Celtics tip caps to a game lost

BOSTON -- Maybe we've simply become too spoiled by them. So conditioned to believe that they'll convert that final play and win every close game, that we're left searching for answers that couldn't be more obvious when things go awry.

But surely there had to be a grand explanation Friday night about why the Boston Celtics' offense disappeared over the final 2:43 against the Dallas Mavericks; the hosts fumbled away a six-point lead while missing their final five shots before Rajon Rondo's last-gasp inbounds lob for Kevin Garnett sailed a bit too high and into the stands, securing Dallas' 101-97 triumph at the TD Garden.

"We just lost the game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We didn't play great; we didn't play poorly. We just lost the basketball game. I don't think I'm going to look too deeply to this game."

Just lost? Impossible. Clearly an oversimplification. Not a team that ran a very similar final-second alley-oop play less than two months ago in Philadelphia and converted it for a thrilling 102-101 triumph. Not a team that, two games later, drew up a final play that led to Paul Pierce's thrilling 19-foot jumper over Amare Stoudemire for a 118-116 triumph over the Knicks in the Big Apple.

There had to be something more, no?

"When it came down to it, we didn't make the shots that we usually make," said Garnett.

No, no. It can't be that easy. Dallas must have changed up its defense or gone with one of its bigger lineups, causing the Celtics to get flustered in the closing moments.


"I thought we got shots that we wanted, actually," said Pierce. "We just missed them."

Yes, sometimes basketball is like that. Two of the better teams in the NBA put together 48 minutes of entertaining, seesaw basketball. And with 2.5 seconds remaining, Jason Kidd hit the 3-pointer that Ray Allen had missed a short time before with a chance to essentially end the game.

It's as simple as that. How many times have we been told that it's a "make or miss league"? Make your shots, you win; miss your shots, you lose.

On Friday, the Celtics missed and lost.

The Celtics actually made one more field goal (40) than Dallas on the same amount of attempts, but the Mavericks produced two additional 3-pointers, including Kidd's clutch straightaway bomb after Allen had overpursued in the final moments. That was the difference in a game that was frighteningly even in the box score.

Asked to describe Kidd's heroics, Garnett surmised, "Ray ran by him, [Kidd] hit a 3."

OK, so maybe it was a little more difficult than that. As Dallas coach Rick Carlisle explained, the Mavericks used Jason Terry's movement to create chaos and it led to the open look for Kidd.

"We had a primary option, and we knew that they would probably react to Jet [Terry], and that Jet was going to have to make a play," said Carlisle. "And if it got into a scramble situation, those situations generally have been pretty good for us, both offensively and defensively. Kidd made a tremendous play; he was able to show the shot, [Allen] ran by, [then Kidd] was able to get his foot set and make the shot. Just a phenomenal play."

Allen's efforts late in the fourth quarter -- most notably a stirring block on Tyson Chandler and a 3-pointer for a six-point lead soon after -- should have put the game out of reach. Instead, one of the game's most clutch shooters showed great respect for Kidd stepping up and making that shot for the Mavericks.

"I was actually afraid that, when I jumped, he was going to jump into me, and I was going to foul him," said Allen. "Which he could have, but I was trying to run him off the 3, and he just stayed there. That was a tough shot, you know, when I think about it, still being able to gather yourself to shoot that tough shot."

The Celtics still had one final gasp, and Rivers has seemingly produced something special each time he's picked up the dry-erase board lately. Indeed, Boston got a quality look, with Garnett getting a clean run to the rim off a Glen Davis screen, but Rondo's lob sailed over Garnett's fingertips and the Garden faithful groaned in unison as the ball landed three rows deep to seal Boston's fate.

"We had had two options and we had a timeout, too," said Rivers. "And I told Rondo that the alley-oop part of it, if it was wide open, 'You throw it.' But we told him, if he's close to wide open, Ray would probably be the guy. And he probably was open. ... I haven't seen it yet but, by my vision, it looked like Jason Terry sucked in with Kevin, which means nobody was guarding Ray. But honestly, [Garnett] was open; the pass was just off the mark. So I have no problem with it at all."

Just like Rivers has no problem with this loss. Sure, he'd much prefer a win, and Boston has typically found a way to emerge with a W in this sort of game.

But it didn't happen Friday. The Celtics said all they could do was tip their caps and move on. There's no sense sweating it any more than that.

No, the Celtics liked their defense on Kidd's final hoop. They liked their looks on jumpers by Garnett and Rondo that missed in the final moments.

As Allen said about Rondo's 17-foot jumper, "It was a shot that I've seen him make it a thousand times. It just didn't go in when we needed it to."

On this night, it was as simple as that.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.