NBA Hall of Famer and current TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley has carved out a successful career speaking his mind.
And the opinioned broadcaster did not hold back on Thursday night when talking about the Boston Celtics.
Earlier this season, Barkley doled out plenty of praise toward the Celtics — guaranteeing that Boston was going to raise its 18th banner in June.
But with Boston trailing by double-digits at halftime to a shorthanded Lakers team on Thursday, Barkley changed his tune.
“I’ll say this, I’m almost off their bandwagon,” Barkley said during TNT’s Halftime Report.
The Celtics entered Thursday’s home game against their top rival as overwhelming favorites.
Not only does Boston sit atop the NBA standings with 37 wins this year, but the 23-25 Lakers were taking to the parquet without their two top players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Even without those two Hall-of-Famers leading the way, the Lakers jumped out to an early lead and did not look back against Joe Mazzulla’s squad.
Los Angeles finished Thursday’s eventual 114-105 win with a 52.8 percent shooting percentage beyond the arc (19-for-36), while Boston committed 15 turnovers.
During halftime, Barkley knocked Boston for its recent habit of both playing down to its competition and losing to other top contenders across the NBA.
“I don’t know if they can. I’m gonna tell you why,” Barkley said of Boston’s chances of winning a title. “I’ve watched them twice against elite teams the last two weeks. This [game] tonight is going to make my point even more. So two weeks ago, I’m like, ‘Okay, I want to watch them play the Denver Nuggets.’
“Denver went in there and spanked them. … The Clippers come into town. I’m like, ‘I want to see them.’ Because those are the two best teams in the West. … And they stomped them. … Now I’m looking tonight. They win games on talent, Ernie. They don’t win on toughness and defense.”
While Boston wasn’t exactly “stomped” by Denver in what amounted to a two-point loss on Jan. 19, the Celtics have struggled with putting games away as of late.
Jayson Tatum was the lone Celtics player who surpassed 20 points on Thursday night, with Jaylen Brown finishing with just eight points on 4-for-12 shooting.
“The one thing you have to be as a great player — and this is on Tatum and Brown. You have to be tough,” Barkley said. “The team is gonna play like their best player. Brown and Tatum are great players. But they’re nice guys. I’ve never met a great player who was a really, really nice guy. … Tonight, this game should be over.”
Fellow Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal agreed with Barkley’s criticism against Boston.
“You’re playing down to your competition. And you’re not having that killer instinct,” O’Neal said. “So you were just loosey-goosey with the ball. … They’re not gonna let you embarrass them. You really have to beat them.
“And when you have that championship focus and mentality, it doesn’t matter who’s on the court. We have to beat you. And this team right here? They’re supposed to beat this team. But this is why they’re not championship-ready yet.”
Barkley did not hold back after Thursday’s game went final.
“Easily (the worst loss of the season),” Barkley said. “Those other two teams are contenders, the Nuggets and the Clippers. … I’m really concerned about my Celtics’ mental toughness. You win games on talent. You have to win games in the playoffs on toughness.
“You have to be mentally strong. You have to take care of the ball. This team here, to me, they’ve got great talent, but they’re mentally weak.”
The Celtics will have a chance to right the ship on Sunday when they host the Grizzlies in Marcus Smart’s return to Boston.
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