Yet again, Gerald Wallace called the Celtics “selfish” – and that, he said, is why they lost, yet again.
“We got selfish,” the Celtics swingman said Friday night after the Celtics choked away a 22-point second-half lead to the Milwaukee Bucks and lost, 105-98, at TD Garden in their home opener of the 2013-14 regular season.
“Instead of worrying about winning the ballgame, we were more worried about getting stats and getting points,” the 12-year NBA veteran continued.
Wallace also called the Celtics “selfish” during a preseason game in Montreal, when they lost, 104-89, to Minnesota — and forward Jeff Green agreed that night.
They each recited similar remarks after the loss to the Bucks.
“In order for us to take the next step to getting better, we’ve got to figure out ways to put egos aside, put your pride aside, and just buy into what Coach [Brad] Stevens wants,” said Green, who scored 13 points. “That’s the only way we can win.”
It’s troubling that a team so early in its season could play in such a way, and Wallace seemed at a loss for words.
“I really don’t even understand it,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what’s more important, winning or padding your stats? Because this is a game that we were supposed to win, easy, without even the starters playing in the fourth quarter.
“Instead, we got selfish as a team, we didn’t move the ball. We stopped pushing the ball. And their second unit came in and manhandled us, and did whatever they wanted to do.”
If the Celtics looked together in the first half, they were the opposite in the second, when they made just seven field goals as compared with 27 before halftime.
They were also outscored, 34-15, in the fourth quarter, when they recorded as many turnovers (four) as made baskets.
It all started to go downhill for the Celtics at the seven-minute mark in the third quarter, when they had their largest lead, 72-50.
But the Celtics were hanging on in the final minute of the game, when the Bucks took their first lead of the second half on a pair of Zaza Pachulia free throws with 43 seconds left.
Wallace had the ball stolen by forward Caron Butler on the Celtics’ next possession, and Bucks guard Nate Wolters made a pair of free throws after being fouled.
The Celtics missed another 3-pointer. Then Pachulia, who scored a team-high 20 points, made another layup. He then added another pair of free throws.
From the point the Celtics had a 22-point lead, they were outscored, 55-26.
Stevens tried to present himself as measured, but the rookie coach couldn’t hide the hurt, which he said is what he wanted his players to take from the game.
“I want losing to hurt, first and foremost,” Stevens said. “Losing should hurt. But I don’t want it to be something that lingers.”
In the locker room, the mood was funereal.
Green said he was hurt, and that on a frustration scale of 1 to 10, he registered a 15.
“Today, that was a bad loss,’’ he said. “We did everything right to get the lead. And we did everything wrong to lose it. So we deserved to lose this game.”
Said Wallace, “It’s very frustrating just to see the personality and the way our team is playing. This is going to be a long season for us, we gotta stay together. We gotta play together, and we gotta want it together.
“Tonight we did that for the first 24 minutes, the second 24 minutes it was everyone for themselves.”
The Celtics are a team of new parts learning a new system under a new coach.
“But how long is that going to be our excuse, really?” guard Courtney Lee asked after scoring 13 points off the bench. “We had training camp, we had preseason, now we have a couple games under our belt. That excuse is running thin. We gotta nip it in the bud and continue to go out there and play for 48 minutes.”
The loss spoiled a strong performance by Celtics rookie center Vitor Faverani, who had 12 points and 18 rebounds for his first double-double. He also had 6 blocks, double what he recorded in the Celtics’ season-opening loss to Toronto.
Brandon Bass led the Celtics with 17 points and added nine rebounds.
To Wallace, it was simple: the Celtics didn’t play as one unit late in the game.
“When you’re playing together, you feel that bond,” he said. “Like everybody is one, you’re moving together, you’re connected.
“Once you get five individual guys out there playing, the other four don’t know what these guys are going to do and you got three guys doing one thing, the other two are lost.”
The Celtics will practice Saturday before hitting the road for a back-to-back set that starts Sunday in Detroit and finishes Monday in Memphis.
Because this team is young and new, there’s the belief if things start going bad, it will only snowball.
Wallace said he believed that is true for any team.
“Once things start heading downhill, they are heading downhill,” the 31-year-old said. “We gotta understand that as a team and try to get on the right path.
“Even if we’re headed uphill and we have bumps in the road, at least we are headed in the right direction.
“Once you start down, it’s a long way down.”
That could be true for the Celtics this season. And there’s still a long way to go.