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On basketball

A costly loss in Chicago left them a little spent

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By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / May 5, 2009
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Ray Allen tried to relax Sunday, physically and mentally. Put the emphasis on "tried."

The Celtics guard had lots of errands to run after going on two road trips to Chicago. His wife and two young boys needed some attention. And, oh yeah, there was this crazy, draining, and memorable seven-game series against Chicago to get over on a Sunday that didn't have enough hours in it.

And by the looks of the Celtics' 95-90 loss to Orlando in Game 1 last night, it seemed that from a mental, physical, focus, and preparation standpoint, one day was not enough time to get ready for a brand new series.

"I just sat around the house all day [Sunday] and tried to relax," Allen said. "Nowadays with days off, you need a day off from the day off because on your day off you need to get things done that you need to get done. You need another day off not to do anything."

A victory over the Bulls in Game 6 at Chicago would have given the Celtics three days before the second round. But they blew an 8-point lead in regulation and lost in three overtimes, setting up Game 7 Saturday.

Rivers was so worried about the Celtics' fatigue that he kept having water sent to his players on the flight back to Boston.

"I wish we could've got it, but we didn't," said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, about not winning the series in six.

The battered Celtics are already without injured big men Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe. And with the reserves struggling for most of the Bulls series, the Celtics relied heavily on their starters to log huge minutes. Rajon Rondo, Allen, Paul Pierce, and Glen Davis all averaged at least 40 minutes per game against the Bulls, while Perkins averaged 37.9. Rondo was also playing on two sore feet and Pierce ran with a slight limp after being kicked in Game 7.

Considering the grind of that tough series, physical and mental rest was a must Sunday.

"I tried to get a lot of rest and a lot of water in my system and just go from there," Perkins said. "The main thing is, we didn't have a practice to get your mind set and ready. You couldn't watch as much film as you possibly can."

The Celtics had only one day to prepare for Orlando; scouting books were left in the players' cars Saturday, before they had eliminated the Bulls. So they basically entered Game 1 last night with a "Cliffs Notes" scouting report in hand and a lengthy shootaround to prepare. Perkins said a lack of focus was the result.

"We weren't locked in, focused from the shootaround from the time we walked into the building," Perkins said. "There was a lot of laughing. There was a lot of joking around before the game. We weren't really locked in. That's what happens."

The Magic, meanwhile, ended their first-round series against Philadelphia with a victory in Game 6 last Thursday, without the suspended Dwight Howard. The All-Star center entered Game 1 against Boston more rested than anyone else of note.

"It obviously didn't hurt us," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, about the rest.

The Magic built a lofty 54-36 halftime lead, shooting 52.4 percent, earning 30 points in the paint, and nailing three 3-pointers. The Celtics seemed out of gas by the time the second quarter arrived. They had 2 fast-break points, no free throw attempts, shot 39.5 percent from the field, and settled for a lot of jumpers in the first half. While Pierce and Davis had 7 and 8 points, respectively, by halftime, Rondo, Allen, and Davis combined to go 3 of 19 from the field.

"We weren't there mentally," Perkins said. "Our focus wasn't there. We knew it as a whole. I think we get too comfortable after we get a little success, have a win. We got through the [Chicago] series and we dropped our guard a little bit."

With a rejuvenated Rondo suddenly pushing the tempo, the Celtics woke up in the third quarter, scoring 26 points with the aid of 12 free throws. But Orlando scored 24 and was still up 16 (78-62) entering the fourth quarter.

Infused by the energetic home crowd, the Celtics wouldn't go away, fighting back to slice it to 93-90 with 6.6 seconds left. While the comeback attempt seemed valiant, the first-half mountain they created was too high to climb.

"Mentally, the guys are just down for the way that we played in the second half knowing that we could have played that way in the first half," Pierce said.

Said Orlando guard J.J. Redick: "You might have to consider that, that they were a little fatigued. I don't feel like they were flat."

Rivers refused to use fatigue as an excuse.

"There was no fatigue," Rivers said. "I don't believe in that. We had a whole day off. We ain't making no excuses. There was no fatigue."

Potentially, the Celtics could play every other day from Game 4 against the Bulls to Game 6 against the Magic. While they refuse to use physical and mental fatigue as an excuse, it's hard to believe it won't be a factor.

Still, the Celtics went through two seven-game series in the first two rounds last year before eventually winning a title.

"When you're competing for something so special like the NBA championship, it's easy for me because it's a hard journey," Pierce said. "I know once you get to the mountaintop how special it is. Just mentally and physically you have to be prepared regardless of what happened in the first round.

"You get a day in between. You got to be ready. That's how it was for us last year and that's how it is now. There's no excuses for us not to get ready, so it's easy to get up for any game."

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