February 15. 2018 10:36PM

Mike Shalin's Working Press: Struggling Celtics badly need the break


WE ALL KNOW that the timing of All-Star breaks hits different teams in different ways.

If you’re playing well and on a winning streak, you want to keep playing.

If you’re not, you want to step back and regroup before you return for the rest of the season.

The Celtics are clearly the latter as they hit the NBA break. They return next Wednesday.

Brad Stevens’ team lost its last three games — all at home — before the break, allowing over 120 points for the first two times this season in each of the last two.

“I think teams have outplayed us,” Stevens said after Doc Rivers’ Clippers scored a season-worst 129 on his team Wednesday night. “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.

“Teams have outplayed us; good teams have outplayed us and that was the case again tonight. Couldn’t get a stop at any point in time during the game and we are generating good looks the whole game even when we weren’t scoring in the first quarter. Just been outplayed.”

As usual, Stevens, without throwing individual players under the bus, was being honest. The Celtics did win 16 in a row after losing Gordon Hayward in the opener, and that can’t be overlooked. But he was saying what he said above after those games as well. And since then, the Celtics have been rather ordinary.

Four losses in the last five games — 250 points allowed in the last two — is LESS than ordinary.

Now, it doesn’t take a sleuth like Maxwell Smart to figure out the absence of MARCUS Smart makes a difference on the defensive end. He will return after the break and, hopefully for the sake of his team, won’t punch any glass picture frames. His erratic shooting drives Celts fans nuts, but his defense is special.

Asked if the break comes at a good time, Stevens said, “Every team has played since October 17th. We have no excuses. I told our guys excuses are contagious. Everybody else has been playing too. L.A. has been on the road for five days. At the end of the day, excuses are contagious. Go play.”

Tense clubhouse

One thing we’re learning — rather emphatically — is that the 2017 Red Sox clubhouse was NOT a fun place to be.

“I mean we all know. We all know what was going on,” Xander Bogaerts said Thursday. “I don’t think I really want to get into details. ... The quicker we move on is the better for all of us. We should look forward to this year, this is a new year. New expectations. Try to reach the playoffs again and get over that first round.”

We all know about the David Price/Dennis Eckersley thing. We know about the missing leadership resulting from David Ortiz’s retirement. There was the early season problem created in the Manny Machado affair. And the smartwatch thing. But apparently there was a lot more.

And they still won 93 games.

“It’s a long season,” Bogaerts said. “Whenever there are a lot of men in a room, there will always be some kind of head-butts, disagreements. But in the end we came out on top, division leaders, division champs, so we had to be doing something right. As grown men, we get past all those issues, problems and move forward.

“We’re all grown men. I definitely believe we all learn from last year. We had a lot of stuff going on last year, to be honest. We all live and learn and move forward.”

Said Mookie Betts: “I think (there was) just tension in the locker room as far as if things were down. We could have had more fun. Through the rough times, I think those are the times when we could have had a little more fun instead of being down so much.”

Price, in the middle of the Eckersley thing and then the media fallout, said this week: “I feel like I’ve always been one to lead with my actions. I didn’t do that very well last year. I know that. I understand that. I look forward to getting back and being that faucet, not being a drain.”

High praise

Sports Illustrated came out with its list of the top 100 baseball players in the game. Betts was sixth, behind only Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Kris Bryant, Max Scherzer and Joey Votto.

Wrote voter Jay Jaffe: “How can you not love a player who answers to “Mookie,” let alone one who’s a 5’ 9” converted second baseman who has bowled multiple perfect games and excelled in two-strike situations? Betts didn’t have his best year with the bat in 2017, but thanks to the combination of his power, speed and of-the-charts defense — plus-63 Defensive Runs Saved over the past two season thanks to all those extra-base hits taken away — he has become one of the game’s elite players. In fact, via Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, only Trout has been more valuable over the past three years.”

Alumni meeting

Isaiah Thomas and Rajon Rondo played against each other Wednesday night, long enough to get into a scrap and get tossed from the game.

Was it caused by the flap over Thomas’ proposed video tribute on the Paul Pierce retirement night? Thomas, of course, wasn’t there, having already been traded to the Lakers.

Our buddy Bill Doyle of Metrowest tweeted back in January: “Rajon Rondo was irked to hear that the Celtics would honor Isaiah Thomas on any night. “What has he done?” Rondo asked. Told that he led the Celtics to the conference finals last year, Rondo remarked, “Oh, that’s what we celebrate around here?”

After this mixup, Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times tweeted: “Isaiah Thomas said Rondo brought up the video tribute kerfuffle today when they went at it. He said Rondo hit him in the face 3 times without consequence before he reacted. Says he doesn’t know Rondo and doesn’t know why Rondo reacted to him the way he did.”

Said Thomas: “Whatever reason, he’s an upset guy about me. I don’t know what it is, but it’s fine. He kept bringing the tribute up, when I was the one that shut the tribute down. I’m far past that. ... For me to be ejected was uncalled for.

“I mean, my team beat his team (the Bulls, after Rondo got hurt) in the playoffs last year. Maybe that is what’s wrong. I don’t know. There’s nothing. Nothing should’ve made that escalate like it did. He already had his agenda written down right when I checked into the game. It was obvious. He picked me up full court, trying to be physical.”

Last month, Rondo said, “This is the Boston Celtics. This isn’t the Phoenix Suns. No disrespect to any other organization, but you don’t hang conference titles. Do we hang going to the conference finals? What do we hang here?”

More Pierce retirement: Ray Allen says he and Pierce are OK. Closing an Instagram post, he said, “Despite what you may have heard or read or what is rumored, there is nothing but love. Paul and I are more interested in building bridges than putting up walls. To Paul, number 34, Congratulations on having your number raised up to the rafters. I salute you for your commitment to the city of Boston and to us the 2008 NBA Champions #thetruth”

Here and there

Thursday marked the 22nd anniversary of the Cleveland Browns firing Bill Belichick. … Charles Barkley told Jimmy Kimmel Wednesday night he “had a good day” gambling on the Eagles over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. … WEEI canceled all live programming for today so its hosts could take sensitivity training. Good luck with that. … Dave Dombrowski on opening spring training with so many unemployed players out there: “It’s a whole different spring this year than it’s ever been before.” … Cavs coach Tyronn Lue the day after Steve Kerr allowed his players to run huddles during a game: “I wouldn’t do that. They already say LeBron is coaching the team, anyway. So, if I give him the clipboard, they’re really going to say that.” … Price on new pitching coach Dana LeVangie: “Everybody respects what Dana has to say. … He’s always looking for ways to help guys get better. When Dana speaks, everybody listens.” … T.J. McConnell became the first 76er ever to record a triple double off the bench: 10 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. … Yes, the Eagles’ trick play in Super Bowl LII was out of an illegal formation. … Want to hear a weird schedule? The Bruins play their next five on the road, then play six in a row at home and eight of the nine after that on the road.

Finally, picture this in Boston or New York: the St. Louis Cardinals ran a 12-hour flash sale Tuesday with $5 tickets for all Monday through Thursday game (except Opening Day) plus a $5 Cards Cash voucher with each ticket.