AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — It was the waning minutes of the third quarter when Doc Rivers relented. After feverishly attempting to motivate his team out of yet another stupor, after watching Rajon Rondo commit silly turnovers, after watching the Celtics leave Brandon Knight and Tayshaun Prince open for consecutive 3-point shots, he took a seat on the bench and just watched.
And for Rivers, that’s the ultimate sign of surrender and apathy.
Afterward, following the Celtics’ bumbling 103-88 loss Sunday night to the downtrodden Detroit Pistons, Rivers unleashed his fury on a team that he is increasingly beginning to dislike. He threatened changes, his most serious attack on his team since this maddeningly inconsistent season began.
“I said we’ve got to find something where every night all 12 guys play the same,” Rivers said. “We did it for three games in a stretch. I told them game four and five in that [six-game winning streak] was garbage, we just won the game.
“So I gotta figure that out. I don’t think the guys are honest with each other. I just don’t think we have committed to being a good basketball team. I think this team wants everything easy. They want the easy way out. They want to win easy. I told them, the only way you’re going to win easy is you’re gonna have to play hard. The harder you play the easier the games become. We’re taking [that] approach.”
And then Rivers threatened to shake up his roster.
“I gotta either find the right combination, the right guys or we’re going to get some guys out of here,” he said. “It’s the bottom line, because this group right now, they’re not playing right and it’s in them to play right but right now they haven’t been because I’m not getting to them or they’re not getting to each other. Either we’ve got to do that or we’ve got to make changes. I’m saying if we don’t get it right we may [make changes].’’
The players were left to rummage through the rubble left by Rivers’s comments. The Celtics are 20-20 and were embarrassed for the second time in two months by the 15-25 Pistons, who scored 13 of the game’s first 15 points and never trailed.
Rondo committed a season-high nine turnovers. Paul Pierce’s bizarre lack of production continued with 10 points and 10 shots in 36 minutes while starting power forward Brandon Bass went scoreless in 10 minutes and has scored in double figures three times in the past 20 games.
Rondo called the team “lax” and said he has to take more of a leadership role.
“For me, it’s too lax, our locker room is too lax,” he said. “Even though a lot of guys’ personalities are really laid-back, but we all got to this level by competing and right now the talent we have, our record is embarrassing, so until guys get sick and fed up with it, I don’t know if anything’s going to change. I gotta do a better job of being a leader. I can’t get on guys and hold them accountable if I don’t hold myself accountable first.”
Those streaking, locked-in and cohesive Celtics have disappeared, replaced by this bumbling bunch that apparently thinks it can win games on reputation. But for the second time in two months, the Pistons showed no respect for the Celtics’ pride or past.
Auburn Hills has become a nightmarish place for Boston, which folded after drawing to within 55-54 with 9:50 left in the third quarter following an Avery Bradley layup. The Celtics got a defensive stop and instead of charging the rim for a layup, Rondo whipped a pass to Bradley, who missed a 3-pointer.
That would be the Celtics’ final chance at the lead. Detroit, behind the hulking presence of rookie center Andre Drummond, went on a 15-4 run for a 70-58 lead and the Celtics had nothing left. They spent the fourth quarter just trying to put together consistent possessions.
The Celtics were simply trying to run their offense without a turnover or play defense without allowing an open shot. They failed miserably at that most of the night.
“We’ve just got to get back to the things we was doing when we were winning, making defense the priority,” said Kevin Garnett, who led the Celtics along with Courtney Lee with 16 points. “Everybody’s upset. We thought we had a good momentum going on, lost a couple of games at home and now this. We’re just trying to figure it out.”
Said Pierce about the threat of changes: “They gonna do what they gonna do. My job is to go out there and give the necessary effort every night, be as consistent as I can to help this ballclub win.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe