PORTLAND, Ore. — The mistakes piled up, one by one, quarter by quarter, each of them another scoop of dirt on the Celtics’ chances of beating the Trail Blazers Sunday.
Near the end, the score stood tied, the crowd grew loud, and when the Celtics needed that one stop, they couldn’t get it.
Instead, they wilted at the Rose Garden and lost under the weight of their own mishaps.
If the Basketball Gods had rendered the decision based solely on which team obeyed the game’s fundamentals, then the Trail Blazers would have won in a landslide. But even with all the Celtics blunders, they were still in it before falling, 92-86.
“It was one of those ‘my bad’ games, but I told our guys — we just had so many of them,” coach Doc Rivers said.
The Celtics suffered their third loss in four games against a team that snapped its season-high seven-game losing streak.
Entering the contest, the Celtics appeared to be staring at an easy win to add to their blowout victory Friday in Phoenix.
In the Valley of the Sun, the Celtics cruised, piling up 113 points. Rivers said he thought that Suns win made his team think they were going to come into the Northwest and light up the scoreboard.
“But you’ve got to do it on the other end,” Rivers said, “and we didn’t do that.”
The Celtics leaned on their veterans, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but got little from everyone else. Pierce had 23 points and Garnett added 20.
No other Celtics player had more than 11.
Garnett’s driving layup with 1:46 left tied the score at 86 after the Celtics had trailed by as many as 11.
But Portland super rookie guard Damian Lillard drove through the lane off a pick and roll, and made a layup in traffic while being fouled. He made the free throw, giving the Trail Blazers an 89-86 lead with 1:32 left.
Pierce missed a 3-pointer on the Celtics’ next possession, and Portland guard Wesley Matthews nailed a step-back 3-point dagger with 53.6 seconds left, cementing his brilliant game.
Matthews scored a game-high 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range.
Four other Portland players scored in double figures, led by 18 from Nicolas Batum.
“I thought when we needed stops, we couldn’t get ’em,” said Garnett, who returned after sitting out against Phoenix to rest.
“I thought when we had a chance to turn the corner, we didn’t turn it. I thought when we had an opportunity to take advantage, eight out of 10 times, we didn’t. It’s the small things, man. Small things.”
The Celtics were outrebounded, 47-36, including 11 to 6 on the offensive glass. They did have nine turnovers to Portland’s 16, but it seemed like each turnover came at the worst possible moment.
And worse, the Celtics did a terrible job of defending the 3-point line, where the Blazers made 7-of-21 attempts.
“At the end of the day, the one thing we can control is the way we defend, the way we rebound, the way we hustle,” Pierce said. “That’s got to be night in, night out.”
The Celtics bench came up short, with 19 total points.
And it was clear in that second quarter, when Jeff Green had turnovers in consecutive stretches, that he wasn’t going to duplicate his 31-point effort against Phoenix. Or come anywhere close.
The Celtics’ two new additions struggled, as each of them forced the issue.
Jordan Crawford went scoreless in 12 minutes, missing his four shots, and Terrence Williams made just 1 of 4.
The Celtics missed 26 of their last 32 shots in the first half, but they still trailed by just 7 at halftime.
They opened the second half on a 13-5 run to go ahead, but karma seemed to catch up to the Celtics, as they couldn’t close out a much-needed win late.
“Down the stretch, I told the guys, ‘We’ve got to start preparing for the playoffs,’ ” said Pierce, who had eight assists.
“The last few minutes, we can’t give up open threes, we can’t give up 3-point plays. That’s playoff basketball right there, where we’ve got to be able to be a shut-down team in the last couple minutes of the game.”
The Celtics sit seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, two games ahead of Milwaukee, which sits in the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Celtics head to Salt Lake City to face the 31-25 Jazz on Monday in the last of this five-game road trip, one that the Celtics need to salvage even more after Sunday.