Celtics blow 27-point lead, lost to Hawks in double o.t.

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Celtics blow 27-point lead, lost to Hawks in double o.t.

ATLANTA Getting out of the rut that has become the 2012-13 season for the Boston Celtics isn't going to be easy.

And maybe the worst setback of them all happened Friday night as Boston blew a ridiculously large lead in losing 123-111 in double overtime to Atlanta.

Boston led by as many as 27 points - 27 points! - only to turn in one of the worst second half showings of the season that allowed Atlanta to get back into the game and eventually pull out the victory.

Josh Smith converted a 3-point play early in the second overtime. Soon after that, Kevin Garnett, who had 24 points, picked up his sixth personal foul trying to grab his own miss.

With Garnett on the bench, Al Horford wasted no time going straight to the rim for a lay-up that put the Hawks ahead 112-107 with 3:21 to play in the second overtime.

There was still plenty of time left, but the C's were an exhausted bunch at this point when you consider they played less than 24 hours earlier while the Hawks were at home, resting up for tonight's game.

Still, that's no excuse for losing this game, not after dominating play with such an authoritative manner only to give it away.

Boston (20-23) has now lost six straight for the first time this season.

The C's haven't gone this long without a win since the 2006-2007 season when they had three separate losing streaks of six games of more, one of which was a franchise-worst 18 straight.

All of Boston's losses have hurt, but it's hard to imagine one stinging more than this one.

Even with such a huge lead, the C's pushed their lead back to double figures (94-84) in the fourth only to see it wiped out when Horford made a pair of free throws to cap off a 14-4 run to tie the game at 98 with one minute to play.

Boston had a chance to regain the lead, only for Garnett to miss what would have been the go-ahead, game-winning lay-up. The C's got yet another chance when Devin Harris lost the ball out of bounds with 29.2 seconds to play after video review by the official overturned the initial call which gave the ball to the Hawks.

Rondo missed a floater in the lane, but was able to get his hands back on the ball and force a jump ball with Kyle Korver who is about five inches taller.

Atlanta got the jump ball with 3.7 seconds to play, and immediately called a time-out.

Josh Smith missed a potential winning lay-up as time expired which led to the first overtime. Boston's Paul Pierce had a chance to win it at the end of the first overtime, but his shot was well short of the rim.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.