The storyline doesn't need much embellishing. The Boston Celtics, championship hopefuls, have lost two different times to Chicago Bulls teams that were playing without injured star Derrick Rose. Both defeats came in Chicago, to be sure, but Boston nearly blew a close win against the Rose-less Bulls in Boston last month. If anything, you would think that Rose's healthy cohorts would have Boston's attention by now, but that didn't stop the Celtics from blowing an 11-point lead on Thursday night, and C's coach Doc Rivers from blowing his stack soon after.
"We were cool tonight. We were the cool Boston Celtics tonight. That's what we looked like. You could see it, walking the ball (up court). We couldn't get the ball inbounds? Nobody wanted to work. It was a joke. We were the "cool Celtics." And there's nothing about me that's cool, I can tell you that. You don't play basketball cool."
Oh, Doc went on. He pointed out that this was his team's worst loss of the year, which is saying something for Boston. This team once barely put up 70 points against the 19th-defensive team in the NBA, it lost by 19 to the New Orleans Hornets, and it was topped by a total of 25 points in two defeats at the hands of the mighty Detroit Pistons in mid-March. And yet losing for a third time in four meetings against Chicago, with Rose only appearing in one of those meetings, was too much for Rivers to handle.
"I had to use two timeouts to remind us that we were actually in an NBA game," he said. "I thought this was the worst loss for us this year with the way we approached the game. And then in the second half, I thought Chicago, they're just too tough for us. I thought their toughness made us let go of the rope.
"That is on me first. I didn't see something tonight. It's always on the coach," he said. "That's an unacceptable effort for us. I don't say that often. I don't think I've ever said that. That was a crime. It was tough to talk after the game. About what? We gotta be better than that. I don't want to hear us winning crap, not with that effort."
The "cool" part hits home. The Celtics are cool, and there's nothing cool about making an all-out, frantic effort. It's admirable, surely, and it wins ballgames; but it's always cooler to feign apathy and appear uninspired. If the game is beneath you -- and apparently closing out on defense and pushing the ball offensively were beneath the Celtics in the second half on Thursday -- then you can retain your cool even in the face of defeat.
You will be defeated, though.
If this is the low point, then it's a good time for it. The Celtics are just one game up on the Philadelphia 76ers (who, like Boston, have also lost two games in a row) for the top mark in the Atlantic Division. And those old Celtic legs are about to embark on an impossibly tough stretch of get-your-act-together games: Indiana, Philly, Miami, and Atlanta represent the "four" in the team's four games in five nights stretch that starts Saturday. And though Toronto, New Jersey, and Charlotte will follow after that; with those would-be patsies making up a back-to-back-to-back run for the Celtics. Seven games in nine nights, starting on Saturday. No time to be cool.
If the Celtics hold on to the Atlantic Division lead, the team's likely first round prize will be the Atlanta Hawks, a squad the C's have historically done well against but have only played once (with Boston winning by three in an ugly contest) this season. Should the Celtics move past Atlanta, Chicago awaits in the second round; and though the Celtics and Bulls engage in close battles each season, there's a fair chance the Bulls (again, winners of three of four against Boston this year even with Derrick Rose out for two of those wins) sweep Boston in the second round.
Boston … swept?
According to Rivers, "the playoffs are the furthest thing from my mind right now," and he's right in that regard. The next stretch of games will be brutal, even considering the combined records of the Raptors, Nets, and Bobcats; and even taking into consideration the fact that Boston matches up well (if not, "enough to expect a win"-well) with Miami and Atlanta.
Then again, tanking a little bit and losing that Division-leading seed would result in a first round matchup with the Heat, a team that the Celtics spanked on Sunday. Hmm. Maybe there's method to this cool.