The Celtics were far too careless to expect a win and Paul Pierce’s all-around excellence was not enough to avoid a crushing loss for Boston. Pierce came through with 23 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to lead a late comeback attempt, but the Celtics’ inattention to detail for more than 40 minutes cost them.
The Celtics finished with only 16 assists on 36 field goals and failed to attack the rim, leading to a 2-for-13 mark from beyond the arc, to suffer their third loss in four games since the All-Star break. Kevin Garnett had 20 points and nine rebounds, but he took 19 shots, which speaks to just how inconsistent the Celtics were on offense. The Big Ticket tries not to look for his own shot unless it is a last resort. Given the passiveness of his teammates most of the time, Garnett was forced into taking more shots than he probably was comfortable with taking.
Wesley Matthews had 24 points, including the dagger 3-pointer with 53 seconds to go, and shot a blistering 5-for-8 on 3-pointers as Portland snapped a seven-game losing streak. Double-double machine J.J. Hickson added 11 points and 11 boards.
Fourth quarter, :53.6, Blazers 92-86: Pierce’s heroics are going to come up short. Matthews, who has been scorching all night, delivered the dagger with a triple.
Fourth quarter, 1:32, Blazers 89-86: Pierce and Garnett did it, sort of. With all eyes on Pierce, the captain found Garnett on the left elbow for a pump-fake and go to knot it up at 86-86. But Lillard responded by dashing off a screen for a layup plus the foul by Bass to take back the lead for Portland.
Fourth quarter, 2:54, Blazers 86-84: As we said, nobody other than Pierce has really played well enough to deserve a win for the Celtics. Well, Pierce alone might be enough.
Pierce has taken control of this game, even if he has only scored once in the fourth quarter. He found Garnett for an oop dunk, helped Garnett draw a shooting foul on a pick-and-roll and cut into the lane for a lefty layup on the give from Garnett. Pierce then chased down a 50-50 ball and tossed it to Garnett, who gave to Bass for a spinning reverse layup to pull Boston within two.
If the Celtics win this, chances are it will be on the back of Paul Anthony Pierce.
Fourth quarter, 5:50, Blazers 82-74: No matter what happens in the final six minutes, it will be tough to argue with the result if the Blazers walk out of the Rose Garden with a victory. Aside from Pierce, nobody on the Celtics has really done anything to warrant a win here.
With less than six minutes to go, the Celtics have just 11 assists as their ball movement on offense is little more than swing the ball around the perimeter. On defense, Lillard and the rest of the Blazers are dribbling into the paint at will, forcing the Celtics to suck in and leaving the Blazers’ shooters wide open for kick-outs.
This is a bad showing for a team coming off a decisive victory two days ago, with a day of relatively easy travel in between.
Fourth quarter, 8:58, Blazers 77-73: Williams opened the fourth quarter with a nice layup to briefly pull Boston within two, but he and Crawford continued to make the poor decisions that explained why they were available last week. Crawford inexpicably stepped off the 3-point line in the corner before drawing a defensive foul that generated a side-out, and Williams fouled Batum taking a three with two seconds on the shot clock. Plays like those will keep those two recent pickups from playing, no matter how many nice passes or deep shots they make.
End of third quarter, Blazers 71-67: Inattention to detail continues to hamper the Celtics. After a defensive stop by the Celtics, Terry tried to toss the ball diagonally up the court to Green, and it was picked off.
Not only is a diagonal, halfcourt pass a bad idea, but Green should have seen the Blazers defender closing and come back to the ball. If the Celtics lose this game, plays like that will be the reason why more than Matthews’ hot shooting (3-for-6 from three) or Aldridge’s work in the high post (18 points).
Third quarter, 3:04, Blazers 67-63: Pierce hit a go-ahead 3-pointer on a pass from Green, as Batum tackled Green to the floor, and — wait, what?
Green was whistled for the offensive foul as Pierce’s shot swished through the net, wiping the points off the board and bringing an incredulous reaction from Rivers, who already has a technical foul in this game. Aldridge added a tough fallaway jumper to extend Portland’s lead, and Boston needed a timeout not so much to talk it over, but to give Rivers, Pierce and Green a few extra minutes to figure out what just went down.
Third quarter, 8:32, Celtics 55-54: Blazers coach Terry Stotts likes to say his bench, which is the lowest-scoring reserve unit in the league, is “giving us what we need.” Apparently, he means “five-point deficits,” in which case, that is exactly what the bench is giving him.
But the bench has had nothing to do with the Blazers collapse early in the second half. With Pierce leading the charge, the Celtics outscored the Blazers 13-5 over the first 3:28 to retake the lead. Bradley’s defense provided the bookends to the run, with turnovers leading to free buckets for the defensive pest.
Halftime, Blazers 49-42: For a while in the second quarter, Pierce took control, but the captain can only do so much.
After a flurry of scoring and passing by Pierce pulled Boston back within two points, Wesley Matthews led a charge of flat-out harder play by Portland. Matthews hit two 3-pointers in the last minute of play, the first off a scrambling possession in which the Blazers simply beat the Celtics to every loose ball.
Matthews has a game-high 15 points at the half, with Pierce hot on his tail at 14 points. Both are 5-for-6 from the field.
This is about more than cold shooting for the Celtics, who are shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. They are not moving the ball, as evidenced by only six assists, and they are turning easy scoring opportunities into careless miscues. This Blazers team is beatable, particularly when their bench is on the court, if the Celtics just take care of the little things.
Second quarter, 5:54, Blazers 35-27: Crawford is who he is. He will not change who he is just because he has a taskmaster teammate in Garnett and an uncompromising coach in Rivers. He is still a free shooter, through and through.
The former Wizard has already taken four shots, and none of them were quality looks. He and Williams, who showed such promising flashes against the Suns, are now a perfect 6-for-6 in taking ill-advised shots against the Blazers.
Second quarter, 8:54, Blazers 33-25: One step forward, two steps back. The Celtics are trying to get too fancy and it is costing them.
Williams, as gifted a playmaker as there is, has gotten himself in trouble elsewhere for breaking out of the offense at times. In just his second chance at significant minutes with the Celtics, he showed that flaw in his game. He missed a makeable layup on the break and then missed a straight-away jumper without even trying to run a set. Finally, he committed an offensive foul after some nifty dribbling moves along the baseline, earning himself a nice trip to the bench.
End of first quarter, Blazers 27-21: Since Rajon Rondo’s season-ending injury, the Celtics have played hard pretty much every night. They are playing hard once again in Portland, but they are not playing smart.
Pierce got them off to a bad start by picking up two fouls in the opening minutes, and Green picked up a silly foul a few minutes after replacing Pierce. Wilcox was the unfortunate recipient of a “maybe” call by the refs, but it was still a too-close-to-call play by a guy who Rivers has said he expects a lot out of.
Jordan Crawford and Terrence Williams have made an early entrance as a result. The recent trade pickup and 10-day signee, respectively, came on with two minutes left in the first half and helped the Celtics keep pace.
Still, Wesley Matthews is giving whoever is covering him — mostly Jason Terry — a tough time. The Marquette alum scored seven straight Portland points, interrupted only by a jumper by Terry, to help the Blazers extend their lead.
First quarter, 3:16, Blazers 20-19: Green managed to victimize Luis Scola, Michael Beasely and others on the Suns by being a mismatch nightmare, but he will not find life so easy here. Nic Batum is an elite defender on the wing, and his length and athleticism was a big reason Green missed two of his first three shots — and the one that went in was a long two-point jumper.
First quarter, 7:22, Celtics 11-9: Garnett’s rest on Friday was more publicized, but Paul Pierce had an easier night than usual as well. Pierce went only 25 minutes in the the blowout win over the Suns, meaning he too took a bit of a rest.
Pierce came out looking to make his mark early in Portland, though. He scored five of Boston’s first nine points as the Celtics sprinted out to a 9-2 lead. But he got caught by a Nic Batum pump-fake, draw-foul three-point play and had to leave the game early with his second foul.
The Celtics could use that aggressiveness, but Doc Rivers would rather his captain not be that agressive. Jeff Green pops off the bench. With Green coming off a 31-point outburst in Phoenix, that might not be the worst thing.
8:35 p.m.: Kevin Garnett has had enough of this whole “rest” business.
After one game on the sidelines, Garnett is back in uniform and back in the starting lineup for the Celtics’ game against the Blazers. He will have a tough task ahead of him, as he will spend most of the night matched up against either LaMarcus Aldridge or J.J. Hickson.
Aldridge is a rock-solid, 6-foot-11 power forward with a smooth jumper and fundamentally sound back-to-the-basket game. Hickson is a 6-foot-9 bundle of energy who moves without the ball and crashes the glass. Both present their problems, whether guarded by Garnett, Brandon Bass or even Jeff Green at times.
The projected starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m. ET: Jeff Green has his work cut out for him if he wants to perform an encore to Friday’s immense effort, when he came through with 31 points to make up for Kevin Garnett’s absence in Phoenix. Green will have a tough time repeating the feat in Portland, where a pretty good small forward named Nic Batum will hassle Green and Pierce on defense.
The Celtics (29-26) are looking to build another win streak after losing two straight coming out of the All-Star break. The Blazers (25-30) are just looking for a win, period. Portland has lost seven straight, and has just five wins in its last 20 games. LaMarcus Aldridge would like to get back in the win column on the one-week anniversary of his second All-Star game, while Rookie of the Year to-be Damian Lillard will prove a tough cover for Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 9 p.m. ET.