Celtics execution down stretch needs improvement

Celtics execution down stretch needs improvement
February 25, 2013, 1:15 am
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PORTLAND, Ore. — Every minute of the game matters.

But players who have been through the wars known as playoff basketball understand that the importance of closing out games is essential if you have any chance at sticking around longer than a round or two.

For the Boston Celtics, that will be among the many lessons they take from this current road trip that includes a 92-86 loss to Portland that wasn't decided until the final minute of play.

After a lay-up by Kevin Garnett tied the game at 86, the Blazers closed out the night with a 3-point play from Damian Lillard and a 3-point basket by Wesley Matthews.

"Down the stretch, we have to start preparing for the playoffs," said Paul Pierce who had a team-high 23 points but only two in the fourth quarter. "Last two minutes, we can't give up open 3s. We can't give up 3-point plays. That's playoff basketball right there. We have to be a shut down team in the last couple minutes of the game, especially if our offense isn't going. The defense is always going to keep you in the game."

Boston's end-of-game struggles on Sunday were indicative of how they ended each of the three previous quarters.

The C's led by as many as seven points in the first, but managed to let the lead get away from them and trailed, 20-19, with 3:45 to play in the quarter.

Portland closed out the quarter with a 7-2 spurt to lead, 27-21.

In the second quarter, a 15-foot jumper by Kevin Garnett brought the C's within 41-39 with 1:33 to play. Portland closed out the half with an 8-3 spurt to lead 49-42 at the half.

The third quarter was more of the same. Boston took a 63-62 lead with 3:54 to play, but allowed the Blazers to outscore them 8-5 throughout the remainder of the quarter and faced a four-point deficit going into the fourth.

"We could never get over the hump," said Boston's Kevin Garnett who had 20 points and a team-high nine rebounds. "When we had a chance to go up, something would happen. We just couldn't turn the corner."

And it was the little things like getting to a loose ball, grabbing a rebound or making the extra pass that proved to be Boston's undoing.

"It was one of those 'my bad' games," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "I told our guys, we had so many of them, 'my faults' where we just lost sight of guys, offensive rebounds. We didn't finish any quarter right. Every quarter they made a run. It was a (winnable) game. But give them credit, they made big shots."

And with the loss, the Celtics (29-27) find their chances of improving their playoff position taking yet another hit with a disappointing loss that they felt in many ways was a game that was theirs for the taking.

Like many of their losses, the C's failed to come through on the little things, the kind of things that are critical to any team's success in the playoffs.

"At the end of the day the one thing we can control is the way we defend, the way we rebound, the way we hustle," Pierce said. "That has to be night-in and night-out when we don't shoot the ball well."