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

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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."

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

BOSTON – Saturday was yet another night when the opposing team – this time it was the Portland Trail Blazers – that up the Boston Celtics with an avalanche of points that ended in a 127-123 overtime loss.

And yet through the rubble of all those lay-ups and put-back baskets and mid-range jumpers, Stevens saw something he has not seen in a while – hope that better days defensively were coming sooner rather than later.

“As crazy as it sounds with them scoring (127) … I actually thought we were a lot closer to defending the way we want to defend," said Stevens. "I thought we were really locked into those guards, and I thought we tried to make it as tough as possible. Those guys are really good players, obviously, but I thought, I thought we did a lot of good things in that regard.”

For the most part, Boston and Portland played a relatively even game that wasn’t decided until the final minute of overtime.

“They just made more plays down the stretch,” said Boston’s Al Horford.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday’s game.

 

STARS

C.J. McCollum

He tends to get second billing to Damian Lillard, but he was a first rate problem for the Celtics. He led the Blazers with 35 points on 11-for-21 shooting.

Damian Lillard

After a foul-troubled first half, Lillard stepped up like the All-Star he is in the second half to finish with 28 points and seven assists which included seven of Portland’s 14 points in overtime.

Isaiah Thomas

It was another dynamic scoring night for Thomas, finishing with a game-high 41 points which included 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime.


STUDS

Terry Rozier

Making the most of his chance to play due to injuries and illnesses, Rozier came up with a number of big shots all night. He finished with 15 points which included a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds in the fourth that forced overtime.

Mason Plumlee

In addition to doing a solid job protecting the rim, Plumlee also tallied a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds while dishing out a game-high eight assists.

Meyers Leonard

Easily the big X-factor of the game, Leonard had 17 points off the bench on 6-for-7 shooting.

 

DUDS

Celtics Turnovers

This is the one area where the Celtics have been really good all season. Saturday? Not so much. Boston turned the ball over a season-high 21 times which accounted for 34 points for the Blazers.