Celtics lack finish in back-to-backs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The good news for the Boston Celtics: They don't play back-to-backs in the postseason. The bad news: To get the lofty seed they covet in the second season, Boston has to figure out how to reverse its fortunes when the schedule calls for games on consecutive nights.

Playing their 13th back-to-back of the season, the Celtics dropped to 6-7 on the back ends, including a head-shaking 2-7 record on the road.

The Celtics have lost just 12 games this season, so more than half of their defeats can be attributed to lackluster efforts on Part 2 of back-to-backs. With a veteran roster, the Celtics expected to struggle in those situations, but that record is simply unacceptable to coach Doc Rivers and his charges.

"I thought we kind of messed around with the game and then tried to win it in the fourth and we had nothing in the tank," Rivers said. "I think we have 13 losses, I don't even know that, that's a guess. But I know seven of them have come on back-to-backs and it's the same script in five of them. We win a decent game the day before, we come out, we kind of just play -- you could see it in the first half, we were kind of goofing around -- then all of a sudden you try to win it in the fourth.

"Well, you don't have anything left and I thought that was clear tonight. Same script. Then all of a sudden the game gets close and then [Eduardo] Najera makes a 3 on you and you lose it, and you should."

Boston's inability to win the second nights of back-to-backs is almost baffling considering their overall success, especially on the front ends of those situations. The Celtics' only first-night loss in a back-to-back came in a 102-101 fizzle against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 21. Boston bounced back the next night, annihilating the host Hawks, 99-76, for one of only two second-night road wins.

The other win? A 102-101 nail-biter in Philadelphia that required a last-second lob from Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett in order for Boston to escape with a victory.

Having often played top opponents on first nights, then lesser opponents the next, Rivers suggested his team might be overlooking foes and thinking they can win "because of our jerseys."

To that point, the Celtics defeated Miami on opening night, then fell in Cleveland a day later. Boston throttled Utah last month, then fumbled away a double-digit lead in Washington the next night.

One season after struggling at home -- something Boston has tightened up this season, boasting an Eastern Conference-best 23-4 home mark (tied with Chicago) -- back-to-backs are dragging the Green down this season.

"I don't want to say mindset, because we prepared for this team the right way," Garnett said. "We've just got to figure it out. [It seems like] every year we have some type of dilemma, you know, can we win on the road? We have different dilemmas each year and I guess this year it's back-to-backs. So, we've got to figure out something, especially with the second half [of the season] coming up soon. I don't know, but tonight we didn't get it done."

Celtics guard Ray Allen thought the problem could be focus, admitting the team simply didn't click the way it had Sunday in pulling away from the Orlando Magic in a nationally televised battle.

On Monday night, Boston limited Charlotte to 14 third-quarter points and still couldn't gain separation. They let the Bobcats hang around long enough to make it a game in the final five minutes, and Najera not only came up with a steal to help build a three-point cushion, but he canned a 3-pointer with 1:57 to go to make it a six-point lead that Boston couldn't overcome.

"We had our chances to win this game," Garnett said. "We had chances to go up, but we didn't take advantage. The Najera steal right there, I don't think the guy's made three all year. Nonetheless, he made it.

"They got stops, made buckets, and we didn't."

Rondo, never one to push the panic button, dismissed any concern about the back-to-back trend, preferring to look forward, instead of back (to back).

"To me, honestly, I'm not concerned at all," he said. "We've got the Lakers in a couple days. We'll get some rest and take it from there."

Rest will certainly help. But Boston simply can't dismiss its inability to win second nights of back-to-backs on the road, especially with five of those situations on the horizon.

The Celtics travel to New Jersey, New Orleans and Indiana in March for back-to-backs, then Atlanta and Washington in April (with another back-to-back vs. Washington that concludes in Boston).

The Celtics don't want to add those five games to their loss column, even if Rivers joked that he's a bit resigned to that.

"We've just got to win all the other ones," Rivers deadpanned. "That would be my pick. Let's just lose six more games the rest of the year, that's the way we're approaching the back-to-backs now.

"No, it's tough for us to win and we have to change our approach to them this year. This morning at shootaround, you could see it: The focus [before Sunday's game against Orlando] was amazing. [On Monday], everyone was relaxed. Sometimes you still win those games, but on nights you lose them, you feel bad about them."

The Celtics have felt bad about them seven times this season and must figure out a solution. Even with no back-to-backs in the postseason, the ones that trip up Boston in the regular season could make the trek back to the NBA Finals that much more difficult.

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