At the end of last season, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a four-way tie for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Once the tie-breakers were complete, the Celtics dropped to the fifth-seed.
When that happened, November losses to Brooklyn and Orlando - two of the worst teams in the East last season - stood out as keeping them from starting the playoffs at home and in doing so, factored in their first round playoff exit.
And if the Celtics find themselves in a tie with another team at the end of this season, you can bet more than a few fingers will point to Monday night’s 106-105 loss to the lowly New Orleans Pelicans as a bad loss.
“It’s one we wanted to win; every game is one we want to win,” Boston’s Kelly Olynyk told reporters after the loss. “We know it’s gonna come back and haunt us later when you’re looking at records and standings and stuff. That means we have to take care of business from here on forward.”
Indeed, the Celtics (5-5) return to the floor on Wednesday against a Dallas Mavericks team that has struggled mightily this season, akin to the Pelicans.
The problems on Monday were reminiscent to the issues that have plagued the Celtics for most of this season.
They pride themselves on being a defensive-minded team, but far too often they don’t play with the kind of defensive disposition needed to win.
It’s as if because they have been a good defensive team in the past and have most of the core guys from those teams still in the fold, they have this false sense of believing the hype, that they can turn it on defensively whenever they need to.
But as we have seen this season, that’s just not true.
Boston made a slew of mistakes defensively down the stretch, none standing out more than Olynyk biting on a pump-fake from Tim Frazier which sent the former Maine Red Claws star to the free throw line with 2.5 seconds to play for what turned out to be the game-winning point.
Isaiah Thomas had a game-high 37 points and afterwards, acknowledged he was frustrated with the way his team played.
“We made a lot of mistakes early in the game that came back to haunt us,” Thomas said.
They allowed too many players for New Orleans to get too comfortable offensively, a cardinal sin for a team whose foundation has been rooted in strong play defensively.
It wasn’t until the latter stages of the third quarter and a good chunk of the fourth did the Celtics start playing defense at a high level.
“We’re not that good a team to wait that long,” Thomas said.
Boston’s defensive problems seemed to affect their play offensively to the point where it seemed they were hoping Thomas’ offense would be enough to carry them to victory.
“It can’t just be Isaiah,” said Avery Bradley who had his fifth double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds. “It has to be other guys out there making plays for each other and making shots.”
He’s right, of course.
But the shot-making Bradley speaks of needs to be balanced with solid play defensively, something that was not on display with any kind of consistency on Monday.
Usually when that happens, it results in a Celtics loss which is something they are experiencing a lot more of than expected this early in the season.
And while they will certainly look at the struggles as something they can overcome in the 72 remaining regular season games, there’s a growing sense that these not-so-stellar losses to teams like New Orleans and Denver at home recently, will become factors in this team beginning their postseason journey from a starting point that’s less than ideal and with that, make it all that more challenging to have the kind of postseason success that the players and their fan base are dreaming of for this season.