- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The first inclination is to suggest the Boston Celtics showed their age Monday night in Utah.
But playing their sixth game in nine days, including the third road contest in four nights, the Celtics simply appeared to run out of gas while falling to the Utah Jazz 110-97 at the EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City.
The Celtics finished a rugged road trip at 2-1 and have won five of their last seven. The Green failed to lock up a playoff berth Monday (a formality at this point), but more disappointingly also failed to gain ground on Atlanta in the race for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks fell to surging Milwaukee.
Despite a lackluster final 26 minutes, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't seem overly concerned.
"No, we just lost the game," said Rivers, when asked if Monday constituted a step backward as his team's four-game winning streak was snapped. "We're not going to overdo this. We'll let [the media] analyze this and figure out why we lost. They outplayed us. They made shots, moved the ball, attacked us. They were the better team tonight."
Rivers seemed to suggest that the positive energy from a successful start of this road trip wouldn't be tempered by Monday's loss.
Sure, the Celtics weren't happy to give away a double-digit lead after outplaying the Jazz so thoroughly in the first half, but Boston's starters simply didn't have it Monday.
It happens. As long as it doesn't become a pattern over the final 12 games, the Celtics can live with losing to a quality opponent.
Even still, Boston is likely to look back and realize it let one get away, particularly as its previously rock-solid defense went soft.
"We closed out the first half terribly," said Rivers. "We had a [12-point] lead, then we had four or five turnovers. What we did was give them hope. They cut it to five [at halftime]. Then in the third quarter, we didn't get any stops and they scored every time down. Then we stopped moving the ball and everybody was trying to make plays on their own.
"That happens. I can live with that."
If there's one thing that Rivers is likely to stress to his team after the loss, it's that offensive failures can't affect the team's play in the defensive end.
As the Celtics have shown at various times during their recent struggles, they have a propensity to let stretches of struggling to generate points cause mental lapses on defense, exacerbating matters by allowing opposing teams to generate runs.
Shots stopped falling midway through the third quarter Monday and Utah, which had already erased a double-digit deficit and led by two, embarked on a 10-2 spurt that saw the Celtics generate only a single bucket -- a Kendrick Perkins layup -- over a near-five-minute span.
"I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "We went up by, like, 10 and then we didn't get good shots and turned the ball over. We had a chance to go up 15 or 16 points [at halftime] and they carried that over in the second half, the momentum that they built at the end of the second quarter. They had us on our heels all night.
"We were a step slow the entire night."
The NBA playoff schedule is likely to be far more accommodating than what the Celtics currently are enduring. A team that makes the NBA Finals will play nearly two full months of postseason basketball, but no more than 28 games.
So the Celtics tipped their hats to the Jazz and moved on. New challenges await this week, starting with a visit from the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Kevin Garnett suggested the team would learn from Monday's loss and move on.
"[The Jazz] started the third quarter pretty electric," said Garnett. "You pretty much have to anticipate it. As many times as I have played here, they have always been able to come back out. We were pretty aggressive the first half, so you had to anticipate them actually coming out with some energy. They came out with energy, made shots and executed.
"I think when you are aggressive like that, the refs are going to give you the whistle. The first half, I thought we were aggressive, and the second half we weren't. What counts is tonight. We didn't play well for 24 minutes in the second half. I thought energy-wise we played well in the first half; second half, we just didn't put 48 minutes of basketball together."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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