Perhaps it’s fitting as a microcosm of this merciless Celtics season that the team has found, over the course of its last three losses, new lows to reach in each of them.
There was Wednesday night in Washington, when the C’s allowed the Wizards to shoot a mind-boggling 62.5 percent from the floor, their best shooting performance in 13 years, while falling behind by 30-plus in the third quarter and not getting a single rebound from a starter other than Rajon Rondo in the first half.
Then there was Friday, when the Celts hosted a Philadelphia 76ers team that snapped a 26-game losing streak just last week, but Boston did not score a point for the game’s first five minutes and only had 92 with two minutes left against a team ranked dead last in the NBA in points allowed, at 110 per game. Oh yeah, they lost that one, too.
And finally, we have Saturday night in Detroit, where the Celts improbably led the Pistons, who are at the top of the league in pathetic, by 19 with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter, but wound up losing anyway. It took the C’s basically one full quarter (the Pistons trailed by 19 with 6:52 left in the third and took the lead with 7:11 left in the fourth) to blow the nearly 20-point cushion.
As the great Bob Ryan said on Twitter the morning after the loss to Philly, “Remember Celtics fans, this is what you wanted.” And for the most part, he’s right. With no real shot at the postseason pretty much a given from the moment Danny Ainge sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett packing on draft night last summer, this entire Celtics campaign has served as an exercise in patience and critical observation, from seeing how new coach Brad Stevens adapted to the NBA (tremendously) to watching the young, potential future cogs grow (mostly pleasant, give or take a truckload of Jared Sullinger three-point attempts) to figuring out whether Jeff Green is a player around whom you can build (um, no).
But now, with just five games remaining on the schedule, that patience is officially gone.
The season can’t end soon enough.
After the loss to the Sixers, Celtics TV voice Tommy Heinsohn said that the team is now at the point where what’s most vital is determining the right combinations of players on the current roster moving forward. I would submit, respectfully, that the Celts are beyond that point and instead should be focused solely and completely on finishing up the season with as little further embarrassment as possible.
At this point, Stevens, Ainge, the entire organization, and the fans, be they serious or casual, know all there is to know about each and every player on the team. Rajon Rondo is an elite point guard who needs better, more consistent guys around him to be at his best. Green is a wildly talented, even more wildly inconsistent player who can go from being the best player on the floor to completely disengaged and disinterested in the span of a half, as he did against Detroit. Brandon Bass is a tough, extremely hard worker who will always give 100 percent but would be much better served on a winning team than a rebuilding one. Kelly Olynyk has shown flashes of why he was a first round pick and should get better and more confident with time and experience. Sullinger is a talented, savvy post player who has spent too much time drifting out to the perimeter of late, though that may be by design given his lack of length and leaping ability.
And so on. The idea of playing hard and being competitive every night and if you wind up losing, it’s OK because that will help down the road, has run its course. Stevens, whose unrelenting positivity made the season much easier to swallow, appears exasperated. Players are conceding that they are being outworked by their opponents. The end is near enough that everyone can see it and when you’ve lost as much as these Celtics have, it’s probably natural to start packing it in a bit, as several of them did in the losses to the Wizards and Sixers.
No one is going to cancel the Celtics final five games. They gotta play 'em. Hopefully, they will do so not only proudly, but quickly.