By Matthew Geagan, CBSBoston

BOSTON (CBS) –  For those that stayed up late Thursday night to watch the Celtics get blown out by the Los Angeles Clippers, it was just another dip in the up-and-down season for Boston’s basketball team.

The 106-77 loss out West was Boston’s most lopsided of the season, though a loss could have been expected with the Clippers coming in the hottest team in the NBA. They left even hotter, now winners of 15 straight.

Once again, it was a slow start by the Celtics that did them in. By the time TNT switched over from a dramatic Thunder win over Mavericks in overtime, Boston was already in an 18-4 hole. The Celtics cut the lead to four with a solid stretch in the second quarter, but the Clippers retaliated with an 8-0 run and never looked back. They score 30 in the first quarter, and once LA got on a roll, Boston had no answer.

It seemed like whichever Clipper touched the ball, they had the hot hand. Matt Barnes led all scorers with 21 points in 23 minutes, with Jamal Crawford adding another 17 off the bench. The Boston bench only tallied 29 points, and that’s with most of the starters riding the bench for the fourth quarter. Chris Paul didn’t light up the stat sheet — though he normally doesn’t against Boston — but clearly made his mark on the game with his quarterbacking. In contrast, Rajon Rondo must have forgot it was a nationally televised game with just 10 points and six assists in his 34 minutes on the court.

Not to mention an out-of-shape Lamar Odom pulling down 13 rebounds off the bench. The Celtics starting five had just 17.

Thursday night was just the latest example of the Celtics inconsistencies. The offense was stagnant, the defense was non-existent for stretches, and the Celtic couldn’t handle the ball with 18 turnovers. While it’s hard to say losing on the road to the best team in the NBA – who has beaten half the league over the last month – is a bad loss, it’s a bad loss in the sense the Celtics were coming off their best effort of the season with their Christmas Day win in Brooklyn. Thursday night was a great test for the Celtics to see where they stack up against one of the league’s best, and they failed miserably.

Again, not many teams have been able to hold the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford in check as of late, but whenever it seems the Celtics take a few baby steps forward, they stumble right back to where they began. If that sounds like a broken record, it’s because it’s been said at least 10 other times this season.

If that sounded familiar, so will this. Right now, the Celtics are exactly what their record is: a .500 team still looking for their identity. It’s a hard pill to swallow a third of the way through the season, but it’s the reality of the Boston Celtics. They have a long ways to go to breathe the same air as the Clippers, Thunder, Heat and Knicks, and at times it’s even hard to put them in the same sentence as the rest of the bottom playoff teams.

It’s too early to say the Celtics are a bad team, with last season’s second-half emergence providing reason to believe they can turn things around again. The return of Avery Bradley, likely next week when the C’s return home, will help, but there is a lot more work to be done.

Their problems are not ones that can be solved overnight, but until the Celtics can fix their inconsistencies, the roller coaster of mediocrity will continue.


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