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Lakers 88, Celtics 87

Missed opportunity

Gasol’s block on final shot foils Celtics

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 10, 2012
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Inasmuch as last night’s game was grinding, plodding, and unattractive, the Celtics had two chances to beat the Lakers, with the second-most prolific scorer in their history with the ball.

Each time Paul Pierce dribbled at the top of the key in the waning seconds of regulation and overtime, there appeared a sense of uncertainty. The Celtics had no chance to score inside against the Lakers’ twin towers of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who had locked up any activity in the paint several minutes before.

The first time, Pierce missed an open Ray Allen to the left, discontinued his dribble, and was lost in no man’s land, passing to Mickael Pietrus for a desperation heave. In overtime, with the Celtics down 1, Pierce hesitantly dribbled to the right, found a slice of open space, and fired a 17-footer.

The confidence wasn’t there and the ball curled around the rim and out. And to punctuate the result, Gasol swatted Allen’s put-back from 7 feet, handing the Celtics an 88-87 loss in perhaps their final relevant TD Garden matchup for a while.

The Celtics’ lack of an effective interior player was apparent. Gasol and Bynum combined for 41 points, 31 rebounds, and 5 blocks, and Bynum scored the winning basket on a tip-in with 1:29 left in OT. Kevin Garnett missed two jump shots that could have put the Celtics ahead, and Boston’s defense denied a potential insurance hoop by Kobe Bryant with seven seconds left, setting up the final possession.

“I thought our execution the whole game was terrible,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I thought this was an awful game, except for they won. If we had won it, it would have been an awful game that we had won. That’s how I felt. So, just thought our execution was off all night. You know, give them credit, some of it was defense. I thought a lot of it was self-inflicted. We’ve been very good at just running the floor, ball movement, second and third options, second and third picks. Today, the ball just was not . . . it was no fun to watch.’’

The Lakers have struggled defensively in stretches this season, but used Bynum and Gasol to push the Celtics to the perimeter. Most everything they attempted was a jumper. Garnett took 23 shots, his most since Feb. 8, 2009, and converted just six. He did not make a layup or dunk after the first half.

The Celtics shot just 34.6 percent after halftime and wasted several chances to build leads, especially in the third quarter. And they attempted just five free throws, none after the half, a testament to their tentativeness in the paint.

Pierce, two nights after becoming the team’s No. 2 all-time scorer, missed 11 of 18 shots, most of them jumpers.

“I just thought we didn’t get to our sets like we wanted to,’’ he said. “I thought we played a little too much random pick-and-roll basketball. They really blocked a lot of things that we were trying to do. We weren’t able to get to the hole. We tried to get to the foul line. I thought we could have done a better job at rebounding the ball and also getting out on the break, which we didn’t do enough of. That was our one advantage.’’

While Bryant scored 27 points in 44 minutes, he was mostly a decoy down the stretch, as Gasol was brilliant with 25 points and 14 rebounds. The Celtics were overmatched on the boards, and Laker misses were consistently cashed in for points by Bynum, who finished with seven offensive rebounds.

The Celtics have had trouble all season keeping teams off the offensive glass, and those second-chance points ruined any opportunities for fast breaks. And with the Celtics grounded, they were unable to generate easy baskets off their half-court sets.

“We are just active,’’ Gasol said. “They do a good job on being really aggressive loading the strong side of the floor, and obviously with Kobe creating so much attention sometimes they took the bodies off us, and we just took advantage of that and tried to pursue the ball and get those loose balls and rebounds and put them back.’’

The teams traded baskets for the final 11:35 of regulation, and Allen put the Celtics ahead, 82-80, with a 3-pointer off a perfect Jermaine O’Neal screen from the right sideline with 1:08 left. The Celtics scraped up a rebound off a Bryant miss and Garnett had a chance to extend the lead, but missed an open jumper with 32.9 seconds left.

The Celtics harassed the Lakers on their possession, but Gasol tipped in a Bryant miss to even the game at 82. Pierce lamented his lost opportunity in regulation, missing an open Allen for a potential winning shot.

“We get one rebound down there at the end of regulation, we give ourselves a great chance at winning,’’ Pierce said. “That was a big emphasis for us coming into the game and we just didn’t do a good job tonight.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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