Celtics

Celtics

Oklahoma City is one of the NBA’s best teams, but what they did to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night was flat-out embarrassing.

The Celtics know all too well that dwelling on the 130-109 home loss to the Thunder won’t do them much good tonight when they travel North of the border to take on the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors.

But the taste that the Oklahoma City loss left in the mouths of these Celtics players is one that isn’t easily cleansed which is why tonight’s game is one of the more potentially pivotal battles Boston will face this season.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas described tonight’s matchup as a “must-win” for Boston (39-29), which has lost three in a row and now finds itself in a four-way tie with Miami, Atlanta and Charlotte for playoff spots 3-6.

If the season ended today, the Celtics would be tied for the fourth seed in the East.

And while much of the focus recently surrounding Boston has been on its ascension towards the top of the East, these three consecutive losses (one short of tying their season-long losing skid) serve as a reminder of just how close they are to not making the playoffs at all.

Boston has the tie-breaker over Charlotte.

Indiana and Detroit round out the top eight in the East, with Boston ahead of the Pacers and Pistons by 3.0 and 5.0 games, respectively.

And you can’t forget about the Chicago Bulls (33-33) who have an identical winning percentage to Detroit (34-34) but falls back a spot due to the Pistons having more overall wins.

 

“The playoff picture, not saying we’re not going to make the playoffs, but it’s close, it’s close,” Thomas said. “Toronto is another test for us. We have to be mature about the situation and just try and get a win.”

Of course that becomes even more difficult as the Celtics continue to play without Jae Crowder who is out for at least another week with a high ankle sprain injury suffered against Houston on Feb. 11. The Celtics lost that game to the Rockets when Crowder was unable to return to action, and have lost the last two games they have had to play without the 6-foot-6 wing player.

There’s no mistaking that the Celtics aren’t nearly as good a team without Crowder who is posting career numbers in just about every statistical category. But they face a Raptors team that has had their share of setbacks via injuries as well, especially when it comes to DeMarre Carroll who was their prized offseason signing from Atlanta.

Carroll has appeared in just 23 games this season due to a knee injury, with a potential return sometime near the end of this month.

For Boston, concern now centers on trying to do a better job of slowing down Toronto’s all-star tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

“We know those guys are going to make tough shots,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley who will spend some time guarding both Lowry and DeRozan. “We just have to try and make every possession hard on them and try to take the supporting cast out. It’s the same mindset as (the Oklahoma City) game. Hopefully they’re not making every shot, too.”

It was clear following the Thunder loss that the Celtics felt there had to be a greater sense of urgency in their preparation and tact towards tonight’s game. But there’s the potential for guys who are desperately trying to do what they can to help this team get back on a winning track, might try to do too much in the process.

“It’s tough to juggle the two,” acknowledged Thomas. “But at the same time you have to be aggressive, you have to make plays. What coach (Stevens) says, ‘whatever you do, do great at it. We need you to be great at whatever you do to help this team.’ Guys need to focus on that.”

Anything short of that and it’ll be yet another bad loss for a team that’s running out of time to solidify a spot among the Eastern Conference’s top teams.

“Like Brad said, ‘this season is not based on 68 games. It’s a full 82,” Thomas recalled his coach saying. “A few games can have you down in the standings. We have to figure it out and show mental toughness (tonight). Toronto’s a great team, one of the best teams in the NBA. They’re not just gonna give us a game, especially on their home floor. We have to lock in and focus in and try and get the win.”