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Competition-Free Sunday At the Q

A Daily Babble Production

Let's start with the good news from yesterday's 107-76 Celtics loss in Cleveland: It's over.  End of good news.

It's one thing to lose.  It's another to not even bother coming to compete.

As far as the standings are concerned, yesterday's loss in Cleveland will make no difference.  The Celtics have the two seed in the Eastern Conference locked up, and that's comforting.  Regarding battling the Cavaliers, those who wish to do so will still be able to employ the security blanket of Kevin Garnett's absence for explaining away another road loss in Cleveland.  And sure, Garnett's presence should and likely will make a difference in whether this team wins or loses big games in the playoffs.

But no matter the ultimate value of this one Sunday afternoon game, and no matter who wasn't in uniform, it wasn't losing to a very tough (especially at home) Cleveland team that irked me yesterday: It was the embarrassing effort or lack thereof put forth by those who did step on the floor for the green.

The Celtics didn't lose yesterday because their shots "just weren't falling" or because of anything the officials did (as stunning a concept as that might be).  They lost because not a single member of the active roster came to play.

They didn't miss good shots.  The Celtics didn't get too many looks that classified as good.  Doc Rivers told them in the huddle to make the extra pass.  They forced bad shots instead.  Paul Pierce served as the ringleader of that brigade with a bit too much do-it-all-myself activity early on, but the Infuriated Infant took a couple of out-of-character attempts in traffic and was joined by several others.  Credit the Cavaliers for doing a fine job in their man-to-man defense as well as bringing help at the right spots in the paint.  Cleveland is an excellent defensive team, and the Cavs don't deserve anything taken away from a fine effort on Sunday.  But the Celtics' fifth-ranked offense didn't make them work too hard by "playing" offense as individuals rather than a unit.  Rajon Rondo didn't get involved early and later reverted to the same fearful-looking approach he displayed in the Celtics' loss at the Q back in January.  He was far from alone.  Too much head-down dribbling from everyone led to plenty of bad shots and a 35.8 percent shooting mark from the field.

The effort on the boards was nonexistent.  The Cavaliers crashed after every miss and came up with offensive boards on 25 percent of their opportunities.  The Celtics watched as the ball bounced around and white jerseys worked harder to pick it up and slam it back home.  The focus at the foul line appeared to have been left in Boston as well, as the Celtics shot a sizzling 59 percent thanks to a 13-for-22 effort.

The defense proved just as much a joke as the offense.  Too many times, Rajon Rondo watched Mo Williams cruise past him to wreak havoc in the lane.  LeBron James made a basket cut for a dunk and later hit a three with no Celtic anywhere near him.  For all the help concepts that the Celtics rely on, I'd be shocked to find any part of the plan that involves Bron's man sloughing away from him and then ignoring him entirely.

That's enough of the in-game specifics.  Ever the optimist as a fan, I can't remember the last time I couldn't even convince myself to have pseudo-realistic hope going into the fourth quarter.  I just wanted the final 12 minutes to fly by as quickly as possible.

Good on the Cavs for playing a fantastic game.  While the Celtics didn't make it too difficult for them, the Cavs did their part.  James hit a couple of deep threes, and all the guards shot the ball effectively as well.  Good on the Cavs for having fun, too.  They came to work on Easter Sunday and beat the defending champions silly in front of a packed house.  If they want to dance and goof on each other on the sidelines while their starters rest with a 30-plus point lead, by all means: They earned it

That the Cavs are such a close-knit team that enjoys working together is nice in an age where so many see sports culture described as me-me-me.  I've loved watching the Celtics' stars jive in sync with each other at the end of blowout wins over the last two seasons.  It wasn't as elaborate, but if we're getting into degrees-of-team-celebration debates, that reeks of frustration over losing.  If the Celtics don't want to see opponents doing that type of thing on the sideline, scoring more points than the other team seems like a good place to start.  I find Ray Allen's below-the-belt shot to Anderson Varejao far more inappropriate than anything the Cavs did. 

Allen is one of the classiest athletes in pro sports, and I'm proud to root for him despite a momentary error in judgment.  In that same vein, Paul Pierce is one of the NBA's toughest, best and most hard-working players, and it's a pleasure to watch him most nights when he isn't moping around the floor looking disinterested.  So it goes right on down the line with this team.  One game doesn't change any of those track records.

But yesterday, none of the Celtics looked like the cared, and if that was the case, they might as well have stayed home.  Losing happens.  Putting on the jersey and not coming to play shouldn't.

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