Off track in Indy
Pacers speed past Celtics in fourth quarter
INDIANAPOLIS — The end was borderline baffling.
The Celtics were trading punches and losing on the scorecard again in the fourth quarter, this time against the Pacers, and found a way to throw away one of the most important possessions of the night in a 107-100 loss.
They were trailing, 102-97, with 1:43 left when Kevin Garnett snatched a rebound of a Danny Granger miss.
He fired an overhead pass halfway down the floor for Ray Allen, who caught it like a wide receiver checking the first-down marker.
Off-balance along the sideline, Allen tried to throw a baseball pass but it went to no one in particular, zipping out of bounds.
Arms extended at halfcourt, Glen Davis asked no one in par ticular, “What the [expletive]?’’
It was all but over when Darren Collison drilled a 14-foot fadeaway that made it 104-97. The Pacers polished off the Celtics, bouncing back after losing to Sacramento by 17 and Detroit by 12.
“They were just trying to make something happen,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “It was a bad pass, a bad catch, a bad second pass. But at that point, the horse was pretty much halfway out the barn.’’
The Celtics let the Pacers shoot 54.5 percent, and their offense went numb in the fourth quarter when they missed 10 of 14 shots. They turned the ball over eight times in the second half.
“We just rushed,’’ said point guard Rajon Rondo. “We’re struggling. Right now, we’re all over the place.’’
Extra salt in the wound: the Bulls lost to the 76ers on their home floor, meaning the Celtics spoiled a chance to gain ground on Chicago for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Over the past month, the Celtics have seen two of their stars sink into slumps, lost seven of 15 games, shot themselves in the foot with slow starts, and now they’re fraying in fourth quarters. This is all with the playoffs just nine games away.
“We’ve got to make up our minds right now,’’ forward Paul Pierce (23 points) said. “This is a weird time to be talking about this with nine games to go in the season. This is the type of stuff you talk about at the beginning of the year. We’re about to get into the playoffs and we shouldn’t be talking about this stuff.’’
It was a night when any effort went unrewarded.
Pierce tried to save a loose ball early in the third quarter, albeit under the Pacers’ basket, slapping it back inbounds. It bounced off someone’s sneaker and died in the middle of the paint, an Easter egg for the first person who noticed it.
Davis was headed the other way, but his man, Roy Hibbert (26 points), grabbed it like a lucky penny and laid it in.
Davis cursed himself for letting Hibbert have such an easy basket. The ball was still bouncing near the baseline, and Pierce smacked it out of frustration.
In another instance, Garnett decided to venture out to the perimeter to pick up Brandon Rush, and hounded him into taking a wild reverse layup, but he watched as Davis was whistled for a foul.
The Pacers’ 100-spot came with an exclamation point.
Garnett threw an errant pass that Collison got a hand on. Before Rondo could think about chasing down the loose ball, Collison was already darting the other way with it.
The fast-break dunk put the Pacers ahead, 100-94, with 4:36 left.
“When you’re a defensive team and you play defense for 24 seconds then they get the ball back, that’s hard,’’ said Rivers. “Especially when it’s in the fourth quarter.’’
The Pacers knocked down 12 of 18 shots in the fourth. At one point, Pierce got in Granger’s jersey, limboing when Granger swung elbows inches from his face to clear space. But Granger drilled a 16-footer that put the Pacers ahead, 94-93.
Pierce glanced briefly at referee Rodney Mott, who did his best not to look back. The Celtics captain’s frustration with the way the night went was still evident after the game.
“We’re a first-effort team,’’ Pierce said. “We make the first effort, then the second or the third effort is the plays that’s killing us. The loose balls, once the shot goes up, getting the rebound, it’s initial good defense at first and then [we’re] not finishing off the plays.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.