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Hornets 93, Celtics 85

Bad habits bug Celtics

They blow a lead, lose to Hornets

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / February 11, 2010

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NEW ORLEANS - The Celtics’ bad second-half habits surfaced again last night. Three days after a third-quarter collapse against Orlando, the Celtics slumped after halftime in a 93-85 loss to the New Orleans Hornets.

Against the Magic, the Celtics sustained a 28-2 thumping spanning the final two quarters. This time, they were outscored, 22-3, over a period of 5:26 in the third.

“Right now, we’re struggling on both ends of the court,’’ said captain Paul Pierce. “Turnovers are obviously a factor. Offensive rebounds in the third quarter, we gave up offensive rebounds for threes and they were able to get back in the game and take the lead. That’s been our Achilles’ heel.’’

Indeed, the Celtics’ vulnerabil ities were easily exposed again. They got off to a commanding start, then inertia set in. The second unit sparked the Celtics to a 12-point halftime lead. But again, the starters faltered in the third.

“They came out and played hard and we didn’t get back on defense early on [in the third quarter],’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We just have to be better. I thought we played differently in the second half. In the third quarter we came out with quick jump shots, a lot of dribbling, a lot of turnovers, and we missed seven free throws straight at one point. Tough to win games when you turn the ball over, you miss seven free throws in a row. I thought our defense was horrible in the third quarter. But I thought our defense was phenomenal in the fourth quarter. We had to give up some fouls late to get some points, but then we couldn’t score.

“The lesson, for the 40th time, is you can’t turn on a team and then think you can turn them off. You may be able to turn yourself back on but you can’t turn them off. I thought they were ready to go in the third quarter. We allowed them to stick around and once they got the lead you knew you had a game.’’

The Celtics’ All-Stars - Kevin Garnett, Pierce, and Rajon Rondo - all struggled. Pierce scored 9 points in the opening quarter but finished with only 15 and had eight turnovers. Garnett shot 2 for 9 and totaled 7 points. Rondo scored 7 points.

And the Celtics (32-18) performed like a team needing a break, which they will get. Their next game is at Sacramento on Tuesday.

In the opening half, the second unit rallied the Celtics, shooting 11 for 15 and sparking a 19-8 run over the first 7:23 of the second quarter. The Celtics started the game by scoring on their first three possessions, then committed nine turnovers in the opening quarter.

The Celtics’ starters lost the momentum midway through the third quarter, Rivers going to the second unit with 4:51 remaining. The Hornets converted three consecutive 3-point possessions over a 61-second span, Darren Collison’s 3-pointer giving them a 70-65 lead with 2:23 left. The Hornets had a 22-3 run over a 5:26 span before Marquis Daniels’s banker with 1:10 remaining. Daniels cut the Celtics’ deficit to 76-75 with 9:02 to go. But Collison scored 9 points in a 2:43 span for the Hornets, his drive making it 85-78 with six minutes remaining.

“If it’s not the third quarter, it’s the fourth quarter,’’ Pierce said. “We’re going into droughts. We’re not playing as a confident ball club and you can see it. We haven’t hit 100 in how many games? And we’ve got to get that back, somehow. We’ve got to find a way, hopefully this road trip coming up against some tough teams we can get that back. Because when we lose a lead, we’re hesitant, we’re not cutting as sharp, we’re turning the ball over, our defensive swagger isn’t there anymore, and we’ve got to find a way to get that back. Until we get our defensive confidence back I think it will carry over to the offense.

“Right now, we need to take this break and gather ourselves, get some rest, heal some bodies, and get ready for a second-half run.’’

Indeed, the Celtics were not sure where to start with their postgame analysis. The simplest analysis was that poor defending led to a lack of transition offense, following a familiar pattern. The Celtics have topped 100 points only once in the last 13 games.

“I don’t think we got complacent,’’ Rondo said. “We didn’t score the basketball. It’s defensive, but it’s also offensively, not putting the ball in the hoop.’’

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