Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers may have gotten under the skin of his players when he said they're not "committed to be being a good basketball team."
Whether the shot across the bow lands on deaf ears remains to be seen, but the Celtics have to get back to work Tuesday night on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Celtics were flying high with a season-best six-game winning streak, then a subsequent three-game slide spoiled the mood. The losing ways continued with Sunday's 103-88 loss at Detroit in the opener of a quick road trip as Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee both scored 16 points in defeat.
"This group right now is not playing right," Rivers said. "We're playing awful."
Jeff Green scored 15 points off the bench and Paul Pierce had 10 for Boston, which shot just 39.8 percent for the game and never led. The game was even more sloppy in the second half, when the Celtics committed 13 turnovers and shot just 42.1 percent from the floor. They also had 21 personal fouls in the final 24 minutes.
After Boston pulled within 55-54 early on in the third period, the Pistons went on a 15-4 spurt for some breathing room. One night after scoring a season-high 30 points in an overtime loss to Chicago. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo had only eight points to go along with 15 assists. He was also responsible for nine turnovers.
"I just do not think we're committed to being a good basketball team," River lamented. "I've either got to find the right combination, the right guys, or we're going to have to get some guys out of here."
Criticism aside, the Celtics, who dropped a season-high four in a row from Dec. 27-Jan 2, are still one of the top defensive teams, sitting seventh in the NBA with 96.0 ppg allowed. They're 7-12 outside of TD Garden and will return to Beantown Thursday versus the rival New York Knicks.
Cleveland is back in the Forest City to play 10 of its next 12 games, and just went 1-4 on a recent western road trip.
The Cavaliers were last in action Saturday during a 109-98 setback against the Utah Jazz as rookie Dion Waiters scored a game-high 23 points and Kyrie Irving finished with 18 and nine assists. Tyler Zeller collected 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Cavs, who made 41 percent for the game and sank 6-of-21 shots from beyond the arc.
"I feel like when our guys want to get it going, we just don't. We talk about it. Coming out, guys were setting screens and I'm just trying to make plays for my teammates," Irving told NBA.com. "Coming out in that third and fourth quarter, we just got softer."
Tristan Thompson recorded 12 points and 11 boards in defeat. The Cavs trimmed the deficit to 58-54 early in the second half until the Jazz pulled away with a 9-0 run. Cleveland got no closer than nine the rest of the way.
Irving and Waiters have been the lone bright spot for the Cavaliers, while the former is averaging 24.0 ppg this month. Cavs center Anderson Varejao was on the list of promising players, but is out for the rest of the season with a leg injury and blood clot in his lung.
Varejao is taking blood thinners to remedy the situation and averaged 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds this season.
"Clearly our players' health is our top concern and we are disappointed for Anderson and his family," said Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant in a statement. "We know what a competitor he is and how much he wants to be on the court helping his teammates. In the meantime, he has our full support and we look forward to welcoming him back as he recovers."
Cleveland is just 4-12 as the host this season and suffered a 103-91 loss at Boston on Dec. 19 in the first of four meetings this season. Pierce poured in 40 points to pace the Celtics, while Irving scored a team-high 22 points for the Cavaliers, who have lost five of the last six matchups in this series.
Boston has won three straight at Quicken Loans Arena. The two clubs will meet again on March 27 in Cleveland and April 5 at Boston.