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Rivers won’t go with flow

In his estimation, team not ‘better’

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 8, 2010

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They were words spoken when a team loses a game it should have won, and after blowing an 11-point halftime lead to the Magic yesterday at home, someone in the Celtics’ locker room said them.

“We’re better than Orlando.’’

Coach Doc Rivers wouldn’t let anyone in the room believe that.

Not after Orlando had outscored the Celtics, 36-11, in the third quarter, not after Boston had let Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, and Mickael Pietrus combine for 10 3-pointers, not after the Celtics lost the season series to Orlando.

“No, you’re not,’’ Rivers said. “That’s a bunch of [expletive].’’

The Magic were better than the Celtics in the third quarter (when they shot 12 of 17 and held the Celtics to 4 for 14) the same way they were last month when they outscored the Celtics, 35-22, in the fourth quarter and put them to bed on a last-second layup by Lewis.

“They beat you three games,’’ Rivers said. “Two at your place. They’re better.’’

They’ve been better all season, taking the series, three games to one, the head-to-head tiebreaker, and sole possession of second place in the East by a game just like that. They were better when they bounced the Celtics from the playoffs in the second round last year, cutting short their attempt at a championship repeat.

“They knocked you out of the playoffs last year,’’ Rivers said. “Orlando’s better than us right now.’’

It’s not just Orlando. After losing to Orlando, Atlanta, and the Lakers in three straight games, wins against Washington, Miami, and New Jersey seemed to get the struggling Celtics on their feet again, but another loss to Orlando appeared to be more proof that even though Boston’s record places it among the elite, the team hasn’t played like it belongs there.

“Atlanta’s better than us right now, LA is better than us right now,’’ Rivers said. “Those are teams that have beaten us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be better than them at some point. But right now, those are better teams than us.’’

It was hard for anyone in the locker room to argue.

“We have no right,’’ said Rajon Rondo, who flirted with a triple double with 17 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. “We’re clearly not playing well right now. We can’t keep making excuses about injuries or other excuses. We’re just not getting the job done.’’

Said Ray Allen, who scored 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting, “Right now we can’t say that we’re better than Orlando. We can’t say that we’re better than Atlanta. We can’t say that we’re better than the Lakers. They beat us. It’s all about what’s in the pudding, and right now, we don’t have the proof.’’

The pill they all have to swallow is that as much as the Magic did them in, the Celtics were killed by their own complacency.

“We’re just getting too confident,’’ Rondo said. “I don’t know what it is. There’s no way we should have scored only 11 points [in the third]. No excuse, but I don’t know what that is.’’

Rondo pointed all the way back to the Celtics’ 98-97 loss Dec. 18 to Philadelphia, when they gave up an 11-point lead and lost on a last-second tip-in by Elton Brand. They have had a run of awful third and fourth quarters.

“It probably started then,’’ Rondo said. “And it’s been an ongoing issue with us.’’

Rivers said with so much basketball left to play, things still could come around.

“I don’t know at [what] point,’’ Rivers said. “I just know at this point those teams are better than us, and that’s up to us what we want to do with that.’’

“I’m not panicked or anything like that, I’m just telling you the truth. I don’t want to hear that you’re better than somebody, because you’re not right now. You have a chance to be, but right now you’re not and we’ve got work to do. So we’re going to do it.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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