PORTLAND, Ore. — Several Celtics spoke about how this — basketball — is their job.
On a Saturday when their season reached a new low, it was their biggest talking point, because it seemed like they had nothing else.
“This is our profession,” Jordan Crawford said. “It’s your job to get better every day, to keep a positive mindset.”
That is now an even greater challenge for a team that has lost a season-high eight consecutive games after falling, 112-104, to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.
“I hope it makes everybody hungry, because this is kind of embarrassing,” said Avery Bradley, who had a game-high 25 points on 11-19 shooting.
The Celtics were close, within single digits in the final minutes, but they couldn’t complete a comeback, just like in their previous two losses entering Saturday.
“We came up short,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It sounds like a broken record.”
A month ago, the Celtics sat atop the Atlantic Division, the unexpected kings of an unforeseen pile of garbage.
Now, after losing for the 11th time in 12 games, after going 0-5 on this Western Conference road trip, the Celtics have the fifth worst record in the NBA, placing this rebuilding team exactly where many thought they’d be before the season began.
“You know what? It’s not real adversity,” Stevens said. “When things aren’t going your way, when you lose a couple games, it’s no real adversity. The way that you should respond is that you’re fortunate to do this job. And you’re going to go after it and you’re going to do the very best that you can.
“We’re not getting what we want, and I’m sick about that. But at the end of the day, laying down is not an option. And doing things and continuing to go after it every day is what you do when things are tough.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts said before the game that the Celtics play hard. It’s the first trait that opposing coaches reference when speaking of the Celtics, and the Celtics again lived up to that description against one of the NBA’s top teams.
But they couldn’t continue their hot shooting — they opened the game by making 75.9 percent of their shots — in the second half, or come up with key shots late.
Portland used a 13-0 run in the third quarter to take control of a game that the Celtics had led by 10 points.
The Trail Blazers then led by as many as 13 in the final quarter before holding off the Celtics to improve to 28-9, tied for the best mark in the West.
Seven Trail Blazers scored in double figures, led by LaMarcus Aldridge’s 21 points. He also had 13 rebounds. Robin Lopez added 15 points and 13 rebounds.
The Celtics had a nice looking box score, but nothing to show for it, once again.
“We’ve got to stay together,” said Crawford, who had 13 points as one of six Celtics to score in double figures. “It is tough times, a lot of people are saying stuff from the outside. It’s really important that everybody stays together. It’s going to get better.”
Before the trip began, Gerald Wallace said it could “set us in the right direction as far as where we want to go, or destroy our whole season.”
Did he still feel the same way after the Celtics went 0-5 on the trip?
“I think so,” he said. “We’re on an eight-game losing streak. Guys have got to start looking at themselves in the mirror and figure out how we can get out of this as a team. Obviously, the way we’ve been doing it ain’t working.”
The Celtics were close in each of their last three games, as all came down to the fourth quarter.
“It’s just been tough, man, because we’re all playing hard and we all want to win,” Bradley said. “We’re just so close, but not finishing. It’s tough.”
Still, the players believed that, even with the losses, they have continued to play hard, and they felt proud of that.
“Of course we’re going to have frustration,” said Jared Sullinger, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. “I thought we fought hard from the beginning of this trip to the end, it’s a big difference with the team. We’re playing more together, the ball is moving side to side and we just gotta close out games better.”
But is it difficult to remain positive when the results are losses, night after night?
“Nah. I’ve got to grow as a person,” Sullinger said. “When I was younger, shoot, two years ago, if we lost one, I would hold onto it. Now, you just learn from it.
“You just go into the next game with a clear mind. Every game has a different flavor to it. It’s not all the same Kool-Aid. So you’ve just got to keep playing hard.”
Bradley agreed. “This is our job,” he said.
That’s true, when you really boil it down. The game is their job. And staying positive when there is little to be positive about is, at the very least, what they’re being paid to do.
But on a Saturday when their season reached a new low, the fact that the game is also their job seemed like their only thing that the Celtics knew for sure, the only thing on a night when they had nothing else.