When Rajon Rondo is left with the ball trying to take your last shot, you really don't have a shot.
Especially against this year's version of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the one with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
The Celtics would lose Friday night's game at a not-quite-sold-out TD Garden, 122-121, after blowing a 19-point lead [103-84] in the fourth quarter. Had this game carried the importance of LeBron's last visit to the Garden in a Cavaliers' uniform, it would have been logged as one of the all-time great gag jobs in Celtics history. That last trip to Boston for James in Cavalier maroon and gold ended with LeBron exiting from the 2010 playoffs in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It was the last time a team with LeBron James was beaten during the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. James took his talents to South Beach in 2011 and appeared in four straight NBA Finals before his "homecoming."
There will be no concerns about meaningful playoff losses this year for the Celtics. So, perhaps, on a bright note, it's all uphill from here. Collapses such as this have become routine for these 2014-15 Celtics. Boston has blown leads of 15 points or more and lost three times in the past 10 days. But none came against LeBron James on a night that brought as much buzz to the Garden as it is likely to see for the rest of the NBA season.
"You see leads of 15 or 20 points disappear all the time in this league," Jared Sullinger said after the game. "There's no answers," he added. "We've just got to win."
Easier said than done. Especially when your team lacks a go-to option on a potential game-winning shot. No one, it seemed on Friday, could either get open or actually shoot the ball before the clock expired in those final seven precious seconds.
Meanwhile, LeBron, Love and Irving, the NBA's latest Big Three, produced enough highlights to keep "SportsCenter" stocked all night. James had 29 points with 5:40 to play in the third, but he only had 31 with 6:27 left in the fourth. No problem, he finished with 41, including seven straight that took the Cavs from a 118-112 deficit to a 119-118 lead. Love nearly had a double-double in the first half. At one point, Irving scored 11 straight points for Cleveland.
Those were all glaring numeric examples of just how far the Celtics are from anything that resembles a playoff team. Do you really want Boston to make a run at an eighth seed just to endure four straight games like this in the first round?
"The 'guys' for them looked like 'guys' when it mattered, right?" Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “Kyrie was awesome. LeBron was awesome. And obviously Kevin made some plays, too. They’ve got really good players, and those guys did a good job when it was all on the line."
That would be Kevin as in Love, not Garnett or McHale.
That last play, the one where Rondo may still be dribbling had the horn not sounded, was designed to go to Jeff Green. He, however, was unavailable due to something called "defense." The Celtics forgot about that in the final quarter, as they were outscored 38-20.
Rondo passed Paul Pierce on the Celtics all-time assist list Friday night about halfway through the first quarter. He could have used Pierce, or even Ray Allen on the wing, for an option on the final possession. Neither appears to be walking through that or any other door in a Boston uniform any time soon.
Stevens spoke of his "frustration" after the game. And he and his players re-iterated the old line about "moral victories" in that there aren't any. There isn't much more as a coach Stevens can do with this team. They are pretty much good enough to keep things entertaining against the NBA's best for about 44 minutes or so.
Real teams, like the Cavaliers, know how to play, how to score, and how to make stops [Boston had seven turnovers in the fourth quarter], when it's time to win.
The Celtics remain on a learning curve that runs steeper than Tuckerman's Ravine.
After an up-and-down first half, the teams were tied at 59.
The Garden should have been full for this affair. It was not. There were scattered empty seats throughout the upper levels and loge. Perhaps Wednesday night's second-half capitulation against the once-mighty Thunder still hung in the chilly air outside the Garden. When LeBron comes to town, you'd expect him to bring the buzz with him.
Those who chose to stay home likely knew how this one would end, even after Boston outscored the Cavs 42-25 in the third quarter.
Last year, early in the season, the Celtics got that so-called "signature" win of the season when when Green hit a 3-pointer in Miami against LeBron and Company with 0.6 seconds to play that gave Boston a 111-110 victory on Nov. 9.
Friday's game will likely be this season's "signature" loss.
It left the Celtics with plenty of cliches and few answers.
Boston was, as its quickly-aging youthful coach said, "one point not good enough.”
“It is what it is,” Stevens said. “There’s no moral victories, we can’t talk about learning. We’ve got to just get better.”
Getting worse, at least in the final minutes, isn't possible.
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Bill has written and reported for ESPN, CBSSports.Com and was a sports/deputy sports editor at several metro daily newspapers. Reach Bill on the OBF Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
OBF email Address. Thanks always for reading.
More from this blog on: Celtics