Every minute of the game matters. But players who have been through the wars known as playoff basketball understand that the importance of closing out games is essential if you have any chance at sticking around longer than a round or two. For the Boston Celtics, that will be among the many lessons they take from this current road trip that includes a 92-86 loss to Portland that wasn't decided until the final minute of play. After a lay-up by Kevin Garnett tied the game at 86, the Blazers closed out the night with a 3-point play from Damian Lillard and a 3-point basket by Wesley Matthews. "Down the stretch, we have to start preparing for the playoffs," said Paul Pierce who had a team-high 23 points but only two in the fourth quarter. "Last two minutes, we can't give up open 3s. We can't give up 3-point plays. That's playoff basketball right there. We have to be a shut down team in the last couple minutes of the game, especially if our offense isn't going. The defense is always going to keep you in the game." Boston's end-of-game struggles on Sunday were indicative of how they ended each of the three previous quarters. The C's led by as many as seven points in the first, but managed to let the lead get away from them and trailed, 20-19, with 3:45 to play in the quarter. Portland closed out the quarter with a 7-2 spurt to lead, 27-21. In the second quarter, a 15-foot jumper by Kevin Garnett brought the C's within 41-39 with 1:33 to play. Portland closed out the half with an 8-3 spurt to lead 49-42 at the half. The third quarter was more of the same. Boston took a 63-62 lead with 3:54 to play, but allowed the Blazers to outscore them 8-5 throughout the remainder of the quarter and faced a four-point deficit going into the fourth. "We could never get over the hump," said Boston's Kevin Garnett who had 20 points and a team-high nine rebounds. "When we had a chance to go up, something would happen. We just couldn't turn the corner."
Celtics execution down stretch needs improvement
NBC Sports Boston | Feb 25