BOSTON -- On the Boston Celtics' season disappointment scale, Friday's overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks probably ranked relatively low. Sure, Boston spoiled an improbable seven-point comeback over the final 33 seconds of regulation by fumbling away the game in the extra session, but the effort was there, and shots simply didn't fall.
Celtics players seemed somewhat conflicted between being upset by letting another win get away and leaning on silver linings. Long after most straddled that fence, point guard Rajon Rondo -- the team's resident straight shooter -- emerged from the trainer's room inside TD Garden and provided a dose of reality for a 13-13 team that has struggled to consistently win these sorts of adversity games.
"We are what our record is. Simple as that," said Rondo. "As of now, you can't say we're better than what we are. Games we should have won, we've lost and only a couple games vice versa, so we've just got to keep finding a way.
"I think we've just got to want it more than other teams. ... Tonight was another game where it went the other way. [The Bucks] got the 50/50 balls when needed, until we made our run to close the [fourth] quarter and tie the game. But other than that, they got most of the 50/50 balls and we can't win that way."
Asked if Celtics players had to look themselves in the mirror, Rondo brushed off that somewhat hackneyed suggestion.
"Well, we've said that plenty of times," said Rondo. "I just try to speak for myself and just try to continue to lead. I just try to lead by example by going out there and playing as hard as I can. I can only do so much, [Paul Pierce] can only do so much, Kevin [Garnett]. So we've just got to keep searching and, like I said, we'll eventually get it.
"If not, we're looking at being a .500 team."
That's about as easy for these Celtics to swallow as being dubbed "soft." Rondo did submit that, despite the middle-of-the-road record, Boston clearly owns the potential to be a better team. Even Rondo sees reasons to stay optimistic, albeit for reasons off the court.
"I don't want to put it on one player, but when [Avery [Bradley] comes back, we're going to be a completely different team," said Rondo. "He'll help us out a lot, especially on the defensive end. He's a physical guard and I think we need that type of effort, that type of energy that he brings to the game and it's kind of contagious."
Then in a brief moment of levity, Rondo stared into a television camera and declared, "So I'm putting all the pressure on you, Avery. No, I'm just playing."
Bradley -- recuperating from double shoulder surgery and hopeful to be back on the floor in early January -- has surely been missed, but it's unlikely he could have helped too much on Friday. The Celtics limited Milwaukee to 43.4 percent shooting and had multiple opportunities to grind out a win -- Boston didn't help its own cause by shooting 38.3 percent.
In fact, Boston closed out the third quarter on a 10-2 run to open an eight-point lead. For the second consecutive outing, the Celtics hitched themselves to captain Paul Pierce, who scored 40 in Wednesday's win over the Cavaliers, and he carried them again with 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting with 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals over 42:40.
Alas, everyone not named Paul Pierce was 23-of-71 (32.4 percent) shooting, including atrocious nights for Jason Terry (1-of-15, 4 points) and Kevin Garnett (6-of-22, 12 points). Add in Rondo's 3-for-8 shooting and Boston's four other starters were a combined 10-of-45 (22.2 percent) with 24 total points (Jason Collins did not put up a shot).
Terry was still incredulous at another off-shooting night.
"After probably the third shot, I was like, 'Man, what's going on out here?'" said Terry. "Then I had a good look in overtime that, man, that's bread and butter -- baseline jump shot, didn't go in. So then at that point I'm like, 'If I get another one it's got to go.' So, if there was 10 more minutes in that game I'm thinking I'm going 5-for-5. That's just my mindset. So, it didn't happen tonight, but, again, I'm not going to stop shooting. But I told the guys, this one's on me."
Terry has absorbed the blame for losses that have featured poor shooting nights by him throughout the season. It's a veteran move aimed at absolving the rest of the team from blame. Regardless, Terry and his teammates have to figure out how to win games with their actions, not their words.
Even Doc Rivers seemed uncertain how to feel about Friday's loss.
"I didn't think we played well, but I thought we wanted to play well tonight," he said. "We made mistakes, so did they. But honestly we played the right way, we moved the ball, guys got open shots, we battled. [But] we lost.
Rivers did admit the Bucks are the better team at the moment, having won three of four against Boston this season.
"Give the Bucks credit. They've beaten us three times," said Rivers. "So they're the better team right now. Maybe we'll play them later, which means playoffs, and we're a better team by then. But I think you've got to give them credit; they've beaten us three out of four, they've won the season series, so they have to be the better team right now."
And the Celtics have to be a better team moving forward. There's no way to sugarcoat that.