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Getting stopped in the late going

Celtics seem unable to close out quarters

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / May 4, 2011

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MIAMI — There may have been a simple reason for the Celtics’ collapse in the fourth quarter last night, but it may require a complicated fix.

Even with Miami’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James draining shots, and injuries affecting Celtics starters, Boston was in Game 2 in the late going. With 7 minutes and 10 seconds to go, the Celtics tied the score at 80. Yet in a scenario that plagued them at the end of each quarter, they watched the Heat take off on a run.

Less than two minutes after the Celtics tied the game, they were down by 10, then it was 12, and eventually 14. A 14-0 Heat run helped them defeat Boston, 102-91, and give them a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

“They scored and we couldn’t score, to simplify it,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I always say if we can’t score down the stretch, that’s always on me. I’ve got to do something different. Got to play through Paul [Pierce] more, got to get [Ray Allen] more shots.

“For me, it was tough because I didn’t know who was healthy or who felt good out there. Whatever they do on the floor, we’ve got to get the ball in the hands of the right guy. It doesn’t mean the right guy is going to shoot the ball, but it usually leads to good things, and I don’t think we did a very good job of that.’’

While James (35 points) and Wade (28) provided the Heat with a steady flow of baskets, Rivers was waiting on injury updates on Pierce (foot strain, first quarter), Allen (bruised chest, third quarter), and Rajon Rondo (back, fourth quarter).

Ultimately, the Celtics were weighed down by inconsistency.

In the third quarter, the Celtics led, 58-56, with 5:42 to go in the period. The Heat managed to end the third with a 72-67 lead.

In the second quarter, Wade scored the final 8 Heat points before the break to change a 39-38 game into a 47-42 Miami halftime advantage.

“One of the things we clearly have to do a better job of is closing out quarters,’’ Rivers said. “They closed out the whole game on runs. We have to figure out a way of finishing quarters better than we did.’’

A lack of focus may be contributing to the subpar performances in the late stages of each period, and an increased sense of urgency may be the best answer, Pierce said.

“I just think at that point we have to play with better discipline and more force,’’ he said. “Offensively, I thought we got good shots but we can get better shots and execute, and that was the reason for struggles offensively. I thought defensively we were solid for the most part, [but] when we got to 80-80, it just seemed like we couldn’t get a stop.’’

The Celtics converted 34 of 79 shots from the field, 6 of 11 from the 3-point line. They were held to 42 or fewer points at halftime for the second time in the series.

The Celtics bench outscored the Heat’s, 27-12, but Boston couldn’t overcome the stretches of hot shooting by Wade and James.

“Offensively, we have not played well,’’ Allen said. “You have to give them credit, they are causing us to move the ball and put it in different places. We have to do a better job of attacking the basket. They are attacking us, but we are not attacking them.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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