NEW ORLEANS - The Celtics' locker room was extremely quiet. No NCAA Tournament games were on the television. Disappointment could be read on each player's face. You would have thought Boston finished its eight-day, five-game trip winless.
But in striving for perfection, the Celtics went home disappointed after completing its trip 4-1 following a 113-106 setback to the hot Hornets last night in front of a boisterous, sellout crowd of 18,280 at New Orleans Arena.
"We don't like it. We don't like to lose," coach Doc Rivers said. "I told the guys, 'Good trip, but we lost a game that we gave away on turnovers.' I don't know why we would feel good about that.
"Having said that, in the whole picture, it was a terrific trip. Going 4-1 on this trip was terrific. But it stings a little bit when you know tonight if you just take care of the ball and stay solid, there is a good chance you could have had a 5-0 trip."
The Celtics opened the trip with an expected victory at Milwaukee. Next was a rare sweep of the Texas Triangle as Boston overcame a 22-point deficit to win at San Antonio last Monday, snapped Houston's remarkable 22-game winning streak Tuesday, and staged a late rally to beat Dallas Thursday. The Celtics became the first team since the Kings in 2001 to accomplish a sweep in Texas.
But last night, Boston fell apart in the final quarter, getting outscored, 32-17. Stingy New Orleans (47-21) has allowed only 40 points in its last three fourth quarters. Hornets All-Star forward David West scored 37 points by nailing 15 of 25 shots and sinking all seven free throw attempts. Boston allowed 32 points off turnovers overall.
"We are going to play everybody tough," West said. "We feel that if we play solid defensively that we have a shot to beat anybody in the NBA. We know they were coming in hot. They beat all three Texas teams."
The Celtics held a 15-point lead at one time in the first half and entered intermission ahead, 65-55, on 60 percent shooting from the field. Hornets All-Star guard Chris Paul, an MVP candidate who had 19 points and seven assists, was limited to 12 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
For the Celtics, Paul Pierce had 28 points while guard Rajon Rondo had 23.
"We definitely had our opportunities, had our big early lead," Pierce said. "But we couldn't get stops for some reason."
Paul picked up his fifth foul and went to the bench with 31.4 seconds left in the third quarter. West scored 14 points in the third to help trim New Orleans's deficit slightly to 89-81 by the end of the quarter.
"David West single-handedly destroyed us," Rivers said.
With Paul on the bench, the Hornets opened the fourth quarter with a 13-4 run, capped by a West dunk with 6:12 remaining to push Boston behind, 94-93. New Orleans went up, 111-103, with 18.2 seconds left after two free throws by West. Pierce nailed a 3-pointer to make it 111-106 with 6.7 seconds left but it was too late for a comeback. The Hornets pulled off the come-from-behind victory despite the fact that Paul was on the floor for only the final 5:24 of the fourth quarter. His backup, Jannero Pargo, finished with 15 points and six assists.
"[The Hornets] played hard, they played with more energy, and they deserved to win," Rivers said. "Sure, it was our fifth game, but they've been playing tough games every night. They are in the West."
The Celtics allowed 15 points off 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter, and earned zero second-chance points in the stanza.
"Tonight, it was just turnovers," Rivers said. "We were really careless with the ball. We took quick shots, gambled too much defensively. It came back to haunt us tonight."