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Bobcats 83, Celtics 81

No effort put forth in the fourth

Celtics blitzed, 30-15, in final quarter of loss

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 26, 2011

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The slumps weren’t a secret.

Rajon Rondo’s was evident. The stretch of four games in the middle of the month in which he shot 4 for 29 and failed to get double-digit assists was baffling for anyone who had watched him toy with defenses up to the All-Star break.

But Paul Pierce quietly acknowledged his slump a week ago after it had flown under the radar. Some nights he’d only take seven shots. Some nights he’d take 10 and miss eight. He seemed to be losing his long-range touch, going 23 for his last 89 from 3-point range.

Both players have been trying to work themselves out of it.

But last night their attempts may have been at the expense of the flow of the offense, and after losing to the Charlotte Bobcats, 83-81, coach Doc Rivers could sense it.

“You can see it,’’ Rivers said. “A guy struggles, he pouts, he moans. Everything is ‘Me, me, me’ on our team right now.’’

The Bobcats outscored the Celtics, 30-15, in the fourth quarter to steal the win, sprinting by the Celtics, who jogged to the finish line.

“We gave this one away,’’ said Delonte West. “No offense to them, they played well, but I’m pretty sure they’re over there, they probably still can’t believe they won this game.’’

After not getting a touch on a crucial last-minute possession in the Celtics’ letdown again Memphis Wednesday night, Pierce scored a team-high 18 points, but he took 14 shots and missed eight.

Rondo (10 points) knocked down 5 of 8 shots last night — midrange jumpers and floaters that left lipstick marks on the glass — but turned the ball over five times, the most he’s coughed it up in more than two weeks.

“Right now, I think we’ve become very, very selfish,’’ Rivers said. “Everything is about how we’re playing individually instead of how the team is playing.’’

The Celtics dropped their second straight game at the Garden, this one somehow more disappointing than the last.

For the first time in a long time there was urgency early on. In each of their past five games — and seven of their past nine — the Celtics found themselves trailing at the end of the first quarter, digging holes as deep as 15 points with slow starts, then ending up in dogfights down the stretch.

Last night, they got to work as soon as they punched the clock, shoving Charlotte into a double-digit hole early but they still found themselves trading blows late.

Dante Cunningham dealt the blow of the night, pumping Pierce off his feet, then stepping in for a 15-footer that put the Bobcats up, 82-81.

The Celtics have lost six of their last 10 games and are two games behind the Bulls in the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference and just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Heat.

Be it slumps or boredom or chemistry, the Celtics find themselves letting winnable games slip away knowing it could cost them home-court advantage in the postseason.

Last year, it was boredom.

“And last year we lost Game 7 [of the Finals] on the road,’’ Rivers said.

Energy was absent all night, but everything unraveled in the fourth quarter for the Celtics.

Leading 75-74 with 4:22 left, Pierce went to the line for a pair of free throws and missed them both. Then after Gerald Henderson sneaked through the paint for an offensive rebound and an easy putback, Pierce launched a 3-pointer that missed the rim entirely, bouncing off the left side of the backboard.

Glen Davis (9 points, 3-of-10 shooting) then fouled out, taking an offensive foul on an illegal screen.

Drawing a foul trying to turn a Kevin Garnett touch pass into a tough layup, Nenad Krstic went to the line with 2:04 left and a chance to tie it, but made just one.

Garnett drilled a wide-open jumper that put the Celtics up, 81-80, but Cunningham answered.

Pierce had a difficult look at the basket, stepping back from 18 feet but his shot rolled around the rim. The Celtics had just two field goals in the last 7:42.

Pierce didn’t deny the possibility of selfishness.

“That’s the reason we don’t shoot a high percentage,’’ he said. “The ball is sticking. We usually make extra passes, that’s when the offense is flowing and we’re able to get out there on the break and get easy opportunities. You haven’t been seeing that.’’

With 11 games left, the last thing on Rivers’s mind was getting his stars out of their slumps.

“I could care less about slumps,’’ Rivers said. “You play hard. You’re not going to play well every night, but it can’t be about you. It’s got to be, ‘Let me do something else to help the team.’ ’’

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

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