Despite Skid, Celtics Refuse To Relent
BOSTON - Other teams would have hung their heads and quit.
After all, the Celtics had lost six straight coming into Monday night's game, and they'd never beaten the Spurs in the Tim Duncan era, losing 17 straight games against San Antonio, so what made the Celtics think they could finally do it Monday night?
Al Jefferson had a huge night against Tim Duncan, scoring 26 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking two of his shots. Elsa/NBAE/Getty
It's simple. It doesn't matter how far they fall behind, or how quickly it happens. This team refuses to quit.
While the Celtics eventually lost 93-89, there was a strangely uplifting mood in the locker room after the game coming from guys like Ryan Gomes, Al Jefferson and Delonte West.
"You know, they're not giving up. Guys are fighting. We just can't get over the hump. So we've just got to keep going and keep fighting and trying to do it," said Celtics Coach Doc Rivers. "I'm proud of them. They're playing so freakin' hard; I want to just try to squeeze a win out for them so they can relax."
After building a 24-20 lead in the first quarter by attacking the Spurs in the paint, the Celtics might have relaxed for 12 minutes, as they were outscored 30-14 in the second period and found themselves in a 12-point hole at the half. Six minutes into the third the Spurs had built a 23-point lead.
Much like the comeback they mounted Saturday night to force overtime in Washington, D.C., the Celtics rallied again, getting to as close as 3 points with 2:19 to play after Gomes converted a layup following a Rajon Rondo steal at halfcourt.
And despite surrendering a layup to Manu Ginobili and an and-one dunk to Duncan on consecutive plays that pushed the lead back up to eight with 1:18 to play, the Celtics chipped away again as Jefferson (26 points and 14 rebounds) converted a three-point play and West canned a pair of 23-footers to pull within two points with just 8.7 seconds left. Michael Finley sealed the deal with a pair of free throws, but the Celtics were certainly too close for Gregg Popovich's comfort.
"Their energy and their youth and aggressiveness I thought was a real credit to what they're trying to do and the circumstances they've been in with all the injuries and losses," said Popovich. "My hat goes off to them. I thought that was a great show of the character they have to hang in that game."
Consolation from opposing coaches is great, but answering the same questions after loses is frustrating. Sometimes, it seems there are no answers on a particular night. Young players who once deferred to Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak have nowhere to look but in the mirror. It's their time now, and as the losses start to mount, reality is setting in. They have to learn to win on their own.
And while there's still some learning to do -- Gomes acknowledged as much after he failed to wrap up Finley on the Spurs' last inbounds pass and lost five precious seconds in the process of fouling him -- the good news is, despite being frustrated and shorthanded, quitting isn't an option. The Celtics are hanging in games because players like Jefferson and West see what they're capable of, and they simply won't accept anything else but a maximum effort.
"Nobody on this team right now has the right to give up on anything. We've got to stick together, and by sticking together we find our way back in to these games," said Jefferson, who told reporters that despite the loss, he was proud tonight because it was the first time he'd heard Rivers tell him that he'd played good defense. "These guys have got too much pride to give up. Too much."
West, who scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, said that the team can't worry about where they are in the standings.
"We're hungry man. We're tired of losing," said West. "We can't worry about wins and losses when we go out there. Every day we focus on getting a win. Everyone has to maintain their aggressiveness, and when our guys get back we're going to be a heck of a team."