BOSTON With the game on the line, the Boston Celtics turned to Paul Pierce.
With one last chance to extend the game, the C's could not get close enough to the New York Knicks -- literally and figuratively -- as they ran out the final seconds in an 89-86 win.
The final 7.1 seconds of Thursday's loss -- Boston's fifth straight -- spoke volumes about how late-game execution has been an issue for the C's all season.
"Down the stretch, we had poor execution," said Pierce who still led the C's with 22 points. "Simple and plain. You need buckets when the game is tight. We can't turn the ball over, and that's what we did down the stretch."
Boston only had four turnovers in the fourth quarter, but two came in the game's final 1:06.
While the effort was indeed better against the Knicks, it still wasn't enough to secure a win.
"It's frustrating to lose when you give effort, because you've got to keep convincing your guys if you play that way every night, you're going to make more shots than that. And you're going to win a lot of games. But right now they're sitting there thinking, 'We lost.' So, they know it. They know with that effort you're going to win most nights."
The C's will look to bring a similar effort Friday night against a well-rested Atlanta team that hasn't played since Wednesday.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: All eyes will be on Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony to see if there's any residual beef between them after the Jan. 7 incidents. Both have said it's done with and there won't be any issues. But with these two highly emotional players, what they say and what we see may not necessarily be one in the same.
WHAT WE SAW: As expected, there was no incident even remotely close to what transpired between them on Jan. 7. There were very few instances in which they were matched up with one another although Anthony (28 points, nine rebounds) clearly had the better game than Garnett (8 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots).
MATCHUP TO WATCH:Avery Bradley vs Iman Shumpert: Two of the best on-the-ball defenders you'll find in the NBA, it'll be interesting to see which of them will make the greatest difference in terms of impact tonight either with their defense or shot-making. Because of the players around them, chances are pretty good that both will have a decent amount of wide open to lightly contested shots for the taking.
WHAT WE SAW: Both showed on Thursday that while defense is their calling, they can occasionally get some buckets, too. Bradley hit one of the C's two 3-pointers in the first half while Shumpert's scoring helped offset an off night by a number of New York's primary shooters. Bradley had five points on 2-for-7 shooting while Shumpert finished 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce has questioned whether some of his teammates understand the sense of urgency that the C's need to have, but the Captain has to do more than talk the talk. He is in the midst of one of his usual shooting slumps, but the sooner he can snap out of it the quicker the C's recovery -- if they are to have one this season -- will begin to take shape.
WHAT WE SAW: Pierce, who will miss his first all-star game since 2007, was on top of his game Thursday night . He scored the game's first points and continued to pour it on in a variety of ways. At the half he had 19 of his 22 points, which was more points than he had in the C's previous four games -- all losses. The lack of scoring in the second half, Pierce said, was due to others getting involved -- namely Rondo who had 14 of his team-high 23 points in the second half.
STAT TO TRACK: Free throw shooting has been a major factor in the C's last four games -- all losses. Not are the Celtics shooting a lower percentage (69.2 percent compared to opponents shooting 77.6 percent in the last four games), but they are not getting to the line nearly enough. How bad has it been? The C's last four opponents have made a total of 90 free throws (out of 116 attempts). In that same span, the Celtics have taken just 91 free throws (with 63 being made).
WHAT WE SAW: The C's were minus-4 in free throws taken at the half, but there was no mistaking that their level of aggression was raised. Boston trailed by two at the half, but had a 32-16 advantage in points in the paint that kept them within striking distance. For the game, Boston won the points in the paint battle, 50-32, and finished 21-for-28 from the line compared to New York which was 17-for-20.