Blakely: Celtics embark on tough West Coast trip

Blakely: Celtics embark on tough West Coast trip
January 4, 2014, 4:30 pm
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The halfway point of the season isn't here yet, but there's a sense that the Boston Celtics are embarking on a do-or-die mission this week out West.

They play five teams in seven nights, all of which have better records than the Celtics (13-20).

Gerald Wallace doesn't mince his words when describing the importance of this upcoming stretch of games which begins Sunday at Oklahoma City.

"Every road trip is a make-or-break, especially in the situation that we are in," Wallace said after Boston's 95-92 loss to New Orleans on Friday night.

With the latest setback, Boston has now lost three in a row and six of their last seven.

That's not the kind of momentum you ever want, let alone on the eve of what's sure to be their toughest stretch of games this season.

"This could pretty much set us in the right direction where we want to go with our season, or it can kind of destroy our whole season," Wallace said.

With so many games in such a small window of days, bonding among players is a given.

But the problem for them doesn't lie in how well they are at hanging with one another.

It has more to do with a lack of execution at one or both ends of the floor, during critical junctures in the game.

The Celtics did a decent job defensively down the stretch against the Pelicans on Friday, but repeatedly failed to make the necessary shots needed in order to get the win.

Boston had a stretch in the fourth in which 11 straight shots were missed. Despite that horrible stretch of shooting, the Celtics trailed by just two points when Brandon Bass snapped the shooting woes with a jumper that tied the game at 83.

And there have been other losses this season when Boston shot well enough to win, but failed to get the necessary stops defensively in order to secure a victory.

When you total it all up, you find a Celtics team that has had more than its share of down-to-the-wire losses which both players and head coach Brad Stevens acknowledge make moving on more challenging.

"Yeah, it's frustrating," said Stevens whose team has suffered a pair of one-point losses and Friday's three-point setback, within the last couple of weeks. "That's a hard thing to swallow, but at the same time it's not like they're (Celtics players) laying down."

Boston guard Jordan Crawford said it's "definitely" tougher to put aside close defeats like Friday's loss to the Pelicans.

"That's NBA basketball," Crawford said, adding, "It's fun to play in games like that when it comes down to the wire. We'd like to pull them out, but they (Pelicans) made some big plays."

Added Avery Bradley: “Sometimes when you have a young team that can happen but we’re sticking together and Coach (Stevens) has been telling us that it’s fine, you know, we’ve got to stick as a team, and that’s our mindset.”

These first 33 games have indeed tested the Celtics in so many ways.

But the stretch of games coming up is unlike anything this group has dealt with this season.

They aren't just playing good teams; they're playing teams that expect to be playing well after the regular season ends.

Oklahoma City is just two years removed from a trip to the NBA Finals. The Doc Rivers-led Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State and Portland all have visions of making some noise in the playoffs as well.

"Guys are going to have to pull together," Wallace said. "We have to become as one on the road."