Jason Terry‘s last shot told the whole story. With the Celtics up by four and Terry seemingly heating up with two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter already, the veteran sharpshooter let loose a long-range shot that might have put the nail in the Bobcats’ coffin. The other four guys in green jerseys turned to jog back down the court, anticipating another flight for the Jet.
As the ball began its downward arc, though, it was obvious this would not be the dagger, if it reached the hoop at all.
Finally, the ball did graze the front of the rim — barely — and a few minutes later the Bobcats were celebrating the end of their seven-game losing streak. As the Celtics’ seven-game win streak fell to shambles, Terry’s short-armed shot demonstrated that the Celtics simply had nothing left.
Do not read too much into this loss, though. From the moment the schedule was released, this one was bound to be a challenge. A road game after a home game is never a cakewalk for a team that employs three stars in their mid-30s, even if the opponent is the horrid Bobcats. Then, once the Nuggets took the Celtics to three overtimes on Sunday night, the Celtics’ chances of winning in Charlotte on Monday became even less likely, though they were in it until the final three minutes.
Of far more concern is the state of Boston’s backcourt. Leandro Barbosa had to be helped off the court near the end of the third quarter, after he crumpled to the floor with a non-contact injury to his left knee. As if that were not enough, Avery Bradley appeared to twist his ankle on the Celtics’ final defensive series, although he stayed in the game and had an open look at the potential game-tying three in the waning seconds. Every time a body hits the deck or a player makes the slightest grimace, Celtics coach Doc Rivers must cringe and wonder, who’s next?
The Celtics offered no immediate word on the severity of Barbosa’s injury, but Kevin Garnett told reporters that the team was informed in the locker room that the reserve guard is done for the season. It is strange how circumstances change so quickly. Three weeks ago, losing Barbosa would have barely made an eye bat in Boston, since the little-used guard was struggling to crack the rotation. Now that Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger are out until at least next season, Barbosa and every other member of the Celtics has become virtually indispensable. If Barbosa is sidelined, the Celtics would be left with only three healthy guards on the roster.
There is one more game for the Celtics to play — to survive — before the All-Star break. Garnett will be the only Boston player taking part in the festivities, as Rondo is hurt and Paul Pierce was left off the Eastern Conference squad. Rivers and head trainer Ed Lacerte may want to swaddle their players in bubble wrap and lock them in a padded room for those five days, lest a freak injury befall someone while he plays with his kids or walks down the street.
When the team learned of Sullinger’s injury last month, Courtney Lee knocked on the wood paneling of his locker as he spoke with reporters, trying to ward off any more injuries. It was a worthy gesture, but apparently he did not go far enough. Lee may want to go into the woods, find the thickest tree in the forest and just start knocking on the trunk for an hour or three. Crazy? Sure, but it’s no crazier than the hard luck that has befallen the Celtics lately.