LOS ANGELES -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was headed for the team bus after the C's 116-102 loss to the Clippers on Monday night when he passed Isaiah Thomas' locker stall near the rear exit of the visitors locker room at Staples Center.
Nearly a half hour after the final buzzer, Thomas was still dressed in full uniform with a white towel draped over his head. Thomas, who is typically one of the first players dressed and available for postgame media obligations, stared into his locker stall, and Stevens patted him on the back before departing.
After a couple of his teammates took their turns in front of the cameras and microphones, Thomas eventually entered the scrum and was asked why he appeared so frustrated.
"Everything," he said. "We should have won this game. We should have won [Sunday] night [in Phoenix]. We can't be experimenting in Game 63."
Added Thomas: "It's just the way we lost tonight was unacceptable. We lost the game in the last 15 minutes of the game. We played a really good game up until the last 15 minutes. And that's the players' fault, the coaches' fault, that's everybody in this locker room's fault. We could have done a lot better."
Thomas seemed irked, in part, by the small-ball lineups that Boston was forced to resort to while playing without two frontcourt rotation players in Al Horford (elbow strain) and Jonas Jerebko (flu). The Celtics built a 13-point lead early in the second half only to watch the Clippers embark on a dominating run in which they outscored Boston 41-14 over an 11-minute stretch spanning into the fourth quarter.
Jamal Crawford ignited the burst with his perimeter shooting, but undersized Boston soon got disheveled trying to match up in transition when it went small. At one point, 6-foot-6 Jae Crowder was essentially the team's center, and the Clippers produced a series of finishes without much resistance going to the rim.
Asked what he meant by being frustrated with experimenting in Game 63, Thomas said only, "You can watch film. You know what it is." Pressed on whether it was the lineups, he remained silent until the next question came.
This is hardly the first time Thomas has quibbled about rotations or minutes. He sounded off back in November after a loss to visiting Golden State in which Stevens pulled him early in the fourth quarter as the Warriors pulled away. Thomas and Stevens talked on the phone that night, and Thomas responded by emerging as maybe the best fourth-quarter scorer in league history since then.
Thomas likely understands that Boston was playing without two of its key frontcourt guys in Horford and Jerebko, although that doesn't make two stomach-punch losses any easier to absorb. The Celtics often go small, even when fully healthy, and losing Horford and Jerebko -- all while Tyler Zeller recovers from illness and Jordan Mickey gets thrown back into the fire after a long stretch of DNPs -- made it difficult to match up against a team like the Clippers with size and athleticism up front headlined by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The Celtics were scheduled to stay in Los Angeles on Monday night. Tuesday is an off day, with the team set to fly to San Francisco in advance of Wednesday's nationally televised game against the Warriors. There will be plenty of opportunities for Stevens and Thomas to chat if there's any need to talk about the way Boston kicked away two double-digit leads on consecutive nights.
Part of Thomas' frustration might be that Boston had positioned itself for a real charge at the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers, especially after last week's win over Cleveland in Boston. There was a chance to pull within two games on Sunday before a stomach-turning finish allowed the Suns to emerge on an improbable Tyler Ulis buzzer-beater.
Now Boston will wake up Tuesday with the Wizards just 1.5 games behind and the Cavaliers three games in front. There are still two stops left on Boston's five-game road trip, a visit to Denver after Golden State, before things ease up a bit with a home-heavy run to finish the regular season.
Thomas was asked about catching Cleveland for the No. 1 seed and still didn't rule it out, although he stressed that Boston has to play better ball in order to have any chance of that happening.
"We're only three games back. It's not the end of the season," Thomas said. "We could go on a five-game winning streak starting next game. You never know. That's how fast things can change. But we have to figure it out. We will. We can't panic, but tonight hurt. It hurt me, I know that."