Danny Ainge’s assessment of Celtics right now? “Inconsistent”

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There are moments of late when the Boston Celtics look like the title contenders we expected them to be. Blowing out Golden State a couple of weeks ago, for example, and in some of their wins against lesser teams in recent weeks (the Celtics have won 5-of-7). But losses to the Nuggets and Clippers raised more questions, including about the starting lineup (which has struggled in recent weeks.

If you think it’s hard to get a read on this team, you’re not alone. Check out what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“Inconsistent,” Ainge said. “We look good in stretches of each game. We look good some games. [Monday against Denver] night we just needed to make some shots in some key moments. Like, there’s two or three stretches where Denver made a couple of outside shots and we missed a couple of lay-ins. I don’t think it’s anything disastrous; I just think we need to keep working to get consistent. And we could have used Gordon [Hayward] out there, because there were some open shots to be made.”

He’s not wrong, and the concern is that with 11 games to go in the season it’s a little late to be dealing with these kinds of issues. Boston was the preseason favorites in the East and, while they had work to do to re-integrate Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, it was expected they would be farther down the road than this. It’s concerning, it’s not like this will all instantly come together when the playoffs start.

“Yeah, I don’t believe you can flip a switch,” he said, “but I see a lot of things I like on our team. I like a lot of our energy. We have lapses, but I feel a lot of it is inexperience and maybe communication that we need to get better at. At this stage of the season, we’re still playing lineups out there that probably haven’t played much together. We saw [Al] Horford and [Aron] Baynes out there more than maybe we’ve seen them all year, and that was the foundation of our defense last year. Again, I’m not making excuses. I’m not panicking. I feel much better about our team today than I did two weeks ago.”

In last season’s East, with a vulnerable Cavaliers team as the bar to clear, all this would be less of a concern. However, this year with the Bucks, Raptors, and Sixers looming, whoever comes out of the East is going to have to be playing elite, contender-level basketball.

Boston has that in them, whether they can bring it out consistently enough to win the East remains the question. One they will only be able to answer in May.