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GARY WASHBURN I ON BASKETBALL

Celtics appear to be running out of steam

The Celtics realized too late that Clippers sharpshooter J.J. Redick (27 points) can’t be left open.WINSLOW TOWNSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

For the third consecutive game, the playoff-charging Celtics essentially had no juice left in their battery. They were getting punched in the mouth by the Los Angeles Clippers and showed no signs of responding, no passion.

It’s a shame too, because for the first 70 games, the Celtics were entertaining and vigorous. But it appears they are on empty. Too many roster changes, a lack of cohesion, perhaps fatigue.

The Clippers led by as many as 35 points Sunday night in cruising to a 119-106 win at TD Garden, using the Celtics to show the Western Conference that they are nearing playoff readiness. Unlike in 2010, when Doc Rivers, then with the Celtics, said he was quite comfortable with his older bunch nabbing the fourth seed and thus he rested the Big Three down the stretch, he is pushing the Clippers for the second seed in the West.

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Before Sunday’s game, Rivers said home-court advantage was essential in the Western playoffs, and at game time, the Clippers played with purpose. The Celtics looked lost, as if they ignored a scouting report that plainly stated that J.J. Redick can’t be left open.

In the first half, the former Duke standout, one of the best pure shooters in the league, scored 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, many of those open looks. The Celtics were slow to defend, and on offense were seemingly afraid of DeAndre Jordan, who basically prevented Boston from attempting a shot in the paint the entire first quarter.

Jordan was the boogeyman. And Chris Paul had ample time to set up teammates, while Matt Barnes was parked in the corner for 3-pointers. The Clippers embarrassed the Celtics for the first three quarters, until a 43-19 rally sliced Boston’s deficit to 11.

But that run underlined the Celtics’ lack of focus and toughness over the first three quarters. Why does it take them until the fourth quarter to play with passion? The same thing occurred in Wednesday’s loss to Miami, as the Celtics went through the motions through 36 minutes before making it interesting.

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The inconsistency reflects on the preparation — or lack thereof — of the players, and the possibility that fatigue has set in. Coach Brad Stevens said it’s a matter of missing shots and then getting discouraged.

But the Celtics were obviously intimidated by Jordan, who in one sequence snatched a rebound from the erratic Kelly Olynyk and scored a layup without any resistance. Jordan was Paul Bunyan on Sunday, and the Celtics relented to his presence.

“Things need to change,” said Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas. “We have to be the team that punches first, not get hit first. I don’t think we’re tired. It needs to change. We’ve got to hit first. I don’t know what it is but we’re waiting to get hit and it’s tough for us to get back in it. We have to change that as soon as possible.”

The remaining schedule is unrelenting. There’s Charlotte on Monday, and then Indiana, Milwaukee, Toronto, Detroit, consecutive games with Cleveland, then Toronto and Milwaukee. All but one team will likely have something to play for, and the Pistons have played well of late.

The Celtics haven’t been the same since wasting a fourth-quarter lead and losing to the Pistons in overtime March 22. They lack spirit to begin games. They toyed on Friday night with the shorthanded Knicks, then held on to win, 96-92. It was hardly a performance to be proud of.

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They had to know the Clippers, who have scored at least 107 points in each of their last six games, would come to Boston with bad intentions in the final game of a three-game trip. They looked at this game as a must-win with Golden State coming to Staples Center on Tuesday and took the assignment seriously.

The Celtics appeared to lose this game before the opening tip. They saw the Clippers’ superstars and were already defeated. They didn’t challenge the Clippers until it was too late, allowing 105 points through three quarters on 55.9 percent shooting and 12 3-pointers.

The Celtics have other issues to address. Their starting five is having trouble scoring. Marcus Smart hasn’t been the same since returning from his one-game suspension, going 4 for 20 since sitting out the Detroit game, on Sunday registering his first scoreless outing since Jan. 22.

While it has been a surprising season for an organization not expected to compete for the playoffs, the Celtics are running out of steam. They will have to quickly respond or their hopes will be obliterated by Friday. Step 1 is better preparation and effort.

Step 2 is avoiding discouragement and playing sound defense when shots aren’t falling. Step 3 is focusing on themselves and not the opponents, and returning to the team that executed for 48 minutes, not 12 minutes in garbage time. Sunday was an insult to the sellout crowd who deserved a better performance.

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“We’re going to have to make shots to win these games, there’s no question about that, but I think that as those aren’t going down, does that affect other aspects of your game? You hope not,” Stevens said. “But again, I think it did affect us tonight.”


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe.