Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Color this team green

The Celtics lost again last night.

"I'm tired of meeting like this," said Doc Rivers.

The Celtics lost a game they could have won. You've probably heard that one before. They also could have defeated the Hornets, the Jazz, and the Cavaliers. But the only game they have won was over the Charlotte Bobcats, and they needed a buzzer-beater to pull it off. They are pretty much a Murphy's Law team right now.

The team they could have beaten last night but didn't was the Orlando Magic. Leading by an 84-83 score with 2:35 remaining (their only lead of the night, but we'll get to that), the Celtics did just about nothing right for the next 2 minutes and 32 seconds, or until Paul Pierce hit a three with 2.3 seconds left to make it 91-89. There was still a chance when Jameer Nelson missed the first of two free throws at 1.8, but Wally Szczerbiak's attempt at a touchdown pass to Pierce went sailing out of bounds untouched by human hands, and that was that. The Celtics had lost again.

"I'm going to keep saying this," said Rivers. "I know people think I'm nuts. I like this team. Being 1-6 is no fun. But I think they're going to get it. We don't have it. But we're going to get it. We're not good enough to win these games -- but we will."

It was a typical Celtics game. They were exasperating. They were entertaining. They were clueless. They were aggressive. They made things happen some of the time. They were abused defensively a lot of the time. And when they absolutely, positively had to play smart -- at either end -- they flunked the test.

It's easy to see how they're 1-6.

But there always seems to be something to hang your hat on, and in this case it was the play of a second unit that saved the game from being a runaway. And within it was the emergence of yet another promising kid, as if Doc needs another one to wet-nurse. But say hello to Leon Powe, because you might be seeing more of him. Or you might not. Let me explain.

Leon Powe was hanging around, minding his own business, when he heard the coach call his name. The game was only 4:23 old and already both Ryan Gomes and Brian Scalabrine had two fouls. With Al Jefferson on the mend from his appendectomy, Doc didn't have much choice. And so Powe was about to make what you calll your NBA debut.

"I had made up my mind that if I ever heard him call my name, I would be ready," Powe explained. "I was attacking. I'm no good if I'm passive."

It took Powe 16 seconds to put something in the box score. He picked up two foul shots on a trip to the basket, making one, and he was on his way. Before the period was over, he had practically become the Celtics' Mr. Indispensible. Never mind that he hardly knew a play. He was throwing his 6-foot-8-inch, 245-pound body around and he was getting things done.

The period ended and he was still out there. And he remained on the floor until Rivers reinserted Gomes with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter. He exited to a raucous ovation, having constructed a line that included 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 charge taken.

That's a long stint for someone who was jumping on that moving train seven games into the season.

"I came to camp in good condition," he said. "Running those hills [he's from Berkeley] in the summer and coming in to work out extra. I felt good. I had a little more to give."

"He was tremendous," acknowledged Rivers. "He really struggled running the stuff. And so he limits you in that way. He's behind in that, obviously. I think he'll get it. And the quicker he gets it, the better he makes us because the two things he brings -- he brings a lot -- but he's physical and can rebound and he's an aggressive scorer. When he gets the ball down low, he can drive the ball."

And he was most assuredly not afraid. "I have confidence in myself," Powe said. "I believe in what I can do."

This is all very nice, and it's certainly good for Powe, but one thing Rivers does not need is more decisions to make regarding personnel. The ideal circumstance in this league is an eight-man rotation (nine at the most), with maybe a specialist (shooter, rebounder, defender, Veteran Sage, whatever) as the 10th guy, plus two others to lead the cheers. The Celtics are the farthest thing imaginable from that. Once he gets beyond Pierce and Szczerbiak, Rivers might as well put the names in the hat and ask The Cooz to pick his substitute order from the fedora.

After relinquishing a 25-point third-quarter lead in the game against the Cavaliers, the Celtics went back to their tried-and-true formula of falling behind and then teasing the home crowd by storming back into the game, this time behind a barrage of 3-pointers, plus the defensive and push-it-up energy provided by Rajon Rondo (7 assists). But once they actually took the lead at 84-83, it was not a pretty sight.

There was a Pierce turnover with that 1-point lead, plus the ball, as he tried to hit Szczerbiak while off his feet (I can just hear The Cooz moaning about that one on the telly). There was a missed open three by Delonte West. There was the horrible sight of Hedo Turkoglu grabbing a vital rebound of a missed Trevor Ariza free throw ("The biggest rebound of the game" -- Doc). There was Jameer Nelson sailing down the lane for a banked scoop on a blown pick-and-roll coverage (88-84). There was Nelson calmly swishing a step-back jumper (90-86). And so on and so on.

"Listen," said Rivers. "We've got to take individual responsibility defensively. They scored four of those [fourth-quarter] buckets just staring our guy in the eye and scoring. And we've got to get down and guard a guy and act like it is important on a big possession."

With that, Doc went back to the condo to torture himself by watching another bungled game on tape, because that's what coaches do.

"It's actually a good thing my family isn't living with me," he noted.

He didn't have to explain.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives