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Roasted on the coast

Celtics can't withstand heat put on by Sonics

SEATTLE  --Another night. Another city. Another loss. That sums up Boston's performance at Key Arena last night and tells the story of the team's four-game road trip. Behind impressive perimeter scoring, the Sonics defeated the Celtics, 108-87. As a result, Boston finished its tour of the West Coast without a win and stretched its losing streak to six games, which equals the longest skid of the season. The Celtics have dropped 12 of their last 13 games; only a win at Philadelphia Feb. 7 separates two six-game skids.

The trip finished in much the same way it started, though the Sonics do not boast the offensive credentials of the Kings. But Seattle did its best imitation of Sacramento from the arc, hitting a franchise-record 18 3-pointers on its way to victory. The Sonics shot 46 percent from the floor, including 55 percent from 3-point range. Rashard Lewis (28 points) and Ray Allen (20) led Seattle in scoring.

"It was just one of those nights," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce (34 points). "I thought we played hard enough to win. But they come out and have an extraordinary performance from the 3-point line and that really kills you. But I'll sleep a little bit better tonight than I could [Saturday] night, knowing the guys were on the same page for the most part."

By the fourth quarter, the game had a familiar feel for the Celtics, with a blowout in the making. The Sonics opened the final quarter with a 13-2 run, which concluded with three consecutive 3-pointers. The run gave Seattle an 89-69 advantage with 8 minutes 29 seconds remaining. The Celtics used a 7-0 spurt to close within 13 (94-81) late in the fourth, but they would come no closer.

It took the best offensive efforts of Pierce to keep Boston close in the third quarter. Pierce scored 10 of the Celtics' final 16 points in the third. As a result, Seattle finished the quarter ahead only 76-67. The home team's edge would have been much larger if Pierce did not hit a pair of 20-footers in response to a pair of 3-pointers by Lewis in the closing minutes of the quarter.

Still, despite shooting 59 percent, the Celtics barely made up any ground in the third. Lewis practically matched Pierce point for point. By the second half, the Sonics had started to exploit the Celtics' weakness on the glass, outrebounding the visitors, 12-6, in the third and racking up second-chance points. Pierce had offensive help from Mark Blount and Ricky Davis, as well as Jiri Welsch off the bench. But it was not enough to counter the Seattle attack, especially with the way the home team hit its shots from 3-point range.

"After a very, very difficult loss [Saturday] night [in Portland], they really came back on a back-to-back," said interim Boston coach John Carroll. "We really didn't play well enough in the phases of the game that we needed to."

One night after spotting Portland a 22-0 advantage in the first quarter, Boston kept itself in the game throughout the first half. Or more accurately, the Green finished the second quarter with a deficit more manageable than what the team faced Saturday night at the break. That was a small victory for Pierce and Co., who will take whatever they can get these days as they try to end a prolonged slump. The Celtics entered halftime behind, 51-41, though they held the lead for much of the first quarter.

Seattle went ahead despite shooting 41 percent in the first half. The Sonics helped themselves by going 6 for 15 from 3-point range and limiting themselves to just 4 turnovers. Lewis went 4 for 6 from the arc in the first half. He was the beneficiary of good ball movement by the Sonics, who recorded 16 assists on 20 field goals by halftime. Boston shot a strong 47 percent from the floor, with Pierce scoring 18 of his points in the first half.

Boston took an early 14-7 lead when Pierce completed a driving layup with 6:28 remaining in the quarter. Pierce finished the first with 11 points, which was a good sign. Pierce may have been helped by taking the court at Key Arena with a clearer head. Following the Portland loss, the captain vented his frustrations about the Celtics' recent play, and said voicing his concerns and criticisms left him refreshed.

Still, Pierce was not enough to keep pace with the Sonics. After a couple of ties, Seattle finished the first ahead, 27-25. The Sonics spent the second quarter extending their lead with a couple of runs. A 5-0 spurt pushed Seattle ahead, 34-27. Then a 12-5 run gave the home team its first double-digit lead (46-36) with 3:03 left in the second. Lewis and Allen capped the run with consecutive 3-pointers.

"We have to work on being consistent in all areas," said Pierce. "It's all about being mentally tough right now. If we don't hang our heads and we stay positive and somehow do the little things that we aren't doing, then we will make the playoffs. If we hang our heads and can't wait for the season to end, then we are gonna go home early."

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