Reality Setting In For Celtics: This Season's About Playing For Pride

Losing's not much fun. - Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight's loss to Golden State drove the point home: This season is a lost cause for the Celtics. From here on out, the C's primary motivation is the fight to preserve their egos.

In case the point hadn't already hit home weeks or months earlier, it became even more painfully obvious tonight, as the Celtics withstood a 20-point drubbing at the hands of the Golden State Warriors - this is not going to be a successful season in Boston. If that truth hadn't already sunk in, anyone with a remaining drop of optimism was hit hard by another dose of reality.

The Celtics lost 108-88, and the game wasn't nearly as close as that final score appeared. Some 20-point losses, you hang in there most of the way and the score gets out of hand in the fourth quarter - but no, this was the opposite variety. The Warriors got up big early, led by a ghastly 80-49 midway through the third quarter and rested their starters in the fourth in favor of guys like Marreese Speights and Draymond Green.

This game was hardly a competition. From the moment Klay Thompson started posting up the Celtics' smaller guards with impunity and Andre Iguodala began schooling everyone with his blazing speed in the first quarter, this one was over. The Warriors led 12-2 and never looked back.

"It was a struggle for us," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "They got into us, they were more aggressive, they were louder. They were better than us in every which way. I'd like to find something that I could say we were better in, but there wasn't much of anything."

So... here's where we're at. These are the Celtics now. These four months have not been an aberration. The team is not overperforming or underperforming. This is who they are - they're one of the five or six worst teams in the NBA, and with the personnel they have on hand, that isn't changing.

We can talk about tanking and draft picks and trade assets and cap space and free agency another day. There will be plenty of time for that as the summer approaches. But right now, it's still early March, and a more salient issue needs to be discussed - with 21 games still to play this season, what does the team have left to play for?

Answers vary depending on which Celtic you ask. Turn to Jeff Green, a seven-year veteran who doesn't want to squander the prime of his career, and he'll tell you that these games still matter.

"We still have our pride," said Green. "We don't want to keep embarrassing ourselves. That's the mentality we're going to have. I don't think this group wants to continue having games like this. We've just got to keep fighting and do the best we can to finish out the season strong."

Ask Rajon Rondo, a pathologically competitive person who would rather sit through a 12-hour press conference than ever lose at anything, and he'll tell you it's all about his innate desire to win.

"We just have to dig deep and find the will to compete," Rondo said. "Anything I do, I want to win. I think that's a lot of guys' mentality."

Ask Kelly Olynyk, who's a rookie still hungry for opportunities to prove himself in the league, and you'll hear a similar sentiment.

"You've got to have that competitive nature," said Olynyk. "Whether you're playing in the NBA Finals in Game 7 or you're playing in preseason, every time you step on the floor, you've got to want to win. I think that's what we're doing every day."

Point being, different guys have different motivations. And that's a good thing, because for the next month and a half, all of these Celtics need to have something to keep them going. Reality had set in, and the C's now know that they're not playing for a championship or even a playoff berth. But they will certainly not be actively trying to lose - no coach or player ever does - and for each individual player, the weeks ahead will be a time for soul-searching.

As for the coach, the focus is still the same. Stevens maintains that he's still working to develop his players as individuals and his team as a whole. Plus he's got a little Rondo in him too - he's got that same desire to compete.

"We have the expectation that we're going to come to work and play better," Stevens said. "That's the expectation that we have to have. They say that when your record is what ours is, you're only playing for pride - but that's a lot. To me, that is a lot."

Added Rondo: "You can't hang your head too low. We have a game in two days, so we have to come back and give our fans something to cheer about."

He's not talking about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, folks. For Rondo and the Celtics, there's still plenty of time to take pride in themselves.

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