The Boston Celtics dropped their eighth straight game on Saturday night, kicking away a 19-point second-half lead in Detroit while absorbing a 115-111 loss to the Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Unlike Friday's loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, this one was a little easier for Boston to swallow. The Celtics were playing without three starters and only nine available bodies. Boston played freely for the better part of three quarters and its 3-pointers fell, helping the Celtics build what should have been an insurmountable cushion early in the third quarter. Alas, Boston went cold, making just 1 of 12 attempts from 3-point land over the final 19 minutes (and shooting just 35.1 percent from the floor overall in that span). The Pistons rallied a bit when shots started falling, grabbed the momentum, and, when Jerryd Bayless's 3-pointer in the final seconds rimmed out (after being halfway down), Detroit escaped with a win that temporarily staved off their formal playoff elimination.
The Celtics can find some silver linings in this one: Rookie Phil Pressey recorded his first career double-double (12 points, 11 assists) in a spot start; Bayless continues to shoot the ball well in elevated minutes (team-high 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting over 40:48), and Jared Sullinger had a nice night against a tough frontline while returning to the starting lineup (22 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists over 35:34).
And, let's be honest, few are going to lament an additional loss at this stage of the season. The Celtics still own the fourth-worst record in basketball and are now 1 ½ games behind the Utah Jazz in the league standings. In fact, combined with Orlando's triumph over Minnesota, Boston shuffled within a game of the Magic -- owners of the league's third-worst record -- with five games to go.
Orlando's schedule should make it difficult for Boston to make up more ground. The Magic close with games against five Eastern Conference playoff teams -- Brooklyn (twice), Washington, Chicago, and Indiana -- while Boston's slate is slightly less daunting with games against Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Washington. Then again, as playoff-bound teams employ strategic rest down the stretch, anything could happen.
Hollinger's playoff odds peg Boston to finish with a 25-57 record and maintain that fourth-worst position. With another win, the Celtics will tie the win total of the 2006-07 team, which posted a 24-58 mark and own the second-worst winning percentage in franchise history (behind only the 1996-97 squad that finished 15-67.)
Given how competitive the Celtics have been for much of the season and considering the dilapidated state of the East, its striking that this Boston team could even land in the same conversation as those two squads. Coach Brad Stevens and his crew deserve a better eulogy than in the same breath of teams that were legitimately cringe-worthy to watch.
These last few games haven't been pretty. The Celtics got throttled in Washington, lost to Philly for the second time at home this season, and then fumbled away the big lead in Detroit. And yet this season doesn't feel as dire as the 1997 or 2007 campaigns did. That said, it has reminded fans how much more fun it is to be competitive rather than navigating a transition season.
Despite all the hand-wringing about whether the Celtics would lose enough to land a high pick, it appears it won't be an issue. If the season ended today, Boston, which owns the league's longest current losing streak, would have an 11.9 percent chance at the No. 1 pick and a 37.8 percent chance at a top 3 selection.
The Celtics have the next three days off before visiting Atlanta on Wednesday. They'll take Sunday off on the heels of the back-to-back, then likely reconvene Monday. Stevens has said he plans to keep swinging until the season ends with a visit from the Wizards on April 16. The focus remains on progress, even if it isn't necessarily evident in the team's win-loss record recently.
Losses now will be met with shoulder shrugs. They're just part of the process.