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Robb: Losing Is No Fun, But Ainge’s Master Plan Working To Perfection

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
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(Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – The Celtics just set a franchise record for losses in a month: 15. They have lost four straight games now and 19 of their last 22 overall.

Gerald Wallace has been one of the most outspoken members of the new-look Celtics through the first three months of the season when adversity hit this team.

So after the Celtics dropped another winnable game last night, a 95-94 heartbreaker to the last place Philadelphia 76ers at the TD Garden, there was a sizable contingent of reporters waiting at Wallace’s locker, anticipating a potentially fiery press conference. Would he call out his team’s effort again? How about the team’s inability to hold onto a late lead? What about another long losing streak?

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Instead, a sense of calmness, even optimism, was evident in the veteran forward.

“Our backs are against the wall. There’s nowhere to go but up from here,” Wallace said after the game.

Jared Sullinger echoed that same mentality, noting how the team played better against the Sixers after Tuesday night’s the blowout loss to the Knicks.

“I think we have a good set of guys in here that keeps our morale and a good level we constantly come out and compete, other than [Tuesday] night and we bounced back [last night] and competed. We just got to win some.”

That type of attitude is prevalent around the Celtics locker room right now. It’s not acceptance of the team’s losing. Instead, it’s more of a realization. Thanks to Danny Ainge’s latest moves and a host of injuries, the team simply does not have the horses to win many games right now.

So why get too upset over something that’s beyond your control, especially when the losing is something the team’s front office can’t mind seeing happen? The team is still trying hard, but they are coming up short time and time again. And while most locker rooms might be falling apart during a stretch like this, Brad Stevens had his guys sticking together despite the brutal stretch.

“Well, I told them [after the game],” Stevens continued, “What you can’t do. You can’t let your circumstances control your thoughts.  You have to make your thoughts improve your circumstances. And everybody wants something, but we have to make small tweaks and changes to get something. And that’s the hard part, is getting guys to do that through a dispiriting loss.  But, you know, I’m not going to be that way, and it’s my job to try to be contagious in not being that way.”

Players like Kris Humphries, who suffered through similar dismal seasons like this back in his New Jersey days, even offered up a light-hearted side to staying positive despite the consistent losses.

“If you have animals you go home hang out with them and spend time with family and you focus on your hobby when you are not practicing. When you are practicing you practice hard and get ready for the next game,” Humphries said.

Perhaps right now the Celtics front office may be best served by giving every member of this roster a new puppy to help them cope with the remainder of the season.

Ainge has already openly stated that making the playoffs this year isn’t a goal for these Celtics. Instead, this year is about the future, and finding the guys that the team should want to be a part of the franchise for the long haul.

Listen: Danny Ainge On Toucher & Rich

Even though they were two of the team’s best shooters, Boston happily dealt away Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford already, since they were not a part of the team’s future. With the dealing of more veteran contributors undoubtedly on the horizon, there is no indication that whoever is remaining on this team next month will be able to turn things around.

It all seems part of Ainge’s plan though. Progress is not measured in win and loss columns in a season like this. It’s about seeing Jared Sullinger post 24 points and 17 rebounds against a young Sixers front line. It’s finding out the true colors of players like Jeff Green, who scored 13 points in the first quarter against Philadelphia but disappeared for much of the game’s final 36 minutes. And it’s about finding out how players will respond to adversity like this.

“I think you have to be really mentally tough to learn through and to grow through tough circumstances,” Stevens said last night, “But you have to be really mentally tough to win a playoff series.  You have to be really mentally tough to come back from a bad loss and win the next night.  If you’re not mentally tough, you have a ceiling in this business.  So you might as well learn it now, and I think that’s the biggest thing about it.  These kind of games, and our response to these kind of games, will tell me a lot about what we’ll look like down the road.”

For now though, it’s all a part of Ainge’s master plan, one that is working to perfection. Play hard, trade veteran talent for future assets, and maintain enough talent to be competitive but not win many games.

In the coming weeks, the Celtics are likely to continue their freefall to the basement of the Eastern Conference, allowing the tanking crowd to rejoice. These guys are losing the right way and thankfully, no one is getting needlessly upset about it as the franchise continues building for the future.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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