NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, middle, defends against Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, left, and center Al Horford on Wednesday night at TD Garden.

IN A YEAR of bizarre quotes coming out of the mouth of a very special basketball player, listen to what Kyrie Irving said after Wednesday night’s fourth straight Celts loss, the sixth in the last eight games.

“I don’t think anybody in the Eastern Conference can compete with us when we’re playing at the high level we know we’re supposed to be playing at,” Irving said.

Ummmm. OK?

Didn’t we already know this?

The Celtics appear — and I underline that word “appear” — to be a rudderless ship adrift at sea. They fell to 37-25 and 2½ games behind the fourth-place Sixers in the Eastern Conference. Think about THIS: they fell to 10½ games behind the conference-leading Bucks.

“It’s part of the NBA season. You never know,” Irving said. “I’ve been a part of two organizations, one where I was in Cleveland. In 2017, we’re down the stretch and we lose a bunch of games in a row. We end up sweeping the whole Eastern Conference.”

That’s why we used the word “appear.”

Can this turn around? Sure it can. It’s just hard to imagine from a team closer to the sixth-place Nets than the second-place Raptors.

Wednesday, coach Brad Stevens was forced into the world of silver linings, saying, “Today was good… I mean, it (bleeps) we didn’t — we didn’t shoot the ball well, but that’s part of it. I thought that — I actually just told the guys, like, you walk out of here a little bit more encouraged because the reason we lost, if anything, was we didn’t make shots and I think it was because we were pressing.

“Like, I think we were disappointed in ourselves and we looked like a team that really wanted tonight to go well. And it didn’t. And you’re going to have games like that and so, a lot more encouraged tonight than I was last night. Tonight, you know, to come back and guard this team on the second night of a back-to-back and hold them under 100 is ... we give ourselves a chance to win. We just didn’t score enough.”

Thursday, GM Danny Ainge went on 98.5 FM (the Sports Hub) and defended his coach, saying, Stevens was “the least of (his team’s) problems.”

Getting Aron Baynes back soon could help. There is no presence in the lane on defense. There was a play in the first half Tuesday night when Jeremy Lin went past Terry Rozier as if Rozier’s sneakers were tied together, and moved easily for a layup. No one was there to deter him from doing it again.

We actually got this from @redsoxnotes: “Celtics +/- starting with the Lakers game (Feb. 7, 2-6 over the last eight): +39 Gordon Hayward; +2 Jaylen Brown; -10 Kyrie Irving; -12 Al Horford; -20 Jayson Tatum; -33 Terry Rozier; -68 Marcus Morris; -74 Marcus Smart.”

Likes their chances

Old pal Evan Turner, in town with the impressive Blazers, is still in the corner of his old team.

“Don’t worry,” Turner said. “The Celtics are going to be in the Finals.”


“When it comes down to it, you understand the talent aspect and everything,” Turner said. “Sometimes things take time to mold. But I’ve also been on a team that finished with the third seed and got swept in the first round. It’s all about hitting your peak just right. You saw it when they had their good run earlier in the season and then in January. So sometimes it just takes a little bit of luck to get right back on that roll and have the Garden rocking. So I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but obviously there are skids in a season.”

After Tuesday’s blowout loss, radio voice Sean Grande tweeted: “The Celtics have lost 7 straight, 11 of 12, and 13 of their last 15 in Toronto. The last Boston win here? The Marcus Smart buzzer-beater on April 4, 2015. In the nearly four years since, the Celtics have been one of the NBA’s best road teams ... but are winless in Toronto.”

Before Wednesday’s loss, Grande looked for causes, tweeting: 2018-19 BOSTON CELTICS: DEFENSIVE RATING (NBA Rank): 1st 16 weeks: 104.9 (3rd); Last 3 weeks: 115.0 (25th); 3-POINT DEFENSE (NBA Rank): 1st 16 weeks: .325 (2nd); Last 3 weeks: .391 (28th).”

Sad times

They say bad things happen in threes and that’s been the case in Red Sox camp.

We said goodbye to colleague and old friend Nick Cafardo in a tribute in Rockland, Mass., Thursday night — the day after Blake Swihart’s adopted brother died (Swihart was back in the lineup Thursday). Add in the death of Sox historian Lionel Edes, the father of sports writer Gordon Edes, and that’s enough.

Some GOOD news from NESN’s Guerin Austin, who tweeted: “For those of you who have been asking: Jerry Remy told me he is feeling great and heading down to Ft. Myers soon.”

Closing thoughts

Matt Barnes would have to be considered the favorite to become the Red Sox’ closer — and the righty is ready to take it on.

“Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about the league and about myself and how to best utilize myself,” Barnes said on Rob Bradford’s podcast. “I’ve continued to improve every year and there is definitely room to continue to improve. I feel comfortable in a late-inning role. I’ve done it quite a bit over the last few years. I have no idea what my role is going to be but if it is ninth inning I feel comfortable and confident in it.

“I always thought I could be a closer, but in Boston, the line of closers when I first got up here, it was Koji (Uehara) and Koji was a stud, and then when Koji left we signed Craig (Kimbrel) and Craig is a Hall of Famer if he never pitches again.”

Welcome home

Marcus Johansson played his second game for the Bruins Thursday night. He was acquired at the start of a six-game homestand and clearly loved what he heard from the home crowd.

“It was a lot of fun and playing in front of the home crowd, I think they were unbelievable. It was just a lot of fun and a lot of adrenaline today,” he said. “So this is a game I’ll remember for a long time.”

Johansson, who was concussed by Brad Marchand a couple of years ago, is happy to be on Marchand’s side and said, “He apologized and it was great.”

Said Marchand: “It was a very bad hit and also with how everything played out after, I wanted to touch base. He’s very mature about the situation and handled it great. A little embarrassing on my behalf the way it played out.”

Speaking of Marchand, this from @bostonsportsinfo: “Marchand is 1 of 12 NHL players who, in their first 10 years, notched 250 goals, 250 Assists, 40 PPG and 25 SHG. Nine of the 12 — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Pavel Bure, Sergei Federov, Steve Yzerman, Jari Kurri, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke — are in the Hall of Fame.”

Zdeno Chara is about to turn 42 but slugged it out with Evander Kane Tuesday night, The fight came after a head hit by Chara that was overlooked by the NHL.

Classy move by Chara before the game, when he told Weymouth, Mass., native and new Bruin Charlie Coyle to go in for the ceremonial first puck drop after the B’s honored fallen cop Michael Chesna. Said Coyle: “Zee knew they were from Weymouth. He said, ‘You go take it’ so it was pretty classy by him. It was a great honor to do that.”

Finally, a Tom Brady signed rookie card has sold at $400,100 at auction, the highest price ever paid for a football card. It spurred Brady to Instagram “You know I’m cleaning out the basement today.”


Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.