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Fouled-up finish

Without Pierce (and with him) Celtics look lost

Paul Pierce watched the final 3 minutes 58 seconds from the bench, sidelined by six fouls after a questionable call. Needless to say, he did not appreciate the view as the Celtics again failed to execute in the fourth quarter.

While the Celtics struggled to score with Pierce on the floor, they appeared completely lost without him. Less than two minutes after the officials forced Pierce to leave the court, the Grizzlies had an 11-point lead, their largest of the contest. Memphis easily proceeded to a 96-89 victory last night at the FleetCenter, leaving Pierce to worry that his teammates depend too heavily upon him.

"It's very frustrating," said Pierce, who had 26 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 turnovers. "Too many times we get stagnant on offense. A lot of guys depend on me to make a play every time downcourt. They put a lot of pressure on me. Everybody has to step up as individuals and not depend on me so much. I know I carry a heavy load on this ball club, but it has to come from a team effort if we're going to be consistent and win ballgames.

"I don't think we understand how to play without me yet. That's going to be the key for us all year, because the good teams in this league learn how to play without their star player in the game. That's what we have to learn to do, because we're talented enough. I believe in my heart that we definitely have guys capable of getting things done. It's just that everyone has to believe in themselves and not depend on me as much."

The Celtics (7-10) certainly will not win playing the way they did in the fourth quarter last night before 12,478 bitter fans.

After finishing the third trailing by 1 at 71-70, Boston shot 29 percent (6 for 21) in the final period. The home team went 6:36 without a field goal. The drought started after Tony Battie (10 points, 5 rebounds) dunked a long-distance miss by Raef LaFrentz (8 points, 7 rebounds) to bring Boston back within 1 (77-76). The drought ended with 1:19 left when Walter McCarty hit a 15-footer that cut the deficit to 7 (90-83).

The 3-pointers from Jiri Welsch and McCarty that followed in the final minute were a case of too little too late.

Just 17 games into the season, the Celtics have become all too familiar with second-half collapses and fourth-quarter futility. A disturbing trend of inconsistency has developed. Against the Grizzlies (8-8), the problems were exacerbated by a zone defense that kept the Celtics from getting good open looks at the basket. Memphis coach Hubie Brown called the zone "a dominating factor in the game" because of the way it unsettled the Boston offense.

Out of their comfort zone on offense, the Celtics failed to convert from all areas of the floor. A sampling of the missed shots during the field goal drought: a 10-footer off the rim by Pierce, a Vin Baker layup that went in and out, and an off-target 3-pointer from McCarty. But it was more than missed shots that caused the downfall. Memphis outrebounded Boston, 27-21, in the second half, getting 9 offensive boards. The Grizzlies outscored Celtics, 7-0 on the break and 10-4 in the paint during the fourth quarter.

"There's nothing I can say," said Pierce. "There's nothing the coaches can say at this point. Everybody knows what needs to be done. Everybody knows when we play well the things that we're doing. Obviously, we're defending, we're scrapping, we're getting loose balls, we're making the hustle plays. We're not doing that.

"We're playing good defense initially, but we're giving up second shots or letting teams, at times, get the crucial loose balls, crucial rebounds. It's not that we're not playing hard or we don't know what to do, it's just that it has to come from everybody mentally. It's that mental toughness again. We show it sometimes. Then other times we don't show it. We're just too inconsistent right now."

The first half, in comparison to the second, again illustrated the Celtics' inconsistencies. In the first quarter, the Celtics led by as many as 7 points and held the Grizzlies to 32 percent (6 for 19) from the floor. Boston trailed by 10 in the second quarter before staging a 12-2 run that tied the game (Pierce 7-footer) with 1:20 left until the break. The Celtics entered halftime behind, 44-43. Then, in the third quarter, Boston again squandered a 7-point advantage.

"This is a critical juncture," said Pierce. "By now, we should be jelling. Usually, the first 15 or 20 games, teams begin jelling and start finding out who they are. We don't know that yet. We're still trying to find out who we are. Hopefully, we can find that out before it becomes too late.

"I'm not going to beat a dead horse on the head with a stick. I think the guys are frustrated, just like I'm frustrated. Pretty soon guys are going to get what it's going to take to get to the next level.

"I still believe we're talented enough to be a playoff team."

in today's globe
 DAN SHAUGHNESSY: At 70, Brown up to old tricks
 GRIZZLIES 96, CELTICS 89: Fouled-up finish
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