In a lot of ways, this current run is unsurprising. Rewind for a moment to late October - if I'd told you at the start of the season that this young, rebuilding Celtics team would have a nine-game losing streak at some point this year, you wouldn't have been shocked.
You'd probably have thought it par for the course, and you may even have pinpointed this early-January stretch as the most likely time for it. Lots of travel, lots of tough Western Conference opponents, still no Rajon Rondo in the mix - yeah, this is a perfectly predictable time for the C's to rattle off nine losses in a row and tumble like an avalanche down the Eastern Conference standings.
And given that like I said, this is a young, rebuilding team, there's something to be said for accepting skids like this, taking them in stride. You might even say that even amid nine straight losses, there's reason to look for the positives.
Six of these nine losses were on the road. Five were by single digits. A couple of them came against legitimate championship contenders. Even though the Celtics have been winless since the dawn of 2014, they've had some solid efforts and learned a few things about themselves.
Or something like that.
"There's all kinds of positives, but they don't make you feel any better at night," coach Brad Stevens said after loss No. 9, a 104-92 setback against the Houston Rockets tonight. "That's the reality of it. This is hard to go through. This is unenjoyable to go through. But it doesn't mean there's not growth on some level. It's not consistent all the time, but it doesn't mean there's not growth on the individuals' part."
One encouraging sign has been the emergence of Avery Bradley, who has shown himself to be a legitimate mid-range assassin. Another has been the consistent effort from Kris Humphries, who's given them both a solid rebounding presence and a bit of floor spacing with his jumper. And then there's Jerryd Bayless, the newest Celtic, shipped to town last week in a trade for Courtney Lee.
The new guy just got to Boston 24 hours ago and still doesn't have a place to live, but he's already making his presence known. Bayless broke out for 17 points tonight, 15 in the fourth quarter, keeping the C's afloat in a game where they otherwise looked lost offensively.
"He was good defensively most of the night, I thought," Stevens said. "He provides a spark offensively too, in a lot of the same ways that Avery provides a spark, like with his ability to pull up and hit tough jump shots. I thought he gave us a chance, as did that whole second group."
"I was just making a couple of shots," Bayless said. "We were at a point where we weren't really scoring, so I tried to get more aggressive. There are times when I need to be more aggressive, but there's a lot of times, like early on, Avery was playing great, so I tried to get him the ball at every angle that I could. I was just trying to pick my spots, and a couple shots went in."
With the Celtics cascading to the bottom five of the NBA, reality is setting in that this will be a rebuilding year. That being the case, the perspective changes. The focus is no longer on wins and losses - it's more a matter of developing the team's talent and helping this group learn to play together.
To that end, the C's are learning to set aside the end result. Stevens noted that even in a few of the losses this month, especially competitive losses against Golden State and Portland, he's seen encouraging signs.
"We were a lot better in the last three games than we were in a lot of the games that we won," Stevens said. "That's the hard part of this juggling act - it's miserable to lose like we have in a row, but we were a lot better in the last three, and we have to keep that in mind. That's how I try to stay reasonably objective in all of this."
As for the players, they still have the competitive drive to put notches in the win column. With three months still to go in the season, this group isn't ready to quit anytime soon.
"This team is fighting to the end," Jared Sullinger said. "You can see the fight every game - we're just coming up short. We're going to fight even harder next game and come out with a W."