Two teams in crisis: One looking for leadership, the other looking for love from the fans

Feels like every year after the Knicks best win of the season, the topic the next day is more about what went wrong than celebrating the win.

Last nights 25 point comeback, capped off with an improbable R.J. Barrett game winner against their rival the Boston Celtics, was hardly the story in the news cycle.

Rather the fireworks were overshadowed by Knicks Forward Julius Randle’s thumbs down gesture to the Knicks faithful, followed up post game with Randle telling the fans to “shut the fuck up.”

A real head scratching move considering this is the same delusional fan base who gave the man unwarranted MVP chants a season ago.

But it becomes evermore confusing when you actually think about what Randle’s decision to attack the fans. What is the end game?

Do you think the will boo you less? Maybe cheer for you out of fear the next time you’re down 20 to a bad team at home?

Randle has struggled with playing in Madison Square Garden when fans have been in attendance, and that isn’t hyperbolic.

His first season as a Knick he struggled with efficiency and turnovers, particularly at home games. Last season, the season he was getting MVP chants, there were no fans in MSG due to the pandemic restrictions. He was hooping, hooping in an empty gym. No pressure, just a basketball and a defender.

By the playoffs the stands were filled and Randle’s play fell off a cliff against the Atlanta Hawks, as did the rest of the team. And now almost midway through the season Randle is performing well below his breakout season a year ago and the team is suffering because of it.

I’m not saying he can’t handle New York, but there is a trend here.

“I should have handled things last night differently,” Julius Randle released in a statement on Friday evening. “My comment was an example of how sometimes you say things you regret to the people you love.”

But things in New York are not nearly as tragic as they are in Boston right now.

This was the fourth time the Celtics have given up a comeback of at least 19 points and lost the game this season. No other team has done that more than twice.

“Eight-to-two run, you call a timeout, that should be when you answer it,” said Tatum. “Like you said, I guess four times now we have not done that and let it snowball. I don’t know. We’ve just got to be better. It’s not like we’re making an active effort to lose these leads. We want to win, things like that. Everyone down the line just has to be better.”

“We get rattled a lot, especially when we’re facing adversity,” said Williams. “We just have to find it in ourselves — the grit and the fight — to just come together when something’s not going our way.”

After the dramatic collapse, not even the worst of the season for the Celtics, head coach Ime Udoka is searching for a leader in his locker room.

“We need some leadership, somebody that can calm us down and not get rattled when everything starts to go a little south,” Udoka said. “I think it snowballs between our guys. So, step up, or (we’re) going to have to stop all our momentum and pace and call a play. So that’s what I said to them.”

The existential crisis is that as much as you want to blame the crunch time offensive decision-making and overall design, that is only a manifestation of the fundamental emotional issue. There is no attention to detail and competitiveness that permeates throughout a lineup rotation. It’s the world’s slowest fight or flight response.

It certainly doesn’t help that your best playmaking guard is Dennis Schroder who in a full year with Anthony Davis, the worlds best lob finisher, only threw one lob. That is the IQ of the Celtics best point guard so good luck.

Throw in the two stars of the team being ball stoppers and heavy isolation scorers, the Celtics are susceptible to blowing huge leads and failing in close games.

Udoka said there is a “mental toughness” problem “where something goes a little bad and we all start to drop our heads or everybody adds to it instead of stepping up and calming us.”

He’s trying to figure out how to balance letting his team play randomly in transition to use its speed and skill to its advantage with calling plays to actually get a foot anchored in to push back against the swelling tide. That’s where a 6-0 run doesn’t balloon into a 15-2 barrage.

“Gotta understand time, score, situation, and when we need to slow it down and get a really good shot and not just play in that flow,” Udoka said. “(Knicks) score three baskets in a row, we slow it down and get a quality shot, instead of adding to it. Just less hero ball and something to slow us down to get us the shot we actually want.”

There are plenty of players on this roster who were there when things went well, when they were cohesive and detailed. Tatum, Brown, Smart, and Al Horford were all key players in the Celtics making the Conference Finals a few years back. That core should not be searching for leadership during adversaries. By now they should be the ones who take control and push through, not add to the snowball effect.

“I think we just have to look at the big picture and the grand scheme of things and look back to those years when we was going to the conference finals and make you really appreciate those moments,” Tatum said. “I think early on, probably my rookie year, I thought that was just normal. Winning all those games, winning games in the playoffs, probably taking it for granted a little bit.

“But to enjoy those moments, stuff like this happens and I think it makes you appreciate times like that even more, just knowing how hard it is to win in this league.”

As much as Tatum tried to pull the team out of it, they’re perpetually stuck. They’re anchored to themselves, caught in a quicksand of apathy. No wonder he misses the good times. The question that looks in doubt more than ever is whether he and Brown can see them again with the team around them.

These are your 2021-2022 Celtics. These were your 2020-2021 Celtics. Maybe these are just your Celtics.

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