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Grizzlies 90, Celtics 87

Grizzlies bear up

Celtics lose lead in fourth quarter and Memphis hangs on

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 24, 2011

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If he could do it again, he’d call a timeout.

Maybe.

The Celtics trailed the Grizzlies, 88-87, when Rajon Rondo snagged a Zach Randolph miss — his 11th rebound of the night — and went racing the other way, scanning for the go-ahead basket. There were 26 ticks left on the clock.

“I probably should have called a timeout on the fast break,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

But he liked what he saw. Rondo already had 11 assists, and with a hot Paul Pierce (18 of his 22 points in the second half) trailing the break, it looked as if Rondo would make it a dozen, putting the Celtics up in the process.

“I honestly thought Rondo was going to hand it off to Paul in transition,’’ Rivers said. “Once I saw that, I said, ‘I’ll take that all day.’ ’’

But Rondo couldn’t see what Rivers saw.

“I didn’t see Paul,’’ Rondo said.

Rondo had shown signs of coming out of his recent slump, but at that point he had missed 9 of 11 shots. Still, he said, “I thought I had a floater.’’

He flicked it high, but it bounced off the square and grazed the rim.

With just 13 seconds left, the Celtics had no choice but to foul, sending Mike Conley to the line, where he hit a pair. Glen Davis had a look at a three and missed, Pierce his own look from deep and came up empty.

Sabotaged by their own execution, the Celtics swallowed a 90-87 loss, just their seventh home setback.

“I thought we had numbers and I thought we were going to get it to our best offensive player in transition,’’ Rivers said. “I’d take those odds all day. I didn’t mind the play. I’m second-guessing. I always second-guess when things don’t work.

“And no, Baby was not supposed to shoot the three.’’

Rivers thought first about the timeout, but didn’t question Rondo’s shot selection.

“I don’t mind when Rondo shoots, ever,’’ Rivers said. “But I just think your best offensive player should always touch it on the last possession, and then if it comes back to a guy for a shot, I think that’s fine. But listen, he didn’t have a bad shot. He was in the lane. It was one of his runners. That’s not a bad shot.’’

The Celtics fell behind early, missing 10 of their 15 first-quarter shots.

“I thought the first eight minutes of the game, it was them attacking hard,’’ Rivers said. “How we were close was amazing to me.’’

Memphis increased its lead to 10 in the second quarter, with Leon Powe breaking out the blowtorch. He was one of six Grizzlies who finished in double figures, scoring 9 of his 13 points in the first half.

“Leon Powe was the baddest man on the planet tonight,’’ Rivers said. “It’s not like they tricked us with Leon’s sets. They gave him the ball and said, ‘Just go drive through somebody and score on them.’ That’s basically what he did.’’

The Celtics rallied, with Ray Allen drilling a pair of 3-pointers and scoring 9 of his 14 points in the second quarter. They took a 45-44 lead into the half, and stretched it to 7 in the third quarter.

But they committed an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers, aiding the Grizzlies, who also dominated in the paint, outscoring the Celtics, 52-26.

Randolph, who constantly battled with Kevin Garnett, finished two rebounds shy of a double-double (13 points, eight boards).

“Wrestling with Zach, it felt like I was wrestling with a grizzly bear the whole game,’’ Garnett said.

This closing stretch of home games for the Celtics is deceptively difficult. The Grizzlies and 76ers are the only teams with winning records, but the Celtics have had their issues with every team left on the schedule, from Charlotte and Detroit to Philadelphia, Washington, and New York.

Memphis is fighting for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, and it showed.

“Overall, I just thought for Memphis, clearly the value of the game, you could see it for them,’’ Rivers said.

The Celtics, meanwhile fell a game behind the Bulls for first place in the Eastern Conference. Knowing every game counts, Rivers put the loss and the need to establish consistency on his shoulders.

“It starts with Doc Rivers first,’’ he said. “Then it starts with the whole team.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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