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Board game baffles Celtics

Hornets leave them searching for answers

In the final moments of the third quarter, Tony Battie grabbed an offensive rebound. The ball essentially bounced off the rim and into his hands as he stood a few feet left of the basket. In any other game, this would not be newsworthy. But given the way Boston struggled with rebounding last night at the FleetCenter, it was noteworthy at the very least.

The Celtics wrangled only eight offensive boards all night compared with a whopping 24 by the Hornets. Boston was outrebounded, 50-31.

After securing the rebound, Battie turned to pass to one of his teammates waiting around the perimeter. Instead, he ended up committing a turnover, practically throwing the ball out to P.J. Brown near the top of the arc. Upon watching this sequence of plays, Celtics coach Jim O'Brien turned and walked back toward his bench, shaking his head with a bemused, half-smile. The rare offensive rebound, the turnover, and the reaction summed up the 81-73 loss.

"What did somebody say once?" asked O'Brien at the start of his postgame press conference. " `I'm too old to cry and it hurts too much to laugh.' But clearly, I don't have to tell you that it was the offensive glass and our turning the ball over that was our demise tonight. And clearly the glass is a major league problem for us. We didn't practice much [Tuesday], but we practiced blocking out. It didn't work. So, it's back to the drawing board."

Boston (5-6) was better than New Orleans (9-3) in every major statistical category except two: rebounds and turnovers. Last night, those were the only categories that mattered. With the Hornets held below 37 percent from the floor, forced to commit 22 turnovers, and challenged on 45 percent of their shots, it would seem the Celtics did everything they needed to do to win. Then again, the Celtics shot 41 percent, committed 23 turnovers, and allowed the Hornets to score 22 second-chance points.

But it's the rebounding or lack thereof that will haunt O'Brien and his players. O'Brien used the word "manhandled" to describe the way New Orleans dominated the glass. Considering the way the stronger, bigger, more rugged Hornets kept their Celtics counterparts from making an impact on the boards, it was an appropriate verb. Mark Blount and Tony Battie were overmatched by center Jamaal Magloire, who tied a season high with 12 rebounds. Vin Baker was outmuscled by P.J. Brown, who set a season high with 16 rebounds and tied a career high with nine offensive rebounds.

Once the Celtics fell behind early in the first quarter, they could never sustain momentum long enough to retake the lead. After trailing, 39-31, at halftime, Boston closed to within 1 (49-48) on a pair of Paul Pierce free throws with 6 minutes 12 seconds left in the third. But New Orleans used an 8-1 run to extend its lead.

The Celtics came within a basket on a few occasions in the fourth quarter, but could not take the lead. A layup by Walter McCarty with 1:14 remaining brought Boston within 3 (74-71). New Orleans countered with a 7-0 run that all but closed it out.

"We just competed and fought through it," said New Orleans coach Tim Floyd. "If you can shoot a low percentage and still win, it means you've got a lot of things going right on your club. Tonight it was rebounding."

But the Boston big men should not be singled out as those primarily responsible for the decisive rebounding deficit and the loss. The Celtics were quick to remind anyone who would listen that rebounding requires five players going after the ball. And none of the Celtics did their job. Battie led Boston with seven rebounds. Baker had five. Kedrick Brown finished with two. Blount had zero. Eric Williams recorded four rebounds, though at least he displayed some aggressiveness going after loose balls.

"I don't even know the numbers tonight, but I know what happened during the game," said Williams. "We fought in the low post and they shot a lot of threes [22]. If we've got guys fronting for offensive position in the low post and then [the Hornets] take the three, then they've automatically got inside position on an offensive rebound."

The Celtics can't completely blame their defensive system for their rebounding woes. They face bigger, stronger players in any given game and they must find a way to grab more than 31 rebounds. "It's nothing you can do physically," said Pierce (23 points, 5 assists, 5 turnovers). "You can drill rebounds. You can do jumping jacks all day. You can jump rope. But it's all about mental toughness and physical toughness. It comes from inside."

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