Commentary

Pierce: Grizzlies loss left bad taste

After being embarrassed by Memphis, the Celtics make the Pacers pay

Updated: March 13, 2010, 1:02 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- When the Celtics convened Friday morning in Waltham to watch film from their grisly loss to Memphis on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers pulled out a recent newspaper article and recited it to his team.

"It talked about how [the team] lost focus, how there's no sense of urgency, and how there's no way you can return to the Finals the way [they're] playing," Rivers said, setting up the big reveal. "Then I told them it was the L.A. Times and it was Phil Jackson, Lamar Odom, [and] Kobe Bryant, their comments.

"And they all laughed because they all thought it was them. I even asked them, 'Do you remember saying that?' And guys were saying, 'Yeah, I said that.' And it was somebody else."

Schadenfreude? Not quite. More like a simple reminder that every team endures ups and downs in an 82-game season. Rivers could have just as easily picked an article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer after the Cavaliers endured a three-game losing streak last month.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty ImagesKevin Garnett grabs one of his six rebounds Friday night against the Pacers.

And while neither the Lakers' nor the Cavaliers' recent struggles have been quite as pronounced as Boston's -- the Celtics were a mere 17-18 over the past 35 games entering Friday's action -- the larger point was that the Celtics needn't think they're the only contender being skewered for their lackluster play.

As Kendrick Perkins put it: "I thought he was talking about us at first, but he was talking about the Lakers. I said, 'Shoot, we're not the only team getting murdered, I guess.'"

Two nights after Boston's seesaw season reached another low with a 20-point loss to the Grizzlies, it rose again as the Celtics opened a 20-point halftime advantage Friday night against the Indiana Pacers and breezed to a 122-103 triumph at TD Banknorth Garden.

In the grand scheme of things -- as Rivers warned his team after the game -- one win will do little to alleviate the panic that seemingly engulfs the Celtics everywhere but in their own locker room, particularly if it's not followed by at least a competitive showing (if not a win) Sunday in Cleveland.

But for at least one night, Boston played to its potential again, and as we prepare to turn the clocks ahead this weekend, hope springs eternal.

"We got our butts kicked the other night," Rivers said. "So I thought everybody had a sense of urgency, and you could see that on both ends. But listen, like I told them … one game doesn't fix anything. But it's good that they know what they can do. I know that, but it was good to see."

After a string of embarrassing losses, including a head-shaker to the five-win Nets late last month, the Celtics finally seemed downright ashamed when their fans booed them without restraint throughout Wednesday's loss to Memphis.

It might have finally delivered a message that their recent play was simply unacceptable.

"We really had a heart-to-heart [Friday] morning," Pierce said. "To tell you the truth, [Wednesday's loss] really left a bad taste in our mouths, the way we played that last game. Nobody wants to be booed at home by their home crowd -- seeing everybody leave early. That really sat with me that night, to be honest. I think it sat with everybody. [Friday] we just came in, talked to each other, and we played like a team that was on a mission. Hopefully it can carry over for the rest of the season."

It'd be easy to discard Friday's win as a laugher over a hapless Indiana squad (even if the Pacers did top Boston earlier this season at home, and led the Celtics big in another visit to Boston before Pierce rallied the Green late). But Boston has had a way of making bad teams look good -- even great -- especially on the Garden floor. So for the Celtics to build a 20-point halftime lead and never let it get uncomfortable the rest of the way shows at least some growth.

Rivers' newspaper clipping may have lightened the mood at practice, but it was a serious dialogue about the state of the team that ultimately helped the Celtics pick up the pieces.

"Doc did the majority of the talking but he opened up the floor for everybody to give their two cents and we just spoke freely," Kevin Garnett said. "It was the first time in a while that we've done that; we usually talk among ourselves and try to figure things out amongst the team, without coaches or any other staff members. But [Friday] it included coaches and players, and we had open dialogue. It wasn't anything negative, just general conversation about defensive schemes and things we can get better at.

"I think the best thing about this team, since I've been here, is that we've all been able to talk to one another and critique each other, and be positive, and get results out of it. It wasn't just about the talking; I think what we talked about we actually did tonight. I think we played with 200 percent more energy [Friday] than obviously the other night.

"And to concur with what Paul said, you never want to be in a situation where you're getting booed at home. Home is supposed to be where you lay your head at and where you're most comfortable at. We had to re-establish that here."

Even the Pacers admitted this was a tough time to encounter the Celtics. "We were playing a wounded tiger," Indiana coach Jim O'Brien said with a sigh. "They came out and pounded us, and we never recovered from that."

Friday's win was the Celtics' first step in re-establishing themselves as playoff contenders, but they know there's more work to do. Pierce again acknowledged that Boston isn't a team that can simply flip a switch when the postseason arrives; rather, the Celtics need to start showing consistency now.

"We're supposed to be able to bounce back; that's the type of team we are," Pierce said. "The important thing for us is to play better. We want to start building these habits going into the playoffs, and it's not too late. We're going to use these last 18 games to try to gather some momentum and just start playing better basketball. We're going to try to win all of them; if we don't, regardless, even if we lose some games, the key is to feel good about the way we played and leave it all out on the court."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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