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Wizards 85, Celtics 83

Celtics’ offense does a disappearing act

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 23, 2011

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WASHINGTON — It was a shot Paul Pierce has drained a half-million times in his backyard, the gym at Inglewood High School, Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and in various arenas around the NBA. Yet it was no surprise the elbow jumper rolled out with 1.7 seconds left.

That was the theme last night at Verizon Center for the Celtics, who lost 85-83 to the Washington Wizards because seemingly every Celtic on the roster missed his most comfortable shot.

Ray Allen missed six 3-pointers. Pierce missed elbow jumpers. Kevin Garnett clanged shots on pick-and-rolls. Glen Davis missed from various areas on the floor. Semih Erden couldn’t finish easy layups. It was bewildering.

After shooting 68 percent in the first quarter, the Celtics shot 33 percent for the rest of the game, 5 of 23 in a frustrating fourth quarter in which they blew countless opportunities to build a lead.

The Celtics’ defense made stops, giving the inept offense every chance imaginable to seize a win, but the ball movement was nonexistent. After converting 15 field goals in the first quarter, the Celtics managed just 19 for the rest of the way, missing numerous layups. Early in the fourth, Allen had a chance to give the Celtics a 3-point lead with a one-handed dunk, but the ball slipped from his hands and bounced off the back rim.

Washington rookie John Wall banked in a desperation 3-pointer for an 84-81 lead with 57.7 left and the Celtics responded with a Garnett layup. After Rajon Rondo stole the ball from Wall, Celtics coach Doc Rivers allowed his team to run its offense without a timeout and Pierce was open at the elbow. The shot curled off the rim.

Rivers was dismayed that the Celtics took so long to get into their offensive sets, even on the final play. With the Celtics behind, 84-83, Pierce released his shot with fewer than four seconds left, leaving little time for an offensive rebound.

Boston managed just 27 points in the second half after piling up 56 in the first, one of its worst offensive performances in recent memory.

“You figure Wall hits a shot off the glass to win a game,’’ said Allen, who was 0 for 3 in the fourth quarter. “But we can’t make a wide-open 12-footer. That’s the basketball gods kicking us and telling us we need to play better. When you’ve got it going, you’ve got to continue to make the right plays and play the right way. I don’t think we played the right way. The more we missed, the more confidence they got.’’

A 56-46 halftime lead quickly dwindled to 63-62 when the Celtics stopped hitting shots and got into foul trouble early in the third period. Unlike Friday against the Utah Jazz, when the Celtics maintained a sizeable lead, they couldn’t build on the early momentum and the Wizards’ athleticism took its toll.

Andray Blatche’s 20-footer from the top of the key evened the score at 70, ending a long trek back for Washington. Blatche and JaVale McGee bothered the Celtics with their length, and McGee streaked to the basket with ease on pick-and-rolls.

The tone changed when Pierce picked up his fourth foul with 9:17 left in the third period, and no one picked up the offensive slack. Garnett finished with a team-high 17 points, but the Celtics backed off pounding the ball in the paint and settled for jump shots. Of their 38 points in the paint, 26 were scored in the first half.

That angered Rivers, but it appeared the Celtics stopped going inside because Erden and Davis couldn’t finish. In all, the Celtics missed seven layups.

“I thought we came out, played hard, got a big lead and then I thought we went ‘Showtime’ from that point on,’’ Rivers said. “I thought we deserved to lose the game. I felt that always almost at halftime but definitely by the third quarter. We didn’t play the way we [usually] play. I thought we decided to play, not compete anymore.’’

Even on nights when they struggle, the Celtics are still good enough to grind out wins because one of their Big Three or even the bench responds with difference-making play. In the second half, the bench was 3 of 11 for 6 points while Allen, Pierce, and Rondo were a combined 5 of 21.

“I thought once we had them down, we should have climbed into that lead,’’ said Garnett about the 10-point halftime advantage. “When playing on the road, you can’t give up leads like that. This team [Washington] plays really hard at home. We knew that. It’s a learning process. I’m going to be consistent with this. I thought we missed our shots. I thought we got really, really good shots. I thought we missed little chippys today.’’

Pierce sat at his locker, with his knees iced, knowing the Celtics blew a game that may haunt them come April.

When asked about his final shot, Pierce summed the game up perfectly: “I felt good, got a great look. It just wasn’t my night.’’

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