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CLIPPERS 100, CELTICS 89

Futile express

Celtics drop a franchise-record 14th in a row, with no end near

Despite Rajon Rondo's hands-on approach, the Clippers' Corey Maggette goes to the basket during the fourth quarter. Despite Rajon Rondo's hands-on approach, the Clippers' Corey Maggette goes to the basket during the fourth quarter. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)

For the 14th straight game, the Celtics tried to explain why they failed to compete for four quarters. For the 14th straight game, the Celtics talked about the little mistakes, the defensive lapses, the turnovers that make a big difference. For the 14th straight game, the Celtics mentioned the need for "consistency," and ever-growing "frustration." For the 14th straight game, the Celtics tried to focus on the positive.

There was only one difference between the Celtics' 100-89 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last night at TD Banknorth Garden and the 13 defeats that preceded it: The Celtics' latest loss set a franchise record for futility. The longest losing streak in team history is 14. And that is a fact the Celtics would rather not think about.

"Personally, I don't really care about records," said Kendrick Perkins. "I'm just trying to get a win. If you think about the record, then it's going to be hard to break it. What we need to be worried about is trying to get better and trying to get a victory. It's starting to get very, very frustrating. You can see it on the guys' faces. You can see it on Doc Rivers's face. He harps every day on what we need to do and we're still not doing some of the things. You can get a lead and feel kind of comfortable, but at the same time, we'll be thinking in the back of our head, 'We don't want to lose.' You can't play like that."

The loss to the Clippers was more frustrating considering the Celtics held a 69-67 lead entering the fourth quarter. But Boston saw its advantage disappear soon after the quarter started. The Clippers took the lead during a 9-2 run that started with free throws and ended with a 13-foot fadeaway by Cuttino Mobley (20 points). The Mobley field goal pushed the visitors ahead, 78-73, with 9:11 remaining.

The Clippers surged ahead while the Celtics committed four turnovers in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. Boston finished with 15 turnovers that led to 17 points. The Clippers committed just nine turnovers (4 points), which helps explain why they could shoot 45 percent (compared with 49 percent by the Celtics) and still win.

The Celtics closed within 1 point (78-77) on an 8-footer from Al Jefferson with 7:54 remaining. But as soon as the Celtics came close to retaking the lead, the Clippers staged a decisive 13-4 run and posted their first double-digit lead. Elton Brand (26 points, 19 rebounds) hit a 17-footer that gave the Clippers a 91-81 advantage with 3:24 remaining. During the spurt, Mobley and Tim Thomas (17 points) knocked down big 3-pointers that demoralized the Celtics.

"Each individual player has to stay in the game for 48 minutes, me included," said Wally Szczerbiak (13 points). "I had a few lapses and I just can't allow that to happen. I know there is no excuse for them. I know the coach has been saying, 'Enough with the "my bads," ' and it's true. As a team, we have to stay focused and know what we're doing out there in order to take good shots on the offensive end and make them take tough shots on the defensive end."

The Celtics started strong in the third, going 9 for 10 from the floor, but they could not gain on the Clippers. That came back to haunt them in the fourth. The Celtics led by as many as 4 points late in the quarter and finished the third ahead, 69-67.

Nothing the Celtics did during the first half screamed, "We're ready to end the losing streak," and they trailed, 47-42, at the break. But that was no news flash. Throughout the losing streak, the Celtics have played a quarter or two of decent basketball. Despite the halftime score, that is a charitable description of the Celtics' first half, considering they shot 42 percent, allowed Brand to reach double-double territory in 21 minutes, and let Sam Cassell record all 13 of his points in 13 minutes.

It seemed like only a matter of time until the Clippers would separate themselves. In the first half, there were merely signs of what would come.

"It's a big challenge overall [to stay confident]," said Jefferson (21 points). "The plan is to stick together. We've got to stay together no matter how bad it gets. We've got to stay together regardless of how bad it gets. We can't start turning on each other or pointing fingers at each other. The only reason we should be mad about now is losing. We shouldn't be mad about not getting touches or not playing minutes. The whole key is sticking together and playing hard together."

But sticking together and playing hard together provides no guarantee of victory. The question remains: When will Boston end its losing streak? With the Pistons, Heat, and Nets on the schedule next week, it doesn't look like any time soon.

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