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Celtics get good reviews, but they could use happy ending

Doc Rivers left for the All-Star break with his optimism undiminished.
Doc Rivers left for the All-Star break with his optimism undiminished. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)

Take nothing away from the determination the Celtics showed Wednesday night in a loss to the Cavaliers -- the heart, the grit, the chemistry, the defense, and the career-high 50 points from Paul Pierce.

That was a pleasure to watch for fans packed into TD Banknorth Garden for the Celtics' final game before the All-Star break. It was an admirable performance in every sense, except one. The result.

Cleveland earned a 113-109 victory in double overtime and grabbed a stronger hold on the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Celtics slipped back in the race for the No. 8 seed.

Coach Doc Rivers left for the break with his optimism undiminished. He will split the long weekend between his family in Orlando, Fla., and watching his daughter, Callie, compete in a volleyball tournament in Las Vegas. He will fly from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City and meet up with the team for practice at the University of Utah Monday.

''I love this team, and I've been saying that of late," said Rivers. ''But I do. They play hard. They're extremely coachable. They want to do right. They like each other. They cheer for each other. Throughout the timeouts, they were positive we were going to win the game. Isn't that the type of team you want? That's the type of team I want. It's fun coaching them. Now, we have to get better."

The loss brought to mind the words of Delonte West after the Celtics lost at Golden State, 111-109, earlier this season, failing to heed Rivers's call for a timeout in the closing seconds. West said the team was just good enough to lose. Even though it is a different team with the addition of Wally Szczerbiak and the subtractions of Ricky Davis and Mark Blount, West's words still seem to ring true.

A big accomplishment for the Celtics has been a two-game winning streak. The loss to the Cavaliers might amount to a cruel tease, a tantalizing glimpse at what the Celtics are capable of against a better team.

The Celtics are fundamentally inconsistent. If it's not Szczerbiak getting acclimated to the system, then it will be the reintegration of Al Jefferson (sprained right ankle) and Kendrick Perkins (dislocated left shoulder) after the break. Szczerbiak, who has a sore left knee, was encouraged after playing 46 minutes against the Cavaliers, but that injury could resurface.

The team believes the break comes at a good time. Szczerbiak will have extra time to rest his knee. Jefferson and Perkins could return during the upcoming four-game trip. Even with all his All-Star obligations, Pierce should be able to rest his aching elbow and ankle.

But does the break really come at an opportune time? The Celtics posted their first two-game winning streak of the season just before the Christmas break with victories over the Warriors and Jazz. Then, the Celtics proceeded to win just one game on a five-game tour through the Western Conference. Still, the Celtics enter the All-Star break arguably with as much momentum as they have had all season. With four days off, that momentum could evaporate. It did when the Celtics had three days off for Christmas.

Even Rivers was concerned, especially with such a young team. He noted that after a break, young players tend to forget things they've been taught, ''like offense and defense." The Celtics cannot afford to forget the kind of effort they displayed against the Cavaliers, because it will take that kind of effort for the remainder of the season to have a shot at the playoffs.

''It's a tough loss [to Cleveland], but there are losses where you're embarrassed how you play and there are losses where you're proud of the way you fought," Raef LaFrentz said. ''[Wednesday night] we could leave the floor being proud of what we were able to do. We're not happy getting the loss, but we did a lot of positive things out there. We're a work in progress. I don't think there's any way around that."

The Celtics reassigned Gerald Green to the development league yesterday, though he will join the Florida Flame. Green spent his first stint with the Fayetteville (N.C.) Patriots. In eight games (five starts) with the Patriots, Green averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in 26.5 minutes and shot 45.5 percent from the 3-point line. His best game came Feb. 2 at Florida, when he finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. He also scored 21 points at Roanoke Jan. 27.

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