Blakely: C's ugly effort will make for a long season

Blakely: C's ugly effort will make for a long season
January 8, 2014, 1:30 am
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Compete every night and maybe steal a game or two in the process.

Those were both realistic goals for the Boston Celtics when they embarked on their current West coast trip that is now two games into the books.

But that glass-half-full optimism was before two blowout losses in as many games, which has the Celtics in the kind of downward spiral that doesn't seem ready to bottom out anytime soon.

Oh, things will get better for the Boston Celtics.

It just won't be this season.

People thought Celtics forward Gerald Wallace was talking crazy when he said this trip had the potential to destroy the Celtics season.

He was right.

The last two games have been as bad as the Celtics have played all season at both ends of the floor.

They are indeed a defensive team, so when the defense struggles as it has of late, they just fall apart like a house of cards at both ends of the floor and have no shot at winning.

But the problems the Celtics are dealing with now have little to do with losing eight of their last nine and five in a row.

Don't be disillusioned, folks.

This season has never been about and never will be about winning games and getting to the playoffs for the Celtics.

If it happens, great.

If not, no biggie.

This season has been about developing a defensive-minded foundation that competes every night, regardless of the opponent.

After a rocky start, it seemed as though the Celtics had indeed found their defensive mojo.

They were still a sub-.500 team, but at least they were making teams work on a daily basis and more important, they gave themselves a chance to be successful.

However, Boston's defense has become progressively worse in all phases of the game.

After ranking among the NBA's top 10 in 3-point defense most of this season, they have slipped to end-of-the-line status of late as they allowed Boston to shoot 9-for-19 on 3s while the Nuggets were even more prolific as the Celtics allowed them to make a season-high 14 3s.

And teams are starting to recognize the Celtic unraveling, and are doing what you're supposed to do in those situations - show no mercy.

Oklahoma City was totally toying with the Celtics for most of Sunday's game and still won going away, 119-96.

Denver kept launching 3-pointer after 3-pointer against Boston, and finished a sizzling 14-for-31 for the night in their 129-98 beat-down on Tuesday night.

And the reason the Nuggets kept taking 3s was simple.

More often than not, they were open.

And when they wanted to get into the lane and score, yeah, those shots were there as well.

It was a defensive abomination of epic proportions (OK, maybe that's a bit melodramatic, but it was pretty bad) in the Brad Stevens era.

"You have to be more competitive than they were tonight," said Comcast SportsNet analyst P.J. Carlesimo. "More aggressive. It's nothing to do with the score. It's aggressiveness."

Said Stevens: "We're going to have to play really well to beat these teams on the road. Everybody is going to have to play close to an 'A' game. And that's everybody; everybody is going to have to do that. And so if we have multiple guys not there, we're not going to win."

But again, success for this franchise this season, isn't about winning and losing.

All teams, good and bad ones, have to suck it up and deal with bad losses throughout the course of an 82-game season.

But it's how these losses are piling up, that has to be disturbing.

They are not competing.

They don't defend hard enough, cut to the basket hard enough, rebound hard enough which all stems from them simply not playing hard enough.

"I didn't think we played hard enough," Stevens said. "There's no question about it."

He was speaking specifically about Tuesday's loss, but he could have easily been talking about a number of recent games for the Celtics who are working their way closer and closer to being the lottery team so many predicted they would be this season.

And it's not because their opponents are so much superior to them, or that they have been hit with a rash of injuries.

Yes, Rajon Rondo hasn't played a game for the Celtics all season and it remains unclear when he'll return after suffering a torn right ACL injury on Jan. 25.

But the Celtics (13-22) should not be nine games below-.500 in a weaker-than-usual Eastern Conference, with or without Rondo.

It comes down to playing hard consistently, delivering the kind of effort needed to compete and maybe steal a game or two in the process.

"That's what we pride ourselves on, playing with effort and scrapping games out," Boston's Jordan Crawford told reporters after Tuesday's loss. "It's tough losing games like this."