Celtics’ Mistakes in Fourth-Quarter Execution Lead to Last-Second Loss Against Grizzlies

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March 24, 2011

Celtics' Mistakes in Fourth-Quarter Execution Lead to Last-Second Loss Against Grizzlies It's perhaps the oldest cliche in sports — the good teams are the ones who "know how to win." The Celtics have shown time and time again over the last four years that they have that mystical quality, the ability to dig out victories in the final minutes with their smarts and their execution.

That quality betrayed them on Wednesday night at the TD Garden, as a perfectly winnable game slipped away in the final minutes against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Celtics, with all their veteran leaders and all their experience, not to mention the tactical genius of Doc Rivers, are supposed to be the team that puts it together in crunch time. On Wednesday night, they found new ways to lose.

With 1:20 left in the fourth quarter and the C's trailing by just one, 86-85, Ray Allen made a bad pass that was picked off by Marc Gasol, blowing a chance to take the lead.

With 26 seconds left and the team again down one, 88-87, Rajon Rondo got the ball in transition and could have held it for the last shot, but instead he rushed a floater in the lane that missed, squandering another opportunity.

Down three in the final seconds, 90-87, they had a chance at a 3-pointer to tie and force overtime. Rather than set a screen to open up Allen or Paul Pierce, they settled for a contested jumper by Glen Davis.

These are plays that the Celtics almost never make, but on Wednesday night, they lost the Celtics a ballgame.

"It was awful," Rivers said of his team's execution down the stretch. "I probably should have called a timeout on that fast break [before the Rondo shot]. It's easy to second-guess it now and say I should've. I always second-guess when things don't work.

"I don't mind when Rondo shoots, ever, but I just think your best offensive player should always touch it on the last possession," he continued, referring to Pierce. "Then if it comes back to another guy for a shot, I think that's fine. But listen, he didn't have a bad shot. He was in the lane for one of his runners. That's not a bad shot."

You could debate until the end of time — did the Celtics lose this game mentally, by making bad decisions, or physically, with a couple of bad bounces?

The players, for what it's worth, are guessing the latter.

"For the most part, I liked the looks we got," Pierce said. "We had Big Baby with a nice shot. Less than 30 seconds left, we had Rondo right in the paint, going up for a shot that he takes all the time and makes. I'll take that every time, for a game-winner. It just didn't go our way tonight."

Whatever the problem — be it physical or mental, luck or skill, lingering or fleeting — the Celtics recognize the urgency to correct it now. There was a playoff-like atmosphere at the Garden on Wednesday night, which is to be expected when the date is March 23 and the opponent is fighting for a postseason seed. And the Celtics, who should obviously know better, didn't bring the playoff effort. The hope is that they soon find it.

"The light is at the end of the tunnel," Pierce said. "Only a few more games left. There should be a better sense of urgency out of everyone around here, trying to finish out the season strong and get that home-court advantage in the East."

Both teams wanted this one — the Celtics are fighting for the No. 1 seed in the postseason, while the Grizzlies are scratching and clawing just to make the dance at all. That winning know-how is at a premium.

"Every game means a lot to us right now," Davis said. "We're trying to get as many wins as possible, to finish out the year strong. We're trying to achieve one of our goals, which is winning the Eastern Conference and having home-court advantage. Right now we're losing games, so we've got to get it together as soon as possible."

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