By Rob Peterson
Posted Jan 5 2009 9:02AM
NEW YORK -- A mere 11 days ago, the Celtics sat atop the basketball world as they started the season with a 27-2 mark, an NBA record after 29 games.
But since then, they have lost four of six, including a humbling 100-88 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. All of a sudden the reigning champs, whose title was built on a foundation of a stout defense, are having trouble finding ways to defend themselves. Give the Celtics credit. They're not making excuses.
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"We played awful in the first quarter, awful in the third quarter and awful in the fourth quarter," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "If this was the CBA, they would get an extra point because they won three quarters and that is how you felt."
Rivers was right. The Celtics may have shot .543 from the field in the first half, but they only had a 53-50 advantage heading into the break. Things got worse in the second half when Boston connected on 13-of-44 shots from the field.
But last year, if the Celtics couldn't score, they could always defend. On Sunday, the Celtics' vaunted defense, the one designed to keep opponents out of the paint and force them into low-percentage perimeter shots, was sliced and diced by the Knicks. New York scored on nine straight possessions in the fourth quarter, none of which, save for a 20-foot jumper by Wilson Chandler, came from outside of five feet.
For a team that prides itself on getting stops, the defensive breakdowns were a conversation starter in the Celtics locker room.
"We talked about it after the game amongst the players," Paul Pierce said, "what we're doing right, what we're doing wrong and the good thing about this group is we're a strong group. We know we're a better team [than this]."
Pierce then went to list a litany of things that have gone wrong as of late: inconsistent defense, lack of communication on defense, not making appropriate adjustments and playing in spurts.
OK, so, what's gone right? Pierce paused.
"Not a whole lot," Pierce said. "Nothing I can put my finger on right now. We're not going to lose confidence as a group. That's what we said after the game. We all talked about what we're doing wrong.
"We're a team that sticks together and we'll get through it."
When asked, point guard Rajon Rondo was hesitant to even call what the Celtics are going through a slump.
"Are we in a slump?" Rondo rhetorically responded. "I mean you answer that question. We're like 30-6 [actually 29-6]. I don't think we're in a slump.
"We still have the best record in the league. I don't think it's a slump."
Rondo may have a point. After 35 games last season, the Celtics were 30-5, one game ahead of this season's pace. Boston then lost to Washington on Jan. 14 to drop to 30-6. They went on to win 66. They'll take that. What the Celtics won't take is more sloppiness, more losing or more of what they've given each other over the last six games.
Guard Ray Allen noted the Celtics' culture won't allow it.
"The adversity we've gone through throughout the last two years, the guys have responded really well to it," Allen said. "We've almost reveled in it because we've bounced back from it pretty well.
"We've only grown closer. We spend more time talking. When you win, you have a tendency to gravitate away from each other. It's probably human nature because everything is going well. And when you lose, most teams gravitate away from each other even more.
"We spend time [together] even more in times of need."
This may be one of those times.
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