Celtics coach Doc Rivers indicated Monday that the reason for his team's recent struggles is a combination of small things at both ends of the court. But as the Celtics set about the process of fixing what ails them, the primary focus is obvious: defense.
"One of the things we made clear is that you'll be playing [based] on your defense," Rivers said. "If we made anything clear [Monday], it's that you can make 10 [3-pointers] in a row, but if you're not getting stops, you're going to come sit next to me. That's the way it has to be. We have to get back to thinking of ourselves as a defensive team."
The irony is that the Celtics are a defensive team, the best in the league, in fact. Boston has held opponents to an NBA-best 93.7 points per game this season.
But recently a disturbing pattern of allowing the opposition one big offensive quarter has emerged, most notably when the Magic outscored Boston 36-11 in the third quarter of Orlando's 96-89 victory Sunday at the TD Garden.
In each of their previous four games, the Celtics gave up a 28-point quarter or worse, including a 30-point second quarter against the Nets, a 28-point fourth quarter against the Heat, a 31-point second quarter against the Wizards and a 30-point first quarter against the Lakers.
The statistics suggest the Celtics' opponents average only 23.4 points per quarter, so to see teams putting up 36 points in a single frame is simply unacceptable to Rivers.
The fact that some of his players took more frustration in scoring only 11 points as opposed to giving up the 36 only outraged Rivers even more.
"I thought our lack of offense -- bad shots, bad execution -- spilled over to the defensive end," Rivers said. "We were frustrated with guys missing shots or not making the right play and not executing, and that carried over to the defensive end.
"We should be able to go through a quarter without scoring and still have a quarter where we don't get outscored by that much. Giving up 36 points, that should never happen."
On the heels of Sunday's loss, the latest setback against a top-caliber opponent, Rivers didn't mince words with his team. If he had allowed the Celtics to lean on excuses in the past, Rivers certainly wasn't letting them get away with that now.
It was slightly condemning that none of Boston's Big Three chose to talk with the press Monday. In fact, only Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis emerged to meet the media, with Rondo drawing mostly All-Star chatter, and Davis speaking at length about what the Saints' victory in Super Bowl XLIV meant to him as a Louisiana native.
Rivers, who emerged for his own chat with the media to a mostly empty gym, even opined, "No one wants to talk to you guys, huh? You're like the plague."
On the other hand, Rivers said that all the players wanted to talk to him Monday, all promising to do better. But he's a little tired of the chatter.
"Enough with the talk," Rivers said. "I had a conga line in my office today. That's great -- guys want to do the right thing. I don't think we have bad guys on our team, I know we don't. ... And we keep talking about, 'Oh, you're right, we're going to do it.' But we're not doing it. So that's what we have to do."
While Rivers was pleased with the effort put forth in Monday's practice, until it translates to game situations, he's taking a stand against the complacency that seems to have set in.
"With a veteran team, there are several pitfalls," Rivers said. "One, you're a veteran team. Two, [they think they'll] turn it on [in the postseason]. Well, I don't buy into that, I never have. Three, leaning back on past success. The past success is no guarantee to future success, and I think this team leans back too far on what they've done. We have to get to work on what we're going to do."