Celtics Live Blog: Paul Pierce Crumbles at Foul Line in Crunchtime, C’s Lose to Nets 102-97

Game over, Nets win 102-97: Whatever malady Pierce caught that made him miss both free throws with the game on the line, Terry seemed to catch it. The career 85 percent free throw shooter went to the line and missed his first foul shot, forcing him to miss the second on purpose.

The clunking foul shooting was an inauspicious end to a game in which the Celtics had a chance to win despite missing their starting point guard, playing inconsistent defense and forgetting to rebound for most of the game. They shot 2-for-6 from the stripe in the fourth quarter while the Nets shot 11 of 15 to seal the victory.

Lopez and Williams tied for the game high with 24 points and Humphries had 13 boards for the Nets, who grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. Pierce scored 22 points.

Fourth quarter, :19.1, Nets 99-97: Who can hit the most free throws? That may be what it comes down to in the closing seconds. The Celtics will foul intentionally to get the ball back and the Nets may foul intentionally to prevent the Celtics from taking threes.

Fourth quarter, :24, Nets 97-95: Pierce blew it. Then he gave Boston another chance.

Pierce drew a foul on a layup, which almost fell to give him a chance at the game-tying three-point play. But the layup spun out, and Pierce missed both free throws, then committed a bad foul on Johnson.

Once Johnson hit both foul shots, it seemed like the game was in the books. But Pierce hit a quick desperation trey to make it a two-point game and force a timeout by Brooklyn. Hold on for a potentially wild finish.

Fourth quarter, :43, Nets 95-92: Jeff Green came through in the clutch for the Celtics for the third straight game. Whether it turned out to be worth it remained to be seen.

Green clamped down defensively on Johnson, forcing “Iso Joe” into a traveling violation. Down the other end, Green bailed out a bad possession by Terry and Garnett by draining a corner three to pull Boston within one point. Two free throws by Williams extended Brooklyn’s lead but kept the Celtics’ hopes alive.

Fourth quarter, 1:45, Nets 93-87: Unless he suddenly finds his stroke, Bass will not fondly recall this game. His normally sure shot from 12-to-18 feet abandoned him, and if he hit even half of the five or six looks he had from that distance, this could be a different game.

Bass had another chance with Boston reeling after losing the lead on Johnson’s jumper, but his shot was flat and long again. The Celtics briefly pulled into the lead on the glass for the game, 42-41, but failed to get the carom on four straight shots, including an offensive rebound run down by Lopez for a putback layup.

Fourth quarter, 3:00, Nets 89-87: The Celtics’ offense stagnated in crunchtime after they lost their lead. They went four possessions without generating a quality shot and had to scramble defensively. Finally, Johnson drew Bass on a defensive switch and calmly swished a short jump shot over the helpless power forward.

Fourth quarter, 5:36, game tied 87-87: These are not your older brother’s Nets. For the last five years, the Nets were little more than a speed bump on the New Jersey Turnpike for the Celtics. They clearly have designs on being more than that in Brooklyn.

Garnett came out firing, drilling two more jumpers to stretch the Celtics’ lead to five points, but Johnson and Stackhouse answered with a 5-2 run to tie the score. After Lee hustled for a driving layup, Garnett again got lost defensively and let Lopez slip behind him for a simple reverse layup.

The chants of “Brook-lyn” began at the Barclays Center, which is always a good thing for the Nets, even if it is the world’s most unimaginative chant.

Fourth quarter, 8:57, Celtics 81-80: At the dawn of the final quarter, Garnett had played fewer than 19 minutes. That meant he could go all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and still be around the 30-minute mark that Rivers would prefer for his 36-year-old center.

Garnett got off to a smooth start with a short jumper, but he had difficulty defending Lopez. The Brooklyn big man climbed Garnett’s back for a putback and drew a shooting foul a minute later. The Celtics should have Garnett the rest of the way. Now it is up to Garnett to produce.

End of third quarter, Celtics lead 79-74: Where Pierce left off, Wilcox picked up. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right?

After Pierce went to the bench for a needed rest, Wilcox scored four straight points to extend Boston’s lead to four points. Lee turned MarShon Brooks around on the break to draw a foul and earn two free throws right before the end of the quarter, assuring the Celtics would head into the final 12 minutes with the lead.

Not surprisingly, the Celtics’ first very good quarter was also the first quarter in which they pounded the glass. Boston outrebounded Brooklyn 14-8, held the Nets to one offensive board and limited them to six baskets on 21 attempts. Meanwhile the Celtics shot 45 percent from the field and assisted on six of their nine field goals. They also got to the line eight times to only one free throw attempt for Brooklyn.

It is amazing what happens when the rebounding catches up with the offense, is it not?

Third quarter, 2:20, Celtics 73-71: Paul Pierce, folks.

Playing with four fouls and unlikely to play less than 30 minutes for the second straight night, Pierce took the Celtics on his back. Much like Wednesday’s third quarter, when he scored 15 points in the third to spark the win over Utah, Pierce took control after halftime in Brooklyn.

Pierce’s jumper gave the Celtics their first lead of the game and his 11th point of the quarter. He was not about to let Rondo’s injury be an excuse for a loss to a division foe.

Third quarter, 6:43, Nets 69-62: If Williams’ ankle was bothering him, he did not let on when he stepped back for another triple a few minutes later. No. 8 was rolling along with 16 points and seven assists to help Brooklyn stretch its lead to 12 points.

But Pierce finally decided that if he wanted something done right, he would have to do it himself. Running over to get the ball from whoever had it, Pierce scored five straight points to force a timeout by Brooklyn coach Avery Johnson. The Celtics’ second-chance points situation was getting dire. Despite shooting better than 53 percent from the field, the Celtics were down by multiple possessions due to giving the Nets 19 second-chance points on 15 offensive boards.

Third quarter, 10:18, Nets 62-52: One All-Star point guard was missing with an ankle injury. Could it be two?

Two possessions after draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Williams went down awkwardly while trying to spin, but did not leave the game.

Halftime, Nets lead 59-50: Do not let the effect of Rondo’s absence on the offense be an excuse for Boston. In the first half it was their defense, not their offense, that failed them.

Rondo certainly would have put up a better fight against Williams than Terry or Barbosa, but Lee did a capable job on one of the league’s best point guards. Still, none of the healthy guys provided the same level of competency at both ends of the floor like Rondo.

The Celtics shot 54 percent from the field but were outrebounded 26-17 and forced only four turnovers.

Williams tied for the game-high in scoring with 10 points and also led everyone with six assists. Humphries, who gave the Celtics fits with his energy, had 10 points and eight rebounds at the half, and while Barbosa led Boston with 10 points, we went over his defensive deficiencies. The Celtics player with the most complete first half may have been Bass with his eight points on 4-for-5 shooting. Pierce had six points, three rebounds and two assists, but he also picked up three personal fouls.

Second quarter, 2:53, Nets 47-44: Having finally found a solid grouping on offense, Rivers suddenly had to change everything up because that lineup could not defend or rebound a thing.

Bass and Collins checked in to try to address the rebounding problem, but the defensive issue would remain a problem whenever Barbosa is on the floor. For all his energy, he is beyond terrible defensively. That does not just go for his on-ball or help defense, either.

Bass was backscreened by Barbosa’s man, which means it should have been Barbosa’s responsibility to let Bass know the screen was coming. But Bass was clearly unaware and got held up, leading to Humphries streaking completely free to the hoop. Barbosa may provide a scoring spark every couple of offensive possessions, but he is a liability on every defensive possession.

Second quarter, 6:15, game tied 38-38: Sure, the Celtics enjoy life with Rondo, but these guys are professionals. After about half a quarter (an eighth?) of bumbling and stumbling, the Celtics found some chemistry and pushed back into a tie.

Lee was an energetic part of the comeback, as was Barbosa. Lee flashed his deceptive quickness and hops by drawing a fastbreak foul on a dunk attempt and burst to the hoop for a bank shot. Barbosa, who admitted he has no idea how to run Boston’s offense other than pick-and-rolls, turned on the jets for a couple of baskets out of just that play.

The Celtics needed every extra contribution they could muster from the backcourt, because the frontcourt was getting demolished on the glass as usual. The Nets had 11 offensive rebounds, more offensive rebounds than the Celtics had defensive rebounds, and nobody in green had more than three boards.

End of first quarter, Nets lead 29-26: Lopez has been a competent scorer for some time, but his defense and rebounding skills have been slower to develop.

His rebounding might still have a long way to go — the 7-footer was averaging only 6.7 boards per game entering the night — but defensively he seems to have made strides. He is averaging a career-high 2.3 blocks per game and looked alert in wiping out a driving layup by Barbosa early in the game. He ended the first quarter with 10 points, three rebounds and two blocks for the Nets, who held onto their lead despite allowing Boston to recover from a shoddy start to shoot 53 percent from the field in the opening frame.

First quarter, :28, Nets 29-24: When neither Barbosa nor Lee emerged as the answer to lead the offense, the Celtics turned to old reliable, Pierce. The versatile forward helped Boston generate some of its best possessions of the night as the Celtics created shots for Lee and Jason Collins, but scoring and bringing the ball up is a lot of labor to ask of Pierce. Either someone will need to pick up Pierce’s scoring slack or somebody needs to assume the playmaking duties to free up Pierce.

First quarter, 5:52, Nets 18-11: The Celtics were all out of balance without Rondo, which should not have come as much of a surprise. Offensively they fumbled the ball even when they did not turn it over, and most of the baskets they did score were low-percentage buckets or came late in the shot clock, like Jason Terry’s last-second 3-pointer.

On defense the Nets went straight to the post with whoever Barbosa was guarding. Williams victimized Barbosa first, followed by Bogans, forcing Rivers to give him the quick hook and send in Lee.

The Nets were humming on offense. They hit seven of their first 12 shots and assisted on four of those. Brooklyn let by as many as 11 points in Boston’s first trip to the borough.

8:05 p.m.: Get ready to see some point guard by committee for Boston in this one. The Celtics have three guards who can, but would rather not, play point guard, so Jeff Green will get some work as a point forward.

The projected starting lineups are below.

Celtics
Kevin Garnett
Brandon Bass
Paul Pierce
Jason Terry
Leandro Barbosa

Nets
Brook Lopez
Kris Humphries
Keith Bogans
Joe Johnson
Deron Williams

7:17 p.m.: When Leandro Barbosa signed with the Celtics, Doc Rivers was very clear that there may not be any playing time available for the Brazilian Blur. Almost exactly a month after signing with the Celtics despite that warning, Barbosa was in the starting lineup.

Barbosa took Rajon Rondo’s starting point guard spot with Rondo nursing an injury to his right ankle. Rondo turned the ankle in the third quarter of Wednesday’s win over Utah and did not return, although his status was up in the air up until gametime. No long-term estimate on Rondo’s condition was given.

8 a.m. ET: In what was billed as a matchup of star point guards, the Celtics visit the Nets on Thursday, but the showdown between Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams may not develop was planned.

Rondo left Wednesday’s game against the Jazz in the third quarter and did not return, and there was no update on the status of his right ankle following the game. If Rondo cannot play, the Nets would obviously have a huge advantage at point guard, although the Celtics are better suited to fill in for Rondo than they were in past years.

Leandro Barbosa pushed the pace as the point guard on Wednesday and Celtics coach Doc Rivers mentioned that Jason Terry can handle the ball as well. Paul Pierce and Jeff Green have experience as playmakers, too, presenting Boston with options — though no options as good as Rondo himself — if No. 9 is out.

Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m. ET

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