THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Hardly the sight for fans’ sore eyes

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / February 1, 2010

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The fans needed it. Not management. Not the coaching staff. Not the players. Not the media.

Nope, the fans were the ones who really needed to see the Celtics win yesterday’s game against the Lakers at the Garden.

The fans needed to be reassured that the Celtics remain an elite team, that the idea of a championship is something that can be discussed in the immediate future and not solely something of the recent past.

But the fans saw something they’ve seen too many times in this increasingly annoying 2009-10 season. They saw their team do what it did against Dallas and against Atlanta (the second time) in this building and against the Magic in theirs. Yes, they saw the Celtics play well, very well, for long stretches.

But they also saw their team unable to hold a double-digit lead in the final quarter, and, in the end, they saw the absolute last thing they wanted to see. They saw Kobe Bryant make a pretty close to unmakable shot from the middle of the lane at one end with 7.3 seconds to go and Ray Allen miss an eminently makable buzzer-beating shot from the wing at the other end, and that juxtaposition meant a 90-89 victory for the Lakers.

The fans saw the Celtics at their best in the sec ond quarter, when they outscored the Lakers, 33-17, and at their worst in the fourth when they had three more turnovers (5) than baskets (2) in the final 9:17. The Celtics put themselves in a position to lose with some sloppy passing and the by-now-predictable failure to keep a comebacking foe from getting some key offensive rebounds.

And they lost two fourth-quarter baskets with turnovers when Rajon Rondo was called for traveling before swishing a floater with 2:23 left and when Paul Pierce was called for pushing off Ron Artest with his left hand before nailing a jumper with 27.5 seconds left that would have given the Celtics a 91-88 lead. (Yeah, the arm was out, but the contact was marginal and the accompanying flop by Artest was artful and professional.)

Cheesy calls? Probably. But give both hoops to Boston and that would have been four baskets in the final 9:17, instead of two. C’mon, you can’t expect to beat a good team playing like that.

The Celtics are no longer reliable. That’s rather evident. They can’t sustain. They can’t hang. They can’t finish. Dare I suggest they’ve lost their confidence as a unit? Hey, why not? Their coach looks at the fourth-quarter collapses and thinks it’s a possibility.

“You know, I just don’t know what it is, honestly,’’ said Doc Rivers. “[Today] it was that we didn’t play well. I thought we tried to hold on to the game. What disappointed me about that is that I told our guys, ‘We can’t act like we’re surprised to be up.’ We should have been up, and we should have been up more. So that was rough.’’

This is the same Doc Rivers who said when his team was beating Orlando by low double digits entering the fourth quarter of that game that his lads should have been ahead by 20. Clearly, there is a fundamental problem here.

But had either Kobe missed (dream on) or Ray made, we’d be having a far different discussion, which speaks to the peculiar nature of sport. If you think 75 or 80 percent of your favorite performer’s concert was great, but you weren’t too crazy about the rest, you don’t go home unhappy. You might go home not completely fulfilled, but you still feel that you had a good time. It’s not that way with sport.

Losing stings, and for a Celtics fan, losing to the Lakers stings 10 times worse. Losing when the final score represents the only LA lead in the final 28-plus minutes creates an added layer of home fan misery. Oh, the shouldas, couldas, and wouldas.

Had either Kobe missed or Ray made, here’s what we would be talking about. We’d be talking about the spark provided by a Mr. Allen. No, not Ray (who was 2 for 10 and didn’t make a basket in the final 42 1/2 minutes), but Tony, Mr. Trick-Or-Treat himself. Tony Allen came bounding off the bench early in this one, replacing Pierce after the latter was hit with his second personal when the game was barely three minutes old. Tony was ready to showcase his A game, providing energy and enthusiasm at both ends of the floor.

Had either Kobe missed or Ray made, we’d also be talking about Rondo, who played a spectacular second quarter, when he had 9 of his 21 points and eight of his 12 assists. The Lakers seemed to have no idea how to contain his excursions to the hoop, and he even threw in a couple of jumpers (one beating the 24-second clock). In one sequence he swallowed a Lakers outlet pass and promptly threw in a jump hook. In another he missed a spectacular reverse layup, got his own miss, and then made the same spectacular reverse layup he just had missed. He continues to do things ordinary point guards don’t do.

Among those impressed by what he was seeing was a certain Mr. Thomas W. Heinsohn, who, given the presence of the ABC folk, was forced to watch this one from a perch amidst the scribes.

“They’re being Rondo-ized!’’ he thundered.

Well, they were, and it was a source of great delight for the fans, who have not really had all that much to cheer about during the past six weeks. But here he and his team were, coming from 13 down in the first quarter (30-17) to go up by 11 (81-70), only to fail - again. For the 11th time in the last 14 games, they had been outscored in the fourth quarter.

Games that used to be won are being lost. A team that once had a swagger now has to convince itself its faults can be corrected, that all this is temporary. Class players and class people always will say the right thing, and thus from Ray Allen we heard, “Regardless of what happened yesterday or the day before, moving forward we all have to buckle down and do our jobs.’’

The implication is that things will turn around, but when? If either Kobe had missed or Ray had made, the fans would be feeling better. The concert wasn’t all bad, but when you blow the final number in this gig, everybody goes home feeling bad.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe’s 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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