Key Celtics come up short

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.