Celtics, Stevens tiring of near misses

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Likely because he was going to be awakened by the image replaying in his subconscious over and over again anyway, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he watched Jerryd Bayless' late-game 3-point attempt against the Detroit Pistons roughly 20 times in the immediate aftermath of another narrow loss.

Each time, Bayless' shot got about halfway down and rattled back out. Each time, the Celtics lost their eighth straight game and 13th in 14 tries. Each time, Stevens lamented just how close his team has been to victory only to watch things go the other way.

Stevens knew there would be losses this season. But what he says keeps him up at night are the games that Boston could have stolen.

This season, the Celtics have played 46 games in which they have either led or trailed by five points with less than five minutes to play and 30 of those were a one-possession game in the final minute, according to the league's statistical database.

You can make the case that, with a few more fortuitous bounces and clutch play, the Celtics would be spending these final days of the 2013-14 season competing for a playoff spot in a downtrodden Eastern Conference rather than jockeying with the likes of Orlando for prime lottery position.

With five games remaining, Stevens would like nothing more than for his team to show progress by finding a way to win any remaining games that go down to the wire.

"In the big picture, what bothers me and what I'm going to study and get better at is we have had some opportunities to win the close games," Stevens said. "I think there's a lot of factors that have ultimately played into why, but it's been fairly inconsistent.

"Sometimes it's one thing, sometimes it's another. But at the end of the day, those are the ones that drive you nuts, and I've got to spend a lot of time looking at them, and spending a lot of time trying to fix it over the next five games."

The Celtics owned a 19-point second-half lead Saturday in Detroit, but the Pistons rallied and Boston, maybe sensing another game slipping away, couldn't catch itself.

Down two in the closing moments, Bayless dribbled the ball across halfcourt and, having made his first five 3-pointers of the game, he pulled up over Rodney Stuckey on the right wing. The ball got about halfway down the cylinder before catching a bit of back iron and ricocheting from back to front to back again before popping out as an incredulous Bayless pounded the floor in frustration.

At this point of the season, with Boston eliminated from postseason contention and lottery-bound, every loss aids the Celtics' chance at a higher draft pick. That doesn't make it any easier on Stevens to stomach those close calls.

Here's what we know:

• The Celtics are 14-32 in games in which they either led or trailed by five points during the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Those 46 games are tied for second most in the league behind only Toronto (51), and Boston's .304 winning percentage in that category is second worst to only basement-dwelling Milwaukee (.237 winning percentage in 38 such games).

• Narrow that criteria to the final three minutes of a one-possession game (+/- 3 points) and Boston is 11-25 (.306 winning percentage) while still tied for the second-most instances (36). What stands out is the Celtics' offensive struggles in those games, with Boston shooting just 32.8 percent during that crunch-time block and being a league-worst minus-55 in plus/minus under that scenario.

• In the final minute of a one-possession game (+/- 3 points), Boston is 10-20 and its stat line is even more cringeworthy as the Celtics shoot 27.5 percent and have been outscored by 25.

• What's maybe most incredible is how much Boston struggles in coming from behind in close games. When tied or behind by five or fewer points during the final five minutes of a game, the Celtics are just 6-32 (.158 winning percentage). When the Celtics are tied or down by three or fewer entering the final 30 seconds of a game, they are 2-19 (.095 winning percentage).

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