20 the rest of the way. Doncic finished with 39 points and eight assists as Dallas shot 52.2%, including 18-of-35 (51.4%) on 3-pointers. Curry had 27 points, but nothing went right for the Warriors.
"It was the perfect storm of everything going wrong tonight," Curry said.
39 points in 3 quarters for @luka7doncic! #MFFLpic.twitter.com/skcabQyFN0
Nets first East team to clinch
The Brooklyn Nets became the first team in the Eastern Conference to officially clinch their spot in the playoffs with a 116-113 win over the Toronto Raptors. Kevin Durant had 17 points and 10 rebounds as he continues to play his way back from injury. The Nets have bigger goals than simply making the playoffs, though. To that end, they have 10 games left in the regular season to get healthy and try to hold off the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 1 seed in the East.
"I think we have our eyes on bigger things, but it's a nice first step to clinch a berth," said coach Steve Nash. "For this group, facing all we've faced, to be in this position with 10 games left is very positive."
Kevin Durant on clinching a playoff berth and getting production from the bench.#NETSonYESpic.twitter.com/MaI2E9lrK7
Bubble play-in rematch
Fans got their first glimpse of the play-in format during the Orlando bubble last summer when the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies faced off for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. They're both likely headed to the expanded play-in this season and could face each other again for the eighth seed. First, they meet Wednesday in a key late-season matchup. Portland enters the day in seventh place and clinging to a 1½-game lead on Memphis.
Game of the night: Clippers at Suns
The race for the top spots in the Western Conference has tightened down the stretch. The Jazz lead the Suns by a game for first place, with the Clippers two games back. Phoenix returns home from a five-game road trip for key matchups against Los Angeles on Wednesday and Utah on Friday. The Clippers already own the tiebreaker on the Suns thanks to wins in their first two meetings this season, making Wednesday's game even more important for Phoenix in the seeding race.
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.
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