Forty-eight minutes of basketball were not enough to decide the victor of tonight's Celtics-Rockets game, but 53 minutes were enough to give the Rockets, playing for nothing but pride at this point in the season, the 119-114 overtime victory. Yup, another uninspiring loss at the Garden- and the Celtics can't point a finger at anyone but themselves.
Prior to tonight's game, Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears wrote an article titled, "Celtics have lost aura of greatness". In it, he said that what once was a feared team, is no longer one- and tonight was yet another example of this. The Celtics loss tonight marks their 15th of the season at home, and third in a row. For a team still trying to get it together, in April, this is certainly troubling.
It is no secret that the Celtics are a veteran team. They won't win with athleticism, that's for sure. Their bread and butter is relying on defense and smart basketball, and unfortunately they didn't do much of either tonight. Houston, out of the playoff race and without the likes of Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, and Kevin Martin, outlasted a healthy Boston squad looking to gain momentum going into the playoffs.
"I didn't think we played very smart tonight," said a disappointed Doc Rivers. "There are so many little things that I could point out that I wont, but throughout the game taking shots, when you should take the final shots at the end of quarters, and then it leads to them getting a three-point play, fouling in penalty when you're up late in the game; no need to foul. We played as a high school team at times, as far as the way our thought process was..."
The shot at the end of the quarter that Rivers is talking about came in the first quarter. Nate Robinson, fresh off a made three pointer with 43 seconds to go, got the ball again up one point with 24 seconds to go. Instead of slowing the pace and giving the ball to Rajon Rondo to set up for the last shot, Nate raced up the court and took a three-pointer from the elbow. The shot missed and Luis Scola grabbed the board. The ball ended up in Aaron Brook's hands on the other end, where he made the runner and got fouled by Rasheed Wallace in the process with a little over four seconds to play. He hit the free throw and the Rockets would retake the lead, up two points to start the second quarter. Robinson didn't touch the floor in the second half.
While this play did not lose the game for the Celtics, it is mistakes like these that can add up during the game. One thing that may have lost the game for the Celtics, however, was the missed free throws. Very vocal about the fact that they only got 17 free throw attempts last game, to Kevin Durant's 15, the Celtics can't use that as an excuse tonight. They got to the line 37 times but only converted 24 of those attempts (65%). In the last minute of play, the Celtics got to the line six times, but only hit three of those free throws- that's your ballgame.
Rondo went 1-2 from the line with 46.5 seconds to go in the game, failing to turn a two point lead into a four point lead. Tony Allen then had a chance to make it a five point lead after he stole the ball from Luis Scola, but also could only go 1-2 from the line with 27 seconds left. Two Aaron Brooks free throws would make it a two point game again until Michael Finley was fouled with 20.7 seconds to go. Finley had a chance to make this a two possession game, but once again could only go 1-2 from the line.
"We didn't make a lot of free throws tonight," said Pierce. "I mean we missed a lot of free throws tonight. I, in particular, missed four free throws- that's not like me."
What also isn't like the Celtics is giving up 100+ points. Going into Wednesday's game against the Thunder, the Celtics were 27-3 when scoring 100+ points. Tonight, and against the Thunder the Celtics eclipsed the 100 point mark, but lost in both games.
"We have to address it," Pierce said. "I mean when you give up fifty percent, the last couple of games getting up over a hundred points. I think we have to do a better job of perimeter players not allowing dribble penetration- I think that's the start of it."
It would also help to defend the three-point shot a little bit too. The Rockets shot 12-18 from beyond the arc tonight, and once again it was a three pointer that killed the Celtics in regulation. Last game it was Jeff Green who hit two dagger three-pointers late in the fourth quarter, and tonight it was Aaron Brooks who tied the game at 109 with 9 seconds to go in regulation. Chase Budinger went 6-8 from three, scoring 24 points on the night.
Asked if he's concerned with the way the Celtics have been guarding the three point shot, Rivers responded, "Well I have been all year, and when we guard it well we're a really good basketball team and when we don't guard it well it hurts us. The league has changed in that way. There are so many teams that are relying on the three, and you have to guard the line, you have to. And Budinger with 24 points, you know, a lot of those should've been taken away. It was almost like we didn't believe he could make it. So that was disappointing."
It doesn't get any easier for the Celtics, as the Cleveland Cavaliers come to the Garden for an afternoon game on Sunday. Will the Celtics lay a big (Easter) egg at home, again?