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HORNETS 97, CELTICS 90

Celtics run out of steam

NEW ORLEANS -- For the Celtics, the minutes played by Paul Pierce (45) said it all. Injuries, coupled with foul trouble in the second of back-to-back road games, forced coach Jim O'Brien to play his captain more than he would have liked. The situation was far from ideal as the Celtics struggled to find offense down the stretch. They were also searching for their defense for long stretches of the game.

For the Hornets, the numbers posted by Baron Davis (37 points on 13-for-21 shooting, including 6 for 7 from 3-point range) said it all. The New Orleans point guard ran roughshod over the Celtics' defense, coming up 1 point shy of his career high and tying his career high with six 3-pointers. Even well-challenged shots went in as he led a Hornets squad that shot 48 percent.

As a result, the Celtics suffered their first loss of the season, 97-90, last night at the hands of the Hornets at New Orleans Arena.

"We definitely had our shot," said Pierce (25 points, 10 rebounds). "It's just the little things in crucial spots of the ballgame. We're still a young team. We're still learning from our mistakes. For the most part, we gave ourselves a chance, and that's all you can ask for. They really got up in our face and made it difficult for us to really get into our offense. It's hard, especially when we don't play defense on the other end. So, we don't get our chance to settle in against their press and it made it difficult for us to get into a flow."

A lack of consistency on defense explains the ups and downs. In the first half, Boston allowed New Orleans to shoot 57 percent and enter the break ahead, 56-48. The Celtics came out of halftime playing the kind of defense O'Brien expects, holding the Hornets to 38 percent in the quarter. That allowed the Celtics to reel off a 17-2 run to start the third and take an 8-point lead (72-64) after a Walter McCarty 3-pointer with 4:21 left in the quarter.

In the closing minutes of the third and opening minutes of the fourth, the Celtics watched all of their hard work go to waste. A 22-7 run by the Hornets pushed the home team ahead, 86-79, with 7:40 remaining. At that point, the news only got worse for Boston as Kedrick Brown fouled out, forcing O'Brien to make more demands on his tired players. A 3-pointer by Mike James followed by a 9-footer on the break by Mark Blount and a 3-point play from Pierce provided Boston with some needed energy. It also decreased the deficit to 88-87 with 4:50 to play in the fourth.

But the Hornets' offense picked back up again, while the Celtics failed to record a field goal over the final 3:27. They also turned the ball over twice and committed four fouls over that span. Raef LaFrentz, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the first quarter, fouled out with 54.8 seconds remaining.

"We are a good defensive team and that gave us opportunities to hold them off at the end," said George Lynch. "Boston played last night in Memphis and we stepped it up defensively. [The Celtics] got into their sets, but didn't seem to have it in their legs too much else after that."

All game the Celtics' real problems came at guard. The Hornets' backcourt combination of Davis and David Wesley combined for 33 points by halftime. Davis was primarily responsible for the 16-6 run that gave New Orleans its largest lead, 10 points with less than a second remaining in the first half. Davis contributed a pair of steals, a 3-pointer, and a layup. And Davis also added a pair of assists, the last coming on a 3-pointer by Lynch that put New Orleans ahead, 56-46, with 0.5 seconds remaining.

In the opening quarter, the Hornets did their best impression of last season's Celtics, throwing up 3-pointers as often as they could. New Orleans went 5 for 10 from the arc in the first. Davis and Wesley both reached double figures in the opening quarter with the aid of two 3-pointers apiece.

"That was a good shooting exhibition by their whole team," said O'Brien. "We could not get enough stops to pull it out at the end. I think they are a very, very good offensive team. They do not miss many shots. They turned it up a notch. I thought they went to a little more full-court pressure and got into our guards. We didn't respond to it very well."

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