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Time is now to turn it around

By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / January 10, 2009
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CLEVELAND - There was no yelling at each other on the bench, rather Kevin Garnett on one knee in the final minutes of another loss talking to teammates Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Paul Pierce about what needs to be fixed. There was finger-pointing going on, but it was by individuals at themselves. And while the Celtics' locker room was far from happy, it wasn't gloom and doom, either.

Don't get the Celtics wrong. They are upset about losing four straight and seven of their last nine games following a 98-83 loss to the Cavaliers last night at Quicken Loans Arena. But the Celtics refuse to feel as if the sky has fallen when they are 29-9, in third place in the Eastern Conference, and still own a commanding lead in the Atlantic Division.

"You're not going to get any of that [negativity]," said Garnett, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds. "We're a team of gentlemen, we're a team of class, and a team of individuals that respect each other. You're not going to get any of that.

"I'm not going to even elaborate on it because you won't get that. No one is going to point no finger at one person. We win as a team. We lose as a team. You're not going to get none of that."

The Celtics seem to be mad at themselves, and they should be, since none of them is playing well consistently. Beating a Cleveland team that's undefeated at home with possibly the world's best player in LeBron James would have been tough, even if the Celtics were playing as they were when they won 19 straight.

They seem most upset about missed opportunities in games they were supposed to win against teams that would love to switch positions with Boston. There was a loss to Golden State, which was playing without two starters; one to Portland, which was minus All-Star guard Brandon Roy; and another to an injury-plagued Knicks squad. Charlotte? C'mon. And Houston without Tracy McGrady. But lesser foes are bringing all they have every night since they are playing the champs.

"The way it's going, you would have thought we lost 20 games," said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. "But that's the good thing because we aren't used to losing. With the team we have, we aren't supposed to lose. With the coaching staff we have, we aren't supposed to lose.

"Tonight, Cleveland was supposed to beat us. But if you can take away the New York game, the Portland game, the Charlotte game, games we are supposed to win. You watch a team like Charlotte give us their best shot and then they come in and get blown out by Cleveland by [30] the next night and lose tonight against [Philadelphia]. Even the Knicks, they give us their best shot at their house and beat us and then lose to Oklahoma City. That's the way things are going right now. But it's not anything we're going to hang our head over."

But it's difficult to give the Celtics too much grief over losing last night to the hottest team in the league. Cleveland made its first six baskets without James scoring, and held a 33-23 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Celtics were competitive, but couldn't overcome a 3-point third-quarter deficit. And with James too hot to stop later on a 38-point night, champions who are used to blowing people out were the ones who were routed.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers saw a silver lining, but also expressed caution that it's time to turn things around.

"I told the guys we put money in the bank with a 19-game winning streak and we're making a withdrawal that we don't want to make right now, but we are," said Rivers. "At the end of the day, we are 29-9, and that is not all that bad, except for the stretch we are on right now. We are going to right the ship - when I don't know - but the last three games, I have seen better stuff."

With back-to-back games against struggling Toronto followed by back-to-back games against struggling New Jersey, the time is now for the Celtics to find that championship mojo again. Yes, they have not hit the panic button. But if things are still rough a week from now, even a positive team like the Celtics might have trouble remaining so.

"We're good, man," said Paul Pierce. "I'm telling you the truth. We talk after every game. We stay in the locker room after a loss and we talk about what we need to do better. The mood is real positive. That's our strength and that will continue to be our strength and that's what makes us strong."

Said Allen, "This is definitely a stretch, but it's nothing I'm worried about."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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