Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The Celtics were left frustrated out west, losing three games by at least 18 points apiece. The Celtics failed to salvage the final stop on their four-game road trip on Sunday night, losing 118-96 to the Sacramento Kings, which prompted coach Doc Rivers to address defense and effort during his postgame press conference.
Boston, which dropped to 14-16 on the season, allowed Sacramento to shoot 53.7 percent from the field on Sunday, and, more importantly, gave up a whopping 56 points in the paint. While Rivers was critical of his team's defense as a whole, he zeroed in on on-the-ball defense as one of his team's most glaring flaws.
"Defensively, we were bad the whole trip besides the one effort in [Brooklyn], where we beat, in a lot of ways, a broken team at that point, I guess. I didn't know that. So we've just got to do better," Rivers told reporters in Sacramento. "I've got to figure out the right guys who want to do it consistently every night.
"Every time we look like we're going to make a run, we give up a layup or open 3 and a lot of it is just -- No. 1, we've got to just guard the ball better, keep the ball in front of us. I thought the Clippers and Golden State just went [isolations] for the most part and just said, 'We're going to score over your guys, 1-on-1.' And then tonight we just had breakdowns again. So it's disappointing."
After registering a promising 93-76 Christmas Day victory over the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics dropped three straight games on the West Coast, losing by at least 18 points in each contest. Rivers said after Sunday's loss that his team doesn't yet fully understand how difficult it is to win consistently in the NBA.
"We thought we could win them all. We really did," Rivers said. "But when you don't play well, you don't win. The Knicks came in here and lost the other day, so it's not like we're the only team. The NBA, you can lose every night and you can win every night, and I really believe that. But to win, you've got to play well. Winning is hard, and I don't know if all our guys get that yet. You have to play hard to win an NBA game, one game. And it's difficult and we're not doing it."
Rivers admitted after Saturday's loss to the Golden State Warriors that he wanted his team to the attack the rim with more regularity. And even though Boston did score 38 points in the paint Sunday -- a high for the last three games -- it failed to maintain that effort for the entire game. Not surprisingly, Rivers circled things back to the defensive end.
"You can't attack and get to the rim if you don't get stops," Rivers said. "So when we got the stops, we ran the floor, we pushed the ball up the floor. ... When we get stops, we have the offense. When we don't get stops, you're taking the ball out of bounds every single time. It's frustrating, you're walking the ball up the floor, and teams can defend you."
One of the lone bright spots on the trip was the play of rookie Jared Sullinger. He scored in double figures in three of the four games and came through with a 10-point, six-rebound effort in 23 minutes on Sunday. While Rivers might be questioning his team's effort as a whole at times, he praised Sullinger for playing "the right way."
"I thought Jared was sensational the entire game," Rivers said. "Some day he'll get a call, maybe his second year. But he played the right way. I thought he played with the right spirit. Again, he was on the floor with Kevin [Garnett] and that group because they got stops."