HOUSTON For weeks Doc Rivers has talked about the strides taken by his club even in the face of defeat.
But Friday's 101-89 loss at Houston was different.
There was no obvious silver lining in this loss for Rivers.
"We have to figure this out," a visibly disappointed Rivers said afterward. "This is the first game in a while - we've been trending well - but this was a step backwards in the way we play, this was a step backwards for us."
Boston's defensive rotations were as slow as we've seen this season.
And while the bevy of lay-ups by Houston might seem as though the C's big men were the problem, Rivers said the issue on Friday night was dribble penetration by Houston's guards which forced the big men to at times over-rotate and thus made for a slew of easy buckets for the Rockets.
No one feasted off the C's defensive problems more than unheralded Houston forwardcenter Greg Smith who had 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting to go with six rebounds and three blocked shots.
"They (Boston) were going to overcompensate to James (Harden), they were going to overcompensate to Jeremy (Lin)," said Rockets coach and former Celtic Kevin McHale. "So if you roll behind there's going to be some openings and Greg did a great job of presenting himself, catching and finishing around the basket."
Paul Pierce who led the Celtics with 18 points on 5-for-18 shooting, had similar thoughts on the C's regression on Friday.
"I thought we had our opportunities," said Pierce, who made note of the C's struggles in the first and third quarters sandwiching a strong showing in the second. "We're still trying to put four quarters together. That's what we need to do. You can't play (well) every other quarter and expect to win games."
Rajon Rondo was disappointed with the loss, but has a different view on Friday's loss and its impact on the positive strides Boston had made coming into the game.
"It isn't," Rondo said when asked if it was a step back. "It's one loss."
A loss that was in stark contrast to recent defeats in which the C's could in many ways see the pieces coming together for what they still believe will be a formidable club when it counts - playoff time.
Fortunately for them, it'll be clear in about 24 hours if Friday's loss was as Rondo put it, "one loss" that they move on from with a win at San Antonio, or whether Saturday night's game against the Spurs will end in defeat and put the C's right back to where they have been most of the season which is a slightly better-than-.500 ball club.