BOSTON -- It's not that Doc Rivers wasn't enjoying the blowouts.
But if the Celtics played every game the way they played Charlotte and Chicago last week, there wouldn't be much reason for the coach to draw his salary.
On Sunday, he gained some job security.
"We're better than this," Rivers said after his Celtics let a double-digit lead slip away in the third quarter but pulled away late. "I thought we were sloppy. I thought we broke our execution on defense and offense at times, and so we're going to have to go watch some tape and keep working to get better."
Getting better, of course, is what this time of the year is all about.
But the Celtics hadn't even been tied in the fourth quarter this season until Peja Stojakovic drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to knot Sunday's game at 74 with more than 10 minutes to play. Even after the Celtics pushed their lead to five points, Stojakovic hit another 3-pointer in the corner to cut the margin back to within one possession. It wasn't until Kevin Garnett scored on back-to-back possessions -- baskets sandwiched around a traveling violation on point guard Rajon Rondo, his fourth turnover -- that the Celtics could start to breathe a little easier.
"We had some bad possessions," guard Ray Allen said. "We turned the ball over. They got their hands on balls in passing lanes, but, fortunately, we got back on defense most of the time."
Not all of the time, though: Stojakovic finished with 26 points, including six 3-pointers, and point guard Chris Paul scored seven straight points late in the third quarter as the Hornets erased what had been an 11-point deficit.
"Chris Paul and the pick-and-roll keeps you in a little bit," Allen said, "and on Stojakovic, we just had bad coverage. We know how he likes to shoot, so we have to keep him from going to that side he likes. A couple of times, we made bad decisions on the pin-down -- and with a shooter like that, you make one wrong decision at that moment, he's going to knock the shot down."
But that's when the Celtics did what they haven't had to yet this season: fight to win a game that had been tied in the fourth quarter. Garnett and Pierce played a two-man game at the offensive end -- and at the defensive end, Stojakovic wasn't able to attempt another 3-pointer until a buzzer-beating heave that wouldn't have changed the outcome.
That's the type of defensive adjustment the Celtics hadn't had to make against Charlotte or Chicago.
"It was a good test for us," Perkins said. "We're used to blowing people out and having a nice lead, but I thought it was a good test.
We had to go down the stretch and execute down the stretch and get stops down the stretch, so I thought it was good for us. When you get late into the season and the playoffs, that's how it's going to be."