Celtics' Offense Trails Off Late in Loss to Blazers

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics had been trending in the right direction closing out games of late. However, they took a step back to their old ways Friday night at TD Garden, where they suffered a fourth-quarter collapse against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Boston led 100-89 with 7:19 remaining before going on a scoreless drought that lasted all the way to the 41-second mark. By then, the Blazers had come back to tie the game at 100, and their momentum eventually carried them to a 109-105 win.

Portland used a zone defense down the stretch to stagnate Boston’s offense and it certainly did the job as the C’s went the final seven-plus minutes without making a field goal. On the other end, Jusef Nurkic used his 6-foot-11, 290-pound frame to bully the Celtics around the rim, as he finished with game highs of 29 points and 17 rebounds along with a team-leading six assists.

“He kind of had his way there,” C’s head coach Ime Udoka said of Nurkic's impact. “We threw a few different things at him defensively and if our traps aren't solid enough, he kicks out for some threes.”

Tatum performed strongly for most of the night, finishing with team highs in points (27), rebounds (10), and assists (seven), while also making a season-high 14 trips to the free-throw line. However, Portland loaded up on him late in the game and ceased his production along with that of the rest of the C’s.

“We liked the mix of what he was doing in the third quarter, most of the fourth as well,” Udoka said of Tatum's performance. “But we also have to execute when they take him out of the game and other guys gotta make plays.”

Boston did have a few different players step up and make plays in the middle portion of the game when they overcame a 15-point deficit in the second quarter, finishing the first half on a 33-14 run.

Grant Williams had one of his better games of the year, tallying 13 points, a season-high eight rebounds, and three assists, while canning three 3-pointers during a three-minute stretch in the second quarter.

Romeo Langford also had a strong game off the bench, tallying 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field, while logging a team-best plus/minus rating of plus-17 during 23 minutes of action.

Unfortunately, those strong performances were somewhat lost in the disappointment that came with defeat.

Boston saw several of these types of close losses during the 2021 portion of the season, losing eight out of nine games that were decided by five points or fewer. However, they seemed to have flipped a page when they flipped the calendar over to 2022, having won three out of their last five such games entering Friday night.

“We had some really good wins and some good games overall lately when you look back at our last 15 or so of where our net ranking is offensively and defensively,” Udoka said. “We've been progressing the right way, so that's why this one does sting more than the others. I felt like we had learned from those early season situations and we have to stay consistent as far as that.”

Tatum felt stung by the loss as well, but refuses to dwell on it knowing that he and his teammates have a chance to get back on track Sunday afternoon in Washington.

“It hurts. It bothers you, as it should,” Tatum said of the loss. “But you can’t go back in time. Just get back in the gym, watch some film, learn from your mistakes, and try to improve on them.”

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