By Frank McLean
There is a never a good time for a basketball team to go on a losing streak. But when you do it when you are in the last quarter of the season and playoff seeding is so tight that a five game losing streak could put you out of the playoff picture, this definitely is not the time to do it.
That’s the situation the Boston Celtics find themselves in after they tied a season high with their fourth consecutive loss Friday night in Toronto, a 101-94 setback.
Before Friday’s games the Celtics had dropped to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. With Cleveland and Toronto battling out for the first and second spot in the conference, the jockeying for position is between the third and eighth seeds. There is only a 5.5 game difference between third place Atlanta and ninth place Detroit.
After the nationally televised Celtics home loss Wednesday night to the Oklahoma City Thunder 130-109, Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said in his post game comments that Friday’s game in Toronto was “ a must win game” and that the Celtics were “soft as tissue” against the Thunder.
On Friday in Toronto the Celtics were never in the game. They were outscored 30-14 in the first quarter. They never led at any time, managing to tie the score just once early in the first frame.
To make matters worst Luis Scola scored all of his 17 points in the game for Toronto in that first quarter where he actually stole the ball from an unsuspecting Celtics offense and made a uncontested slam dunk which is not in Scola’s usual playbook. The 35-year-old just couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he ran back down the court after that one.
Walking into the Celtics locker room after the game you saw a team that is shaken to say the least. Thomas sitting at his locker with his head down, both his knees iced and wondering what has gone wrong over the last four games.
Thomas scored 20 points for the Celtics in 33 minutes of play, but he only went to the free throw line four times in the game while his Raptors counterpart Kyle Lowry went the charity stripe 14 times, more than any other player in the game.
After the game he went to the officiating crew to talk about why he wasn’t getting the calls Lowry and others were. The crew was led by Ron Garretson who has a reputation of not being someone you can talk to during a game in a civil matter.
“I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to get fined,” Thomas said. “The referees have to be held accountable too. Some of those refs have to be held accountable. It’s frustrating not getting the same calls as the other team and we’re one of the top teams in the NBA as well.
“As a man, you want to talk to somebody as a man, right? I didn’t feel like they gave us an opportunity to talk with them throughout the game. Guys were complaining, but at the same time if I come up to you and ask you a question, then I should be able to talk to you and you should be able to answer back. We didn’t get that.”
Thomas also said that the Celtics didn’t lose the game because of the refs, but rather a lack of focus – 16 turnovers in a game is definitely a lack of focus.
“We gotta change something up,” Thomas added about the Celtics woes of late. “I feel like we were being real soft with the ball, not being in control of the possession. That’s the definition of how we’re playing. We’re not playing to the best of our ability. We’re not playing like we know how. We’re playing like were second-guessing, whether it’s offensively or defensively.
“I tried to tell the guys after the game, this is not on the coaches or anybody else. We’re the players. We’ve got to go out and play and we’ve got to figure it out. There’s like 13 games left? We don’t have that much room for error. Things gotta change around here.”
Thomas is right the Celtics need to get a win fast.
This losing streak could not have come at a worst time. Atlanta has won eight of their last 10 and four straight and passed the Celtics for third spot in the conference. Miami has won seven of their last 10 and Charlotte is red hot winning nine of their last 10.
Friday’s loss dropped the Celtics to sixth spot in the conference. If this streak continues they risk fighting with Indiana, Chicago and Detroit for one of the last two playoff spots or worse, dropping out of the playoff picture completely.
That makes Sunday’s game in Philadelphia “A MUST WIN GAME” for the slumping Celtics.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.