CLEVELAND — It was difficult for Paul Pierce to admit, but with his team having a 20-21 record and four straight losses, he had to.
“I think we got pieces here,” the Celtics captain said before Tuesday night’s 95-90 loss to the Cavaliers. “We just got to come together. We got to figure this thing out. Can’t get discouraged.
“I think that’s the one thing this team lacks, that mental toughness, man. When we lose our confidence, I’ve never been on teams like that. We got to stay together, we got to play with confidence.
“Yeah, definitely, it hurts me to say that. It’s like I really sometimes don’t believe it.
“We get down on ourselves. We got to go out there and believe we can win every game. It’s tough sometimes.”
Pierce was reacting to warnings by coach Doc Rivers that roster changes will be made if the Celtics do not play better. Pierce said they are straying from the game plan, and the mistakes are costly.
“Everything revolves around playing hard consistently,” he said.
“We got a system in place and a game plan in place, and then we look at the film and we aren’t always following it.
“We don’t have the discipline night in and night out, the consistency to maintain a game plan and play hard night in and night out.
“That’s been our problem all year long and that’s why you are going to see us go up and down until we are able to maintain that, have the discipline to play hard every night.”
The Celtics got three games over .500 with a six-game winning streak, but then went into a tailspin, losing to New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.
“We went on a six-game winning streak that showed we can [compete for a title], but you got to be able to maintain that for 82 games,” said Pierce, who went 3 for 15 Tuesday night and had 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.
“If a team beats our best when we’re playing the right way, we’re following the game plan, then you can live with it.
“But when you consistently lose when you’re not following the game plan or playing hard, then that’s frustrating.”
No backing down
Rivers didn’t back down from the stunning statements he made following Sunday’s loss to the Pistons, when he threatened to “get some guys out of here” if the Celtics did not improve.
“I think we’re a better team than what we’re playing, and I think we have to [play better],” Rivers said before shootaround. “I think we have to improve our play, and if we don’t, then something’s not working — either something I’m doing or something. It needed to be said.”
Rivers said he was hardly concerned about the team’s reaction to his statements.
“We need to play better, and we don’t need to play better for one night,” he said. “It’s not football where you get a week to readjust and then you get to play well and then you get a whole other week.
“I’ve told our guys this 100 times: [the solution] is in the locker room but it’s not on the floor. We have to get it on the floor and we have to be a consistent team.”
As of today, the Celtics would be the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. and would have to play the No. 1 seed. That is not what the brass envisioned when the season began.
“I think that we’re a better team than our record, but you are always what your record isand right now we are a .500 basketball team,” said Rivers. “That’s what we are. But what I see and my beliefs are we should be a lot better.
“I don’t mind the challenge. I’m up for that and I hope our guys are up for being challenged.”
In training camp, Rivers told reporters how much he liked the revamped roster. During the season, Rivers said he liked the roster when the players were consistent.
Asked if he likes his team now, Rivers said, “It depends on the day. It really does. I like individuals, but we’re not a team yet.”
Waiters on call
Cleveland forward C.J. Miles was out with an illness, giving rookie Dion Waiters a chance to start at shooting guard. Waiters was second in the NBA in rookie scoring (14.8) behind Portland’s Damian Lillard entering the game, and he finished with 7 points . . . Avery Bradley was ready to go after laboring through Sunday’s game with sore ribs. He had 7 points in 26 minutes . . . The Cavaliers were shorthanded after making a four-player trade with the Memphis Grizzlies that netted them Josh Selby, Wayne Ellington, and Marreese Speights. None of those three was available.