We've now reached that time of year when, for better or for worse, the emotional stakes have been raised for all of the 18,000-plus fans filing in and out of the TD Garden for each Celtics home game. With the regular season winding down and the playoffs not far off, every game means more. Every win is a higher high, and every loss is a lower low.
This one was really, really low.
The Celtics' loss on Wednesday night, 111-91 to the visiting Memphis Grizzlies, was a deflating one not just for the players on the court, but for everyone at the Garden. You could feel it in the atmosphere. By halftime, the fans were booing the home team off the court. By the third quarter, they had given up hope. By the fourth, the place was practically empty.
"It surprises me," Paul Pierce said. "You come out on your home court and get this kind of loss and get booed on your home court. I haven't been on this court when we've been booed — it's been a couple times this year, and it'd been five or six years since I'd seen that. We're still 17 games over .500. All the fans want is a constant effort night in and night out. I think we've got to be more consistent with that, regardless of if we win or lose."
"Inconsistent" would be a polite word to describe the Celtics' performance Wednesday. They were outshot, Memphis' 55.0 percent to their 43.8. They were outrebounded 48-29. They were outplayed thoroughly on both ends of the floor. There's really no way to sugarcoat a game like this one.
"We were awful tonight," Doc Rivers said. "Our energy was awful. Couldn't make a shot. And because we couldn't make shots, you could see us not running back on defense, getting down. And you know that's the one disappointing thing about tonight and other games: Right now, our offense — our lack of offense — is dictating how we play defense. And that's disappointing."
A game like this earlier in the season — when fans are at ease and tensions aren't running quite so high — might not have this same effect. Losses like this happen over the course of a season, and you can take them in stride. But this time of year, it's different, and Boston took this one hard.
The Celtics themselves were disappointed, no doubt. But they were also willing to hold themselves accountable.
"It pisses me off," Ray Allen said. "I want to do the best job that I know how, for anybody that comes to watch us play. It's a lot of people's first time in the building, so performance-wise, you want to do everything you can to show people enjoyment. So that's where we start off every game — not trying to put on a show, but just do our jobs."
The Celtics struggled mightily at doing their jobs on Wednesday night. They got buried in a deep hole very early, and they pressed hard to climb their way out of it. They gambled defensively, forced too many shots offensively and allowed an early deficit to snowball into an ugly loss.
But after a struggle like this one, what's important is keeping the big-picture focus. As Pierce noted, the Celtics are still 17 games over .500. This is not a team in disaster-relief mode — this is a good team that's had a couple of rough nights.
The Celtics themselves know that. Rivers stresses more than anyone that a one- or two-game sample means next to nothing, and it's the end result that counts. The trick is conveying that message to a fan base that has trouble taking a blowout loss in stride.
You could feel it in the Garden on Wednesday night — this one stung. Pretty badly. But from here, the best course of action isn't to dwell on the loss, but to leave it in the past and move on. The Celtics know how to do that. Perhaps their fans can learn, too.