For one brief, shining 24-minute window, it appeared that all our worries were unfounded and the Celtics would be absolutely fine. Their defense was airtight, their effort level was unquestionably consistent and their offense was firing away on all cylinders. The C's were beating the Eastern Conference's best team, the 10-1 Indiana Pacers, and all was well in the world.
Then the energy faded, the turnovers started flowing and, oh yeah, Jordan Crawford missed a shot.
Crawford had gone 8-for-8 in the first half, capping off an unbelievable stretch with a 31-foot bank shot to beat the buzzer and send the Pacers into the locker room down 8, 50-42, at the break. He was infallible, as his team was too.
Something changed in the second half - well, a lot of somethings. Frank Vogel tweaked the Pacers' pick-and-roll coverage, guys started staying on the perimeter to contest those jumpers, and the Celtics' options started to wither away. Instead of knocking down smooth jumpers, Crawford and the C's found themselves suffocated, and they threw the ball away instead.
"I'm disappointed in myself," said Crawford, who finished with 24 points after locking in 19 by halftime. "Didn't complete the game. That's all I can take from it, really."
It would be silly to pin this one all on Crawford, though. His half-by-half splits perfectly epitomize the Celtics' downfall after the break, but he was far from the only guy struggling against this Indy squad. The Pacers are the NBA's best defensive team, allowing just 94.3 points per 100 possessions going into tonight's contest, and they stood tall again in the second half tonight.
"They really tightened up," Celtics coach Brad Stevens marveled. "Those guys just went to a different level.
"And I feel bad saying they cranked it up. That team's probably the most consistent defensive team, with regard to effort and the way they play, that we've played. And we've played the best of the best in defense. They really had a lot to do this."
If the Celtics sound like a broken record at this point, crediting the opposing team each time they get thumped in the second half, it's with good reason. The squads they've been playing are absolutely deserving of the credit. The Celtics had a similar situation two nights ago in San Antonio, pulling to within 63-60 in the second half before getting blown away late, but what'd you expect? It's the Spurs. Likewise, this was the Pacers. The other teams they've played this last week or so - Houston, Minnesota, Portland - are hardly any easier.
If it seems like the Celtics have been crumbling in the second halves lately, it's because they have been.
"It's tough," admitted Jared Sullinger. "We've been doing that the past couple games. Playing tough in the first half, then the second half, we just kind of lose it. We've got to keep playing."
"The last couple of teams we've played, the way they're playing right now, they are what their record says they are," Stevens added. "They're really good teams. It's just been a tough stretch. Hopefully we don't get down."
The good news is this: For the most part, these Celtics aren't the "getting down" type. They're mostly young, resilient players, so happy to be playing pivotal roles at the pro level that losing doesn't sting as much. There's no bitterness with Crawford - he's just thrilled to be a starting point guard and a go-to scorer in the NBA. Likewise with Sullinger, who's eyeing his first full NBA season. And Jeff Green, who's a No. 1 option. And Kelly Olynyk, who's a rookie just enjoying the ride.
These Celtics are 4-10, but they'll bounce back. If not on the scoreboard, at least emotionally.
"The beauty of the NBA is there's a lot of games," Sullinger said. "We've just got to put this one behind us and focus on the game tomorrow."
"Every day's a new day," added Crawford. "A new challenge."
They all seem challenging when you're riding a six-game losing streak in November. But even after getting knocked down, these Celtics are eager to hop right back up.