ORLANDO, Fla. -- For all the negatives associated with being an older team, the one big plus those squads should be able to lean on -- their virtual cane, if you will -- is being better than their less-seasoned opponents in crunch time.
The Orlando Sentinel poked fun at the aging Celtics in advance of Thursday night's showdown between Boston and the Orlando Magic by producing a photo illustration of a prematurely aged Rasheed Wallace with a headline, "Old & Gray is the new Green." Despite the headline, the article stressed how dangerous Boston was because of its wealth of experience.
But the Celtics just looked plain old Thursday.
Boston disappeared mentally and physically in the fourth quarter of a head-shaking 96-94 loss to Orlando at Amway Arena.
"We deserved it," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I said it in the second quarter, we had a chance to be up 20. I thought we completely lost our focus. An 11-point lead, I told them at halftime, it was a joke. We should have been up 25 points at halftime.
"We started walking around like we had accomplished something by getting up. We don't do that, but we did it today.
"I told them, I love this team, but I didn't love them every play today."
Especially not in the final moments, when the wheels completely came off for Boston.
Rajon Rondo's floater off the glass with 51 seconds remaining put the Celtics in front, 94-91, and Rivers implored his team to guard against a 3-pointer coming out of an Orlando timeout.
But there was J.J. Redick, hitting from about the only spot on the floor where he was dangerous (both of Redick's buckets Thursday came from behind the arc), tying the game with 41 seconds to play.
"We gave up the 3," lamented Eddie House. "You can't do that and we know that."
But it got worse. The Celtics had a chance to go 2-for-1, but with the game clock down to about 26 seconds, 34-year-old Ray Allen rushed a jumper, missing badly, and Orlando got the ball back with 23 seconds to play and a chance for a final shot.
The Celtics got a final shot, but 35-year-old Rasheed Wallace's 3-point heave from the top of the arc was woefully short -- a perfect microcosm of a weary team that simply didn't have enough energy at the finish line.
Even if that shot had gone in, Rivers wouldn't have been pleased.
"That's a prayer," he said. "I don't want to be a lucky team, I want to be a good team."
But good teams don't watch 11-point leads evaporate in the fourth quarter. Sure, Boston can lament some questionable officiating (Kendrick Perkins logged just 15 minutes while being in constant foul trouble and the Magic shot 40 free throws compared to Boston's 18) and some bad luck (House had two 3-pointers overturned when video review found his foot on the line).
"That happens, though," said Rivers. "The basketball gods, they saw us, the way we played, and the basketball gods punished us."
Indeed they did. But Boston really has no one to blame but itself.
"We are kicking ourselves in the butt over this thing because we felt like we gave this away," he said. "There are so many things that we didn't do."
And Boston had nothing to lean on following Thursday's loss.