By A.Sherrod Blakely
CHICAGO The Boston Celtics suffered an embarrassing 97-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday.
A year ago this time, the Celtics were dealing with similar disappointing defeats.
But that team managed to regroup in time to make an unexpected dash towards the NBA Finals where they came up short in Game Seven of the Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Because most of the core players from that team are still back, there's a sense that they too can ''flip a switch'' and start playing better basketball.
Rajon Rondo has been around this group all season.
He knows them better than most.
Rondo will be the first to acknowledge that this team isn't built to surge like that group did in the postseason.
"It's not the same team," Rondo said. "We're not going to be able to turn it on like we did last year. Even last year we came up short. I don't know what we're waiting on. But these type of games, we have to find a way to win on the road."
When Tom Thibodeau was a Celtics assistant, he rarely strayed from the task at hand.
Getting too high off a big win?
Not under Thibodeau's watch.
So even as the Bulls celebrated an impressive 97-81 win over Boston, Thibodeau wasn't much in the mood to reflect on the night's events. Instead, he was thinking about Chicago's next game, against Cleveland.
"You guys may think it is a cliche and maybe it is a cliche, but it's what's important," Thibodeau said. "The Cleveland game is just as important as this game. It's actually more important now because this one is gone. They carry the same weight. You have to understand, that's how we got here. It has been our attitude and our approach. We have to focus in and get ready."
As for the Celtics, having another game less than 24 hours after a disappointing loss has its benefits as well.
"You chalk it up in the loss column. That's how you move on," West told CSNNE.com following Thursday's loss. "Of course, No. 1 and No. 2 in the East, you would want to send a statement or something. But right now, it's not about sending a statement the rest of the league. For us, we need to send a statement to ourselves, a memo to ourselves.
West added, "That's how it goes. If you don't bring it, somebody's going to bring it to you."
There was no question the outcome of Thursday's game had value for both teams. But there was a sense among the players that the Bulls, frankly, wanted it more.
"We treated it basically like a regular-season game," West said. "But they came at it like they were trying to make a statement. And they did."
But West is quick to add that dwelling on the disappointment of Thursday's loss won't do them any good in preparing for Friday night's opponent, Washington.
"We'll see tomorrow what the edge will look like," West said. "We just have to understand that there are no teams out there saying, 'Oh, it's the big, bad Celtics. We're shaking in our boots.' They want to win. They want to beat us. They want to beat the reigning Eastern Conference champions. Ain't nobody scared of nobody right now. It's not about initiating fear. We have to get up and fight."
One of the Celtics' strengths on most nights has been their ability to generate offense from the inside, and then out. But far too often lately, it seems the Celtics forget about going into the post.
That certainly looked like it happened in Thursday's 16-point loss to the Chicago Bulls, a game in which Chicago outscored Boston, 44-22, on points in the paint.
A good chunk of those points came on driving lay-ups by Derrick Rose (30 points), but he wasn't the only Bulls player giving the C's fits around the basket.
Boston's lack of scoring punch around the basket was a direct reflection of a team that continues to lack the necessary focus to stick with the game plan laid out.
"We're supposed to be that post-and-drive team," said coach Doc Rivers. "But we didn't tonight."
Of course, Chicago and its highly-regarded defense certainly had something to do with that.
But it seemed the C's were too quick to go away from the post, when things didn't work initially.
"For most of the night, we probably did settle for outside jumpers," said Paul Pierce.
When Boston came out to start the third quarter, they immediately got the ball to Pierce on the post.
That led to a basket.
In a matter of minutes, the Celtics were back on top.
And then . . . they stopped feeding the post and making the second pass, which led to them losing the lead.
The C's were never the same afterward.
"We were clearly a front-running team," Rivers said. "Then right when we got the lead, you could see guys jumping around, puffing their chests out . . . and they made another run and we hung our heads again. So, I just thought Chicago was tougher in every way."