About 48 hours ago, after the Celtics had polished off the Orlando Magic to earn their fourth consecutive win, they all took a moment to sit and reflect on just how fickle this game is. A week earlier, they had been 0-4, the laughingstock of the NBA, just another contestant in the Andrew Wiggins tankathon. Then, by this Monday, they were riding a four-game winning streak and fantasizing about the playoffs. To state the obvious, the tide had turned quickly.
Enter tonight, and it began to turn back in the other direction as the C's struggled against the visiting Charlotte Bobcats. Just as they had rapidly taken a turn for the better last week, they let their momentum slip away just as quickly in this one. Call it lack of effort, call it what you will - the bottom line is this team fell behind 18-8 early and wasn't ever able to catch up. The C's lost for the first time in a week and a half, 89-83.
"We got cocky with the four-game winning streak," Gerald Wallace said postgame. "Our confidence was up, we were feeling good about ourselves, and we just felt like if we show up tonight, we're playing the Bobcats, we don't really have to do nothing. They came out to win the game."
If you're the excuse-making type, you could have a field day with this one. It was a schedule loss - the Celtics were off last night, but they were still recovering from five games in seven days last week, and the fatigue caught up with them. It was an injury loss - the C's were without Jared Sullinger, and that made the difference. It was a matchup loss - without a tough defensive center to slow down Al Jefferson, this Charlotte team is the wrong opponent.
Whatever. It was a loss. And despite all of the above rationalizations, the Celtics had chances to win, but a chain reaction of bad bounces and poor decisions did them in.
Jeff Green described it like this: The offense failed the Celtics early, and that snowballed.
"The way we started, we just missed shots, but then we allowed that to affect us on the defensive end," Green said. "We've got to find a way to look past it when our offense isn't going. We've got to figure out a way to get it back on the defensive end."
It wasn't as though the Celtics didn't have opportunities in this one. They opened with a double-digit deficit, but they closed it on numerous occasions. A Green chippy with 1:49 left before halftime cut the lead to four, 45-41. A surprising Vitor Faverani 3 late in the third quarter brought the TD Garden to life and the Celtics to within five, 63-58. A couple of Courtney Lee jumpers kept them within striking distance from there. Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Crawford provided just enough offense to keep the game relatively close in the fourth quarter.
Still, the Celtics couldn't get over the hump - for the rest of the night, they remained just one hustle play away.
"I don't think we got one loose ball," Wallace said. "All the plays that don't show up on the stat sheet, they won. Hands down. It wasn't even close. Prime example: Right there at the end, we trapped in the halfcourt, and the ball bounced out of two or three of our players' hands, in between their legs. It seemed like they always seemed to come up with those."
"It's definitely frustrating," added Lee. "Especially after how we started the game, then being down the whole game. Once you get close, and you're right there, and all you need is one more stop, when and you can't get that stop, it's definitely frustrating."
With any luck, the Celtics will take a lesson away from this one - overconfidence won't get them anywhere this season. The Celtics aren't good enough to coast to victories in this league. They're a decent team when they really want to be, but when they show up unprepared, the results will show it. Given the brutal schedule coming up next week, including three of the NBA's best teams in Houston, San Antonio and Indiana, there's no better time for a wake-up call than the present.
"We've got to take this seriously," Wallace said. "We've got to come out every night prepared to play and prepared to win."