There are 13 games remaining for the Celtics, and one of their most important tasks was avoiding The Big Fallacy.
For a large part of this queasy season, the Celts have been able to find alleged comfort in the calendar and the fact it really only matters if they perform well in the playoffs. But as the end of the 82-game warmup nears, just getting right in the postseason is probably not going to cut it -- because if they don't show themselves something in these last few weeks, they could be shown the door before it really gets warm around here.
And if you think the cloud of disappointment had rained on them so far, just wait for the deluge a quick playoff exit would bring. The climate around this team would most certainly change.
Against the Kings on Thursday, the Celtics weren't half bad. They were, instead, awful for most of the first half and part of the second, giving up 38 points on 70 percent shooting in the first quarter before finding themselves a bit in the next period, though they did fall behind by 17. Then, after taking a one-point lead in the third, the C's immediately surrendered a 12-0 run.
A final frame blitz salvaged their night, but the 126-120 win over the Kings did little to settle anyone's nerves on Causeway Street. The Shamrocks won't be able to quickly come back against the people they'll see after April 9.
So, no, the idea of trying to flip a switch in best-of-seven time is not a good one. That kind of thing might work for Golden State, but the Celtics aren't two-time defending champions with a track record lined in confetti and expensive rings.
The Celts need to start playing well now if they want that kind of game to be on their computer chip for quick reference when a playoff opponent starts to make a run on them.
Without better attention to detail, the C's might not be able to find that proverbial switch in the dark.
"I'm sure that some can, but I think you have to build the right habits prior to," said Brad Stevens before the audience with the Kings. "That doesn't mean you're going to play perfect heading in. I mean, you can go through the list of teams in the NBA that have had tough stretches right before the playoffs. Go through the list of teams that have won Super Bowls, with the exception of the Patriots, over the course of the last 15 years, and there have been a lot of teams that really went to a different level just because they played well. And I just think the bottom line is you've got to do everything you can to be healthy, feel good, play well, and showing yourselves capable of putting together a good stretch. But I think habits are a big part of that."
As for whether that kind of predisposition is present within his club now, the coach said, "Our habits need to get better. We met (Wednesday). We have one month before the Saturday -- now it would be one month until the Sunday the playoffs start. Transition defense is No. 1, because if we don't get back, we don't have a chance. And then from there I think there's a few things we can clean up on both ends. And then, like everybody else, we'll add little tweaks and things here and there that we haven't put in yet for a reason. But, for the most part, this is what it is, and we just have to clean those little things up."
Al Horford doesn't think the Celtics can wait to start the sanitation process. He believes they have to prove it now. To themselves.
"I think so," he said. "I think you have to show the ability to be able to do some things -- and do them consistently. I mean, I personally haven't really seen that much. I think you have to be able to show the ability at least for a certain period that you can do it, because it's mostly habits.
"There's always an ability to play one game well or something like that, but it takes more to be consistent and to show that."
So even beyond the fact there is still a small opportunity to move up in the Eastern Conference seeding and get homecourt advantage for at least the first round, there is meaning to these last games.
"I think at this point we have to make sure that we're really competing and improving every game," Horford said. "This is a great time to just continue to work on getting better."
Stevens was asked if simply missing shots -- even good ones -- has a negative effect on defense.
"For really good teams?" he replied. Pausing a beat, he answered his own question: "It doesn't.
"We're not as good as we need to be yet. It shouldn't be an issue. ... As you get into the latter parts of the season everybody knows when they're playing (and) how everything is going to play itself out, make or miss, you've got to do your job on the shot. And we haven't done a great job of that, and that's going to be critical. If we make teams play against our set defense, that usually means we're running good offense and getting a reasonable shot, not turning it over, and we have a pretty good chance of being successful if we do that."
And success will be hard to come by when good opponents offer a minute-by-minute test.
"It's going to be difficult right out of the gate for us," Stevens said. "I mean, that's the bottom line. And that would be the case anyways, because playoffs are just hard. But, yeah, if you're not ready for the physical and emotional and mental challenge of each possession in the playoffs, then that'll hit you right between the eyes."
It is, thus, important that the Celtics show over these next few weeks that they can take a punch and not hit the canvas. Otherwise, they won't be saved by the bell -- or The Big Fallacy.