C's searching for sustained effort

BOSTON -- The Celtics spent the first part of the season as one of the most sluggish first-quarter teams in the league. They've corrected that, but they're still on the elusive quest to become a 48-minute team and one that's comfortable playing with a lead.

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Marcin Gortat and the Wizards eventually gained the upper hand after weathering the strong early play of Jared Sullinger and the Celtics.

One game after kicking away an early 21-point advantage in a loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Celtics fumbled away an 18-point cushion while falling to the Washington Wizards 106-99 during a Saturday matinee at TD Garden.

Over the course of this five-game homestand, the Celtics outscored opponents by a staggering 9.8 points in the first quarter. To put that in perspective, that's almost three points better than the nearest team (Oklahoma City Thunder at plus-7.0) and almost double the next-closest squad (Dallas Mavericks at plus-5.0).

But Boston's quarterly splits get ugly from there: minus-3.6 in the second quarter, minus-6 in the third and minus-1.8 in the fourth during that span.

Is Boston getting a little too comfortable with early leads?

"I don't think they're too comfortable. I think, more than anything, maybe not playing with enough focus on controlling the next thing," said coach Brad Stevens. "Because when you start to lose a lead, that's a challenging thing from a human-nature standpoint. So one of the things that we've got to do is we've just got to be better in playing the next possession, regardless of circumstance.

"And a lot of that has to do with being young. A lot of that has to do with being on the right side of the scoreboard on a couple of occasions. And you build belief, and then this is the next challenge that comes with that, right? So you never would say a good start's not good. A good start's what you want, but you also want the rest of the 48 minutes to be good as well."

During this five-game homestand, Boston shot 59.3 percent overall from the floor in the first quarter and 50 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Its average lead was 30.6-20.8.

During Saturday's visit from the Wizards, it was even greater. Boston shot 60 percent from the field and, keyed by 10 points from Jared Sullinger, owned a 30-14 advantage after the first 12 minutes. Washington trimmed its deficit to seven at halftime and had tied the game before the end of the third quarter. Trevor Ariza (game-high 27 points) and John Wall (20 points, 9 assists, 6 steals) took over the final 16 minutes, and a 14-1 run late in the fourth helped Washington lead by as much as nine in the closing moments.

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