DENVER — Two blowouts down, three to go?
The way the Celtics’ five-game road trip against Western Conference teams has unfolded, the team might have to crawl back to Boston without any dignity.
They got their first beating Sunday in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder rolled by 23, a loss the Celtics blamed on their lack of effort on defense, vowing to do better next time.
Two days later, their defense was even worse here, lacking even more effort as the Denver Nuggets destroyed the Celtics, 129-98, at the Pepsi Center.
It was the Celtics’ worst loss of the season, and for the second straight game they allowed a season high in points. The Celtics (13-22) have lost five straight and eight of nine.
“Tonight is just not good enough,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It’s not good enough. We’re going to have to play really well to beat these teams on the road.
“Everybody is going to have to play close to an ‘A’ game — and that’s everybody. Everybody is going to have to do that. If we have multiple guys that aren’t there, we’re not going to win. But today was disappointing. That’s two in a row that have been pretty disappointing.”
Even more troubling is that in the team’s first 28 games, they lost by 20 or more points only once, but in their last seven games, the Celtics have lost by 20 or more points three times.
“Right now, we’re the team that’s all talk,” said swingman Gerald Wallace. “We talk about how we want to get better. We talk about things we need to do to get better. It’s easy to go out and practice and do it. Practice doesn’t really apply to anything with making yourself better. When they turn them lights on, when it really counts, when it’s about the team and making the team better and trying to win as a team, we don’t do it.”
Their next stop is in Los Angeles Wednesday for a rematch against Doc Rivers’s Clippers. The Celtics’ best chance? The Clippers will be without All-Star point guard Chris Paul (shoulder).
But the Celtics had no chance against the Nuggets. Denver led by 32 points and spent most of the game completing alley-oop slam-dunks while the Celtics just stood there, still as statues.
“We didn’t get back on defense, we gave up a lot of dunks, uncontested layups,” said guard Jordan Crawford. “We’re not playing hard enough.”
One of the Celtics’ few strengths this season was defending the 3-point line. Entering the game, they had held teams to 32.9 percent from long distance, the second-lowest mark in the league.
And then the Nuggets made 10 3-pointers in the first half — most of them wide-open attempts — and they shot 51 percent from the floor overall. All five Nuggets starters scored in double figures, and Randy Foye led the team with 23 points.
“My question as we start to watch the film will be, did we have any presence on the basketball at all?” Stevens said. “It didn’t feel like they felt like we were there.”
The Celtics were hardly there at all. Scarecrows have played better defense.
“Once they start to get layups and dunks, we start worrying about that and they were making threes too,” Crawford said. “We didn’t put no pressure on them. We were giving up layups and 3s. We didn’t take away anything to make it hard on them.”
Avery Bradley added, “We just haven’t been very consistent, haven’t been helping each other, haven’t been talking that much. They’re all things that we can fix. We just have to give more effort.”
But, for the second straight game, the Celtics gave almost no effort at all.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” Crawford said. “The whole season is playing with effort and scrapping games out. It’s tough losing like this.”
Wallace was especially upset with the loss.
“Like I said, guys gotta look in the mirror, man,” he said. “It’s gotta be individual . . . ‘What can I do to help the team win? What can I come out on the court and provide to make our team better?’ Right now it’s too much of ‘I,’ too many guys trying to do it on their own, and in this league, that’s hard to do.”
Jeff Green led the Celtics with 17 points. Kris Humphries missed the game with a sprained ankle.
Jared Sullinger was ejected in the third quarter after picking up his second flagrant 1 foul of the game.
He earned both in a span of 25 seconds on the game clock, each after elbowing Denver players in or near the head.
Sullinger, who left without speaking to reporters, now has five flagrant 1 fouls — one more will earn a suspension, and a flagrant 2 will earn a two-game suspension.
Oh, and guard Jerryd Bayless made his Celtics debut after being acquired in a trade with Memphis. Bayless struggled as much as his teammates, finishing with 6 points on 3-for-11 shooting in 25 minutes.
How did he feel about his debut?
“It was good,” he began.
Then he paused.
“Let me take that back,” Bayless said. “It was good to be out there with the guys, but obviously we have a lot of work to do as a team.”
Which is putting it lightly.
“We done met, we done talked, we done did everything, we done argued, fussed, complained, moaned, everything you can do,’’ Wallace said. “It doesn’t matter in here. It matters out there on the court.
“And until we can take all the talk and everything that we say in here and apply it to out on the court, it’s useless, it’s basically like talking to the wall.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.