Failure to Close Puts Celtics Closer to Bottom Than Top of Eastern Playoff Field

Failure to Close Puts Celtics Closer to Bottom Than Top of Eastern Playoff Field Following the Celtics' 93-85 loss in New Orleans on Wednesday night, head coach Doc Rivers summed up the issue with the first two words of his postgame press conference.

"Same thing."

Rivers uttered the two words when asked what caused his team to blow a large lead in the second half, this time a 12-point bulge.

In case we wanted some detail or had somehow missed the C's becoming stationary on offense, slow-footed on defense, sloppy on both sides and ice-cold from the line, Rivers chose to elaborate.

"We had a big lead. I thought we played differently in the second half." he said. "The first half I thought we made a concerted effort on the things we worked on in the one practice — in-and-out basketball, post the ball, post the ball.

"In the second half there were a lot of jump shots, a lot of dribbling, a lot of turnovers. Then we missed, what, seven free throws straight at one point [actually eight]. Tough to win games when you turn the ball over, miss [eight] free throws in a row. I thought our defense was horrible in the third quarter."

It's the second straight time that Rivers has taken his team to task. And with numbers like these, who can blame him?

The Celtics have been outscored 65-23 in the last two third quarters. They've allowed one team, Orlando, to score 19 straight points in the quarter, and the other, New Orleans, to score 22 out of 25.

Essentially, double-digit leads were gone in such a rapid fashion that there was almost no time for Rivers to offer up any kind of quick fix. He just has to hope the C's learn from their mistakes. Again.

"The lesson for the 40th time is that you can't turn a team off," he said. "You can turn yourself on, but you can't turn them off."

Boston will have five days to let that lesson sink in before visiting Sacramento on Tuesday. The question is, will the second half of the season be like the second half of so many recent games?

The Celtics can not afford such a scenario. At 32-18 they are closer to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference than they are the top spot, a position which they once held before closing out games became such an issue. Toronto has crept to within four games in the Atlantic Division, and the first four games after the All-Star break involve roadies against some of the best the West has to offer. 

For the Celtics to stay relevant through such trying times, they will have to avoid the falling victim to the "same thing."

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