Coach Steve Clifford’s hints to his Charlotte Bobcats lately have been subtle and not-so-subtle.
He keeps telling them to focus on their performance, not the standings. Drown out the noise and maximize what they have learned. Don’t think they have accomplished anything yet.
Friday Clifford lost a game but gained a visual aid: The video from the Bobcats’ loss to the lottery-bound Boston Celtics might have a long run in this team’s playoff preparation.
“Our defense wasn’t close to what it needed to be,” Clifford said after the 24-55 Celtics shot 52 percent Friday. “We play a playoff game with defense like that, and that other team is going to score 110 to 115 points.”
The loss had consequences: The Bobcats (40-39) no longer control the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Wizards came from behind to beat the Orlando Magic, moving a game ahead of the Bobcats at 41-38. Two other results were also relevant: The Toronto Raptors losing and Chicago Bulls winning mean the Bulls now control third place in the East.
Clifford wants to hear none of that. He wants his players’ minds back on what got them into the playoffs – sound, rugged defense.
A lot of things went wrong, including wing defenders Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson getting in foul trouble. Basically no one could guard Celtics forward Jeff Green, who made 8-of-11 shots for 18 points.
The Bobcats played without point guard Kemba Walker (sore groin), but the Celtics were also without their star point guard. Rajon Rondo was a late scratch with a bruised left shin.
Rookie Phil Pressey started in Rondo’s place and was plenty good with 10 points, 13 assists and five rebounds. Walker’s fill-ins – Luke Ridnour and Jannero Pargo – played OK. Pargo missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
The Bobcats were down three because they gave up a key offensive rebound to Brandon Bass (18 points). That forced the Bobcats to foul and Jared Sullinger (20 points on 8-of-13 shooting) hit two free throws with 2.5 seconds left.
The Celtics are adept at blowing leads; they were ahead by nine Wednesday in Atlanta in the fourth quarter before succumbing. Not Friday, not the way the Bobcats played.
“We really didn’t play that much defense at all,” said Henderson, limited to 25 minutes due to four fouls. “You can’t put yourself in a position like that.”
Clifford said he had no idea whether Walker will be available Saturday at home versus the Philadelphia 76ers, another lottery team looking to play spoiler.
The loss wasted two fine performances: Center Al Jefferson made 16-of-26 shots for 32 points. Power forward Josh McRoberts had 10 assists, including a one-handed laser in traffic to Jefferson for a layup.
“Tonight was a great lesson,” Jefferson said. “We don’t play the way we’re supposed to play, and we’re going to get our (butts) kicked.”
CELTICS 106, BOBCATS 103