PHILADELPHIA — The road portion of this disheartening and difficult Celtics season is over and Monday night’s finale at Wells Fargo Center ended much like the previous 40, with the Celtics trying to rally in the final minutes.
And coming up short.
In a play that exemplifies the frustration of this transition season, Chris Johnson drained what appeared to be a tying 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left, capping a 6-point comeback in the final 15.3 seconds. The shot, however, did not count because officials called Johnson for stepping on the sideline as he gathered a pass from Rajon Rondo.
The result was a 113-108 loss to the 76ers, who have collected three of their 18 wins against the Celtics. Boston trailed by 17 at halftime, then rallied on several occasions to reduce it to a one-possession game, only to watch their chance for overtime slip away because of poor execution.
Before Johnson stepped out of bounds, Jeff Green couldn’t get the ball inbounds and the Celtics, trailing by 5, committed a 5-second turnover with 25.1 seconds left. When they appeared done, the Celtics got three free throws from Green to slice the 76ers lead to 111-108, then forced an inbounds turnover from Philadelphia’s Tony Wroten, setting up the final possession.
The Celtics finished 9-32 on the road, their worst record away from TD Garden since the 1999-2000 season. And many of those losses were a result of botched possessions, turnovers, and defensive lapses. This painful Celtics season (they’re 25-56) concludes Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards at TD Garden.
“That’s not very good,” coach Brad Stevens said of the road record. “I think the biggest thing for me is that home and road should not be a factor from the standpoint of talking points. You’ve got to prepare the same way. You’ve got to compete. You’ve gotta make sure you can focus on your task at hand.”
The Celtics trailed, 71-52, at the 10:34 mark of the third quarter before a 32-15 run to end the quarter.
The fourth quarter was marred by turnovers (7) and lazy defense that led to Celtics’ fouls. Philadelphia attempted 14 free throws in the final period.
A bright spot was the play of Kelly Olynyk, who scored a career-high 28 points on 10-for-19 shooting in 35 minutes. He added nine rebounds, and has 53 points and 21 rebounds in the past two games.
Rajon Rondo finished with 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 14 assists but it wasn’t one of his better performances of late. He was 0 for 3 in the final quarter with a critical turnover down the stretch.
After pounding the Cavaliers Saturday night with eight players in their best road performance in weeks, the Celtics were sleep-walking through most of the first half.
“I still feel like we had chances to win the game but we just didn’t play hard enough consistently,” said guard Avery Bradley, who scored 23 points on 9-for-22 shooting. “Like in the first half we didn’t play hard, but I felt like in the second half we picked up our defensive intensity and that’s why we got back in the game.”
Hamilton, Mass., native Michael Carter-Williams completed an impressive stretch against the Celtics with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists for the 76ers.
In four games against Boston, Carter-Williams averaged 16.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.2 assists and is the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award.
The Celtics jumped to a 21-11 lead, looking like the team that jumped on the Cavaliers. That momentum did not last, however, as the 76ers went on a 56-29 run in the final 18 minutes of the half and led, 67-50, at the break.
Boston’s defense has been shoddy at best in the past few weeks. The 76ers shot a stunning 59.6 percent in the first 24 minutes as four players scored in double figures, led by Carter-Williams with 12.
Dribble penetration was the major issue as Carter-Williams, Wroten, and Thaddeus Young consistently went into the paint with little resistance because the Celtics lack a rim-protecting center.
The Celtics picked up their defensive intensity in the second half but the 76ers benefited from two late-game reviews, both against Olynyk.
His long jumper with 58.4 seconds left was ruled a 2-pointer, costing the Celtics a chance to slice the deficit to 2. With 1:24 left, Olynyk appeared to lift his heels above the restricted line and take a charge from an out-of-control Wroten, but officials ruled the rookie stepped on the line, giving Wroten two free throws.
“The thing that was encouraging was that we haven’t shown much coming out of the locker room when down like that. Most of the time it’s been lights out, but tonight it was at least . . . we fought to get back. We were still climbing uphill late,” Stevens said.
Stevens said he wants his club to play a motivated game Wednesday night.
“I think the highlight for me is getting a chance to coach in Boston,” he said.
“I think the players on our team know we haven’t had much success but I think our guys are excited to play there one more time. We talked about it. I hope we play well.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.