Celtics coach Doc Rivers lamented his team's complete lack of mental focus, particularly in crunch time, as Boston watched a double-digit, second-half lead evaporate in falling to the Clippers 92-90 Sunday night in Los Angeles.
The Celtics were uncharacteristically undisciplined late in the game, whether it was Eddie House picking up a fourth-quarter technical foul, or the defense leaving Rasual Butler open to make a 3-pointer to tie the game with eight seconds to go, or Rajon Rondo missing two free throws with a chance to prevent Baron Davis from having the opportunity to hit the winning jumper at the buzzer.
"For a veteran team, we played with absolutely zero composure," said Rivers. "We just didn't seem like a veteran team tonight and I thought it was more our composure than anything. Give the Clippers credit, they played extremely well and actually deserved to win the game. But, as I told our guys, we're a better team than that with our composure down the stretch. It's not about the wins and losses, it never is with us. It's about composure for later [in the season] and executing down the stretch. We didn't execute at all, on either end; we were just bad.
"We had a whole potpourri of mistakes we made down the stretch -- mental mistakes. It's nothing that anyone did, just us mentally. We talk about how the only opponent we have every night is ourselves and, tonight, we beat ourselves."
The Celtics led 71-61 with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter when the wheels started to come off. Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman combined to score eight points -- almost all coming at the rim -- as the Celtics' defense got caught napping and Los Angeles rallied within a bucket in under 90 seconds.
Boston was up five when House got whistled for a technical for arguing a foul call with 4:35 to play, and the C's were still clinging to a 90-86 lead with 2:06 to go after a Tony Allen driving layup. But Boston would not score again and Rondo missed a pair of free throws with one second to play that allowed Davis to hit an improbable, 22-foot jumper at the buzzer.
"We had a [10-]point lead and they chipped away at it and Baron finished it up with a nice shot," said Rasheed Wallace, who missed all six 3-pointers he attempted, as the Celtics finished 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. "Our execution was the problem. We needed to go out there and play Celtics basketball and we just didn’t do that."
"I don't think they were arguing," said Rivers. "I think Kevin was yelling at Perk to get his focus. It might have looked like an argument, but I think it was more like Kevin telling him, 'Get your focus back in this game.'"
The Celtics never did regain their focus and it cost them, leaving them with their second road loss of the season.
"We had opportunities, but we didn’t execute down the stretch," said Rondo, who finished 2 of 5 at the free throw line including the late misses. "I felt confident shooting my free throws and my followthrough was great. I did my routine and took my time, they were just long.
"I knew that in the last play they would be looking for Baron [Davis] or [Chris] Kaman. They found Baron and he made a big shot. I got my hand in there but he still got it off."
Rivers admitted after the game that it wouldn't have mattered if the Celtics found a way to win late, they still would have been disappointed with the effort.
"We're going to have these, it won't be last time," said Rivers. "Hopefully we'll win [these type of games], but even if we did win, we wouldn't have felt good about this one. And we've had some of those before."