Big Three Get First Taste of Losing in Boston


Big Three Get First Taste of Losing in Boston

In the unlikely event they had forgotten, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce now are getting a refresher on losing. The significance of this crash course really depends on them.

We all knew this was coming at some point, though we didn't know when. No one ever does. But the fact remains that the Celtics now are in their first official skid of this renaissance season, and we all know that everything is infinitely easier when you're winning.

Losing doesn't build character, as some might suggest, but it certainly tests it.

``I've always been the type to deal with adversity and see who you really run with,'' Allen said last night at TD Banknorth Garden, where the Celts blew a 14-point lead with a little more than six minutes to play en route to an 88-83 loss to the Washington Wizards. ``This is a team, and we know we're being tested. We come out of this and figure out a lot about ourselves and fly high.'' Before we go any further, let's make this clear: The Celtics haven't merely lost two straight; they've lost two straight to the same team with the second game played on their home court. Before last night's game, coach Doc Rivers talked about how he loves the idea of back-to-back games against the same opponent, saying that it brings ``human nature and the competitiveness of players'' to the surface.

During the regular season, assuming a reasonably skilled opponent, it's about the closest thing you can get to a playoff series.

Which is why it was so disturbing to see the Celtics fall on their faces.

For certain, the Celtics looked and sounded annoyed at the end of this game, and they should have looked and sounded that way. On Saturday night in Washington, the Wizards handed the Celtics their second loss in three games, 85-78. The Celts then came out last night and played as if the game was not especially meaningful, at least when they were up by 14.

Said Rivers: ``I thought that when we got the lead, we let our guard down a little bit.''

When you get right down to it, this really isn't about the losing. It's more about the attitude. After the Detroit Pistons handed the Celtics their first home loss last month, Rivers actually admitted that one of the team's early goals was to go unbeaten at the Garden. Now the Celts have lost at home three times, the past two in succession to the Charlotte Bobcats and Wizards.

This begs the question:

Does home dominance still matter to the Celtics?

The NBA season is a long, arduous journey. One of the Celtics' most significant feats until recently was the consistent effort the team put forth every night for what amounted to roughly 40 percent of their schedule. Especially for a team built around three veterans, the Celts played HARD. There were times you couldn't help but wonder if maybe they would be better off pacing themselves a little for fear that their legs would be licorice come spring.

Does that mean a loss or two now might benefit them later? Maybe. Certainly, we all know the past four games (three losses) have been the exception rather than the rule. But we also know that these Celtics played better out of the gate than anybody reasonable could have expected, which makes it a borderline miracle that the team didn't have this kind of stretch sooner.

Doesn't it?

``That's what everybody says, and I don't buy it,'' Rivers said. ``I don't ever expect it to happen. And when it does, I don't accept it. Having said that, you're going to go through something, and it doesn't have to be losses. Team turmoil and things - hopefully, they keep making us better.''

Last night, for what it's worth, the buzzword after the game was ``energy.'' Rivers cited the absence of it for his team's lackluster play of late. So did Garnett. That is a nice way of saying the Celtics looked tired, even sluggish, and that the initial euphoria surrounding the team's resurrection has worn off.

After all, it's easy to get motivated at the beginning and at the end of a season.

Almost always, it's the middle that's hard.

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