Rivers puts loss in perspective

BOSTON -- If you launched a remote control across your living room in frustration while watching the lowly Washington Wizards run roughshod over your Boston Celtics Friday night, maybe you should take a cue from Doc Rivers.

Boston's sixth-year coach arrived earlier than usual at his postgame press conference, stepping to the podium before the combo Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce session that typically precedes him.

But if you're thinking Rivers was in a hurry to chew out his team for another lackluster performance, you'd be mistaken. Rivers noted that Garnett and Pierce wouldn't be attending their usual postgame confab as reporters eyes shot skyward -- then he flashed a big smile.

"I'm just kidding, they're coming," Rivers said before quipping. "Kevin's just lifting weights, so I decided to go first."

Yes, the Celtics have been down this road so many times this season, it's hard to be surprised or even upset when they suffer another letdown against a weaker opponent.

To be sure, Rivers and his players weren't pleased with the embarrassing effort turned in as Boston fell to Washington, 106-96, in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score reflects.

And the Celtics weren't thrilled to drop a 16th game at the TD Garden this year.

But Rivers, in what's become a familiar refrain, noted that these things happen, particularly this time of year, and suggested that, win or lose on Friday night, the team will ultimately be judged by what it does after April 14.

So, for the final three games of the season, put down the remote. Wait until the postseason before you break any electronics out of frustration.

"We've lost to New Jersey, we've lost to [other teams with poor records], but if we make a run in the playoffs, will you forget it? That's my question," asked Rivers. When reporters nodded that all would likely be forgotten if Boston could make a sustained postseason run, he added, "That's my point. If we don't, then it's probably who we were all year -- an inconsistent team -- at least in the second half of the year. We'll find that out."

If you were one of the 18,624 who paid good money to be part of the sellout crowd Friday night, you probably think that excuse stinks as bad as the Celtics did against the now 25-win Wizards. Boston endured a 7-minute, 35-second scoreless streak in which Washington scored 18 consecutive points spanning into the second quarter to open a 21-point lead. That run ballooned to 32-4 and the Celtics trailed by as much as 28 in the first half before making a too-little, too-late rally in the final minutes thanks to a 3-point barrage from Nate Robinson.

And Rivers and Co. fully admit they deserved the boos that fans showered them with. But at the end of the day, they know they can buy forgiveness by not succumbing to such lapses in the postseason.

What's concerning is that, as Boston travels to Milwaukee for Game 80 of 82, the team is still trying to figure out why it suffers from such inconsistencies.

"The one thing that always concerns me with this team is our inability to do it for 48 minutes," said Rivers. "Tonight's tonight, but going into the playoffs, we have to find a way to sustain our play throughout. Even if our offense or defense, one of our cogs isn't working, the other side carries you forward. That's been a problem."

That might be an understatement. Whether it's putting together 48 minutes, or putting together back-to-back efforts, Boston can't stop suffering from Jekyll and Hyde syndrome.

Maybe that's why the team, after opening the season at 23-5, has posted a 26-25 record since Christmas. One night up, one night down. One half up, one half down.

Yet, as Rivers suggested, all will be forgotten if this roller coaster ends on the upswing. But that's going to take a sustained effort.

And winning games like ones on Friday wouldn't hurt, either.

"You want to win these games," said Pierce. "And you want to gather some momentum going into the playoffs. It just seems like whenever we start to gather some momentum, we have a tough loss and I don't believe that you just turn it on in the playoffs. Some teams have done it in the past, but for the most part, I think you have to go into the playoffs with a good rhythm, with a good streak going on where you are playing well. And we haven't been playing well consistently.

"Hopefully we can clean some things up and just really work on some things, start to play some really consistent basketball for the next three games."

Three games isn't likely to cure what ails the Celtics. And with Boston slipping a game behind Atlanta in the race for the third seed, this team looks almost content to settle for the fourth spot and see what happens from there.

Which likely involves a second-round clash with the NBA's best team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Assuming, of course, Boston gets that far.

If they do, fans might forget all that hair they ripped out over the previous six months.

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