NEW YORK -- OK, maybe they were overdue for a clunker. The Celtics started the night ginned to the max, running their mouths like Class V rapids in a city known for fast talkers. In the end, however, their deeds made their words moot and meaningless, and their coach said their verbal behavior was in keeping with a "low-class" team. He was right.
Boston's seven-game winning streak came to a crashing thud last night, as the Knicks drilled the cold-shooting Celtics, 107-82, before an appreciative sellout of 19,763 at the World's Most Famous Arena. It was a horrible night all around, from early technicals assessed to Ricky Davis and Paul Pierce to coach Doc Rivers's blunt postgame post-mortem.
"We came out acting like a low-class basketball team," Rivers said, following the Celtics' worst loss of the season. The previous lowpoint, in terms of margin of defeat, was a 121-97 loss to the Bucks Feb. 8.
"We didn't show them any respect," Rivers said. "You gotta show up and play. The talk is bull. I thought we were ready, but we had guys yapping on the bench. That's not winning basketball. That's not a winning team. That's a team excited by the winning streak instead of being a winning basketball team. We deserved to get our butts kicked. I thought they outplayed us, outcoached us. They played harder, they wanted the game more, they played together more. We were our worst opponent. We were horrible."
That about sums it up. It was the first loss for the Celtics since March 6 and their first road loss since Feb. 23. The 82 points represented a season low; the previous low had been 84, on two occasions. The Celtics finished with just one player in double figures -- Antoine Walker -- and he needed 20 shots to get just 13 points.
Paul Pierce talked up a storm, but had a season-low 5 points in 23 foul-plagued minutes. He later blamed himself for the loss. Ricky Davis (6 points on 2-of-10 shooting) was chirping from the opening tap and picked up a technical 2 minutes 22 seconds into the game, while on the bench. He had called Jamal Crawford "garbage," but he picked up the T for jawing with Stephon Marbury, who also got one.
In addition, Pierce and Tim Thomas got double technicals for exchanging high elbows 13 seconds after the Davis-Marbury contretemps, and Raef LaFrentz picked up a flagrant foul eight seconds after that. All in all, the game featured seven technicals, four on Boston.
"Nobody's going to come in here and push us around," said Thomas, who was one of six Knicks in double figures, with 13 points. Regarding his elbow-a-thon with Pierce, Thomas said, "It's not even MTV and he got punk'd."
Asked if he thought the Celtics might have come in a little too cocky, especially since they had won the first three meetings with New York, Pierce said, "What's too cocky? We're a confident ball club. We feel like we can play with anyone in the league. You gotta feel that way." Said Rivers, "If you're gonna talk, and they attack you, it'd be nice to attack back. When the talking started, they went up, we went down." The coach said he actually saw this one coming, referencing some similar antics from last Friday's big win in Houston.
"I can take losses," he said. "I just don't like when we're not a classy basketball team . . . There's talking on the court and there's talk you don't need to have. I don't mind the talk. I talked when I was a player. But there's a line and I thought we went over the line."
The game, you ask? Why bother? The Celtics shot 38 percent to the Knicks' 52 percent. The Knicks dominated the glass, 46-36, and had the lead to as many as 26 in the fourth quarter. The lead was never fewer than 9 in the final 29 minutes 40 seconds, and even when the Celtics missed several chances to make it an 8-point game in the third quarter, Rivers said, "We didn't have any reason to be in the game. A 10-point game was a joke to me. We thought because we'd won however many in a row we'd won that if we showed up, and we had green on, that maybe that would do it for us."
The Celtics actually cut the deficit to 9 points, 70-61, when Pierce converted the second of two free throws with 2:28 left in the third quarter. But the Knicks responded with a 9-1 run to close the quarter. The spurt featured a baseline dunk by athletic rookie Trevor Ariza (14 points), a 3-pointer by Crawford (game-high 21 points), and hoops by Malik Rose (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Jerome Williams. All the Celtics could offer was a Mark Blount free throw. It was 79-62 after three, and that was it.
"I thought they played a little bit over their heads," Walker said of the Knicks, who are now a respectable 8-5 since the All-Star break. "They're fighting for the eighth spot and you have to give them credit. They won the hustle game, the loose balls, the second shots. We beat ourselves."