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Twelve minutes to make it count

02.08.09 at 5:40 pm ET
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Ray Allen knew what to expect days before playing the San Antonio Spurs.

“It comes down to a fourth-quarter battle,” he said on Friday. “They’re not going to come in and make small mistakes. They’re going to operate their offense. Defensively they’re going to know what they’ve got to do.”

Allen was exactly right. On Sunday, the Celtics entered the fourth quarter with a two-point lead and were outscored 31-23 by the Spurs. They lost 105-99 (RECAP HERE). It was the second time in two games the defending champs fell in the final 12 minutes. Last week they started the fourth quarter up by four on the Los Angeles Lakers before losing 110-109 in overtime.

“When you play the top teams in the league it comes down to the little things,” said Paul Pierce. “And I just thought last couple of games at home it was one or two-point games. It’s the little things — defensive transition late in the game, covering for one another, one possession. It’s like the playoffs, one play can kill you. Every possession counts and we got to understand that when we play against the top tier teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers.”

The Celtics have hit cold streaks in their last two losses. Up six with eight minutes to go against the Lakers, the C’s failed to build on their lead. The Lakers went on an 11-5 run during a five minute stretch to tie it up, eventually winning in OT.

On Sunday the Celtics allowed an 11-4 Spurs run in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. Later in the game they watched a 93-90 lead slip away to a 101-93 deficit.

“You’ve got to get stops, everybody’s got to be on the same page,” said Kendrick Perkins. “Besides getting stops, on the offense you’ve got to execute, you’ve got to throw the extra pass when guys are open. Usually a team like San Antonio, you can’t beat them with the dribble. You’ve got to beat them with the pass. You can’t turn the ball over at all against San Antonio. So I just thought in stretches we played together and stretches we didn’t move the ball and that was the key.”

The Celtics have allowed a total of 215 points in their last two games at home. It is an overwhelming difference for a team who has held their opponents to just 92 points per game over the season. Nonetheless, head coach Doc Rivers was able to see a silver lining in the losses.

“Well it tells me that we’re really good, because we’ve not played with our A-game, as Tiger Woods would say, I guess,” he said. “And we still had a chance to win both. Both games we had the lead and gave it up. Gave up points, which is not like us. In a sick way I guess I’d rather be down and not be able to score than up and give up baskets, because we’re a defensive team. But we clearly have to improve. Our bench has to be more consistent. They gave up an 8-1 run to start the fourth. You know, that hurts you. It’s tough to recover from that.”

The Celtics will have two days to regroup before facing the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday. They are aware of their mistakes; now it is a matter of fixing them.

“In general, you can’t turn the ball over,” Allen said. “You have to execute on both ends down the floor in the fourth quarter.”

The Celtics know what to expect down the stretch. Lucky for them, there’s another 12 minutes to prove they can take care of business.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kendrick Perkins, LA Lakers
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