When you're the most efficient offensive team the NBA has seen in years, and you're playing one of the league's bottom feeders, and you enter the fourth quarter with a lead, you're generally supposed to finish the job and walk away with the "W."
Or at the very least, you shouldn't blow the game by shooting 5-of-23 in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics lost to the Wizards on Saturday night, 85-83 at the Verizon Center in Washington, as Paul Pierce missed a fadeaway jumper with one second to play and the game on the line.
But the problem wasn't Pierce's failing in the clutch — you can never pin a loss entirely on a guy taking a difficult 17-foot jump shot with two hands in his face. The C's suffered across the board from a lack of offensive production down the stretch, and the disease infected many more than just Pierce.
"I thought it started in the second quarter, honestly," coach Doc Rivers said of the Celtics' offensive woes. "I thought we came out and played hard and got a big lead, and then I thought we went 'Showtime' from that point on. I really thought we deserved to lose the game. I felt that way almost at halftime, but definitely by the third quarter. We didn't play the way we've played. I thought we decided to just play, not compete anymore. I really thought we deserved to lose the game."
When you consider how this game started, it's truly shocking how it ended. The Celtics opened the game shooting 14-of-21 in the first quarter, with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce on fire to start the game and the Wizards searching for answers. At the end of the first, the C's led 35-20.
And then the C's proceeded to shoot 34.5 percent the rest of the way, including the absolutely atrocious fourth quarter. Pierce got into foul trouble and looked tentative; Allen was constantly tied up and finished just 2-of-8 from 3-point land. The bench, aside from a few flashes from Glen Davis, gave them nothing.
"Fatigue, maybe," Rivers explained. "Nobody wanted to drive, nobody wanted to post. It was a jump-shooting contest. But I told our guys at some point, if you're missing all your jump shots, that means your legs are gone, you're tired, everything's off the front of the rim. Let's try to get it down low, and let's try to get into our offense. I hated our pace tonight."
Over the course of a long season, there will be games like this. On the second night of a back-to-back, against a lesser opponent that you're perhaps underestimating, you'll have slip-ups. But the Celtics are slipping up a lot less this season than last, when their banged-up roster limped its way to 50 wins. So when these games happen in 2011, they sting.
Rivers was clearly upset with his players after the fourth-quarter debacle. How could he not be? After averaging 28 fourth-quarter points over their last five contests, the Celtics went out and dropped 11 in the final frame Saturday. It was an ugly collapse, eerily reminiscent of the C's darkest days last year.
"We were walking the ball up the floor," Rivers said. "We dribbled the life out of the game. Everybody. We didn't go to the post — I bet we called 20 post plays, and the ball never touched it. It was a jump-shooting contest. When you're up 10 or 15, jump shots are easy. But when you know you've squandered a lead, and then you're wide open, all of a sudden that trigger gets a little tighter. I really thought that happened tonight. The shots were great, but there were too many of them, as far as I was concerned."
Even after this debacle, the Celtics remain statistically one of the most dominating offensive teams of this era. But after Saturday, they've got plenty of work to do to get back on track.