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CLIPPERS 95, CELTICS 86

Clipper slip

Celtics adrift after losing fifth straight

At game's end, two priests waited in the corridor outside the Celtics' locker room. Both were guests of the Heinsohns. One had just watched his first NBA game. When asked what he thought of the home team, the priest bowed his head and said, "We begin to pray."

It has reached the point where divine intervention might be necessary for the Celtics, even with the Hawks in town tomorrow night.

There was very little redeeming value in the Celtics' 95-86 loss to the Clippers last night at the FleetCenter. Dunks done for highlight reels do not count. The Celtics may have shot better than the Clippers (47 percent to 41 percent), but Los Angeles shot 50 percent (11 for 22) from 3-point range, including a career- and franchise-high eight 3-pointers by Quentin Richardson (36 points).

Richardson also led his team in free throw attempts (seven) as the Clippers took 20 trips to the line compared with just eight for the Celtics.

But Boston's biggest failing came in the open court, where they committed 19 turnovers that led to 31 LA points. Turnovers and turn over are two aspects of life in the NBA that are all too familiar for the Celtics. Turnover in personnel, and most recently, head coaches has left Boston (22-28) looking for direction and an identity. Last night, in a game that remained close until late in the final quarter, turnovers took away the Celtics' momentum time and time again.

"Each of us as individuals have got to take a look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves who we want to be and what we want to be this year," said Paul Pierce (22 points). "I have full confidence in these guys to get the job done. It's just we have a lot of inconsistencies in a lot of different areas that are hurting us night in and night out. Some things we're going to have to clean up. If we don't, we're going to be going home early.

"There's only so many times you can say [we have to be tougher]. It has to come from inside. You can have somebody talk your ear off about being tough, but it has to come from each individual. Right now, we're going through adversity. This is when you find out what type of team you've got. It's been a rough time. I can't sit here and tell you I'm not frustrated. I am at times."

Pierce called for his teammates to take a long look in the mirror earlier this season. Shortly thereafter, the Celtics went on a five-game winning streak. Last night, when he talked about toughness coming from each individual, about having faith Boston will find a way out of its slump, there was a more hollow ring to his statements. He looked and sounded drained by his frustrations. The Celtics are on a five-game losing streak, the longest of the season. They have yet to win under interim head coach John Carroll.

It's uncertain what the Celtics will see when, or if, they take a long look in the mirror. But what was on display last night before a crowd of 14,342 was far from pretty, especially in the fourth quarter. Boston led, 74-70, after three. During the next 12 minutes, the Celtics committed six turnovers as they were outscored, 25-12.

There was no fight in the Celtics once Richardson hit a 3-pointer with 6 minutes 53 seconds remaining. The basket broke an 80-80 tie and started a 11-2 run for the Clippers. When all was said and done, LA held a 91-82 lead with 3:43 to go. The Celtics never threatened down the stretch, hitting only three field goals over the final 7:40.

"Just because you practice for a couple days and all of a sudden you have a home game, that doesn't mean you're supposed to win," said Carroll. "Wins are earned. Wins come through not only hard work in practice, but hard work on the court and being able to play the game the way it's supposed to be played." "We're kind of in a slump and we need to get ourselves out of this slump as soon as we can," said Jiri Welsch (20 points). "Tonight was a game we should have won, but they made a little run in the fourth quarter and we just didn't respond well. We're getting outhustled and out-toughened. Not as individuals, but as a team."

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