How much losing can you take from one team before it starts to take its toll on your sanity? How much can you handle before it demoralizes you, destroys your spirit, renders you without the will to compete?
The C's are testing the limits on that one. After losing 100-91 on Friday night to the Atlanta Hawks, they fell to 0-4 on the season against the new Southeast Division heavyweights. They're rapidly losing ground in the race for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference — and there's one reason. It's the head-to-head.
Boston has lost to Atlanta in every which way over the first half of the season. They dropped one at home in November, collapsing down the stretch and scoring just 16 points in the fourth quarter. They lost another in Atlanta early in January, falling victim to a flurry of missed jumpers from Ray Allen and Rasheed Wallace. They fell again, three days later — Joe Johnson went off for 36 points, and that was that. Another defeat.
And then this one.
It says a lot that even when Paul Pierce puts forth an absolutely dominant performance like Friday night's — 11-for-15 from the floor, 12-for-13 from the free throw line, 35 points total — the Celtics couldn't pull it out. The rest of the team wasn't there to lend a helping hand. The "ubuntu" as we know it was missing in action. And look where it's gotten these Celtics.
One loss means nothing. Even two doesn't mean that much. Three could just be a lucky streak.
This is one loss too many. It's time to admit that the men in green have a problem.
How can you face the Hawks in the playoffs after an ugly regular season like this? After losing four games this winter, the C's will have to find a way to win four in the spring.
That's where the Celtics are right now. They're down on their luck, and they've got to get things turned around soon.
They chose a bad time to hit a rough patch. They've lost back-to-back games against NBA elites, and they've got a third one coming up.
This Lakers game is going to be bigger than ever. The Celtics are headed into Sunday afternoon's showdown with the defending champions with a lot riding on it — it's not just a grudge match with an old rival, but it's a chance for the C's to prove they can beat one of the best.
Being a title contender in the NBA isn't about piling up wins over division doormats. It's about quality wins. Statement wins. The Celtics had two chances to get one this week, and it didn't happen. They've got to make up for it now.
You never want to say that a January contest is life or death. It's just one game out of 82. But this is a defining stretch for the Celtics, and they're running out of time to make the most of it.
If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. That's how the NBA works. The Celtics blew a golden opportunity to make a statement this weekend — but they've got another one coming right up. Luckily for them, the Hawks are in the rear-view mirror.