Robb: First Place Was Fun While It Lasted For Celtics
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BOSTON (CBS) — Unfortunately, reality is slowing starting to sink in for the 2013-14 Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens has done an admirable job getting this mismatched collection of players to play hard for him since game one, but now the team has dropped five of their last six games, falling out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture for the time being.
With a bunch of run-of-the-mill NBA players fighting for playing time without star point guard Rajon Rondo in the lineup, most people didn’t expect much out of this crew. It wouldn’t have been a stretch to assume this campaign would be tough on the eyes on the court, with a recipe for turmoil in the locker room.
Instead, this roster has played with admirable effort every night for the majority of the first two months. In the early portions of that stretch, guys like Jordan Crawford, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green played over their heads to help carry this team to the top spot in a putrid Atlantic Division.
Now though, the bloom is off the rose. Crawford and Green are mired in a offensive funk. Jared Sullinger is slumping thanks to a bruised left hand, and the Celtics have lost several winnable games in the past week, the last of which came Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans in a 95-92 setback. What was supposed to be a favorable month of December has turned into a bit of a nightmare, with the Celts dropping four of their last five games at home by a combined 12 points.
Avery Bradley admits that the team’s youth has been a factor in those contests.
“We’re a young team,” Bradley said. “We’re learning still every single game. We’ve just got to close games better, and we’re getting there. Every game’s close for us, so it shows that we’re making progress at least.”
Stevens also acknowledged the close losses have been tough to take, but he still appreciates the effort his team is giving.
“It’s frustrating, three one-point losses in the last three weeks,” Stevens explained after the New Orleans game Friday night. “So that’s a hard thing to swallow, but at the same time it’s not like they’re laying down. They’re coming out and competing and tonight they had every excuse in the book if they wanted to use it, and they didn’t. They played again. I’m disappointed we couldn’t get the win, but I’m proud of the way they played.”
The problem for Stevens now is that while the Celtics effort is there, the team is in a freefall heading into their toughest stretch of the season.
Boston plays in five different cities over the next seven nights, featuring stops in Oklahoma City, Denver, Los Angeles (Clippers), Golden State, and Portland. Four of those games are against top-5 teams in the Western Conference, a scary scenario given the Celtics are a putrid 3-8 against a loaded Western Conference this season.
After their recent slide, the Celtics sit at 13-20. They are still just a game out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference for now. However, they are only just three games ahead of the next-to-last spot in the East.
Seeing how they will not be favored to win any games on their upcoming road trip, the Celtics know the trip could be a turning point in their season.
“Every road trip is a make-or-break,” Gerald Wallace said. “Especially in the situation we are. We have lost a couple games in a row. We are going on a West Coast trip playing some pretty good teams, and this can send us in the right direction for where we want to go or destroy our whole season.”
Wallace continued: “Guys are going to have to pull together. We are going to have to become one on the road. We’re going to have some tough battles, like we had tonight, and we have to find ways to win these games.”
Jared Sullinger is looking forward to surprising some teams as underdogs on the trip.
“Very excited to get on the road,” Sullinger said. “Try to get some more wins. We let two [wins] slip by us in the past couple days. Now, it’s time to get on the road and steal some [wins].”
Sometime in the next month, it’s likely Rajon Rondo will return to the floor and give the team its most potent weapon back. The question now is whether the Celtics will be able to hold down the fort in the next couple weeks to keep the possibility of a playoff push alive for when the All-Star point guard returns.
The challenging road starts tonight in Oklahoma City.