BOSTON — For the past week, the Celtics had been riding high. A four-game win streak will do that for a team.
Heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the lowly Bobcats, the Celtics’ spirits were burgeoning and they had the feel of a team that expected to win. Finally, after a rough start to the season, it was easy being green.
All of that made it a little awkward, then, when the Celtics turned around and dropped a stinker of a 89-83 decision to those Bobcats, getting outworked and outhustled at every juncture.
“We got cocky with the four-game winning streak,” Gerald Wallace said. “Our confidence was up. We were feeling good about ourselves, and we just felt like, we show up [Wednesday], we’re playing the Bobcats, easy win, we don’t really need to put forth effort. We thought we’d be able to turn it on like a light switch, and they turned out to win the game.”
The always-honest Wallace was frustrated, as he always is after defeats, but he was nowhere near as disgusted as he has been after some of the Celtics’ losses this season. If anything, he sounded slightly upbeat about the cautionary tale this game could be for the team moving forward.
“The best thing you can do is what we did [Wednesday]: Get our tail kicked in all aspects of the game, learn from it and understand we’ve got to take this serious,” he said. “We’ve got to come out every night prepared to play and prepared to win.”
Wallace was not alone in criticizing his team’s effort in a game that, on paper, looked like one the Celtics could have won. They shot marginally better from the field, 37.7 percent to 36.6 percent, as they and the Bobcats engaged in a mutually dreadful shooting performance. They nearly tripled Charlotte’s fastbreak scoring, 21-8, and held steady with just a 40-38 deficit on points in the paint.
But by the team’s unofficial count, nobody in a white jersey won a single loose ball the entire game. Never was that more glaring than when the Celtics trailed 85-80 with less than a minute left and tried to trap Charlotte at halfcourt. The Celtics had at least two very good opportunities to come up with the ball off of deflections, but the Bobcats capitalized and the Celtics eventually were forced to foul.
“All the plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet, they won,” Wallace said. “It wasn’t even close.”
Perhaps if the Celtics had gotten one hustle play, even one that did not necessarily change the outcome of the game, then coach Brad Stevens would have been more content with the Celtics’ putrid shooting numbers. The ball did seem to rattle in and out for the Celtics more often than not, honestly. But Stevens refused to chalk up the loss and the poor shooting as Wednesday simply not being the Celtics’ night.
“No, it was probably some of that — you can always point to that when you don’t win,” Stevens said. “But I thought it was a lot deeper than that. I thought they were just quicker to the basketball all night, in every which way, and I thought they did a great job right out of the gate establishing a tone of the way the game was going to be played.”
Needless to say, the Celtics lack the talent to be able to take opponents lightly and expect to win. The on-off switch approach was a problem in past years, too, but back then the Celtics could lean on Paul Pierce or Ray Allen to save them with a big shot when they needed one. On Wednesday, Jordan Crawford and Wallace led a fourth-quarter push that closed the gap to two points in the final minute, but there were no future Hall of Famers to come up with any miracles in the clutch.
One more game remains in the current home stand before the Celtics hit the road for their most challenging stretch of this early season. Just as quickly as the good vibes were built on their four-game run, the Celtics could see those vibes dissipate quickly. If they come out with a similar effort — or lack thereof — like they did against the Bobcats, don’t expect the happy days to return any time soon.