It should come as no surprise that coach Doc Rivers arrived late last night to his postgame press conference, almost 30 minutes after the final buzzer. Rivers needed time for "a little talk" with the Celtics.
After all, something needed to be said after Boston collapsed in the fourth quarter and lost, 112-100, to Dallas at the FleetCenter. Rivers simply could not let the players go home without sending a message. Not a big proponent of team meetings, Rivers kept his main point simple.
Burdened by a four-game losing streak that equals the Celtics' largest of the season, Rivers has not reached panic mode. Odds are he never will. It's not his style. But Rivers clearly feels frustrated with the Celtics playing below their talent level, letting offense dictate defense, and jawing with opponents and officials. He thought they played well in stretches last night, summoning the necessary energy and cohesiveness all too briefly. Naturally, he would prefer the Celtics place sustained focus on moving the ball and keeping an All-Star such as Dirk Nowitzki (36 points, 9 rebounds) from the kind of virtuoso performance he gave last night.
"As a coach, what do you do?" said Rivers. "Do you push an alarm button or something? You just keep doing what you do. You stay consistent. If you believe that your team is a good team, you keep doing what you're doing. If you don't, then you panic and you push that proverbial button that people push. I just don't know where the button is at. You just keep playing. Right now, we're just not playing, honestly. We're not playing together.
"Our defense was bad because guys were [ticked] off about the offense. That's something we did earlier in the year, that I don't like right now with our team. That's not a concern. It's what I don't like about how we're playing.
"And then, I think we've got to stop all the talking and play. We're crying and begging on every play. Let me do that. We've just got to play basketball. And we've got to be a better basketball team."
The Celtics allowed the Mavericks to shoot 51 percent from the floor, including 68 percent (13 for 19) in the decisive fourth quarter. Boston was fortunate in the first half, as Dallas missed a number of open looks and led only 46-43 at the break. The Celtics' deficit remained 3 points (77-74) entering the fourth quarter. But after pulling within 1 on an 18-footer by Ricky Davis, the Celtics' inconsistent play finally cost them the game.
Dallas promptly staged a 22-6 run, effectively putting the game away when a free throw from Devin Harris capped the spurt with 4:34 remaining. It was only fitting that the final field goal of the run was a 15-footer Michael Finley threw up in desperation as the shot clock expired. The Mavericks converted 3-pointers, jumpers, layups, and a dunk with equal ease during the run, half of which took place without Nowitzki on the floor. While the Dallas offense featured a number of contributors, Boston was guilty of standing around, with individuals trying to do too much or holding the ball too long.
"You're going to win eight in a row during a season and you're going to lose four in a row," said Rivers. "The key is when you win them, you stay together. When you lose them, you stay together. I thought we pulled apart. Not as far as dislike, but as far as trying to do it ourselves. There is a good quality in that because the guys who do that want to win. But that's not winning basketball. You win by staying with the game plan. When you do that, you will win. I think we'll get it back."
The Celtics have 11 games to rediscover the form that produced a seven-game winning streak shortly after Antoine Walker was reacquired. But with Philadelphia only three games back in the Atlantic Division standings, Boston better not take that long or a No. 3 seed could quickly turn into a No. 7 or 8. Keeping that in mind, as the players do, the pressure to perform increases with each loss.
Rivers believes Boston is closer to the team that recently won 11 of 12 games than the team that will look to end its losing streak tomorrow night in Atlanta. That is why Rivers will not search for the panic button, why today's practice will review familiar offensive and defense schemes, and why he shares the responsibility for the recent slide.
"We're losing because of we, all of us," said Rivers. "I've got to do a better job of getting them to see what we were doing. And they have to do a better job of getting back to that point."