Notes: Despite Slim Playoff Hopes, C’s Maintain Focus
The Celtics may not yet be mathematically eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race, but their chances of qualifying remain incredibly slim after Wednesday night's 108-91 loss to the Wizards at the Garden. And while the tenth-place C's had been chasing the Philadelphia 76ers for the eighth and final spot, the Chicago Bulls beat the Sixers to climb into the eight hole Wednesday night.
Regardless of who is in the eighth spot, the Celtics all seem to agree that rat5her than concentrating on the teams they're trying to catch, their attention is best served by focusing elsewhere: themselves.
"At this point, I'm not sure if we are out of it yet, but we can't focus on that," said Delonte West after the game. "We've got a chance to knock Philly down and that's it. We're trying to win the rest of these [games] and see where we stand after that. But we took one on the chin today."
Doc Rivers said afterward that he felt Washington was more focused than his club was, and that the Wizards, who are currently holding down the fifth spot in the East, were "getting ready for something" while the Celtics were not. You could hear the disappointment in Rivers' voice, because one of the hallmarks of this Celtics team has been that it doesn't give up and always plays hard regardless of the scoreboard, opponent or any other factors. He felt Wednesday night's effort was not representative of the team.
"That's not us," said Rivers. "One thing I will tell you about this team for the most part: we give great effort. We play with great energy and tonight we didn't. Is that because of last night? I doubt it. It was because of tonight. We just didn't."
Wednesday's game started off pretty ugly, as the Celtics committed eight turnovers in the first quarter alone. And the Wizards came out shooting the ball well with little opposition. In fact, neither team played much defense in the first 24 minutes as both teams shot over 50% from the field. Rivers told the troops at halftime that the first team to play defense would win the game. And when the Celtics shot just 21% from the floor in the fourth quarter, it was obvious who dug in on D. The biggest factor might have been in the paint, where the Wizards outscored the Celtics 12-0 in the final stanza.
According to NBA.com's standings page, the Celtics and Magic are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot in the East, but at this point, anything short of running the table wont suffice. And even if they did win out their remaining games, they'd need a sudden collapse from the Bulls and continued collapse from the Sixers to qualify for the postseason. Still, the guys don't seem to have a hard time finding motivation, especially since most of the players on the roster aren't established NBA vets.
"As young players in this league we don't have the luxury to not be motivated. I'm fighting to the buzzers. Until the buzzer goes off I'm trying to win," said West. "I'm still trying to make my name in these so I don't the luxury of hanging my head or just rolling over and dying and letting the season finish out."
Pierce, on the other hand, doesn't need to prove himself as a player, but would like the team to learn a few things about winning before the season ends and said before the game that he'd like to see the Celtics "continue to get better" and "finish off the season on a strong note."
Pierce was stressing the same message after the loss.
"Guys were disappointed in our play," said Pierce after the game. "We're certainly not a team that's going to give in just because right now we are probably out of the playoff race. We're going to continue to fight these last seven games. I expect a lot more out of us."
Jefferson Targeting Sunday Return
Al Jefferson went through some basketball drills before Wednesday's game, and he's hoping to return to action Sunday afternoon against the Knicks.
"It depends on how I feel today," said Jefferson. "I can play though pain, but if it's keeping me from playing, that's the difference."
Jefferson would also like to be back for another reason on Sunday. The first 5,000 fans in attendance will receive Southwest Airlines "Big Al" Jefferson Bobbleheads. Bobblehead Al wears the white home uniform and even has his Shamrock Foundation Big Al wristband, but there's no word on whether he comes with the "Karl Malone Tape Job" on his ankles.
LaFrentz, Rivers Clear the Air
Raef LaFrentz aired his frustrations about being removed from the starting lineup in favor of Kendrick Perkins in Toronto Tuesday night, but reported that he'd met with Rivers Wednesday about the situation and was quick to dismiss the idea that he was still upset about the change in his role on the team.
"That was yesterday," said LaFrentz, who appears to want no part of any sort of soap opera. "You guys make it about me every time I get pulled out of the lineup. I just respond to questions."
Rivers said he could understand that LaFrentz would be frustrated by not starting, but quipped, "If the way he's going to show it is by scoring 20 points and eight rebounds, I think that's terrific."
He went on to reiterate a point he's made several times throughout the second half of the season: only Pierce and Szczerbiak have proven themselves consistently enough over the year to be penciled in as starters.
"Roles are going to change on this team. We're not that good where you'll have a starting five like the Detroit Pistons. We're just not at that level."