If Doc Rivers were the kind of coach who made excuses, he could have had a field day with Thursday night's loss, the Celtics' third in four games, a 92-86 setback at the hands of the hated Lakers. His team was shorthanded, distracted and overwhelmed by a horde of purple and gold-clad big men.
He had every reason to chalk this loss up to external factors beyond his control.
But that wasn't his game. After this loss, the Celtics' coach looked in the mirror and determined that his team wasn't prepared to earn a statement win.
The Celtics were without all three of their backup centers, and their ranks only thinned out more when Nate Robinson left in the second quarter with a knee injury. They were essentially down to seven guys, and of the seven, four of them were in serious foul trouble with four whistles or more.
But Rivers said his team had no external factors to blame.
"Mentally, we were not a very tough team tonight," the coach said. "Usually we are. I didn't think we fought hard enough through adversity, and we're great at that usually. It was one of those nights, I thought, that we didn't do a very good job. We obviously did have a lot of adversity, with the injury to Nate, and the foul trouble, and the lack of bodies. But you knew that that could happen before the game, and I don't think we handled it very well."
The Celtics had a commanding lead early in the game — not only did Ray Allen make history by overtaking Reggie Miller's 3-point record in the first quarter, but he finished the period with a game-high 12 points. The Celtics went up 27-20. They quickly widened that lead from seven to 15, threatening to make it a runaway and a 2-0 season sweep of their archrivals.
But the Lakers went on a run — several of them, actually. They had a 10-0 tear late in the second quarter, and then two more bursts of 10-0 and 8-0 shortly after halftime. In a game where momentum means everything, the Celtics had nothing.
"I just think we didn't move the ball the same," Paul Pierce said of the second half. "We didn't move it like we did in the first half. I thought the ball kind of stuck there in the second half. That's what happens. That third quarter really hurt us. We just didn't play with the same urgency."
The obvious explanation for the seismic second-half shift was the play of Kobe Bryant, who took only three shots in the first half and had three points at the break. He then shot 8-of-14 after halftime, finishing with a game-high 23 and burying the Celtics in crunch time.
Meanwhile, on the other end, he was holding Rajon Rondo to 5-of-14.
"Kobe didn't win the game with his offense," Rivers said. "Kobe won the game tonight with his defense. I thought defensively, he was absolutely phenomenal. He was everywhere. He was trapping, he was helping off of Rondo all night, trapping in the post, blocking shots. He just had a great floor game. It was more than just his scoring."
The Celtics aren't going to sit around and mope about injuries. Not here, not now. In a first-place deadlock atop the Eastern Conference at 38-14, the C's can't afford to waste time feeling sorry for themselves.
Even in a game where Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and Semih Erden all sat out, leaving the C's defenseless against the Lakers' onslaught of size and strength, the Celtics refuse to complain about their misfortune.
"I don't worry about it," Rivers said. "They weren't here. What am I supposed to do? They're not here. The fact that Shaq and J.O. are gone, it didn't matter to us tonight. We had who we had. Whether it would have made a difference or not, I don't know the answer. But we had enough bodies to rebound tonight. We just didn't do it the way we wanted."
On a night where Ray Allen made history and a national TV audience tuned in to see the game's greatest rivalry, the Celtics came up short. But they blame only themselves, which will only push them harder going forward.