|James Posey goes sailing at a basketball game while pursuing a loose ball - and takes out Wizards assistant Mike O'Koren. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
In the span of a week, the Celtics have gone from phenomenal to mortal.
They blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter before losing, 88-83, to the Wizards last night in front of a sellout crowd at TD Banknorth Garden. The Celtics (30-6) have lost back-to-back games (and three out of four) for the first time this season and have dropped two straight at home for the first time.
"Nobody's gotten too big for their britches here," said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who had 16 points but missed 5 of 7 3-point attempts. "We've been excited each moment, each game that we've stepped out and played. There's a point where the game is kind of slapping us in the face. We have to take it and step up and all be men and come together even more.
The Celtics were up by 14 points, 77-63, with 6:22 left. Washington, however, went on a 19-4 run to take an 82-81 lead on a 3-point play by former University of Connecticut star Caron Butler with 40.1 seconds left.
After being fouled on a shot, Paul Pierce made two free throws with 25.9 seconds left to give the Celtics an 83-82 lead. Butler (21 points) responded with a finger-roll lay-in with 19.6 seconds left to push Washington back up, 84-83.
Kevin Garnett, who scored a game-high 23 points, followed by missing a short jump shot in the paint with 8.9 seconds left. After being raked on his eyes during a foul, Butler nailed two free throws to give Washington an 86-83 lead with 8.3 seconds left.
Allen's well-guarded 3-point attempt missed, and DeShawn Stevenson (four 3-pointers) nailed two free throws with 0.5 seconds left to seal it for the Wizards, who are now 17-11 without Gilbert Arenas.
The Celtics scored only 6 points during the final 6:21 of the game.
"The game was close, and there was just some opportunity for myself to get more aggressive and to make some big-time shots," Butler said. "My teammates were looking for me to step up and they were finding me on the floor and we just made some big shots."
Pierce, who had 18 points, said, "I don't think we were as aggressive as they were down the stretch. Obviously, with driving the ball, they got to the line a lot. And that's the way we have to play down the stretch. We've got to be the aggressor, and down the stretch we weren't."
The Celtics were outscored, 29-20, in the final quarter, shooting 7 of 21 from the field (33.3 percent) and missing 4 of 5 3-point attempts. Washington nailed two 3-pointers, scored 10 points in the paint, and sank 11 of 12 free throws in the final quarter.
"Obviously, a tough loss, guys," coach Doc Rivers said. "Losing at home any time, as far as I'm concerned, is tough, especially when you've got a pretty good lead in the second half and thinking you're going to take care of the ball and take care of the game. And we didn't.
"I thought they pressured us, and I thought when we got the lead, we kind of let our guard down a little bit. And right when they got back in it, you felt that you were in a little trouble. You know, when they cut it to 6, and 5, because all of a sudden they had momentum.
"I thought we had a chance to knock them out and we didn't. We let them stay around."
The Celtics have had some tough losses this season.
There was a 2-pointer at Orlando Nov. 18, their first loss of the season. A loss in overtime at Cleveland Nov. 27. The first home loss, against the Pistons Dec. 19. And there was a surprising loss to the Bobcats at home last Wednesday before the setback at Washington last Saturday.
But of all of them, center Kendrick Perkins said, last night's hurts the most.
"This is a tough loss," Perkins said. "When you've lost to a team two straight times, it bites you back. We are supposed to have better focus. We had them up 14, we're supposed to put them away. Those are tough losses.
"We are supposed to beat that team, man. That's the hard part about it."
The regular season is 82 games. It's almost inevitable even the best teams will go through a bad stretch. But during his team's first such spell of the season, Rivers disagreed.
"That's what everybody says," Rivers said. "I don't buy it. But right now it's happening. But let's see how quickly we can get out of it."
"It's a process," said Garnett. "[We're] going to take our lumps now. I'd rather take them now than later. I'd rather learn now than later, and that's the mind-set."