“We didn't finish the game like we were supposed to.” – Glen Davis, January 8, following Celtics 93-85 loss to Hawks
“We played mostly in spurts tonight.” – Paul Pierce, January 14, after 96-83 defeat to Bulls
“We've got to put together 48 minutes if we want to be good and successful for a longer period of time.” – Ray Allen, January 20, in reaction to 99-90 loss to Mavericks
The Celtics have always known what to do if they want to win games – play 48 minutes of solid basketball. But that has been easier said than done for the team that once dominated the third quarter. On Wednesday, the Celtics blew another early lead and succumbed to a third-quarter collapse, this time against the Pistons in a 92-86 loss in Detroit. (Recap.)
The C's went up 30-21 in the first quarter but began to lose grip in the second. Even though they headed into halftime with an eight-point lead, the momentum had shifted in favor of their opponent. The Pistons didn't just take the court in the third quarter – they took over the game.
The Celtics were outscored 21-13 in the third while they converted on just three field goals. Even though the C's put together a 5-0 run to close out the quarter and tie the game at 69 apiece, they were playing a game of catch-up, not building up a lead.
After a 3-pointer from Rasheed Wallace put the Celtics up 76-71 in the fourth, the Pistons went on a 17-5 tear over an eight-minute stretch to secure the win.
All signs point to inconsistent play. The Celtics know it, and it's easy to see on the court. Now it's a matter of finding a solution. After the game Doc Rivers said the problem can be fixed, but a few things have to happen before the Celtics can return to their winning ways.
THE CELTICS NEED TO PUT THEIR EGOS IN CHECK
It takes confidence to succeed in the NBA, especially for a squad trying to win its second title in three years. Rivers is concerned, though, that the Celtics’ confidence may be clouding the reality of their situation.
With Wednesday's loss to the Pistons, the Celtics fell to 4-6 over the last 10 games and are currently on a three-game skid. Many of those losses just as easily could have been victories had Boston buckled down for four quarters.
“I think we think we're better than what we are,” Rivers told reporters after the game. “We get a lead and we feel like we can just put it on cruise. In the NBA, you can't do that. And we've never done that and that's what's so troubling to me.”
And for a team whose last championship was won on the foundation of Ubuntu, it was surprising to hear Rivers talk about individualism. The mantra of 'we, not me' was a central theme en route a title. According to Boston’s coach, losing sight of that philosophy has gotten the team into trouble.
“It's clear right now,” Rivers explained, “When we get a lead, we go to individual ball, guys trying to get numbers, and then just loss of focus.”
While Rivers wants to see the Celtics play more team basketball, he will point the finger at one individual – himself. He will look at what he can do better as a coach rather than pinning it all on his players.
“I always take the finger first and look at me, and I told them that,” he said. “I said, I'm obviously not doing something, so I've got to go and watch film and figure it out.”
THERE IS NO SYMPATHY FOR BIG BABY
During the game, several media outlets reported Glen Davis became involved in a verbal altercation with a fan. According to the Boston Globe, Davis yelled an expletive at a fan who repeatedly called him “fat boy.” Regardless of the insult, Rivers had no sympathy for his player.
“[If he said something to the fan,] then shame on Glen,” Rivers told reporters. “Fans, to the victors goes the spoils. I tell our guys all the time, they have every right to yell, say whatever they want. And you have to be strong enough to walk away. It's not the fan's fault, no matter what he said. We know about it, we've got to walk off the floor. So if that happened, then shame on Glen Davis.”
The Globe reported that the fan, Scott Zack, had been warned by security at the Palace of Auburn Hills to stop heckling Davis. After Davis shot back, Zack reportedly filed a complaint with NBA security.
Rivers said he will not discipline Davis, but it remains to be seen if the league will take action.
“I'm upset that we lost, people call me names walking off the floor, it's part of the game,” Rivers said. “You win the game, you get a lot of people quiet.”
KG'S RETURN IS NO CURE-ALL
It is now T-minus two days until Kevin Garnett is expected to return to the lineup on Friday against the Trail Blazers. Garnett has been sidelined since December 30 with a hyperextended right knee, and the Celtics are 4-5 without him during that stretch.
Wednesday's Celtics loss to the Pistons only heightened hope among fans that maybe Garnett is just what they need to turn their luck around.
While Garnett makes the game easier on both ends of the court, that doesn't mean his return will be a guarantee of victory or improved team play. Looking ahead to Friday, there will still be questions of conditioning and overall health. How effective will he be in his first game back? How many minutes can he play without further irritation?
While Garnett's return is a step in the right direction for this injury-riddled squad, the Celtics are not relying on his presence to ensure a victory. Rivers' analysis following Wednesday's practice still rings true, especially after a game like this in Detroit.
“When Kevin gets back, we still have to grow as a team,” Rivers said this week in practice. “The way I look at it, with him out, our growth has been stunted. When he comes back, it’ll continue our growth. It’s not the answer yet. We still have to grow as a team.”