BOSTON — Here's a hard fact the Boston Celtics and several million of their ardent fans had better understand: James Posey, now of the New Orleans Hornets, is not walking through that door.
Through that 27-2 start and franchise-record 19-game winning streak, you forgot about Posey, didn't you?
Posey was the quintessential Celtic, even moreso than the Big Three. Minutes, points, rebounds, assists and fouls didn't matter. He cared about one thing: Winning.
Well, I will amend that a bit. He cared about defense first. He was that last line of defense. You remember him in the NBA finals? He covered Kobe Bryant, a guard, as well as he covered Lamar Odom, a power forward.
Posey played only half a game as a Celt. Sometimes he hit open 3-pointers and sometimes he didn't. But what he did every night was make sure hard-nosed defense was being played.
As the Celtics were trying to explain away their sixth loss in eight games over 12 days — this one a somewhat embarrassing 89-85 loss to the Houston Rockets — to a man everybody said their skid correlates to their desire when they don't have the ball.
"Our goal is to shut teams down," said Paul Pierce, who is as guilty as any Celtic over the recent stretch when it comes to defending the opposition. "We have to get our defensive swagger back. We've lost it the last 10 days."
That's not entirely true.
The winning streak, especially at the end, masked a defense that bent and broke. But because of a flashy offense, particularly with point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins scoring, passing and rebounding better than ever, the wins kept coming.
That was until Christmas Day.
That was the afternoon the Los Angeles Lakers turned the tables and shut down the Celtics in the fourth quarter, allowing only 16 points, which was too little and too late.
Since then it hasn't gotten much better. Over the skid, the Celts have lost to two of the cellar-dwellars in the Eastern Conference — the New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats. Their only wins have been against the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings, which are a combined 15-55.
True, most of the Celtics' problems have come on the road (2-5), but isn't that where their vaunted defense is supposed to kick in? The 2007-08 Celtics had the best road record in the league in the regular season (31-10).
One recent problem has been the Celtics' busy schedule. Eight games in 12 days, most of which includes airplane travel, is a chore.
"(We are doing) things you clean up in practice," said Kevin Garnett after last night's loss. "We haven't had a lot of practice time."
Granted, it is way too early to start slamming the "old Red Sox panic button." The Celtics were in one of these self-doubt funks last April against an upstart Atlanta Hawks team and they figured it out before it was nearly too late.
And when you win 27 of 29 games, which was the best record over 29 games in NBA history, you are bordering on special.
But the Celtics will get no sympathy. In fact, to the contrary. Tomorrow night they play another road game, this one a nationally televised game on ESPN in Cleveland, which now has not only the best player in the NBA in LeBron James but the best record at 28-6.
I repeat: James Posey, who is playing more minutes and scoring more points for the Hornets, is not walking through that Celtics locker room door ever again.
That being said, it's time to play defense like a champion again.
E-mail Bill Burt at email@example.com.