Stumbling Celtics believe the fault is in their stars

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 27, 2011

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WALTHAM — While Doc Rivers left the resurrection of the Celtics’ pride and execution in the hands of all the players, it’s apparent that if the team is to make another run at an NBA title, the four All-Stars need to improve their production and leadership.

That is the opinion of Rivers, team president Danny Ainge, and the Big Four themselves, who have been forced to assess the state of the franchise after six losses in 10 games, the latest a deplorable 83-81 loss to the shorthanded Bobcats Friday.

Today the Celtics begin a four-game trip against Minnesota, a tricky team because of its young talent. Kevin Love is expected to miss the game with a groin injury — but that may make the Timberwolves the favorites. The Celtics have struggled against teams missing stars, as they play to the level of the competition.

Rivers called his team “selfish’’ after the loss to the Bobcats and didn’t back down roughly 13 hours later. The Celtics had what was expected to be their most critical practice of the season yesterday, an opportunity to spend two hours righting the mental ills that have seeped in.

“We’ve just got to play better and act better and we’ll get there,’’ said Rivers. “I have no doubt about that, but we’re not there right now. It’s all mental.’’

Of course, with every loss, fans wonder whether Kendrick Perkins would have made a difference. Ainge said he understands the sentiment against the trade, and that if the Celtics don’t advance far into the postseason, the blame will be at his doorstep.

“These games aren’t lost because Shaq [O’Neal] and Jermaine [O’Neal] aren’t playing,’’ Ainge said. “The guys that are in uniform and playing, we have plenty to be winning games. I think everybody in that locker room will tell you we haven’t been playing as well as we’ve been capable of playing.

“Ultimately, our Big Four, when they play well, we win.’’

As the Celtics endure their first major skid of the season, the consistency of the Big Four has fallen off.

Rajon Rondo has been up and down; Kevin Garnett has had poor shooting nights; Paul Pierce has had questionable shot selection; and Ray Allen’s role in the offense has shrunk considerably.

“I believe between the four of us, we have to play better,’’ Allen said. “Whether it’s making the shot down the stretch or getting a defensive stop, the four of us, we have to do better.’’

The Celtics now will be hard-pressed to gain the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Asked how important that is, Ainge said, “That’s a good question. That’s something that we’d like. But it’s not like we’re trying to lose games right now. It’s not like we’re resting players.

“We’d like to get it but the competition is stiff. Chicago is playing great, Miami is playing better, and so I think with the four top teams in the East, no matter who plays who, it’s going to be a tough series.’’

Playoff matchups may not matter much if the Celtics stumble into the playoffs with mental issues and poor chemistry.

“It’s an attitude, a commitment to playing the game and doing all the little things defensively and offensively,’’ said Ainge. “There’s a big difference between 85 percent and 100 percent.’’

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