[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first game of the Celtics road trip ended in defeat when Anthony Davis tipped in an Eric Gordon miss to give the Hornets (23-46) a one point victory on Wednesday night. It was a muddled contest in which both sides squandered leads, but the C’s took control with a 10-0 run late in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce was huge down the stretch, scoring seven of his 28 points in a two-minute span as Boston regained the lead. However, after Pierce failed to hit a shot that would have stretched the Celts lead to three, the Hornets were able to wind down the clock and win it on the final shot.
This wasn’t a game that the C’s deserved to win, but that. Their offense was anemic throughout most of the second half, as they scored a total of 12 points in the third quarter, and went nearly five minutes without connecting on a field goal. They blew a 13-point lead, a 10-point halftime advantage, and eventually fell behind by nine points before a Pierce-led run gave them a chance to steal one on the road.
Despite their numerous miscues, Boston only had to make one stop to seal the win, and Avery Bradley made a great defensive stand against an isolated Gordon. Yet through a combination of misjudgment and misfortune, Kevin Garnett followed the ball instead of blocking out his man, and Davis was able to tip the ball in to put the Hornets up 87-86 with 0.3 seconds remaining.
“I believe in the basketball Gods,” Coach Doc Rivers said after the game, “I think when you mess up the game…it messes you up, and I thought we deserved it.” The Celtics (36-31) committed to many mistakes against an inferior opponent. That’s why they ended up in a situation where one bounce or lapse in concentration could decide the game. And why they are capable of competing with the best and losing to the worst teams in the NBA on any given night.
This team is still struggling to find it’s identity. Jeff Green, who was coming off a career-game against the Heat on Monday, set the tone early with 11 points on 4 of 4 shooting from the field. However, after the first quarter he scored only two more points, and struggled defensively as displayed by his plus minus rating of -12.
On the other hand, Brandon Bass was markedly more aggressive around the rim as he stepped up towards the end of the game. Bass had 11 points and six rebounds in the game, but his plus minus rating was +20, and he is finally passing the eye test as someone who is playing with confidence and determination. He made a couple of strong moves along the baseline, and even followed his own miss with a tip-in that put the C’s up 84-81 late in the fourth.
With two players featuring different skill sets at the four spot, Doc Rivers has an unenviable job when it comes to divvying up minutes. Rivers is one of the finest coaches in the NBA, so there is no reason to question his judgment overall, yet there were times when the offense sputtered and Jeff Green sat on the bench in the second half. Then, on essentially the last play of the game, Bass didn’t come in for defensive purposes and Green failed to help Garnett by boxing out Davis.
In hindsight, a quick substitution may have helped the Celtics control the glass on that final possession, but there was no way to predict that outcome before the play occurred. The only thing that Boston can do to prevent close losses against team’s with poor records is to put them away early, as they did in the Garden against the Bobcats and Raptors this past week. Because if you let the opposition hang around, you might just get burned by an unfortunate bounce.