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Spot mistakes haunt Celtics as Damian Lillard drops 33 in 97-92 Blazers win

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The Celtics got scrappy, and even drew applause, but a turnover-filled third quarter and poor shooting night undermined the hustle plays. Two comeback attempts fell short and Boston lost its fourth straight.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart said last night that he believed the Celtics could turn it around. He tried his best by scoring, forcing turnovers and distributing through a vicious fourth-quarter comeback attempt. The C’s stormed on a 7-0 run, trailing by 10, with under one minute left.

Then Smart pulled up, legs flailing, seconds into the shot clock with 52 seconds left. Damian Lillard, who scored 33 points on 13-for-28, ran the other way for an easy layup and the game. Maurice Harkless added 17, getting into the teeth of Boston’s defense with four offensive rebounds. The Blazers escaped with a 97-92 win.

Kyrie Irving set a tone with two successful drives to the rim to start the game, but a three and driving layup through the defense by Damian Lillard bolstered the Blazers to an early 10-6 lead after three C’s turnovers. Boston turned it over 16 times.

Boston shot 1-for-9 after, three misses by Marcus Morris. Irving broke them from their lull with a third layup, a finger roll through Portland’s front court. As Boston leaned on Irving, the Blazers got points for all five starters.

Gordon Hayward lifted Boston off the bench with a mid-ranger, then a drive-and-dish to Al Horford inside. The spark led to four more points, two Horford in the pick-and-pop with Irving, and the other from Irving himself on a step-back two. Seconds later, Jayson Tatum stripped Lillard and ran for a layup.

Lillard, who scored 12 points on 5-for-13 first-half shooting, stepped around a screen and hit a three in response with no resistance. A Celtics coach yelled out to get through the screens on the ensuing defensive possession. Effort largely wasn’t the issue, but in spurts it hurt. Even Marcus Smart got a defensive rebound ripped back by Maurice Harkless for a Portland dunk.

Down six, the Celts didn’t seal up the defense, but kept punching on offense with threes by Horford and Irving in succession to tie the game at 24. Before the buzzer sounded, Jaylen Brown fouled Enes Kanter with 0.1 seconds on the clock inside, costing Boston another point before the quarter concluded.

Brown made it up on the other end, hitting a quick jumper then exploding into the defense for a dunk. A steal by Hayward and block by Theis picked up the defense in the early moments of the second, but the Celtics then struggled to convert on offense. On one possession, three opportunities turned into zero points after Tatum got stopped at the rim by Kanter.

Horford blocked Jusuf Nurkic after getting caught on his up-fake, recovering on his second jump. Irving’s scoop layup by CJ McCollum and two late free throws from Morris pulled Boston within 43-42 at halftime.

The scab that formed before half began fully bleeding again with a 14-6 Trailblazers run out of the locker room. Harkless hit two jumpers, McCollum added two more, then Nurkic drove inside to go ahead 55-48. Brad Stevens let it ride until a timeout at 6:46, down nine.

The C’s paired their first seven makes in the quarter with seven turnovers. Tatum stood out of bounds in the corner while he caught a pass on one. On another, Brown fed Irving the ball on a clean defensive rebound and it bounced off Irving’s legs out of bounds. Lillard hit a three and Harkless a layup in response to those two plays.

Portland built a double-figure lead that held until the fourth after Lillard raced across the entire court to beat the buzzer and reach 27 points. They played a turnover-free quarter. On the offensive boards, they led Boston 15-0 on second-chance points early in the final quarter.

Smart took a stand immediately. He stripped Rodney Hood to score 20 seconds in. He walled off McCollum with pressure at half court, forcing an eight-second violation. Then he raced across the entire court to the rim following a rebound in six seconds and hit a layup.

Irving stormed him, fired up, as Portland called timeout with Boston a 6-2 run. It didn’t slow from there. Horford, who blocked Kanter on the next play, tipped out an offensive rebound that led to a Brown jumper from 10 feet. The Blazers extended their three-point lull to 1-for 21, 5-for-30 at that point in the game, after a miss by McCollum.

But the Celtics themselves fell to 3-for-23 after a miss by Morris down four. And slowly fell behind for a final time.

Stevens took some risks down the stretch. Robert Williams subbed in a got posterized by Nurkic, then quickly subbed out for Horford. Harkless took advantage of a zone set by Boston on the baseline for a layup. Aminu broke the three-point funk and Portland built their lead back up to 91-81 — Nurkic stuffing Irving off the glass for emphasis.

Smart led one more 7-0 run, and the C’s drew as close as three points with 24 seconds remaining on a missed free throw that landed in Irving’s hands for a three on the right wing. Boston chased around Lillard for 14 seconds, and got the ball out of his hands for a moment, but he went to the line and nailed both to secure victory.