BOSTON — Bad things are supposed to come in threes. The Celtics only wish theirs were that limited.
After another come-from-ahead loss, this time a 106-99 loss to the Wizards on Saturday, frustration was clearly starting to seep into the Celtics locker room. Although Jeff Green tried to shoulder the blame, one player could not be faulted with two second-half collapses in a row. The entire team held responsibility for the lack of consistency.
And they all knew it.
“We’ve got to understand the game,” Gerald Wallace, the Celtics’ resident truth-teller, said after his team gave up an 18-point lead to the Wizards mere days after surrendering a 21-point lead to the Pistons. “Right now, we’re not understanding the game. We’re getting too comfortable with our shots falling. When you’re making shots, everything looks a lot easier, the game’s a lot more fun, things go a lot better.
“When you’re not making shots, it’s tough. And when you continue to shoot those shots and they’re not falling, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. I think that’s what we’ve done late in games that we’ve lost. We continue to shoot those shots instead of slowing it down and trying to get a good one. We’re forcing a lot of shots and we’re not making them.”
As Wallace alluded to, turnovers and poor shot selection plagued the Celtics (12-16). They opened the game with one turnover in the first quarter and two turnovers in the second, but suddenly got generous after halftime. They committed nine turnovers after the break, making it impossible to maintain offensive cohesion despite actually shooting a better percentage from the field.
They shot 49 percent in the second half, compared to 48 percent before, yet all the turnovers meant more scoring opportunities and easier looks for the Wizards (12-13), who shot 54 percent in the second half.
The Celtics were fine when they were rolling, but then they would hit a snag in the form of a turnover or ill-advised shot and they would be off and running — downward. Between a jump shot by Kris Humphries with seven minutes left in the game and a 3-pointer by Avery Bradley with 35 seconds left, the Celtics committed four turnovers and did not make a basket. That drought enabled the Wizards to turn an eight-point deficit into an eight-point advantage.
Every player seemed to have his own take on the Celtics’ troubles. Wallace pointed to a failure to react to what the Wizards, and the Pistons before them, changed offensively after falling behind in the first half.
“We’re not able to adjust,” Wallace said. “We keep trying to do something that’s not there. We’ve got to learn to adjust on the fly. Teams adjust defensively. Right now, we’re not adjusting defensively.”
Meanwhile, Green downplayed Washington’s influence on the Celtics’ turnover troubles and offensive execution.
“I think we just tried to force the issue,” Green said. “I don’t think their defensive did anything to surprise us. We’ve seen every coverage there is with how many games we’ve played. We tried to force the issue and make the home run play.”
Whatever the reasons, mistakes have become contagious. Rather than happening in threes — or the more preferable “ones” or “not at alls” — the bad plays come in fours or fives, something Crawford said they have to stop.
Yes, Crawford, who committed five of Boston’s 12 turnovers on Saturday, amounts to a voice of reason.
“It’s your job,” Crawford said. “You always get frustrated when you don’t make the play you want, but you let it go after that. It’s simple as that, really.”
It may be easy for Crawford to say, but it hasn’t been as easy for the Celtics to put into action. Most frustrating of all, the Celtics thought they were past this. They had put their collapse against Milwaukee in the home opener behind them and kept their heads up after Wednesday’s loss to Detroit. But reverting to their early-season form raises some question about just how much they actually have improved as a team.
“We’ve grown,” Green said. “We’ve grown. But sometimes games like this happen. Sometimes, we take two steps back instead of two steps forward.”
Maybe Sunday’s visit to Indiana — the Celtics’ last game before a five-day holiday break — will give them a chance to act on what they learned in these losses. Or maybe not. When Green was asked about that possibility, he didn’t inspire much confidence with his response:
Move over, Knute Rockne.