BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving knows plenty about adversity. The fluorescent, multicolored sneakers he wore on Friday night -- the debut of Nike's Kyrie 4 "Confetti" -- were born from the colored paper that stuck to his shoe as he walked off the floor at Oracle Arena after the Golden State Warriors defeated Irving's Cleveland Cavaliers and claimed the 2017 NBA title in Game 5 of the Finals in June.
All over those sneakers are motivational quotes that reference adversity and how "you don't want to create any excuses." The shoes serve as a reminder of the pain of falling short of a goal and reaffirm why Irving chose to embark on a new challenge this past summer.
So in the aftermath of Friday's 107-95 loss to the Utah Jazz, the third loss in the past five outings for the Celtics, Irving passed on a chance to blame Boston's schedule for the team's struggles and stressed that this team will face much bigger challenges should it continue on a path toward some of its loftiest goals.
"It's just you see it as a test. That's all it is. Unwavering belief is what I'm always, always aware of," Irving said. "So as long as I can echo that to our teammates, and our coaching staff echoes it to us, then we'll be fine. It's all part of growing as a team, as a new developing team.
"The way we started and what we're going through now, there's going to be times like this. And this is nothing yet. I guarantee it. It's nothing yet."
"But what we're facing is just we've probably hit a little fatigue," Irving continued. "We've probably hit a patch where we need to kind of all, collectively and individually, just kind of slow down for a quick second, gather ourselves and move forward."
The Celtics have played a league-high 31 games this season and will culminate a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch on Saturday evening with the tail end of a back-to-back in Memphis.
After ripping off 16 straight wins, routinely rallying back from double-digit deficits in the process, the Celtics haven't played with the same pizzazz lately; that familiar intensity was sapped this week. Boston got absolutely throttled on the second night of a back-to-back in Chicago on Monday and then was fortunate to win a bit of a shootout with Denver at home on Wednesday.
The Jazz lost big man Rudy Gobert to a left knee injury just minutes into Friday's contest, and Derrick Favors left the game in the second quarter due to an eye laceration. But the Jazz got a big night from Ricky Rubio (22 points, seven rebounds, five assists). Former Celtic Jonas Jerebko provided a spark off the bench with 17 points, while rookie Donovan Mitchell and Rodney Hood finished with the same point total for Utah.
Boston missed its first 14 shots to start the second quarter, and the Jazz took control. Rubio needed only five minutes of third-quarter play to score 10 points on 4 of 4 shooting, as the Jazz stretched their lead as high as 17.
The Celtics lost a big man of their own -- rookie Daniel Theis broke his nose late in the first quarter and did not return -- but Boston could never quite make a charge, even as Irving tried to provide an offensive spark.
"We weren't playing as hard as they were; we weren't as organized as they were," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of his team. "And it bit us."
"We can throw parades about our offense on Wednesday and our defense at Detroit [in Sunday's victory]," Stevens added, "and then we lay two eggs on offense in the Chicago game and this game. So bottom line is you have to be locked in. You have to play well. You have to do what you do best, and we have a lot of guys that really didn't play well. We got outcoached, we got outplayed, and we haven't been in that situation very often as far as from an effort standpoint, but I think twice this week we have, so that's concerning."
For the Celtics, they also failed to bring energy in a game that clearly meant a little extra to rehabbing forward Gordon Hayward. For only the second known time this season, Hayward, lost to an ankle injury in Boston's season opener, ventured to TD Garden. The first time, Boston was able to rally back to defeat the Warriors.
On this night, the Celtics just didn't have that same resiliency in them. And Stevens' stern postgame words resonated with players.
"Any observation that Coach sees is pretty much going on out there," Irving said. "He's as truthful as it comes. What he sees out there is probably what's going on. That right there is something we can control, in terms of our attitude and effort. Obviously, that's a callout for us. It's our job to respond. We got another chance to do it in less than 24 hours, so just gotta get to it."
Boston's recent struggles simply come down to effort, and these Celtics haven't displayed enough of it in recent games. The schedule has been brutal and injuries haven't helped, but the Celtics are capable of playing better, despite the challenges.
"It's part of the league, man. We signed up for it when we were kids and worked our tails off to get here," Irving said. "There's no time for kind of the pity party or to kind of say we're tired. It's all part of the game. And you've got to figure out a way."