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Celtics fail to execute down the stretch


When the Celtics [1] look back at their 88-87 overtime defeat to the Lakers, there will be plenty of missed opportunities to point to for the loss. Particularly frustrating was the execution during last play of regulation.

Tied with the Lakers at 82 with just under 10 seconds left in regulation, Doc Rivers [2] called a timeout. In the Big Three era, Celtics fans have grown accustomed to seeing one of two plays in this situation: A Paul Pierce [3] step back jumper from the elbow, or a set screen to spring Ray Allen [4] open for a game-winning jump shot.

The play was unfolding in front of the Garden faithful as expected. Pierce dribbled to his right, and Allen was set free by a Kevin Garnett [5] pick. The only problem was the pass never came. Pierce hesitated and picked up his dribble because he was unsure if Allen was free on the wing.

“We set a pick and roll there with me and Ray,” Pierce said. “Ray was the flare. I didn’t think he was open. I shouldn’t have picked up my dribble, and I just kind of broke up the play when I picked up my dribble.”

Once the play stalled, Pierce was forced to hand-off to Mickael Pietrus [6] who attempted a wild shot well behind the 3-point arc. The low percentage shot left the Celtics scratching their heads, especially Allen.

“I’d like to look at it again,” Allen said. “I was wide open. As Paul started dribbling off, both of those guys stayed with him, and I was just sitting there wide open. As he was going, he didn’t want to throw the ball. He was kind of a in a bad position. It’s just the way he went off. If  he knew they were going to jump up so hard and double, I’m sure he would have veered off a little bit more so he could have had a better passing angle.”

More confounding to the Celtics was that they had an opportunity to close out the game just seconds earlier. After an Allen 3-pointer put Boston up 82-80, the Lakers answered with a Pau Gasol [7] put-back off a Kobe Bryant [8] miss. Pierce said Gasol and Andrew Bynum [9]‘s length gave the Celtics problems all night. They combined for 11 offensive rebounds, none more crucial than Gasol’s game-tying basket.

After the Celtics failed to convert on the subsequent possession, the game went to overtime. Trailing 88-87, the Celtics were presented with yet another chance to win, but Gasol came to the rescue again, blocking Allen’s put back attempt off a Pierce miss which would have won the game.

“I was in a perfect situation,” Allen said. “And he came out of nowhere.”