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Recent regression frustrates Celtics

There were still 13 seconds left on the clock when Boston Celtics veteran big man Kris Humphries stood up from the bench, slammed his towel on the baseline in frustration, and started for the locker room while the Phoenix Suns punctuated an 87-80 triumph on Friday night at TD Garden.

The always composed Brad Stevens took the podium for his postgame news conference soon after and appeared as frustrated as he's been in a loss-filled season.

The goal for the Celtics at this stage of the season is progress; Friday was regression.

In the grand scheme of things, it's just another loss -- of which the Celtics have 44 this season -- and keeps Boston among the pack of teams jockeying for lottery position at the bottom of the league standings.

The actions of Humphries and Stevens remind us that these guys are still competitors. The Celtics could lose their final 19 games in a row and most fans would celebrate the potential draft advantage it would produce. But neither Humphries nor Stevens is wired to accept losing. Both are smart enough to understand the situation the Celtics are in this season, but both have often stressed that doesn't make defeats any easier to stomach.

Before month's end, it's likely that Stevens will have matched his regular-season loss total from six seasons at the helm of Butler, where he posted a 166-49 record. No matter how much he braced himself for nights like Friday, it will never roll off his back.

In a way, the reactions of Humphries and Stevens were maybe the most encouraging aspect of Friday's loss. What took place on the court certainly left nothing to celebrate. Boston missed 65 shots while shooting 30.9 percent from the floor (29 of 94 overall) and completely fell apart in the final minute of a winnable game.

Humphries was left to replay in his mind a key late sequence when he was forced to switch onto Eric Bledsoe when Chris Johnson couldn't fight over a screen. Bledsoe missed a late-clock jumper over Humphries, but Alex Len had position on a fronting Johnson and tipped in the miss -- while being fouled -- as the Suns broke the game's final tie and went on to score the final seven points of the night.

After Markieff Morris emerged with a 50/50 ball and streaked the other way for a dunk, Humphries had seen enough.

"[Humphries is] upset because we lost, and he certainly has got a right to be," said Stevens. "That was not a good ending. It was not a good performance. I thought we shot probably worse shots than we've shot for a while. We missed 65 shots. That's pretty incredible that we had a chance to win, but that's not good and we need to make sure that we don't do that again."

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