THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Celtics lacked a finishing act

Loss to Cavaliers a lesson learned

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 31, 2012
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers has often told his team that, if they have the lead in the final minutes, they should be able to win without scoring another point.

Rivers’s theory was put to the test in recent days. The Celtics took 11-point leads into the final four minutes of contests against Indiana and Cleveland. They executed well enough at the end to defeat the Pacers (94-87), but failed to hold off the Cavaliers, who scored the final 12 points for an 88-87 victory.

There were apparently flaws in either planning or execution Sunday, as the Celtics could neither score nor make defensive stops in the final 4:53 against Cleveland.

The late collapse cost the Celtics a chance at a winning record, but they will have a chance to get back to .500 with a visit to Cleveland tonight.

“This loss hurt, man, let’s not sugar-coat it,’’ Kevin Garnett said after the Celtics fell to 9-10. “I can put all type of sprinkles on top of this cupcake - it hurt. There wasn’t anybody in here that wasn’t very, very distraught and upset. So, it’s good we’re going to see them in a couple days.’’

Rivers delayed returning Garnett and Paul Pierce to action as the Celtics went on a 13-5 run over a 3:56 span in the final quarter to forge an 87-76 lead. When Garnett and Pierce returned, the Cavaliers had cut the deficit to 87-80 with 3:42 to go.

Pierce said he should have played more in the final quarter.

“They picked up momentum,’’ Ray Allen said of the Cavaliers. “But it was tricky. There was a point where, when I came back in and it was maybe a 3-point lead [74-71] and we stretched it, got to 11.

“So there was an idea in my mind, at some point, we keep stretching this, Kevin and Paul can rest on the bench. You see that, so Doc, he’s going to hold them. At some point, if we can take it up to 17, hopefully, put in some guys who haven’t played a lot. That’s happened, in a lot of situations. So, it’s a fine line. You’re looking at the clock and by that time they gained momentum and you got to put Paul back in and it’s a little too late.

“I believe that [Rivers] is still trying to understand rotations on this team, who’s going to come in where.’’

The Celtics also struggled to get late stops against Indiana on Friday, but Garnett and Pierce found an offensive groove.

“You have to finish games off,’’ Garnett said. “I don’t think we did a good job of that. You know, Doc said it perfectly, you have to run through a race and you have to finish them off. And we didn’t do that.

“You could see that they were gaining some momentum. But I trust any decision that [Rivers] makes - as players it’s for us to finish them off and execute game plans and such. But, as players, we have to go out and do our job and finish it and we didn’t do that - finish games, finish teams. And a team with momentum, it’s very hard to try to take it back. But lesson learned.

“Any time you rebound and get second-chance points - have costly turnovers down the stretch - you can’t do that, especially when a team does have momentum. You’re making a run of your own trying to regain it - you [almost] got to be perfect. It is what it is, point taken, lesson learned, and, hopefully, we can apply it soon.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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