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MAGIC 87, CELTICS 83

Celtics can't put things together

They fail again in bid for consecutive wins

Wouldn't it be loverly? A simple winning streak? You know, where one win actually follows another? Is that too much to ask, especially when the games are at home and against opponents who can make nonrefundable reservations for May?

Apparently, at this point in time, it is too much for the Celtics.

''It'd be nice to win two games in a row sometime this season," a wistful Doc Rivers said shortly after the Celtics dropped an 87-83 decision to the Orlando Magic before 14,053 last night at TD Banknorth Garden. ''We've got to just keep plugging away."

Or, as Ricky Davis noted, ''We are missing a sense of urgency, right from the start of the game at the jump ball."

Last Friday, the Celtics eked out a win over the Charlotte Bobcats on a buzzer-beater by Paul Pierce. Three nights later, even with an exhumed Mark Blount playing reasonably well, the Celtics didn't have it. With two chances to tie the game in the final minute, Davis (22 points) tossed up an air ball from the baseline and Blount pretty much whiffed on a short jump hook, although Dwight Howard was there to contest it and was credited with a blocked shot.

Those two plays seemed to epitomize the evening for the Celtics, who fell to 5-8. As Rivers put it, ''For the first time this season, our offense let us down."

As in 43 percent shooting, 19 turnovers (leading to 20 points), and 38 second-half points. But it was still very much a winnable game in that final, frantic minute, as the Celtics had chopped an 8-point deficit (79-71 with 4:56 to play) down to 83-81 after Delonte West (11 points) made two free throws with 90 seconds left.

But Davis misfired badly -- uncharacteristically, really -- on a 15-footer from the left baseline.

''A guy jumped out on me at the last second," said Davis, who was 9 of 18 from the field. ''We weren't really executing well at all."

Then, after a miss by Steve Francis (19 points), Dan Dickau passed up an open shot to feed a more open Blount some 5 feet from the basket. Imagine how headline writers would have handled a Blount basket to tie the game? Or even a 3-point play following his Friday banishment to hoop Elba?

But Blount never got firm control of the ball and it appeared to slip out of his hands as he attempted to shoot. Howard (10 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and only 3 field goals attempted) was there to make sure it got no closer.

''I knew I had to make a big play to win the game," Howard said. ''I got a great block." Well, the stats will call it a block. Howard knows better. As he later acknowledged, ''He kind of lost control of it."

The Magic, still ahead by only 2, needed to make their free throws, something they had not been doing. For the first three quarters, Orlando was 14 of 25 from the line. The Magic went 8 for 8 in the fourth, with Hedo Turkoglu knocking down four biggies in the final 10 seconds to seal the deal. Orlando also got a huge lift from Jameer Nelson, who had 16 points and a monster fourth quarter (9 points, 4 assists, 1 big steal).

Boston remains one of three teams in the league (Houston and Toronto are the others) that have yet to win two straight games this season. Orlando snapped an eight-game losing streak in Boston dating back to December 2000 and Rivers, who used to coach the Magic, fell to his former team for the first time in four tries.

The game was closely contested -- the biggest lead was Orlando's 8-pointer in the fourth -- and played at the Magic's preferred pace (somewhat slower than a Viennese waltz). There's a reason Orlando allows the fewest points per game; it doesn't score many and squeezes every second out of the shot clock. But Orlando is 7-6, Grant Hill may be back in two weeks, so, hey, things aren't all that bad in the Land of the Waffle House.

Here? Don't ask. It was the Celtics' inability to play the game at their preferred pace that gnawed at Paul Pierce afterward. The Celtics captain didn't take his first shot until 4:33 was left in the first quarter. He still finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 turnovers.

''We didn't look to push the ball," Pierce said. ''We didn't look to run as much as we should have. I think we shot ourselves in the foot. This was a game we should have had."

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. That's been the Celtics' story to date, and perhaps the underlying reason why they'll have to wait until Friday at the earliest to put together two straight wins.

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