Tonight, once again, the Celtics lost a very winnable game against a lesser opponent, and once again, their head coach had to sit and listen to questions about how his team was losing control of its playoff destiny. What few weeks ago was a mad dash for a top playoff seed is now looking for a desperate grasp at No. 7 in the East.
In March, there was talk of home-court advantage. Now it's simply a matter of staying out of the bottom playoff seed and dodging Miami. Doc Rivers is sick of being asked about scoreboard-watching. Yes, he knows the goal from here is to avoid the Heat, but he doesn't care to talk about it.
"I'm not that dumb," Rivers sighed. "I'm not the brightest guy, but come on."
Would the Celtics like to dodge Miami? Sure.
"Of course we would," he said. "If we play them, we'll be ready, yeah. But of course we would. You'd love to avoid them, but listen. But no matter who we play, we're going to play a tough team. It's going to be New York, or Indiana, or Miami. There's no cakewalks for us. It's going to be hard."
It's hard to believe that we're two weeks away from the start of the playoffs, because right now, we're watching a team that's nowhere near ready. The C's have lost eight of their last 11 games, they're stumbling against the Cleveland and Minnesotas of the world, and they don't appear to have the urgency of a team that's approaching playoff time.
Kevin Garnett is still out, nursing an inflamed left ankle as he has for the last two weeks. Paul Pierce sat out against the Cavs for the second time this week, nursing an ankle injury of his own. Avery Bradley got hit on the collarbone by Kyrie Irving midway through this one, and he spent a good chunk of the game in the locker room, slowly nursing his injury rather than fighting through it.
None of these injuries are serious ones. All three Celtic stars have what you'd call "If it was a playoff game, I'd play"-type ailments. But right now, they're sitting and waiting.
"I wanted Paul to play tonight, but he couldn't," Rivers insisted. "Honestly, I would have played him if I could have."
But why play him? At this point in the season, the Celtics are content to rest their guys and gradually crawl toward the playoffs. Winning and losing become secondary.
The first time the C's rested Pierce, when the team faced the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, you could visibly see them letting their guard down. That yielded a 110-point offensive explosion for the Wolves and a swift defeat for Boston.
This effort, no matter what Rivers says, really wasn't much better. The C's let Tristan Thompson dominate them for 29 points and 17 rebounds, they executed poorly on offense, and they got consistently outhustled. Predictably, that meant another loss.
"I thought when we played Minnesota, we didn't have an expectation to win the game," Rivers said. "I really thought that before the Minnesota game. I just thought our guys thought, 'Let's show up and see what happens, and maybe we win.' I thought at least tonight, even with all those guys out, they thought they could win. They were disappointed when they didn't. So that was good."
Disappointment is one thing, but stepping up and playing is another. Right now, the Celtics' rhetoric sounds fairly empty, and their actions aren't saying much.
Things will obviously change once Garnett is back and Pierce is playing every night. But the C's might want to hurry up and make that happen soon. They're six games away from the end of the season, and they need to find a playoff rhythm before it's too late.
"We've just got to keep grinding it out," Jason Terry said. "With numbers down the way they are, it's always tough, especially when you get into a tight game and you're without guys like Kevin and Paul Pierce, guys who are your closers. That's always tough on you, but it is what it is. Hopefully we get those guys back here soon, and all that will be over with."
Like Rivers, Terry is aware of the Celtics' position in the standings. But like Rivers, he doesn't see the point in rambling at great length about it. What's more important than the Celtics' record is their style of play.
"If you fall to the eight seed, it means you've been losing," Terry said. "We want to go into the playoffs on a winning note, feeling good about ourselves and our game. Regardless of who we play, we have to be healthy mentally and physically going into the playoffs."
That's for sure.
If the Celtics want to have their act together for Game 1 -- in New York, or Indiana, or wherever else it may be -- they need to refocus soon. If not, it'll be a long summer.