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Hornets 83, Celtics 81

Feeling the sting

Garnett’s absence proves painful in loss to Hornets

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 1, 2011

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Doc Rivers didn’t want to play the name game, but it was more than clear. Playing their first game since finding out Kevin Garnett would be out for an estimated two weeks with a strained right calf, the Celtics needed players to step up. But trying to do too much led to players stepping out of their roles.

Who in particular?

“Can you give me a name?’’ Rivers said.

The most glaring example came late in the yesterday’s 83-81 loss to the Hornets. Even though a 16-0 run had turned a 9-point deficit to start the fourth quarter into a 7-point lead midway through it, the Celtics found themselves back in a hole, down, 80-77, with 1:13 remaining, when the ball swung to Glen Davis 23 feet from the basket.

The 3-point line isn’t exactly Davis’s stomping grounds. He had taken six this season (making one) entering the game, and had nine career attempts (making two) before that. But Davis pulled up anyway, and misfired. Trevor Ariza grabbed the rebound, the Hornets ran the other way, and David West hit a 19-footer, making the lead more comfortable.

It was a symbol of things going haywire for the Celtics all afternoon.

“I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that,’’ said Rivers, who watched his team miss 13 of 16 3-pointers, commit 19 turnovers (costing them 25 points), and suffer back-to-back losses for the first time this season. “In a game that was going at a snail’s pace, we turned the ball over [19] times. I thought that hurt us. But I thought we had a little bit of hero ball. There’s no doubt about that. And usually, you lose when you do that. And so we lost.’’

No one felt more of an onus to perform at a high level in Garnett’s absence than Davis, who filled in for Garnett on the biggest stage in 2009, the playoffs. But yesterday, Davis missed 10 of 14 shots and grabbed just four rebounds in 35 minutes.

“Everybody kind of had to step up and do some things,’’ said Marquis Daniels, who came off the bench to score 10 points in 25 minutes. “Unfortunately, his shots weren’t falling, so it looked like he was pressing. But he’s been great for us all year.’’

The Celtics still had a chance to squeeze out a win, down, 83-81, with 19 seconds left. But what was supposed to be a pick-and roll with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen never materialized. Pierce lost the ball dribbling to his right, and after scrambling to avoid turning it over, found Allen, who heaved up a 21-footer that hit the back of the rim.

“We got the switch we wanted,’’ said Rivers, who wanted Marco Belinelli to end up on Pierce. “I guess they must have reached in and got the deflection. We got what we wanted, it just didn’t work.’’

Having handled the ball more the past few games with Rajon Rondo out with a left ankle sprain, Pierce decided to do less of it yesterday, and finished with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds. Still, realizing he committed six turnovers, he hung the loss on himself.

“I probably needed to be more aggressive scoring the ball, and I just wasn’t,’’ Pierce said. “I’ll take a lot of the heat for the things that went on. No excuses.’’

Allen scored 18 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter while the Celtics were making their run. Chris Paul led the Hornets with 20 points, 11 assists, and 6 steals.

The Celtics have played through injuries all season, and Rivers warned repeatedly that the cumulative effect would catch up with them, but this was a winnable game.

“It got to us, but we can’t let it get to us,’’ Rivers said. “We’re not going to be healthy the next game, and I told the guys, ‘I’m angry. We should have won the game. Don’t sit back and feel good you lost the game by 2 because you have three starters out or whatever.’ That doesn’t make me feel any good. We pay everybody, so we have to come out and play.’’

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