By A.Sherrod Blakely
NEWARK, N.J. Consider the Boston Celtics among the privileged that the playoffs do not consist of back-to-back games.
Keeping true to form, the C's once again stumbled in the second game of a back-to-back set, losing 88-79 to the New Jersey Nets.
With the loss, Boston (47-18) has now lost three of its last four games.
Even more significant, the C's are now in a tie with the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Coach Doc Rivers has maintained that he's not nearly as concerned or worried about having the best record in the Eastern Conference.
A year ago, the C's went into the playoffs as a fourth seed and advanced all the way to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
But this year, well, is different.
And yet some things, like struggling to win back-to-back games, remains a constant.
With Monday's loss, Boston is now 6-8 on the back end of a back-to-back set of games.
And when that back-to-back set consists of the first game at home and the second on the road, Boston's has lost five of six.
"It does bother me that we're not mentally tough," Rivers said. "To me, all back-to-backs are is a mental toughness thing. We've struggled all year. If you take the back-to-backs out, we'd have the best record in the NBA."
But here's the thing.
Back-to-back games count just like every other game counts.
And when the season is over and the win totals are tabulated, there's no doubt that the C's struggles in back-to-back games will stand out for all the wrong reasons.
"It's still losses, and you're losing ground by losing games," Rivers said.
Making the losses even more frustrating was that at various points in the game, the Celtics were sticking to the game plan . . . and it was working.
In the opening minutes of the first quarter, the C's made a conscious effort to feed Kevin Garnett the ball.
He responded by scoring the Celtics' first six points of the game.
After making his first three shots in the first 72 seconds of the game, Garnett got just one shot for the rest of the quarter.
"We got away from it. Kevin was scoring the ball at will," said Glen Davis, who had his fifth double-double of the season with 16 points and a team-high 14 rebounds. "As a team, we have to notice the mismatches, the things we can do on the post. We didn't do well at that."
The Celtic whose play stood out, for all the wrong reasons, was Rajon Rondo.
The 6-foot-1 point guard, who left the game briefly to get his right ankle re-taped, has been in a bit of a funk lately.
Both Rondo and Rivers said it's not health-related.
"He's fine," Rivers said. "Rondo's fine."
Rivers added, "I don't know if he's slumping. But he's not playing great right now. He's just going through a stretch. It's a long season."
"I haven't put the ball in the basket well lately," Rondo told CSNNE.com. "No excuse."
There should be no excuses for Monday's lackluster performance.
Also, by no means should the Celtics' struggles be squarely placed on the shoulders of Rondo, even if he did miss 9 of his 10 shots from the field and finished with two points and nine assists.
Paul Pierce wasn't much better, scoring seven points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field.
Jeff Green, who has been solid off the Celtics bench recently, had seven points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Even with the recent setbacks, along with now being tied with the Bulls for the top spot in the East, the Celtics understand it's a long season and there's still plenty of basketball left to be played.
"We're just not playing well right now," said Rivers. "You go through that. Sometimes you just have to wait for your team. Right now, I'm waiting for them to kick back into gear."