MEMPHIS -- Squandering fourth-quarter leads was supposed to be part of the Celtics' past. Didn't they put all that nonsense behind them with a double-overtime defeat of the Clippers and overtime dismantling of the Cavaliers? Didn't those wins prove Boston could play tough until the end of road games? Weren't fans witnessing progress before their very eyes throughout December?
Boston still struggles to break its bad habits on both ends of the floor. Stops in San Antonio, Dallas, and Memphis showed that. The Celtics may have suffered their most discouraging of the three losses on the trip last night at the
"It's great to have so many talented guys in here," said Pierce. "You see a lot of talented teams around the league that are young, but it's tough for them to win. The way you win is you've got to understand sacrifice. People have to be asked to maybe sacrifice a part of their game for the better of the team. That's what makes a team, if you have guys willing to do that. I think that's what makes a team, regardless of the talent. We definitely have the young talent in here along with the veterans, but it's about sacrifice.
"We want it to come. That's the idea. We grow as a team as the year moves along. The key is just sticking together. You hear guys, they get frustrated, which is normal. [They] pout and do all this other stuff, which is normal. You see it all the time. We just can't get down on ourselves. If we stick together and ride this out, we'll be fine.
The Celtics failed to ride out a 16-0, fourth-quarter run by Memphis that started with a 3-pointer by Miller. A 3-pointer by James Posey cut the Grizzlies' deficit in half. A few possessions later, Miller received a perfectly placed bounce pass from Posey and hit a 3-pointer that tied the game, 97-97, with 7:52 remaining. A free throw from Miller gave Memphis its first lead, 98-97.
The Grizzlies stayed ahead as the Celtics committed a pair of shot-clock violations, while Watson and Miller hit consecutive 3-pointers. Memphis moved the ball effectively as Boston double-teamed Pau Gasol (18 of his 24 points in the first half). On offense, the Celtics were stagnant, forgetting to pass the way they had in the first three quarters. They shot just 25 percent in the final period and were outscored, 34-15.
"I haven't seen us make a run like that this year, and it was definitely an educational experience," said Memphis coach Mike Fratello. "I thought that we played bad defense in the first half and nothing went right, then we made that run in the fourth just when things were looking bad."
In fact, things looked bad for Memphis through three quarters. Sustaining their energy from the first half, the Celtics stretched their 65-56 halftime lead and entered the fourth ahead, 94-83. Boston led by as many as 13 points on a couple of occasions in the third, the first on a 3-point play by Raef LaFrentz (team-high 28 points, 9 rebounds). The Celtics absorbed a brief run by the Grizzlies late in the period and utilized the energy of their reserves to restore their double-digit advantage.
Although Pierce (18 points) started an 11-3 run with a 20-footer and added a layup on the break, Marcus Banks, Al Jefferson, and Walter McCarty accounted for the rest of the points. McCarty hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to cap the run. To ensure Boston brought the necessary energy, Rivers gave significant minutes to McCarty. And the forward proved he was the right man for the job.
"That was my big thing tonight," said McCarty (18 points in 17 minutes). "I told a couple players before the game that I've been very inactive and I haven't been happy with my play. I've been settling and not really looking for my shot. I wanted to make sure I came in tonight and gained some energy, and try to a lot of things out there on the court that I know I'm capable of doing."
The Celtics may need some players to sacrifice. But they would be far better off if everyone stepped up on a more consistent basis.