BOSTON The assumption is that if you have a veteran team that has played hundreds of games together, they develop an innate understanding of how to play off one another, especially in close games.
But the Boston Celtics are living proof of how no amount of time spent in the past playing with one another can replicate the benefits of having practice time working on how to close out games, which the C's could not do on Thursday in losing 88-87 to the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime.
The C's had a chance to put the game away on two separate occasions, but failed to do so.
Near the end of regulation, the Celtics' Paul Pierce couldn't get a shot off for himself or Ray Allen. Pierce stopped his dribble too soon, which threw off the play's timing. The ball eventually wound up in the hands of Mickael Pietrus, who had to fire a desperation heave that just barely left his hands prior to the final horn of regulation sounding.
And in overtime, Pierce once again had a chance to lift the Celtics to victory. His fade-away jumper rimmed in and out, but the loose ball managed to wind up in the hands of Allen. He quickly got a shot up, only to have it rejected by Pau Gasol.
You have to give the Lakers defense their due. They did a really good job of making life tough as possible for all of Boston's shooters, which isn't all that surprising when you consider their scoring defense is ranked fourth in the NBA, while the C's are No. 1.
But there were too many opportunities, too many chances for Boston to win had they made a play or two down the stretch -- something their fans have grown accustomed to seeing.
"Our execution the whole game was terrible," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "This was an awful game, except for they won. If we had won it, it would've been an awful game that we had won. That's how I felt."
"For the most part," Kevin Garnett added, "I thought when we needed to get stops, we got stops. It came down to overtime. If you're in your building, that's what you want."
While there's no rhyme or reason as to why the Celtics seemed so off their game, Rivers isn't the least bit worried or ready to panic.
"It's called basketball," Rivers said. "Really. It happens. It happens in a playoff game. So I am disappointed, and I'm not happy with it, but it's not like it's been a trend."
Pierce, who led the Celtics with 18 points, said the C's had trouble getting into the kind of sets they wanted to, and having the ball where they wanted it to go.
"We were somewhat helter-skelter," said Allen. "But we still felt we had good control."
"We played too much random pick-and-roll basketball," said Pierce.
And that was among the contributing factors to the team's offensive woes.
"We weren't able to get to the hole," Pierce said. "We tried to get to the foul line. We only shot five free throws."
And all those free throws -- all five of 'em -- came in the first half.
Fortunately -- or unfortunately depending on how you look at it -- the Celtics have no time to lick their wounds after a disappointing loss.
The Celtics are in Toronto for tonight's game against the Raptors.
"That's the good and bad thing about our league right now; you have so much time to get over it," said Rivers, sarcastically.