Damon Stoudamire stepped out of bounds in front of the Celtics' bench with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Boston coach John Carroll saw the transgression. Officials Dan Crawford, Gary Benson, and Rodney Mott did not. No call.
As a result, Carroll vented a night full of frustrations, receiving his second technical and the first ejection of his NBA coaching career. He headed to the locker room with 20 seconds remaining. The last ejection Carroll earned came "sometime in the mid-'90s" while coaching Duquesne.
"This one was more costly," said Carroll, who now owes the league $1,000.
But it was what happened inside, not outside or out of bounds, that stymied the Celtics. Scoring easily inside to shoot 61 percent, Portland pulled away from Boston in the second half, recording a 105-98 win. Still, the Celtics (34-41) held on to eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 1 1/2-game lead over the idle Cavaliers.
The absence of interior defense by the Celtics proved most costly and mitigated the effect of 22 turnovers by the Trail Blazers. Portland outscored Boston, 64-34, in the paint with Darius Miles, Zach Randolph, and Theo Ratliff responsible for most of the damage. Of the 45 Portland field goals, 28 were dunks, layups, or tip-ins.
Paul Pierce thought it may have been the Celtics' worst defensive performance of the season. After throwing the ball down the court in frustration over what was transpiring, he picked up his own technical with 7:47 remaining.
"We just couldn't get a stop," said Pierce (23 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists). "It was frustrating every time they came down and it just seemed like we had no defensive continuity. I don't remember a time when a team shot 61 percent from the field against us."
It was the first time this season that the Trail Blazers shot better than 60 percent. The numbers were even better in the second half, when Portland turned a 3-point halftime deficit (51-48) into a game-high 16-point (95-79) advantage late in the fourth. The Trail Blazers started to take control by staging a 12-0 run to take a 68-57 lead with 5:30 remaining in the third quarter. Randolph (18 points, 11 rebounds) started the spurt with a 16-footer and capped it with a dunk on the break. Portland racked up 20 points on the run, though Boston held its own with 19 fast-break points. The Trail Blazers finished the third ahead, 78-70.
Pierce tried to provide an offensive spark in the fourth, nailing a 3-pointer with 10:34 to go. The basket brought Boston within 5 (80-75), but the captain could only do so much without stops at the other end.
The teams traded field goals for a couple of possessions, then an 11-0 run by Portland decided it. Randolph started the run with a reverse layup. Then, Miles (career-high 31 points) followed with an alley-oop dunk on the break. It was more of the same with a layup on the break by Miles and a tip-in by Randolph. By the end of the run, the Trail Blazers held their largest lead, with 4:31 left.
"They might be the most athletic team in the league," said Chris Mihm, attempting to explain Portland's 44-30 edge on the glass. "They have a lot of big guys. They can get out on the floor, run, jump, block shots. They came out with more of a spark in the second half. They got that lead and they did a good job of holding on to it."
The Celtics broke a 41-41 tie with an 8-1 run late in the second quarter, getting easy baskets inside from Mark Blount and Ricky Davis, along with a 3-pointer from Walter McCarty. Davis scored 9 of his team-high 27 points in the second. The Trail Blazers responded with a 6-0 spurt, but Marcus Banks finished the period with a driving layup with 2.7 seconds left.
Miles and Ratliff helped Portland keep pace in the first half. The spurt included a forceful dunk by Ratliff, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the first quarter.
"It is one of those games and we just let it slip away," said Pierce. "I understand we've still got the eighth spot with a chance to move up. We've got to take care of business and control our destiny."