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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Celts’ divisional woes continue with OT loss

Doc Rivers, asked before the game about the new and improved Atlantic Division, laughed as he said, “It (stinks). I liked it the way it was.”

Instead, the Celtics’ greatest worries may now be closest to where they live. ...

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Doc Rivers, asked before the game about the new and improved Atlantic Division, laughed as he said, “It (stinks). I liked it the way it was.”

Instead, the Celtics’ greatest worries may now be closest to where they live.

Philadelphia, an antagonist as familiar as a baseball rival dating back to the playoffs last spring, comes at them with more force every time.

Friday night the Celtics dropped their second game of the season to the Sixers, this one a 95-94 overtime loss. The Celtics, now 1-4 against Atlantic Division opponents with two losses each to the Sixers and Nets, are kicking themselves anew.

This time the reason is that in yet another loss, the lead was within reach. They had eventually played good enough defense, as evidenced by Philadelphia’s dreadful 37.4 shooting percentage, though Evan Turner once again showed why he loves playing against the Celtics.

The forward, who sank the 15-foot game-winner with 3.9 seconds left, hit them with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

This time, though, the Celtics whiffed on most of their open looks. Courtney Lee and Rajon Rondo both launched airballs in the last five seconds – the former from the left corner, and the latter while slipping and appearing to turn his tender right ankle as the buzzer sounded.

Jason Terry was looking forward to Saturday night’s resumption of the home-and-home series against the Sixers, this time at the Garden. The Celtics guard shot a rare 1-for-12. He, too, missed from downtown in the last three minutes.

But as frustrated as Lee was – he lingered in the locker room, head back against the wall and a tortured look on his face – no one was punishing himself with more fervor than Kevin Garnett.

The last play had been designed for the Celtics center to spin to the basket, and he instead dished off to Rondo, mistakenly thinking the guard had a layup opportunity.

Instead, Rondo’s first triple-double of the season – a 16-point, 13-rebound, 14-assist gem that stood at 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists after the first quarter – was wasted. The same applied to a season-high 27 points from Paul Pierce.

“Oh man – it was an isolation, and I saw Rondo running hard and I thought he had a layup,” said Garnett. “But he stumbled – end of the game. His speed and momentum was going to the point where I thought he had the layup.

“That was unfortunate. I was indecisive, and I should have been more aggressive in that situation. We had a chance to win, but myself and a couple of others missed some easy layups. Then Evan Turner hit a tough shot to go up one.”

It was indeed that kind of night for Turner. Pierce recalled a play with 49 seconds left in regulation, when with the game tied at 87 he blocked Turner, only for the Sixers forward to grab the rebound and lay it in for a momentary 89-87 lead.

Garnett’s 20-footer sent the game into overtime with 7.9 seconds left.

But Pierce continues to like what he has seen over the last week.

“I told the guys when we came back in here, that if we play like that the rest of the season, we’re going to win a lot more games than we’re going to lose,” he said.

The best part, though, is that these two teams played again Saturday night. Pierce only hopes it erases the bitterness of overtime.

Garnett and Thaddeus Young matched baskets to open overtime scoring, and after Garnett missed a deep jumper, Young tipped in an Turner miss for the lead. Terry launched his 11th miss of the night, but the next time down Green buried his third trey of the night for a 94-93 lead with 1:54 left.

Four empty possessions later, including a Lee airball from the corner, Turner ran the clock down before driving to 15 feet and burying a jumper for a 95-94 Sixers lead with 3.9 seconds left.

Damien Wilkins fouled Pierce to restart the clock at 2.7 seconds, and Rondo ended up with the ball on the left baseline off Garnett’s pass. The point guard slipped while putting up an 18-foot airball.