Celtics' words ring hollow

BOSTON -- After watching the Cleveland Cavaliers rally from a double-digit deficit to stomp his Boston Celtics by 20 points last month, Kevin Garnett stepped to the podium and insisted things would get better for his staggering squad.

"I know you guys are tired of writing it in your columns, I apologize for all that," Garnett said at the time. "At some point there has to be some action, you're right, you're totally right."

Two days later, the Celtics lost at home to the five-win New Jersey Nets. Again, Garnett acknowledged the problems and promised solutions.

"I'm not going to sit up here and give a bunch of excuses, that's not my style," he said. "You lose, you lose. They kicked our asses tonight. Period. Point blank. Players have to do more, including myself; we all have to dig deep and see what we're made of as a team. Seriously."

A week and a half later, Boston dropped both ends of a back-to-back, culminating with the Memphis Grizzlies' 111-91 mauling of the Celtics on Wednesday night at TD Garden.

It was never close. Memphis, a team that wouldn't even be in the playoffs if the season ended today, used an early burst to build a double-digit lead in the first nine minutes and never looked back. The Grizzlies led by 15 at the end of the first quarter and Boston never got closer than 14 the rest of the way.

Again Garnett stepped to the podium and delivered the same tired spin.

"We never said it was going to be easy, we never said it was going to be perfect," he said. "It's not going to look good at times; [Wednesday's game] sure as hell is an example of that. But we'll get better. We will. We have no choice."

We assume Garnett truly believes what he says, but it seems impossible for anyone else to buy that talk at this point.

Maybe the Celtics are downright delusional about their potential. Of maybe the team simply isn't as good as it was pegged to be.

Sometimes it's easy to believe Garnett. The Celtics rebounded from the loss to New Jersey with four straight wins. But those triumphs came over a quartet of teams that are a combined 56 games under .500. Charlotte was the only team in that group in the playoff hunt, and that's only because they've won four straight since falling to Boston.

The Celtics' bandwagon might have suffered its biggest exodus of the season Wednesday, as evidenced by how early TD Garden cleared out. The gym was nearly empty with six minutes to go as the Grizzlies built their lead as high as 29 during the fourth quarter.

"I'm not gonna sit up here and try to make excuses for anything," Garnett said Wednesday, sounding eerily familiar. "We've got to play better, especially at home. This is where we make our mark and this is where we supposedly lay our heads, and we've got to protect it like that. There's got to be more of an urgency. It's not about coming in here talking to you guys about it, it's actually going out there and doing it."

Do you believe him? He sounds like the boy who cried (Timber)wolf.

It took Garnett nearly 27 minutes to register his first field goal Wednesday. After missing all three shots he took in the first half, he finished 3-of-9 and recorded six points, seven rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal.

To be sure, Garnett wasn't alone in his struggles. Boston universally looked disjointed, its offensive woes carrying over to the defensive end.

With 19 games left on the schedule, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, ever reluctant to change anything, acknowledged that his team may need some kind of shake-up.

"We haven't fixed it, clearly, and I always say I've got to do better, I've got to figure out why [we're struggling]," said Rivers. "We've been reluctant to make changes with our rotations and stuff like that. Maybe we need to think about it.

"And maybe not," he quickly added. "But we have to think about it because right now we're just sketchy; we're not playing consistently."

About the only thing the Celtics have been consistent at is suggesting that things will eventually turn around. That sort of talk continued to float around the locker room after Wednesday's loss, and one wonders if the players are seeing what those outside the room see.

"No, I still believe," said Rasheed Wallace. "I have no doubts of what we're capable of doing. You've always got to believe. We're not giving up. I'm not a quitter. We're capable of big things here. Going up to the playoffs, it's a matter of us coming together, getting those wins."

But could doubt be creeping in, at least in some corners? Ray Allen didn't seem so willing to utter the company line when asked about turning the season around.

"It's hard to say. I'd like to think there's more out there for us, that we know we can aspire to," said Allen. "Right now, teams have our number."

Yet Allen did provide the strongest suggestion of why the Celtics must remain confident, comparing the team's current struggles to the 2008 postseason, when Boston won it all.

"What we went through with Atlanta a couple of years ago, we faced a lot of adversity," Allen said, referring to a seven-game taffy pull in the first round of that season's playoffs.

"There were a lot of questions about the direction we were headed in. Are we good enough? As we moved on, it really affected us in a good way. We knew which way we wanted to go. It galvanized us as a team. Hopefully that's happening now."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.