Updated: Nov. 30, 2006, 10:42 AM ET

Blunderful night in Boston

Can 37 seconds in November decide a team's season?

Do broadcasters have a better feel for game situations than coaches?

Do the Boston Celtics look like a pickup team in better clothing?

Answers:

Sure they can.

Apparently.

Sometimes.

THE SETUP
The Boston Celtics came into Wednesday in first place in the Atlantic Division -- with a silly 5-8 record, but probably still feeling OK about their place in the world.

Half a game behind were the preseason favorites in the Atlantic, the visiting New Jersey Nets, carrying a six-game losing streak.

One of these teams ought to win the Atlantic. So if you can have a big game with two teams playing under .400 ball, this was it.

THE GAME
The Celts led 55-52 after a close first half. Midway through the third quarter, they ran off 14 straight points to lead 77-62, and seemed to have the game in hand. The Garden was rocking.

But the Nets weren't done, of course. With Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and rookie Hassan Adams making shots, they needed less than 10 minutes to make a 31-15 run and take the lead, 93-92, with about six minutes to go.

In the next five minutes, the lead changed hands four more times, the last when Richard Jefferson hit a 3-point bomb with 1:19 to go.

DOC RIVERS
The critics of Boston coach Doc Rivers have often focused on his team's execution at the ends of games, and for good reason -- the Celtics were 12-21 in games decided by five points or fewer last season, and 2-3 in such games this season, before Wednesday.

So let's look to see how the C's did down the stretch, particularly the last 37.1 seconds of the game.

BOSTON'S PENULTIMATE PLAY
Boston is inbounding after a timeout, down 104-103. a quick-hitting play for Paul Pierce that appears to have been drawn up by Rivers. Pierce fires a 3-pointer from the top of the key which misses badly. Kidd secures the rebound.

ANALYSIS
This was a two-for-one situation, and it made sense for the Celtics to try to take advantage of the math.

Still, they botched this play in at least five ways:

First, Pierce can't handle a low pass from Sebastian Telfair near the top of the key.

Second, despite the fumble, and with Kidd on him, he launched the shot anyway.

Third, not only did he shoot a contested jumper, but it was a 3-pointer with his team down only one point. Of course, we don't know if that was part of Rivers' plan or just Pierce's decision.

Fourth, Pierce missed the shot badly. The ball hit hard off the glass and then the iron.

Fifth, Al Jefferson was not ready to rebound. He didn't fight for position, and when he got a lucky bounce to him, the ball bounced off his hands. It was a tough play, but he wasn't prepared to make it.

BOSTON'S DEFENSE
Kidd secures the rebound with 26.7 seconds to go and dribbles up court, all alone. When he crosses the midcourt line, he hands the ball to Vince Carter, whom Pierce fouls with 17.1 seconds to play. Carter makes two free throws.

ANALYSIS
This sequence, more than any other, showed how unprepared the Celtics were in the final minute.

As Kidd was dribbling up, TV play-by-play man Mike Gorman urged, "The Celtics have got to foul here." Yet no one was within 30 feet of Kidd -- instead, the Celtics just trotted back downcourt. It took them almost 10 seconds to realize they should foul.

When Kidd rebounded, the Celtics should have been ready to (a) play pressure defense and (b) foul. They needed to either get a steal or make the game as long as necessary to catch New Jersey. Instead, they seemed clueless.

Kidd could have held the ball, but he chose to pass it to Carter, and the Celtics let him. While this was not a fatal error in itself, because both players are good free-throw shooters, the C's let the Nets dictate the play, and Carter made them pay at the line.

BOSTON'S FINAL PLAY
After a Boston timeout, Pierce inbounds with 17.1 seconds remaining. As before, he and Telfair attempt to run a two-man game, with a series of quick passes -- to Telfair, back to Pierce, back to Telfair, back to Pierce, in about six seconds.

Pierce meets a Nets' double team at the top of the key and drives left. When he nears the basket, with about 10 seconds left he attempts what appears to be a pass back to Telfair, standing in the right corner. But the ball flies wildly over the baseline. (Pierce might be trying to draw a foul -- it's difficult to tell.)

Telfair steps clearly over the baseline to catch the ball. (Apparently the refs don't want the game to be decided on such a call.) He makes a miraculous save to Kendrick Perkins, who, in the frantic action, finds Wally Szczerbiak at the 3-point line near the left corner, with about three seconds remaining.

Though the Celtics are down by three, Szczerbiak chooses to drive and ultimately loses the ball out of bounds on a spin move. Doc Rivers smiles. The Nets inbound the ball safely to end the game. Final score: New Jersey 106, Boston 103.

ANALYSIS
The problems with this "play" started with the lineup choices by Rivers.

During the timeout, Celtics legend and color commentator Tom Heinsohn said, "You gotta pack this team with as many 3-point shooters as you got." When he saw the five Celtics coming out of the huddle, he said, "But it doesn't look like that's what's gonna be."

Instead, Rivers put big men Perkins and Jefferson on the floor, presumably to set picks and rebound. But that left only two or three players that New Jersey needed to cover, and cover them they did.

One would think that every team would have a play on which they can get an open shot. If that's the case, the Celtics are saving that play.

The wild scramble -- which resulted in zero shots -- was about as amateurish an offensive set as you'll ever see, anytime, anywhere.

And what can you say about Szczerbiak's bonehead drive? Obviously, he didn't know the situation.

I'm often told by someone in the game that, despite the popular view, the NBA is a coach's league. If that's true, then this was a coach's loss.

And it might be the difference between winning the Atlantic and playing the lottery.

• Talk back to The Daily Dime gang

• Dimes past: November 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 25-26 | 27 | 28 | 29



The Long View
Jazz bench
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
The Jazz plot their strategy for beating the Spurs for the first time since April 2005. While outrebounding San Antonio 50-34, Utah prevailed 83-75.


Get That 17th Banner Ready

Greg (MA): Celtics are [Ed. note: were] in first place in the Atlantic Divison! We're gonna win the championship!

David Thorpe: You have the optimism of the 80-year-old man who marries a 22-year-old woman and buys a large house next to an elementary school.

The full David Thorpe chat Insider



Your Rank Comments

It's one of the readers' favorites and we do it every week: Trot out five (or so) responses to the latest edition of my NBA Power Rankings to make sure you have your say. Straight from the rankings mailbag :

Adam (Oakland): You were one of the few before the season to peg the Warriors as a playoff team, so I'll give you credit for that. But now it's official: We're good . . . far better than No. 9. The Warriors, in fact, have beaten four of your top six teams and lost to Phoenix on a Nash buzzer-beater. I also think it's fair to say that the Ws are better than any team in the East. I expect your next update to be even kinder.

Committee's counter: As long as you understand that Monday's meritorious victory over San Antonio can't figure in until the next batch of rankings, we can have this conversation. As impressive as it was, furthermore, to see the Warriors beat Utah without Baron Davis last Saturday, Golden State did go 1-3 last week and lose their hottest player (Baron) to injury. So they weren't going to be any higher than No. 9.

The full Marc Stein blog Insider




The Early West Leaders

Jazz knock off Spurs, 83-75



December Mourn
Stephon Marbury
Else/Getty Images
New Jersey (6-9) will set an NBA mark for the lowest win percentage by a division leader entering December (.400). The 1971-72 Baltimore Bullets held the previous mark with a .435 (10-13 record).



Extreme Behavior
Quentin Richardson

Wednesday's Best
Knicks swingman Quentin Richardson: Makes 10-of-15 shots, nine boards, zero turnovers in 101-98 road win over the Cavs, matching LeBron's 27 while covering the King to boot.

Emeka Okafor

Wednesday's Worst
Bobcats center Emeka Okafor: You are averaging 17.9 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 3.4 bpg. So four points, zero boards and zero blocks in 15 minutes is not how you roll. Bobcats fall to Hawks, 99-90.

Quote of the Day
"We needed this. We needed it bad."
-- Knicks guard Jamal Crawford on the win over Cleveland.

See how all 176 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres



Observation Deck: Finishing Touch

CRUNCHED TIME: With 46.5 seconds left, the Knicks led the Cavs 101-98. What followed was some of the worst last-minute execution in recent memory. A wild, one-on-four drive and shot by LeBron that barely catches iron. Steve Francis misses two free throws. Damon Jones' pass to no one in particular gets stolen. Francis shoots an airball followed by another airball by Donyell Marshall. You guys have to do better than that!

GREAT, NATE: On a breakaway in the second quarter, human-highlight short film Nate Robinson attempted to perform a dunk-contest-style slam, bouncing the ball off the floor to himself. He was whistled for traveling. And, of course, he missed the dunk.

JAZZ GIANTS: Saw some great ball movement down the strech by the Jazz in their 83-75 win over the Spurs. And we got a nice, stunned "What, no call" face late from Tim Duncan. EnergySolutions Arena, which one local fan smartly coined "Radium Stadium" was glowing indeed.

SMALL CALL: Watching the battle of the B-Hills in Seattle, I'm struck by how rarely each coach goes small. Both Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis present huge matchup problems from the 4 spot, but are rarely used at that spot. Doing so would also prevent the two coaches from needing to drag stiffs like Bo Outlaw and Andreas Glyniadakis off their bench.

LONG RANGE: Saying Mouhamed Sene is raw is the understatement of the century. "Raw" implies a piece of meat that is already at the restaurant and just requires cooking; Sene is more like "foraging on the range somewhere in Wyoming." Tonight he picked up three completely avoidable fouls in three minutes in the first half.

JOHAN AND ON: One reason Seattle's defense is less appalling than it was a year ago is that Johan Petro is starting to get it. He's been in help positions much more reliably this season, helping make up for the shortcomings of the Sonics' backcourt with his size and athleticism.

Contributors: John Hollinger, Chris Ramsay, Royce Webb, Andrew Ayres.



Martin Not Short With This Shot
Darrick

What makes a blowout compelling viewing? Even a blowout in which Dirk Nowitzki doesn't play after the first quarter because of an eye injury? Toronto's run of 629 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer, that's what.

The streak -- now in its eighth season -- nearly perished in the Raps' 117-98 loss in Dallas, livening up fourth-quarter garbage time more than you can imagine. You couldn't help trying to will the Raps from press row to hoist indiscriminate triples to preserve the streak. The subliminal messages, though, apparently weren't getting through because the Raps attempted only one 3 in the fourth quarter ... until Darrick Martin started dribbling out the final few seconds of the clock from the right wing.

There was no NEED to shoot, obviously, with Toronto down 22, but Martin (one of the few Bruins out there with the Stein Line seal of approval) did launch just before the buzzer sounded and naturally swished it through. Great, great theatre. The streak lives.

"I knew, I knew," Martin told me afterward with a wink. "It's called being a veteran."

-- Marc Stein in Dallas



News And Notes

According to a story in the current issue of GQ magazine, LeBron James and New England quarterback Tom Brady were "fleeced" during a card game at rap mogul Jay-Z's 40/40 club in New York. So who lost more? "It wasn't me," James said. "I try not to lose." James said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has also joined the high-stakes, high-profile table. "We always have fun," he said.

• Cavs G Larry Hughes missed his seventh game with a high ankle sprain. He and the Cavaliers remain noncommittal about his return, but Hughes still isn't able to run comfortably.

• Knicks G Nate Robinson, the NBA's reigning slam dunk champion, was called for traveling in the second quarter when he tried to bounce the ball off the floor and slam it. "I won't be trying it again unless we're up by 20," he said. "But that's spontaneous Nate Robinson. I can't control that."

• The announced Magic-Sonics crowd was 14,232, but KeyArena was only half full, the result of an incoming storm. A similar storm Monday night paralyzed traffic in the region.

• Phoenix has won seven of eight after a 1-5 start.

• The Warriors played 12 home games in November -- a franchise record for one month -- and just four road games. After Saturday's visit from the Bucks, nine of their next 12 contests are on the road.

• Rookie Steve Novak got his first start for the Rockets, going 2-for-5 for six points.

• The Clippers never lost more than five in a row last season en route to a 47-35 record, which was the second-best in franchise history behind the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves (49-33).

• San Antonio G Manu Ginobili missed his third straight game with a bruised lower back.

• Utah's last win over San Antonio was 93-91 on April 13, 2005.

-- The Associated Press

 

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