Celtics have shooting pain in loss

November 3, 1997
This is a promise: you won't need a basketball glossary to better understand the Celtics' first defeat of the season. They lost to the Magic, 107-96, last night at the FleetCenter. Maybe there were times when they didn't have enough "deflections," took too many "challenged shots," or simply stood flat-footed when they should have been doing their "pick-and-roll" dance.

They'll talk about all that this morning in Waltham. Rick Pitino and his coaching staff will bring the video to emphasize their points. But the No. 1 reason the Celtics weren't able to pull off an undefeated Fantasy Weekend against the Bulls and Magic is this:

They couldn't shoot. 

We're talking about airballs from 5 feet. We're talking a team that missed 16 of its first 18 shots. We're talking about The Shot of The Night being Ron Mercer's 33-foot heave as the shot clock was running out midway through the fourth quarter. He made it, which meant the Celtics trailed only 94-72 at the time. We're talking 21-percent shooting in the first quarter.

You could have viewed the numbers from different angles in varying light. They never got better. The Celtics trailed by 14 after one, 14 after two, and 19 after three. They were never in it. In the first five minutes, they played as if they were the cranky kids slowly awaking from a satisfying afternoon snooze. They were doing a groggy waltz, a slow dance they never would shake.

"I didn't coach a very good game tonight," Pitino said. He was asked to elaborate. "I pushed the guys too much; I was too hard on them. I believe in the 98-2 theory; 98 percent positive and 2 percent hard. I didn't adhere to that tonight."

That may be true. Maybe he prodded too much, trying to get the Celtics to duplicate their 92-85 win over the Bulls Friday night. But for Pitino to truly save the Celtics last night, he would have had to step back to 1970 and recapture the form that made him a 28-point, 10-assist man at St. Dominic's High in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

And that's just offense. He'd also have to find a way to stop Anfernee Hardaway, Derek Harper, and bench players like Derek Strong.

That's still not everything.

"Coach said he could see it coming with the way we practiced Saturday," Dee Brown said. "It's not that we had a bad practice. But being a captain, I should have stepped up and told the guys that one win is no big deal. We're not playing games four days apart. Naturally, Coach is going to blame himself. But me, Antoine Walker, Pervis Ellison, Dana Barros, the older guys, are going to have to step up."

That's off the court. On the court, they were overwhelmed by Hardaway and Harper, who combined for 51 points. Hardaway (32 points) turned the ball over eight times and the Magic 24, but theCeltics didn't make them suffer for it. Instead, Hardaway stood on the perimeter and launched nine 3-pointers. He made six of them. And Harper? Remember he was supposed to be finished as a player when he left New York two seasons ago? But he had 19 points and 7 assists. After a few baskets, he could be seen cursing to himself as he ran down the court. Obviously he was not frustrated by the Celtic trap.

"When you hit shots against the trap," he said, "it really doesn't work." Hardaway added that he doesn't think the run-and-press system will work all season. During one break, even official Blane Reichelt chimed in, mumbling, "You've really got to be in shape to keep up here."

All of the commentary about traps, lack of preparation, and conditioning would have taken on less importance had the Celtics made their shots. Mercer had some wonderful drives and had 23 points. But Walker and Walter McCarty were a combined 9 of 31. Walker missed his first six shots and McCarty his first seven. That spells trouble.

At the end of the night, a fan said something about wanting to give his season tickets back. Pitino scolded him, said he was acting like a "horse's ass" and told him to stop being negative. The heckling subsided. It was that kind of evening. Even those among the 17,954 fans who were taking their shots were having them rerouted.

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