It would have been hard to keep a straight face in the Boston Celtics locker room on Tuesday night.
“I was not tanking the game,” Celts head coach Doc Rivers told reporters after a home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
The T-word came up because Rivers benched his starting five down the stretch, watching his benchwarmers cough up an 18-point lead to their lottery-bound rival (missing its best player, no less).
The Celtics obviously didn't cover the spread as an 8-point favorite. They probably could have, but they didn't.
“Honestly, I got to the point early in the fourth quarter (where) I turned to my coaches and said, ‘We’re going to win or lose with this group,’” Rivers argued. “I got to the point (where) I thought, ‘What do we get if we win this game, if we put Paul (Pierce) and Al (Jefferson) back in? What do we get out of this game?’”
I dunno, Doc. Maybe you could’ve saved yourself from being grilled by local reporters for being overly transparent in your motives?
Bostonist.com, a popular local website, may have put it best: “If Doc were impersonating Kevin Nealon's ‘Subliminal Man’ character on Saturday Night Live, he could have grunted ‘Kevin Durant!’ at that point.”
It gets worse, as the Hartford Courant reports that Pierce stormed out of the building without speaking with reporters. He put up 23 points in 23 minutes before suffering a cut on the inside of his mouth and leaving the game. He didn't play again, despite Rivers’ admission that his superstar was fine to play in the fourth.
Rivers tried to play off his starters’ anger as a positive.
“They were pouting - not at not going in. They were pouting at the group (on the floor) and how they were performing,” Rivers said. “When you walked in the locker room, the discussion was not about that they didn’t go back in. They were ripping the guys who were on the floor. So in a lot of ways, that was all good.”
Yes Doc, that does sound like a healthy locker room.
“It’s a really curious situation, given how they beat San Antonio and played Dallas so tough just before that,” says NBA handicapper David Jones. “They’re situated where they’re going to finish no worse than second-last, as there’s five games separating them from the third-worst team.”
Only the Memphis Grizzlies have a worse record than the Celtics, with their 17-52 straight up (SU) record putting them three games “ahead” of Boston in the race for the most ping-pong balls in this summer’s lottery.
“Looking at Memphis’ schedule, they’re going to be an underdog in every game down the stretch,” Jones notes. “They’ve got a Western road trip coming up and all their home games are tough… if Boston’s goal is to ‘catch’ Memphis, I don’t think it’ll happen.”
The Wednesday night collapse leaves Celtics backers in a curious position.
As much as Boston has stunk on the court this season, they’ve been a gold mine for bettors since Pierce returned to the starting lineup, going 13-6 against the spread (ATS). It’s hard to get bettors to lay off a team providing results like that.
Jones suggests bettors focus on Boston's opponents rather than the Celtics themselves if you choose to play them at all. Tanking to Charlotte, he says, will be quickly forgotten in NBA circles because there were no playoff implications. If Rivers pulled a similar stunt against a fringe playoff team, there’d be hell to pay.
The Mavericks beat the Celts 109-95 on Friday night as 9-point underdogs.
Pierce told the Boston Herald that he hasn't discussed things with the club about his role for the time being and added that he'll soon deliberate with the Celts' medical staff about the possibilty of sitting out the rest of the regular season.
After that pair of games against teams already assured a playoff berth, the Celtics host the Orlando Magic, which are fighting tooth-and-nail for one of the final playoff berths in the East.