At home, Celtics too comfortable
Team lacks energy, sense of urgency to put games away
BOSTON -- Celtics fans will wake up Saturday morning half expecting to find their beloved Gino -- the lanky, bearded American Bandstand dancer who caps every lopsided victory at the Garden with his smooth, double-jointed moves -- on the side of their milk carton.
After all, he hasn't been seen on the JumboTron in over a month, a venerable eternity since a 105-86 shellacking of the Utah Jazz on Nov. 11, when the Celtics improved to 8-1 overall.
If not for the 11-game winning streak and best record in the NBA that the Celtics carried into Friday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers, this might seem like the 2006-07 campaign, when you had a better chance of hitting the lottery than seeing a Gino appearance.
Appropriately, on Friday, a fan hit a $50,000 half-court shot and Gino stayed in hibernation despite the fact that the Celtics were playing a team that had lost 13 of its last 14 games.
What are the odds?
The Garden simply hasn't been home for the Celtics this year. Following Friday night's shocking 98-97 loss to the 76ers, Boston is 4-3 in its last seven games here, boasting a mere plus-20 in scoring differential against opponents during that stretch.
Plus 20? That's a spread worthy of bringing out Gino -- if accomplished on one night. This season, no lead has seemed particularly safe at the Garden, as the Celtics found out Friday when they watched the 76ers muscle their way back from a 15-point, third-quarter deficit.
Philadelphia might have been 14 1/2 games back of the Celtics entering Friday's game, but it was the 76ers who upped their level of play in the crunch time that the Celtics have typically owned on their double-digit win streak.
"I think our energy sucked all night," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. "I think we could have done a better job of having energy out there. Philly's a team that's going to scrap for 48 minutes and we didn't put them away when we were supposed to."
The Celtics have lamented not being a 48-minute team this season. It caught up with them Friday.
But Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasn't so certain energy was the problem. That had to be there for the Celtics to open a 59-44 advantage with 10:11 to play in the third quarter.
But as the 76ers started to claw their way back, the Celtics showed no signs of trying to prevent them from making it a game.
"I thought it was urgency," said Rivers. "And that manifested itself into energy. [The 76ers] played like they were going to win the game... Our starters, they let Philly back in the game. They came out with no sense of urgency [in the third quarter]. Execution tonight was awful. It was just bad. Out of time-outs, guys were running to the wrong spots, walking to their spots. You can just see it.
"We played with this swagger -- a losing swagger. It's one thing to have the winning swagger -- when you go out, you feel great about your team, and you go out and play. And then there's another thing when you just show up and you think the other team's going to roll over and fall over because you're the Celtics. So it was a good lesson for us. Hopefully we don't have a lot of these."
Following the lead of their coach, the Celtics refused to pin the loss on any of the many excuses they could have leaned on, including the second-quarter ejection of Rasheed Wallace, and some questionable calls that helped the 76ers get to the charity stripe 30 times.
The fact of the matter is the 76ers wanted it more. They proved that by brushing off some first-quarter struggles on the glass and attacking the offensive boards. After being outrebounded 20-10 in that first frame, Philadelphia maintained a 35-26 advantage the rest of the way.
The 76ers finished with 23 second-chance points off 17 offensive rebounds. The Celtics numbers were comparable (18 second-chance points on 16 offensive rebounds) -- and the Green even finished with the overall advantage in rebounds -- but when Elton Brand tipped home a third-chance bucket with 7.7 seconds to go, it was clear who wanted the win more.
"I've always said, 'We're our own worst enemy,'" said Pierce. "We gotta take a look in the mirror and nothing else. Nothing with the coaches, nothing with the play calls, it's all about what we do as a team out there, executing and putting forth a better effort. At the half we were doing a great job on the boards, but they were playing with more energy in the second half. We gotta do a better job, especially on the perimeter, rebounding the ball. At the end we gave Elton Brand offense rebounds. I could have done a better job boxing him out and those plays hurt us."
Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who finished with 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, relayed how Pierce and Garnett got caught in a switch, which helped Brand generate the winning tip with the height advantage in the paint.
Then again, Boston knows Friday's game should have never come down to one switch or one possession. Especially not at home.
"When you have a team on the ropes like that, especially at home, [we have to finish]," said Pierce. "Most important of all, we gotta do a better job of playing at home. I don't know what the problem is about us playing at home this year. We gotta come out with a little bit more energy from start to finish. In the third quarter, we gave a team life and, when you give a bad team some life, they're gonna make you pay. When it comes to one or two points it could go either way and it went their way tonight."
Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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