THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Disappointment felt throughout

By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / January 11, 2011

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The Celtics aren’t used to losing, and, as it turns out, they’re not very good at finger-pointing. After absorbing an uncommon loss, 108-102, to the very common Houston Rockets at TD Garden last night, the 28-9 Celtics offered some scattershot explanations that held together as well as their defense.

Houston (17-21), which had lost five straight, took advantage of the Celtics’ defensive disarray and landed a slew of improbable shots. Aaron Brooks led the charge with 24 points, shooting 5 for 8 from behind the 3-point line. The Rockets made timely shots, and in the critical fourth quarter, Houston pulled away by shooting 66.7 percent.

“That was probably the worst defensive effort we’ve had in three or four years as far as overall effort goes,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “And it’s on the starters, it’s not on our second unit. I thought our second unit actually got us back in the second half and all they did was come in and play hard. They played aggressive.

“And I also told our starters that when we’re down men like we are with [Kendrick Perkins] and Delonte [West] and Kevin [Garnett] out, our second unit needs your help. They need you to play well and give them a cushion. It shouldn’t be the other way around. It’s really a disappointing game for us.’’

The Rockets only led by a point at halftime (50-49), but the Celtics couldn’t get unstuck in the second half. Every time Boston dropped in a big basket, Houston countered, quieting the crowd. And neither Paul Pierce nor Ray Allen could stop it.

Allen led the Celtics with 19 points, matched by the second unit’s Marquis Daniels. The other stalwart starter, Pierce, had 16 points in 30 minutes, but it was, perhaps, the minutes he didn’t play that were more notable.

Pierce came out of the game with 3:05 left in the third quarter, with Houston holding a 75-70 lead. As the Rockets built their lead to double figures early in the fourth quarter, Pierce was still on the bench. Not until the 7:15 mark, when the Rockets had an 8-point bulge at 92-84, did he return. Immediately, Kyle Lowry knocked down a 13-foot runner to make it a 10-point game.

“[The Rockets] played with the lead most of the game,’’ said Pierce. “I remember checking in and they were up 10, and they hit some tough shots, but then a lot of that was our defense on the other ones, some of them challenged.

“We’ve got to make the adjustment, their bench played well and pretty much everybody that played for them tonight played well and we just played with no resistance.’’

Neither coach nor captain made excuses for the loss; they absorbed the blame as they reflected their disappointment.

“The guys we put out there were more than capable of winning the game,’’ said Pierce. “We’re a defensive-minded group and for some reason, over the last couple of games, it’s just not happening. I don’t know. I mean, everybody’s got to look themselves in the mirror, check [themselves] at the door, and just figure this out, get through this little skid we’re on.’’

The skid, of course, is but two games long. It is a mark of Pierce’s expectations that each loss is a blow.

“These games mean a lot down the road,’’ he said.

“We’ve got to put our work boots on and come with our ‘A’ game. We’re not taking advantage of this, there are a lot of games that we’re letting slip away that we’re supposed to win.’’

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