NBA

Key Celtics come up short

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BOSTON (AP)

Rajon Rondo had one of his worst game of the playoffs. Kevin Garnett threw away a pass with 43 seconds left. Paul Pierce missed two 3-pointers after that.

The Boston Celtics face an unwanted return to Orlando because three of their best players in the Eastern Conference finals faltered at critical moments.

The Magic won 96-92 in overtime on Monday night to avoid a sweep and send the best-of-seven series back home for Game 5 on Wednesday night with the Celtics leading 3-1.

``We're not going to take it for granted,'' Pierce said. ``We really don't want to come back here and play a Game 6.''

Orlando played with great determination throughout Game 4. Two days earlier, Magic players scolded themselves for lackluster play in a 94-71 rout in which they trailed by double figures the last three quarters.

On Monday, the Celtics trailed most of the way, caught up, but stumbled at the end of regulation and overtime.

``We didn't play with great energy,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ``It was amazing how bad we were execution-wise and still had a chance to win the game.''

The Celtics were never behind by more than 10 points and had the ball for the final possession of regulation. But Pierce had trouble with his dribble as his teammates crowded around him - much to Rivers' displeasure - above the top of the key and time expired as players scrambled for the ball.

``It was a pick and roll, me and Ray Allen,'' Pierce said. ``I just pretty much screwed it up and turned the ball over and we couldn't get the final shot.''

Pierce was Boston's best player, finishing with 32 points and 11 rebounds. But with the score 96-92, he missed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 16.7 seconds left. He got the ball back and tried again from about the same spot. Another miss.

There were 10.4 seconds left but time had run out on the Celtics' chance for a sweep.

Garnett had 14 points and 12 rebounds, but he made an uncharacteristic misplay when he fired a hard crosscourt pass from the left corner over Pierce's head and into the crowd of disappointed Celtics fans with 43 seconds remaining and the score 96-92.

The Celtics struggled throughout overtime. Jameer Nelson hit two 3-pointers to give Orlando a 92-86 lead before Allen got Boston's first points of the extra session on a 3-pointer with 1:46 to go.

``We didn't do what we had to do on defense and we ended up losing the game,'' Boston's Glen Davis said.

Rondo had been the do-everything floor leader throughout Boston's previous 14 playoff games, averaging 17.3 points, 10.7 assists and 5.8 steals. Against Orlando, he was averaging 14.7 points, 9.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds. But he managed just nine points, eight rebounds and three assists Monday night.

And he had few opportunities against the Magic to drive into the lane and dish the ball for easy baskets. He even left the court with 1:16 left in the first half with muscle spasms but returned to start the third quarter.

In the final minute of overtime, Davis played instead of center Kendrick Perkins, a strong defender.

``With Rondo not going tonight, we needed another offensive player on the floor,'' Rivers said. ``The ball movement offensively is what bugs me more than anything.''

The Celtics still have three more chances to win the series and advance to the NBA finals for a shot at their second championship in three years. They've never gone more than five games in a series in which they won the first three.

``You fight so hard to get back in the game and then in the overtime the little things hurt us,'' Pierce said.

Tagged: Celtics, Paul Pierce, Magic, Rajon Rondo

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