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."