MEMPHIS — In the six years that Brad Stevens coached the Butler Bulldogs, he won 166 games — the most ever for a collegiate coach over such a span.
He also never lost four consecutive games during his time at Butler, a distinction that’s a mere footnote to all the other accolades he racked up.
But losing four consecutive games is how his career as coach of the Celtics has begun, as the team’s record fell to 0-4 after Monday night’s 95-88 loss to the Grizzlies before a raucous crowd at the FedExForum.
“Out of the four games that we’ve played, this is the best we’ve played,” Stevens said, “but there’s not much silver lining for the guys in the locker room or for me, right now.”
The Celtics have not lost four consecutive games to start the regular season since 1969-70, seven years before Stevens, the NBA’s youngest head coach, was born.
As they had in their previous three games, the Celtics made it interesting, especially after ending the third quarter on a 15-0 run to take a 72-66 lead into the fourth.
And, as was the case in their previous three games, it was again the fourth quarter, when they absolutely couldn’t afford to struggle, that the Celtics struggled the most.
The Celtics were outscored in the fourth quarter, 29-16, and were nearly outscored by Grizzlies guard Jerryd Bayless, who had 15 points in the final frame, hitting 6 of 7 shots.
Bayless’s 3-pointer gave Memphis an 87-86 lead with 4:19 left.
The Grizzlies stretched that lead to 89-86 on a pair of Zach Randolph free throws.
The Celtics answered with a Brandon Bass layup, but Memphis guard Mike Conley responded with a 15-foot jumper.
After a timeout, Celtics forward Jared Sullinger missed a 26-foot 3-pointer that could’ve tied it with 32 seconds left. The game was over from there.
In summary: After trailing, 80-74, with 7:16 left, the Grizzlies ended the game on a 21-8 run.
“We did a lot of good things tonight,” said Sullinger, who scored 16 points off the bench. “We just couldn’t make shots.”
At least, not when they needed to.
Stevens said that he felt the team settled with Sullinger’s 3-pointer.
“It’s just a matter of me doing a better job of saying, it’s OK if we take a [2-point shot] at that time,” Stevens said.
The Celtics’ biggest flaw? Turnovers. They had 21, matching their league-worst average. It’s the third time in four games that they’ve had 20 or more turnovers.
“Our biggest thing right now is turning the ball over,” Stevens said.
“There’s no question about it. If we don’t do that, we’re going to have a better chance of winning. That being said, I thought they turned up the pressure. They turned up the heat.”
On the subject of turnovers, Sullinger said, “I think we speed up too much, as a team, as a whole. We’re always looking for that definite shot. Sometimes we pass up a lot of open shots.
“It’s early in the season. We’ve still got time to turn it back around.”
Jeff Green led the Celtics with 22 points, but he scored 16 in the first half and none in the fourth quarter, when he missed all three of his shots.
“Back to the drawing board, like always,” said Sullinger, who hit his first two 3-pointers of the season.
The Celtics had struggled from 3-point range in their first three games, shooting a combined 10 of 45 from distance. They were better against Memphis, making 7 of 20, but it went for naught.
Memphis had three players score 15 points: Bayless, Conley, and bruising forward Randolph.
Center Marc Gasol added 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Grizzlies, with their imposing front line of Randolph and Gasol, had a 14-4 edge in second-chance points.
The Celtics will play the Utah Jazz Wednesday at TD Garden, a win they need very much before another tough road back-to-back Friday against the Magic in Orlando and then Saturday against the Heat in Miami.
But with four losses, Sullinger described the Celtics’ morale simply by saying they’re eager to get a win.
“I think once we get that win, we’ll get the monkey off our back and we’ll start rolling from there,” Sullinger said.
Still, how can Stevens draw silver linings from a loss, which he’s had to do four times now?
“You just understand where we are, understand where we have to go, do your best to focus on what’s next and not pay too much attention to anything else,” he said.
Then, Stevens referenced the Celtics’ 87-77 loss to Detroit Sunday, when Boston nearly came back twice but never closed the deal.
“Again, I was disappointed [Sunday] night in a lot of ways with a lot of things,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the loss tonight, but I’m not disappointed in a lot of things.”
The Celtics are searching for any positive they can find, but they’d be best served by not glancing at their record — or at the history books.