New York -- Avery Bradley sat in front of his locker Tuesday, prepping for a upcoming game against the Knicks. In front of him was a video monitor replaying New York's one-point Friday night loss to the Spurs. Bradley was mining for clues that could help put an end to his team's three-game losing streak.
Two of those defeats had been by less than five points, which has become a frequent thorn in the Celtics' side this season. They're 0-5 this year in contests decided by three points or less and, entering Tuesday, were just 8-11 in games that were within five points with less than five minutes to play.
"I think we're just not playing smart and making the right decisions in those situations," Bradley told SB Nation. "That's something that we got better at towards the end of last year (he's right), but we're starting to get back to some of those bad habits."
Bradley then looked up at the film being shown on the wall across from him.
"Teams like San Antonio, they execute," he said. "Watching this film right now, you see it. They know what plays they need to make. We're not there yet."
The Celtics' biggest late-game issue has been getting stops. Normally one of the league's top defensive teams, Boston is surrendering an outrageous 117.3 points per 100 possessions in the final five minutes of games that are within five points and allowing opponents to shoot nearly 47 percent from the floor, according to NBA.com's stats page.
Those numbers are problematic for any team, but they're eye-opening for this one. On the season, Boston holds opponents to the fourth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the league and only surrenders 98.5 points per 100 possessions, the third-stingiest number in the league.
This shortcoming was on full display Tuesday night. After the Celtics claimed a three-point lead with just over five minutes remaining, they let the Knicks get any shot they wanted despite the absence of Carmelo Anthony, who left early in the second half with an ankle injury.
Without Anthony and with Kristaps Porzingins dealing with foul trouble, Arron Afflalo's post game morphed into the Knicks' No. 1 option. He turned the left block into his personal office. At no point did the Celtics adjust or fight back.
But Afflalo was far from the only player to give the Celtics fits late in the game. Jerian Grant, a talented but raw rookie, was able repeatedly knife his way into the paint on key possessions.
He and Jose Calderon were also allowed to dump the ball into the post wherever they wanted without having to worry about pressure up top or resistance down low.
That's how a Knicks team without its best scorer was able to connect on eight of its final nine field goal attempts and send the Celtics to another tight loss.
Boston had no trouble scoring down the stretch. The problems came on the other end of the floor.
"We made plays, I thought we made shots, we made drives," Celtics head coach Brad Steven told reporters after the loss. "They made more. The one I just keep envisioning in my head is the transition basket by [Derrick] Williams, where he got behind the defense. That can't happen."
That play was a microcosm of the late game mental lapses that have derailed Celtics all year. It began when a 16-percent three-point shooter in Evan Turner launched an ill-advised shot from deep. He then doubled-down on his mistake by watching the ball sail through the air instead of getting back on defense. Even worse: his teammate, Jae Crowder, did the same thing. That allowed Williams to leak out for an uncontested dunk in a huge shot.
"If we don't improve in the details, then we don't have a chance," Stevens said afterwards. "So we either will, or we'll be lucky to win games."
Before the game, Bradley said the Celtics have made late-game situations a priority in practice, but admitted it's hard to simulate the high-pressure stakes of a real game situation.
"One of the things about our coach is that he points that stuff out to us," Bradley said. "The thing is, it's hard to work on that stuff and recreate that atmosphere during a practice. Especially with young players who might not be thinking as much while their playing. That's not always a bad thing but sometimes it can lead mistakes and getting caught up with the refs."
Stevens, according to Bradley, is trying to get his young roster to foul less frequently, so that opponents don't pick up cheap points at the line. No team is allowing more free throws per game than the Celtics, and the rate at which they foul goes up in tight situations, per NBA.com.
"We got to try to do our best to keep them off the line," Stevens said. "We have untimely fouls, and you know, its the same old story until we fix it."
That story is of a dangerous team that's not quite ready to separate itself from the rest of pack in the East. If the Celtics don't fix this problem, they may even fall below that pack and out of the postseason.