Consistently inconsistent C's

Kelley L Cox/US Presswire

Paul Pierce and the Celtics stumbled against the Sacramento Kings.SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- During Friday’s morning shootaround, Celtics coach Doc Rivers asked his players to identify the leading scorer for the Sacramento Kings.

“Everybody kinda looked at each until Keyon [Dooling] said [Marcus] Thornton,” said Rivers. “He was the only one who knew right away. Because you don’t see this team, [DeMarcus] Cousins -- because he gets most of the press -- you would just assume it was him. But it wasn’t.”

And at that moment, Rivers kinda knew it was going to be a long night. He never gets those sort of blanks stares when he asks questions about the key personnel in Los Angeles or Miami or Chicago.

Thornton erupted for a season-high 36 points to fuel a Sacramento offense that shot 53.5 percent from the field overall and exploded for 41 third-quarter points en route to a 120-95 thrashing of the Celtics at Power Balance Pavilion.

As captain Paul Pierce sighed after the game, “It was just one of those good ol’ fashioned butt-whoopings.”

Yes, it was obvious early that the Celtics were lifeless and Rivers tried, as he dubbed it, “junking up the game," hoping to give his team any sort of a spark. He went small, he switched to zone, but none of the gimmicks worked. By midway through the fourth quarter, Rivers had pulled his starters with Sacramento out front by 20 and the tail end of a back-to-back looming Saturday in Denver. But not before Pierce had twisted his right ankle stepping on Thornton’s foot trying to set a fourth-quarter screen and soon limped off to the locker room.

Yes, it was just one of those nights.

The Celtics had played inspired basketball since the All-Star break, winning eight of their first 10 to start the second half. It was encouraging enough that the team let Thursday’s trade deadline pass without activity and it was fair to start wondering if the team’s inconsistencies might be a thing of the past.

No such luck. Friday’s clunker only confirmed that this team is either unable or unwilling to bring the necessary energy to be competitive every night and there’s going to be some bumps in the road between now and the postseason.

Rivers said he’s content to endure that turbulence, so long as it's the exception and not the rule.

“I just didn’t think we played with the great spirit that we’ve had throughout the streak,” Rivers said of Friday's loss. “It’s the second time we’ve done that [also getting blown out in Philadelphia on the second night of a back-to-back]. Listen, if we could win a lot of games and have one of these every once in a while, I can live with that. I just don’t want this to be a habit.”

But even Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge admitted Thursday that these type of games will invariably pop up with this crew. It’s clear that Boston gets a little extra motivation from top opponents and simply cannot manufacture that energy against the league’s weak sisters.

“I think the pattern so far has shown that we get up for big games. ... I anticipate having some good nights and some bad nights [during the regular season],” said Ainge. “I have faith that the players know the time and the score, when the lights are on, and they rise to the occasion in big moments.”

As Rivers was quick to point out, the trouble with Friday’s loss is that it came following an off day, which usually allows Boston to produce a better effort. Instead, a Sacramento team that had lost three straight absolutely throttled the Celtics and Boston must try to make up for it against a tough Denver squad.

“Hopefully this is a wake-up call,” said Pierce.

Evidently, the Celtics have been hanging up on that call all season long and hitting the snooze button on their alarm clocks. Nothing suggests they won't continue to do so until the playoffs.

Rivers playfully greeted reporters after the game by remarking, “Wow, you're still here?” Later in the interview, he was asked about watching the second-seeded Duke men’s basketball team (featuring his son, Austin) fall to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA tournament.

Sighed Rivers, “A good night,” before emphatically rolling his eyes.

When a reporter followed up by noting the rarity of a 15-seed upset, Rivers put things in perspective.

“Anybody can beat anybody,” he said. “I think [the Celtics] proved that tonight.”