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PACERS 103, CELTICS 96

Celtics can't put brakes on skid

INDIANAPOLIS -- Al Jefferson did not wait for the end of the question. From the moment the final buzzer sounded last night and the Celtics' 103-96 loss to the Pacers entered the books -- stretching Boston's losing streak to 12 games -- Jefferson knew the query was coming.

Was he aware that the Celtics could tie the franchise record with a 13th loss tonight against the Lakers at home?

Cutting off a reporter, Jefferson said, "I'm aware of that."

When asked if the streak was wearing down the Celtics, Jefferson offered another brusque answer.

"The streak was wearing on us when it was three games," he said, "so of course it's wearing on us now at 12."

But Jefferson, who led the team with 15 points and 17 rebounds, could not answer the question that stumped everyone in the visitors' locker room:

If the Celtics are so sick and tired of losing, so angry about the prospect of setting a franchise record for futility, then how could they fall behind by 20 points in the second half and not realize the urgency of their situation until the very end of the fourth quarter?

Anyone? Anyone?

The Celtics could not come up with a satisfactory answer, just as they could not come up with a satisfactory ending to the game, despite outscoring the Pacers, 40-27, in the fourth.

The Celtics started the final quarter trailing, 76-56, and all hope of a victory seemed lost. But they have made a habit of staging dramatic late-game comebacks during this streak. Again they chipped away, getting the deficit to single digits (93-84) when Gerald Green scored on a layup with 1:29 remaining.

Green hit another big shot -- a 3-pointer with 26.2 seconds left -- at which point he turned to the Boston bench and shouted, "We're back in this [expletive]!"

Technically, Green was right. But the Celtics (12-32) simply did not have enough time. Indiana made its free throws in the closing seconds, while Sebastian Telfair forced a 3-point attempt in an effort to keep pace. In a game in which the Celtics committed 22 turnovers (for 19 points), it was only fitting that their final possession ended when Jamaal Tinsley stole the ball from Green.

"We let it go, and all of a sudden we turn it back on at the wrong time and it's too late," said Green, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the fourth. "We need to turn it on and leave it on for the rest of the season."

Clearly, it is not enough to turn it on in the first and fourth quarters and turn it off in the second and third. That is essentially what happened last night, as the Celtics scored just 13 points in the second and 13 points in the third.

Even before the losing streak started at Orlando Jan. 7, the Celtics were struggling to play complete games. Injuries and younger players receiving more minutes made things even more inconsistent as the season wore on. Now, unpredictable up-and-down swings seem to be a habit the Celtics cannot break.

The losing streak saps the confidence and the energy of the players at different times.

"We're playing hard, but we're just not good enough," said coach Doc Rivers. "We were close, but it's kind of fool's gold. We made a run at the end and made it closer than probably they would have liked, but when you score 13 points in multiple quarters, it's tough to win a game.

"In the second, they defended us pretty well. In the third quarter, we missed layups, wide-open shots. When you haven't won in 12 games, those shots start becoming heavy. I think that's what happened."

Indiana outscored (28-13), outrebounded (9-6), outshot (73 percent to 32 percent), and outhustled Boston throughout the second quarter on the way to a 52-43 halftime lead. The Celtics also hurt themselves by committing nine turnovers (for 9 points). All of this helped Indiana stage a 13-2 run and take the lead for good.

The Celtics did not fare much better in the third. Indiana closed the period with an 11-0 run that began when Troy Murphy knocked down a 16-footer with 4:04 left. In the final four minutes, the Celtics went 0 for 8 from the floor; they made only five field goals the entire period.

"We know what we need to do to win," said Jefferson. "It's just going out there and doing it. That's what's so frustrating."

Tonight they will earn either a victory or a spot in the record books. Something of which they are well aware.

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