The Celtics fought back from down double digits and lost a close one to the Knicks tonight. - Jared Wickerham
Yes, the Celtics lost their fifth straight game tonight. But it was a hard-fought battle with an elite team, and it gives them hope going forward. These C's are two games under .500 but continuing to fight.
Considering the gloom and doom that surrounded the third game in their current losing streak, the mood following loss number five for the Celtics really wasn't that bad. As teams on five-game losing streaks go, these C's are relatively calm and collected, keeping things in perspective with half a long season still to go.
Yes, Boston lost for the fifth time in nine days tonight against the visiting New York Knicks. Yes, this game was marred by all of the Celtics' usual problems -- ugly turnovers, bad shot selection, the general offensive malaise that's turned them into a below-average team on that end of the floor this season.
But the Celtics are taking this one in stride. Despite trailing by double digits late, they eventually took the Knicks, one of the NBA's elite teams this season, down to the very last possession. They saw some positives despite coming up in the end, an 89-86 final.
"This was a hard-played game tonight," coach Doc Rivers said. "This was a playoff-type game. Baskets were hard to come by; guys were flying out at each other. This was the way the playoffs look. If I saw that effort every night, I'd be very happy."
The Celtics shot just 40.8 percent on the night; they held the Knicks to even worse, at 38.6 percent. Each team forced the other to settle for jump shots time and time again, and most of them rimmed out.
The C's defense was strong tonight, forcing New York's Carmelo Anthony to take 28 shots to finish with his 28 points and holding J.R. Smith to a miserable 3-of-16 shooting clip. A couple weeks ago, the offense was strong. The Celtics are still looking to put the two together.
"I really liked the effort," Paul Pierce said of the close loss. "I liked the way we competed tonight. But we've got to do it night in and night out. Our offense definitely has to get better. There’s nights where our offense is really letting us down when we put this type of effort on defense in."
"It's frustrating to lose when you give effort," Rivers said. "You've got to keep convincing your guys that if you play that way every night, you're going to make more shots than that, and you're going to win a lot of games. Right now, they're just sitting there thinking, 'We lost.' But they know it. They know that with that effort, they're going to win most nights."
This five-game skid has been taxing for the Celtics. Not all the losses have been close games with good teams -- after a 15-point blowout at Detroit four days ago, Rivers was threatening to make big changes, to send guys packing. Now, the Celtics still aren't winning, but they remain optimistic.
"I like our group," said Rajon Rondo. "I like our guys. We have a talented group of guys, guys that listen.
"But right now, we're not getting it done. It's like night and day -- we won six in a row, we were firing on all cylinders, but right now we don't have all five guys playing well for 48 minutes at a time. We've just got to pick it up, collectively as a team and individually as well."
It's a long season. The Celtics may be 20-22 at the moment, but they began last year 15-17 as well, and things turned out OK.
For the Celtics, who hopped on a plane to Atlanta tonight, it's full speed ahead.
"We've just got to keep going at this thing," said Kevin Garnett. "We definitely don't point fingers around here. We're going to keep working as a group."