Celtics 'worst loss of the year' could be wake-up call


Celtics 'worst loss of the year' could be wake-up call

CHICAGO Whether it was mere end-of-the-season motivation or a sincere concern that the wheels are indeed coming off, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't mince his words following the C's 93-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

He was upset; about as visibly upset after a loss that we've seen this season.

And within seconds of his post-game press conference, he put the defeat into a category that you wouldn't expect from a team that has had so many head-scratching losses this season.

"I thought it was the worst loss of the year for us, the way we approached the game," Rivers said. "I just thought in the second half, Chicago, they're just too tough for us."

Now keep in mind that the Celtics led by as many as 13 points in the first half, and took an 11-point lead into the half.

It didn't matter.

Rivers had seen a side of his Celtics team that frankly, was disturbing when you consider 1) there's less than a month left in the regular season and 2), how much they have overcome to be where they are now which is on top of the Atlantic Division.

"This team has shown great resolve," Rivers said. "But right now we're not going to go a lot of places playing with that kind of mental toughness."

There was little doubt that the C's crumbled under the Bulls ratcheting up their pressure defensively and overall, just playing more aggressively.

But the worst loss of the season?

A 19-point loss to New Orleans? Two losses to Detroit? Defeats at the hands of Toronto, Sacramento and Cleveland?

It's a bit hard to buy that losing to the best team in the Eastern Conference, even without their best player in Derrick Rose (groin), trumps those set-backs against teams that were then - and still are - not very good.

And judging by the comments of some of the C's players, they're not buying Thursday's loss as the worst one this season, either.

"I don't know if it's that," said Paul Pierce. "Everybody's frustrated that we lost. Who can re-count all (54) games? At this point, when you got frustration going on, I don't know if it's the worst loss, but you're always disappointed when you lose."

Rivers' disappointment stems from what he believed was his team approaching the game too casually, even when they seemingly had control of the action in the first half.

While Rivers ripped into his team as a whole, he also put the blame initially on himself for not having them as prepared as they needed to be, effort-wise.

"That's on me first. I did something where I didn't see something," Rivers said. "It's always on the coach. That's an unacceptable effort for us. I don't say that very often. That was a crime."

Rivers added, "We were the cool Boston Celtics. It was a joke. We were the cool Celtics. You don't play basketball cool."

The words Rivers used to describe his team are in striking contrast to what the C's have done of late, and have been about since the Big Three era began in 2007.

When discussing a lack of effort, Kevin Garnett is one of the few Celtics players where this never really seems to be an issue or question.

"When I'm out there on the floor, I'm going as hard as I can," Garnett said. "I don't think nobody is out there half-assing. Maybe he (Rivers) saw something different. It's the coaches job to obviously get us going, put us in the right position. Players obviously (have) to go out and execute the game plan. If that's what he saw, that's what he saw. I can't go off that. I have to prepare myself to go as hard as I can and be ready to play."

And that right there is what this is really about.

Being ready to play, for 48 minutes.

The C's weren't, and the Bulls were.

And when that happens against quality teams with title dreams like Chicago, the Celtics will get the kind of results seen in Thursday's loss.

So the loss itself wasn't necessarily the worst of the season.

But it does serve as a cautionary tale as to what can happen when the kind of consistent mental toughness needed to beat elite teams, isn't there.

And that is an important message to take heed of coming down the final stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Boston has already proven to be a better team this year than many anticipated. However, losses like Thursday's to Chicago only reinforce the belief that the C's can't crack through and beat the elite teams in the East with any kind of consistency.

As strange as it sounds, Thursday's loss to the Bulls - and Rivers' reaction to it - just may be the wake-up call this team needed in order to avoid a similar letdown happening in the playoffs where there's a good chance that the Celtics will see either Chicago or Miami at some point.

"We got three weeks, because the way we're playing, we'll be playing one of those guys in the first round," Rivers said. "And we gotta get better. That was unacceptable."

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

BOSTON -- One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Much like Charlie Brown was never going to actually kick the football before Lucy pulled it away, it feels like the Bruins are never again going to beat the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. They failed again Saturday night, never holding a lead at any point as they dropped their ninth straight home game to the Habs, 4-2.

Bruins-Canadiens games in Boston have become the hockey version of 'Groundhog Day', as the same patterns emerge over and over again: Montreal's speed forces the Bruins into mistakes with the puck; Habs players draw the B’s into taking bad penalties; Carey Price dominates in goal. It's been that way ever since the last Bruin victory over Montreal at the Garden, on Jan. 12, 2012. To put it perspective, Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin were still Bruins back then.

Saturday night's loss, though, had a little added twist: The B's second-period woes, such a problem last year, reared its ugly head again.

“[The second period was] terrible, and that’s where it really hurt us," said Claude Julien. "I thought we played well (in the first period) . . . But the second period came back to haunt us. We were flat coming out. We didn’t make good outlet passes, and we spent way too much time in our own end, and because of that, it gave them some momentum. And by the end of it, we cheated ourselves a little bit, and pucks ended up in the back of our net . . .

"[When] you give up four goals to Montreal, and you have Price at the other end, it’s pretty hard to beat that team. So we needed to be better . . . [We] shot ourselves in the foot with some real poor mistakes, and we can’t afford to do that against the Montreal Canadiens."

The Bruins were essentially done for after a couple of very typical Boston-Montreal plays went against them in the middle 20 minutes.

The first was a defensive coverage breakdown in the D-zone that allowed both Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher to operate with time and space. Five B’s players simply watched as Gallagher smoked a one-timer from the outside of the left circle that eluded Anton Khudobin.

Then, later in the period, John-Michael Liles misread a play where he pinched deep in the offensive zone and couldn’t control the puck. As a result, Alexander Radulov worked a 2-on-1 with Phillip Danault to skilled perfection on a typical Habs transition play.

"I think our second period has got to be better overall," said Patrice Bergeron. "We talked about them having a good forecheck . . . [but] we didn’t make the easy plays too many times. When you do that, it creates turnovers and you spend more time in your zone than you’d like to."

From there, it was just more of the same. Playing with the lead, Montreal was able to neutralize Bergeron and Brad Marchand; Bergeron never got a shot on goal. Price came up big when he had to, shutting down a couple of Ryan Spooner chances.

And Bruin weaknesses were exposed, things Julien and the coaching staff may have to address. It looks like it’s time to move on from the Joe Morrow/Torey Krug defense pairing; it's simply not working. (Krug, in particular, was a minus-3 and made mistakes all over the ice.) They also may need to switch things up with the forwards, as they're getting zippo offensively from their second and third lines.

To their credit, the Bruins never packed it in. They hung in and made plays in the third period to keep the game close, right up to the 6-on-3 advantage they had at the end. But there are no consolation prizes or moral victories in the Boston-Montreal rivalry, especially when the Habs have made it so one-sided.

To be a true rivalry, you need equal rivals. And the Bruins, especially at home, aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

BOSTON -- There’s only so long that a team can hope to thrive, or even survive, in the NHL if they’re constantly chasing the game on the scoreboard, and chasing the puck after digging themselves a hole. The Bruins have been that team in the first couple of weeks during the regular season, and made it five times in five games that they’ve given up the game’s first goal in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

It’s a pattern that is long past getting old to Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who can’t seem to play the front-runner this season despite three comebacks that have allowed for a 3-2-0 record overall this season.

“I hope it’s not a habit. It’s certainly not what we’re looking for, but there’s no doubt. I think it’s pretty obvious that with the amount of games we’ve played, five games, we haven’t scored first,” said Julien. “We talked about that this morning, trying to get that first goal, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

The start to the game wasn’t really the problem on Saturday night as it’s been a couple of times this season. Instead the Bruins enjoyed a handful of quality scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes against the Habs, but couldn’t come through and finish off those plays when it might have meant an early lead.

Instead it lead to what Julien termed a “terrible” second period that was flat, full of mistakes and ended with the B’s trailing Montreal by a couple of goals. The Bruins scratched and clawed their way to making it a one-goal game in the third period, but that was as close as the Black and Gold would get in losing their ninth straight home game to the arch-rival Canadiens.

“It’s kind of been a story about how things are going for us this far, we’ve got to find a way to start playing with a lead. If you don’t capitalize on your chances, you see what happens when you come out [flat] in the second period,” said Torey Krug, who finished a game-worst minus-3 in the loss for the Bruins. “We had another poor second period and you know it’s kind of… you got to make sure that we put our hand on that and it doesn’t become a thing for the team this year. You see that when you don’t capitalize on chances early, that’s what’s going to happen.”

It’s been a positive development that the Bruins have shown the willingness and backbone to fight back into games after early deficits, and they showed that quality once again on Saturday night by scoring a couple of goals in the third period to keep things close. But the Bruins would be best served if they can start lighting the lamp a little earlier in these games, and see how the other half lives by playing with a comfortable lead every once in a while.