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Ainge talks it up

Message: Celtics can play better

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Director of basketball operations Danny Ainge called a team meeting following the Celtics' 102-100 loss to the Clippers Thursday night at Staples Center.

Behind the closed door of the visitors' locker room, Ainge talked for approximately 20 minutes. All the players were present, along with the assistant coaches and team staff. Interim coach John Carroll entered shortly after finishing his media obligations.

When reached by telephone yesterday afternoon, Ainge first declined to acknowledge a meeting had taken place. In a subsequent conversation, Ainge explained that whatever he said to the team should remain private. But Ainge did acknowledge the fact that he addressed the players, likening his message to a pep talk.

"We can play better, that was my message," said Ainge.

A team source who was present for the meeting recounted what happened, a couple of hours after it took place. Ainge opened the meeting by telling the players he recognized "this year's been tough" and that "a lot of different things have gone on." According to the source, Ainge then said, "I just want the veteran guys to know this is their team."

The meeting continued with Ainge questioning the players. Ainge turned to captain Paul Pierce and asked what he thought of the game. According to the source, Pierce said nothing. Ainge next turned to Mark Blount and asked what he thought of the game. Blount said, "It was long."

Ainge later went around the room and praised players. He turned to seldom-used Jumaine Jones and said, "I believe in you." He turned to rookies Marcus Banks and Brandon Hunter and said, "I know you can play."

Ainge concluded the meeting by addressing how poorly the team had played recently. He talked, in general, about how to play the game. More specifically, Ainge mentioned the need for better passing and the effort required to get open on the wing. He also told the Celtics they needed to play harder.

According to the source, Ainge's words appeared to have little impact on the veterans, judging from their facial expressions. Ainge responded by noting that "most of my words were not directed toward the veterans." When Pierce was asked what was discussed, whether it pertained to the team's play against the Clippers or larger issues, he took his time formulating an answer.

"We just talked about the game and what we thought we could have done better," said Pierce, before Celtics public relations director Bill Bonsiewicz stepped in and excused the captain so he could visit with friends and family.

Ainge will see what effect his words had when the Celtics play the Trail Blazers tonight, with the addition of trade acquisitions Chucky Atkins and Lindsey Hunter. Despite a throat inflammation, Atkins passed his physical yesterday in Boston and flew here last night. For the rest of the team, Carroll canceled yesterday afternoon's workout.

While Ainge would not comment on what he told the team, he shared his thoughts on the Celtics' recent performances. Those thoughts were in line with points the team source said Ainge made after the Clippers game.

"We can play more consistently," said Ainge. "We can avoid the droughts. A lot of it is our mental toughness, fighting through adversity on the court. It's bad calls, bad passes, substitutions, bad shots. Anything that can distract us, we're allowing to distract us."

There were plenty of tough calls, poor passes, and ill-advised shots against the Clippers. Early fouls against Blount and Chris Mihm temporarily depleted Boston's core of big men. The Celtics committed 24 turnovers, which led to 32 points for the Clippers. Pierce (4), Ricky Davis (4), and Walter McCarty (5) accounted for most of the turnovers. And Boston did not help itself by shooting 43 percent (31 for 73), including 7 for 18 from 3-point range.

Ainge noted that the Celtics' frustrations were clear from the way they carried themselves on the court. He views the current problems, the ones that have produced just one win in the last 11 games, as "more emotional than execution." "It's not like I'm panicking, but [body language and disposition on the court] is something that has to change in each individual as they grow as players," said Ainge. "It's contagious both ways, good and bad. It's been a difficult season with difficult circumstances. But I believe in them and I believe they can play better than they're playing."

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