Ainge backs Celtics stars despite ‘major funk’


When you think of teams with multiple All-Stars, you think of dominance — the Jazz, the Lakers, the Nets. The Celtics have two All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but after Wednesday night’s blowout loss to the Hawks, Boston is in last place in the Atlantic Division.

Team president Danny Ainge isn’t ready to throw his star tandem under the bus, however.

“I wish I had answers for you. I don’t,” Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub Thursday. “I do believe in my players. I like them all individually. I think they have good futures. I just think right now our team is in a major funk.”

Funk might not be a strong enough word to describe Wednesday’s game. Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Mavericks, the Celtics were down 13 after one quarter and 23 at the half. They allowed the most 3-pointers in team history.

Brown had 17 points for the Celtics and missed all six of his 3-point attempts. Tatum was held to 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting and was just 1 of 8 from long range.

The Celtics have now lost three in a row to fall two games below .500. They’ve dropped eight of 11 games overall and are on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

“Here’s what the biggest thing about Jaylen and Jayson is,” Ainge said. “They’ve been shielded before because they’ve had other really good players, veterans around them as they developed — and went to three out of four Eastern Conference (finals).

“Now, it’s on them. Now, they’re the stars. And they’ve got the big contracts. And they got the All-Star nods. So the microscope is on them.”

Kemba Walker is one of those veteran All-Stars. Coming off a career-year in Charlotte, Boston signed him to a four-year, $141 million deal before last season. He put up solid numbers and took some heat off Brown and Tatum.

This year, a knee injury has limited him to 16 games. His scoring average is his worst in five years and he’s shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor. The Celtics held him out of Wednesday’s game to avoid a back-to-back, and Boston got throttled.

Like he did last week, Ainge is saying that the issues with the Celtics are on him more than his young stars or coach Brad Stevens.

“This is a me problem,” Ainge said. “I’m saying that I love my two young guys, they’re not perfect, and they’re learning, and this adversity is part of their growth and development – not intentionally, it’s just the nature of the beast.”

But Ainge said he’s not trying to make excuses.

“We’re playing terribly,” he said. “We don’t have a good enough team — in my opinion.”

He added that he’s not looking to make a change for change’s sake, “but I am looking to do something that will make a difference on our team.”

The Celtics’ first chance to get back on track comes Friday at home against a struggling Pacers team. Then it’s the resurgent Wizards in town Sunday before games against the Clippers, Raptors and Nets.

Bradley Beal, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Kyrie Irving — the Celtics will face plenty of All-Stars and will quickly find out if their duo measures up.

“I think they both hold themselves accountable,” Ainge said of Brown and Tatum. “You’re talking about two hard-working kids that are trying to get better. And this is a very frustrating time for them.”

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