The Celtics milled around the TD Garden locker room and endured the abuse of a throng of nosy reporters. They listened to question after question about the factors that contributed to tonight's loss, 100-85 to the visiting New York Knicks, and they clearly weren't enjoying it.
Jeff Green stood in the center of the room, surrounded by microphones, being peppered with leading questions about the team's underperformance. He barely listened, seemingly more interested in adjusting his earring than doing another losing interview. He deflected the inquiries with a series of one-word answers.
Jeff, can you sense that all this losing is because of the injuries?
Does it seem like this team is feeling sorry for itself?
Maybe it's a matter of confidence?
Green wasn't alone -- even if deep down they all knew the truth, no one on the Celtics wanted to talk about the real reasons behind this team's five-game losing streak. A Celtic team that was already without Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa is now battling injuries to Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee as well, and the team just isn't the same.
Tonight's Celtics had basically a seven-man rotation. They had Green jumping for the opening tip. They had Jordan Crawford starting at the two-guard and playing 41 minutes despite having no clue how to play Celtic defense. (His man, J.R. Smith, scored 32 points in 34 minutes, shooting 13-of-24.)
At times like these, it should be OK to admit that the injuries are getting to you. It seems like the obvious response, so why fight it?
Unfortunately, this team is fighting it.
"I think you guys have been around me long enough," said Doc Rivers, rejecting the Garnett question. "Kevin's not playing, so I don't worry about it. I really don't. I told our guys we didn't play well tonight, but I'm not going to go back and think, 'Oh my gosh, we've got two more weeks of this.' That's not how it works in this league. That's not how it should work in this league. Somebody else just has to play better. A lot of guys do -- it's not going to be one. We were pretty bad tonight, but Kevin had nothing to do with that. We were just bad."
At least part of that statement holds true. I mean, there's no arguing with the bad part. These Celtics managed to outshoot the Knicks, 45 percent to 43, and yet still lose by 15. It was a combination of poor rebounding (the Knicks grabbed 15 offensive boards, leading to a 29-6 blowout in second-chance points) and turnovers (20, leading to 17 more Knicks points).
"That kills us," Rivers said. "Especially now. Listen, if you're not going to rebound, and then you're going to turn the ball over, you're just saying you're going to lose the game. That's what it was tonight."
But the other thing Rivers said? The part about Garnett's absence not being a factor?
Not so sure about that one.
Look, we've seen this team win without Rondo. They did plenty of that right after their All-Star point guard went down. To a lesser extent, we've seen them do all right without Paul Pierce. But without Garnett, this Celtic team lacks a purpose. They're without their anchor on defense, and underratedly, they're without a guy who's functioned as a point center on offense. Everything on this team runs through Garnett, on both ends, and when he's gone, the difference is night and day.
Green had a statistically brilliant game without KG on the floor, putting up 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes. Pierce was solid as well, needing only 10 shot attempts to compile a 16-6-6 stat line. But two guys putting up numbers isn't enough -- the Celtics as a team look lost, and there are no solutions beyond waiting on their Hall of Fame big man's ankle to heal.
"Injuries are going to be injuries," Pierce said. "We're not going to have control over that. They happen the way they happen, so you've got to deal with it. It's been like that all season long, and it seems like it just gets worse and worse, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We've got a job to do -- we've got to go out there and compete every night and figure it out."
That, they do. This loss dropped the Celtics to 36-34 on the season, 2 1/2 games behind Chicago and Atlanta for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, just 1 1/2 up on Milwaukee for the eighth spot. If this losing skid keeps up, the Celtics might find themselves in the dreaded bottom seed in the East playoffs, staring down a possible South Beach sweep at the hands of the unbeatable Heat.
That's how high the stakes are right now. The Celtics' season may depend on how they can pull through these next couple of weeks without Kevin Garnett, and so far, there's little reason to be optimistic.
"The decision we're making with Kevin is the right one," Rivers insisted. "But we still want to win games. And we're not going to let one game say that we're not going to win any more games. It's just silly to me that anyone would think that way."
Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But actions speak louder than words, and Boston's only action since March 16 has been to underperform.
If the Celtics want to silence all the pessimistic questions in that locker room, there's only one thing they can do.