Boston Celtics: 2014Game78

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens could see what was about to happen, but all he could do was point. Maybe that's why, as the play started to unfold, he showed a rare rush of emotions on the sideline, coiling his body and pounding his knee in frustration with a closed fist. And that was before Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver had even caught the ball, let alone made the wide-open corner 3-pointer that propelled the hosts to a 105-97 triumph at Phillips Arena.

After rallying from a 14-point first-half deficit, the Celtics surged ahead by nine with little more than five minutes to play on Wednesday in Atlanta. Stop me if you've heard this script before -- and you most certainly have, considering Boston's now-14-33 mark in games in which they led or trailed by 5 points or fewer with 5 minutes to go -- but the Hawks embarked on a 10-0 run to jump back out front. Unfazed, Jared Sullinger hit a 3-pointer to put Boston up 92-90 with 3:20 to go, and it should have ripped the momentum away from the Hawks.

Then Korver inexcusably got free in transition. Remember, this was after a made basket, so Boston has no excuse for not being back and set. Korver, who had left his man to put up a hand on Sullinger's 3-pointer, was the first Hawk down the floor and noticed that Rondo was calling out assignments with his back to him. Korver darted from the right side of the floor to the left corner, where he staked out until Jeff Teague delivered a pass from a few steps inside half court. Just look at how far from the play Rondo is when Korver catches the ball (screenshot via CSN broadcast):

Korver 3-pointer


Stevens was desperately trying to get Sullinger's attention to rush to the corner, but by the time he noticed Korver alone it was too late. Everyone in the building knew that shot was falling.

Let's be clear: This was one of many late-game lapses by the Celtics (and Rondo was mostly excellent in big minutes). But it was maybe also the most glaring. Korver made a 3-pointer less than three minutes in, then went quiet for the next three quarters. But when Boston absolutely needed to keep track of him, they lost him twice in transition. The Hawks closed the game on a 13-5 run over the final 3:08.

The defensive lapses were head-shaking. Brandon Bass hedged too hard, and when Jared Sullinger switched to Bass' man, it left Elton Brand open for a jumper that made it a two-possession game with 1:50 to go. After Boston failed to score at the other end, DeMarre Carroll fumbled a pass on the blocks. Five Celtics were nearby in a late-clock situation, but Carroll simply reached down, corralled the ball and went up for a layup (screenshot via CSN broadcast):

Five Celtics; Hawks get ball.


The good news: These are seemingly easily avoidable instances. The bad news: These are seemingly easily avoidable instances, and the Celtics continue to endure these sorts of lapses in play. Take away the first and last five minutes of Wednesday's game and the Celtics outscored the Hawks 79-59 for the roughly 38 minutes in between.

But it's 48 minutes that Stevens has been so desperately seeking, and the Celtics didn't stay focused for the whole game. The team's margin for error, as we know by now, simply isn't great enough to overcome that.

In the grand scheme of things, there are four games to play in the season and the majority of Celtics fans were pumping their fists while Stevens clenched his after Korver's pivotal triple. Now riding a nine-game losing streak, Boston has shuffled into a tie with Orlando -- winners of two straight -- for the third-worst record in basketball.

Stevens still yearns for progress, but the Celtics keep making familiar mistakes. Maybe in May he'll be able to find a tiny bit of solace if these losses boost Boston's draft pick.
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2014Game78

Rapid Reaction: Hawks 105, C's 97

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
9:58
PM ET

The final five minutes of games continue to be a nightmare for the Boston Celtics, who watched a nine-point lead evaporate late in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks and absorbed their ninth straight loss with a 105-97 defeat at Phillips Arena:

The nitty gritty
Jeff Teague scored a team-high 19 points to pace six Atlanta players in double figures, while Kyle Korver added 17 while catching fire beyond the arc to help spark a fourth-quarter rally. Avery Bradley, back after a three-game absence, scored a game-high 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting to pace the Celtics. Rajon Rondo registered 19 points, 12 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals over a team-high 40:44.

Turning Point I: Digging out of early hole
The Hawks scored 12 of the game's first 14 points and needed just four minutes to build a double-digit lead. That advantage went as high as 14 (the Hawks shot a ridiculous 77.8 percent in the first quarter) and that's where it was midway through the second quarter before Boston started chipping away. Rondo hit a 3-pointer to close out the first half and pull the Celtics within five and Boston would tie the game little more than two minutes into the third quarter.

Turning Point II: This time Hawks rally
The Celtics were up nine after a Rondo free throw with 5:44 to play in the fourth quarter. The Hawks embarked on a furious 10-0 run over the next two minutes and a Korver 3-pointer with 3:42 to go pushed Atlanta out front 90-89. Jared Sullinger answered with a triple of his own to push Boston back out front, but the Celtics inexplicably left Korver open in the corner the next trip down and he made them pay by igniting a 9-0 burst and a DeMarre Carroll layup left the Hawks up seven with 73 seconds to go.

Bradley's back
Bradley missed the last three games with a right Achilles strain, but showed no rust in his first game back. He made half of his beyond the arc (going a perfect 4-for-4). Bradley added four rebounds, two assists, and three steals over 34:49.

Loose balls
The game featured only four lead changes and one tie despite the swings. ... The Hawks shot 52.6 percent overall (40 of 76) and Korver's final-quarter outburst helped them finish at 39.1 percent beyond the arc for the game. ... Boston shot 44 percent from the field (37 of 84), but a glossy 46.2 percent (12 of 26) from beyond the 3-point line. ... The Celtics were playing without Kris Humphries (knee). ... Chris Babb was a healthy DNP. ... Chris Johnson rebounded from one of his worse outings to provide a nice spark off the bench with 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting and was a team-best plus-8 in plus/minus.

What it means
The Celtics (23-55) lost their ninth straight game and 14th in 15 tries. The silver lining: Coupled with Orlando's win over Brooklyn, the Celtics are now tied with the Magic for the third-worst record in basketball with four games to play. A win would have thrust Boston into a tie with Utah for the fourth-worst record. The Celtics will take Thursday off before launching into a back-to-back that starts Friday night with a visit from the Charlotte Bobcats.

W2W4: C's vs. Hawks (Game 78 of 82)

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
11:45
AM ET
The Boston Celtics (23-54, 8-30 away) visit the Atlanta Hawks (34-43, 22-16 home) on Wednesday night at Philips Arena (7:30 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:

  • SPOILED ROTTEN: Some Celtics players have embraced the idea of playing spoiler given that the Hawks are still contending for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (owning a 1 ½ -game edge on the New York Knicks). With Boston lottery-bound, Wednesday's game is a chance to get a rare win and potentially make Atlanta sweat a bit. "We want to be that [spoiler] team. Hopefully we can mess up Atlanta’s record a little bit more [Wednesday] and knock those guys out of the playoffs," said Rondo. Of course, Boston fans are a bit more conflicted. Wins could lower the team's probability at a higher draft pick. To Celtics players and coaches, finishing on a high note is more important than some additional ping-pong balls.

  • INJURY WATCH: The Celtics will be without Kris Humphries (knee) as he remains in Boston to have an MRI on an ailing right knee. Boston does expect to have Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. Bradley missed the past three games with an Achilles strain, while Sullinger suffered a thigh bruise against the Pistons. Both returned to practice this week.

  • LOOSE BALLS: This is the fourth and final meeting of the season for the two teams. The Celtics lead the series, 2-1, and won in Atlanta back in November. ... Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Chris Herren join Mike Gorman for a three-man booth during the broadcast on CSN. Fans are encouraged to submit questions for Ainge by Tweeting with the hashtag #AskDanny. ... The Celtics enter within a game of Orlando for the third worst record in basketball. The Magic host the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.

(Read full game preview)
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2014Game78

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
18.7 1.6 0.9 33.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 7.9
AssistsJ. Nelson 7.0
StealsJ. Nelson 2.5
BlocksK. Olynyk 0.8