By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Sunday is a day of praise and worship throughout the world.
Maybe the Boston Celtics took a moment this Sunday to make amends with those basketball gods who, at least according to coach Doc Rivers and a number of his players, punished them for not playing the right way against Washington.
The end result was an 85-83 loss to a Wizards team that has lost more than twice as many games (29) as it has won (13) this season.
But Saturday's loss had nothing to do with any spiritual intervention by some hoops-loving deity.
It was the kind of performance the C's are always fearful about having against teams like the Wizards and Tuesday's opponent, Cleveland.
When the Celtics look at the big picture of their season, victory parades down Causeway Street and confetti streamers flowing down from the TD Garden rafters come to mind.
For teams like Washington and Cleveland, anything that keeps them out of the NBA lottery would be considered a huge success.
With such a huge chasm between expectations, the Celtics have struggled at times to play with the kind of focus and consistent effort needed to beat such teams.
The C's will need to be better than that on Tuesday against a Cavaliers team that has already beaten them once this season.
It's not about just playing well against those teams.
More than that, the C's need to come ready to compete from the opening horn to the final whistle.
Of all the things that went wrong against the Wizards, it was evident that this was among Rivers' biggest issues.
"I just thought the Wizards played harder. I thought they played much harder than us in the second half," Rivers said. "Think about all the loose balls, tips . . . they dominated the 5050 game. We gave them a chance to see that they had a chance to beat us. When that happens, you lose games."
When you look back at Boston's 95-87 loss to Cleveland on Nov. 2, it played out in a similar fashion to Saturday's loss at Washington.
After a relatively close first half, the Celtics started to pull away from the Cavs in the third quarter and seemingly had the game under control.
Even though the C's were leading most of the game, they never seemed to deliver that one shot, that one big play, that put the Cavs on their heels for good.
Cleveland eventually got on track while the Celtics clearly lost their focus.
Rivers has always said he doesn't mind technical fouls against his players, as long as they don't occur in the fourth quarter.
In the Nov. 2 loss to Cleveland, Boston's Nate Robinson and Shaquille O'Neal were whistle for technicals at the 8:32 to mark.
Two free throws by Daniel Gibson gave the Cavs a one-point lead. Cleveland would go on to close out the game with an 11-3 run to secure the victory.
After Saturday's loss to Washington, Rivers was bothered by his team's pace in the second half. He didn't like to see them completely abandon efforts to get the ball in the post.
But as you weave through the always colorful postgame comments of Rivers, it was clear that something else was even more troubling.
"We decided to just play in the second half, and not compete anymore," Rivers said.
While there's no reason to overreact, to pretend as though Saturday's loss was nothing more than just a few shots that normally go down being off the mark, that wouldn't do justice to the larger issue that has a tendency to creep into the play of this team from time to time.
They give bad teams added confidence that they're better than they really are.
We saw it on Saturday.
We've seen it with other teams the C's have lost to this season, teams like Houston and Detroit that have not played particularly good basketball this season.
"You have to treat every opponent with the same kind of respect," said C's forward Marquis Daniels. "These are NBA players. Everyone in the NBA can play."
But not everyone in the NBA can play well, or play together.
And when those teams roll into town - and we'll see one on Tuesday night in the Cleveland Cadavers, er, Cavaliers - the C's need to do one thing.
That'll please Rivers.
That will please Celtics Nation.