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No Mystery Here - The Celtics Weren't Good Enough

Why did the Celtics lose this one to the Portland Trail Blazers? Simple - the Blazers are just a better team. They've spent a few years building something in the Pacific Northwest.

The Celtics got put in their place.
The Celtics got put in their place.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

No need for psychoanalysis after this one. No need to dig deep for a complicated explanation or search for greater meaning. No - no overthinking at all required here.

Sometimes in the NBA, you just go up against a better team and get your butt kicked. It happens, and you move on.

That's the case tonight.

The Celtics took the TD Garden floor tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers, a resurgent team that was eyeing its fifth consecutive win and stood just a stone's throw from the top spot in a loaded Western Conference. They were overmatched going in, and the scoreboard reflected it nearly from wire to wire.

The Blazers put on a clinic offensively, piling up 67 points in the second and third quarters combined, and they waltzed to a 109-96 win that was hardly in doubt after halftime. The scary thing is that the Celtics didn't really do anything wrong.

"I don't think much broke down," Gerald Wallace said. "I think for the most part, our defense was all right. They made shots. Those are pretty good shooters. They play well together, they pass the ball well, and those guys make shots. Especially in the second half, they started making shots. They made tough shots - contested shots."

It's ironic to hear this coming from Wallace of all people. If you'll remember, he played for the Blazers for about a year - he was traded from Charlotte to Portland at the deadline in 2011, then moved from Portland to Brooklyn at the 2012 deadline. There was somewhat of an implosion in the Blazers' locker room when Wallace was there, as the players mutinied against coach Nate MacMillan and ended up stumbling to 28-38 on the season, missing the playoffs.

Point being, Wallace has seen the Blazers at their worst, and tonight he got a glimpse of them at their best. The difference is continuity.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews were three cornerstone pieces of the Blazers two seasons ago, and all three of them are still chugging along now, only this fall, they're a cohesive unit that plays with purpose. Wallace can only wish he'd played on a Portland team that strong.

Wallace's current team doesn't have the same togetherness, and it's reflected in their respective records - the Celtics fell to 4-6 with tonight's loss, and the Blazers improved to 7-2. The C's also don't stand a good chance of finding unity anytime soon. Their pieces still don't fit - Wallace himself is only in Boston in the first place because of salary cap math. He's not alone in that. This Boston team is a long way from fully formed.

The Celtics have to take the court anyway. Brad Stevens got a six-year contract to turn this collection of players into a team, and he admits that with the current roster, his margin for error isn't great.

"It's low," the coach admitted. "But that's not an excuse for not getting the job done. Every team has a margin for error, and not very many teams have a big one. Most of us have low margins for error. We can't take plays off. It can't be part of our MO. It's not going to work out in the end for us, on either end of the floor."

Without a superstar player like an Aldridge - who turned in a robust 27 points and 12 rebounds tonight, thoroughly outplaying Brandon Bass - the Celtics aren't going to have many dominating efforts offensively. They're going to need to find creative ways to win, and usually it will need to begin with defensive stops.

The Celtics are already a solid team defensively. They entered the league ranked eighth in the league in fewest points allowed per possession, far higher than anyone expected. Unsatisfied, the coach and players alike continue to preach improvement on that end.

"If you want to win games in this league, you've got to play defense," said Jared Sullinger, who tried and failed to outduel Aldridge with 26 points and eight rebounds tonight. "Period. Point blank. If you're not playing defense, you might as well count on losing."

This is who the Celtics are, though. Through 10 games of the season, they're an uninspiring 4-6, which extrapolates to an uninspiring 33-49 if they round out the season at this pace.

It's been a strange route to this mediocre point - four-game losing streak, four-game winning streak, two-game losing streak - but the coach isn't too focused on the roller-coaster nature of the schedule so far. He just wants his team to improve.

"It's more topsy-turvy for everybody else than it is for me," Stevens said. "I hate losing. I don't stomach it well. I don't deal with it well. I'll be back at work tonight."

"We've got a lot of work to do," agreed Sullinger. "It's still early - we've still got 70-plus games to go. We're going to get back in the gym tomorrow and battle it up with the Timberwolves."

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