Overtime works just fine
Celtics dominate in extra session to capture opener
It may be the year of the youth movement, but time was on the Celtics' side last night. At least once the season opener headed into overtime at the TD Banknorth Garden.
For an organization and soldout arena prepared to wait on potential, the Celtics' 114-100 defeat of the Knicks came as a pleasant surprise, especially after the home team squandered several chances to win in regulation. Inexperience was never a factor as Delonte West played with all the poise and savvy of a veteran All-Star. Immaturity was never an issue as Ricky Davis brought the right mix of confidence and energy. Inappropriate emotion never surfaced as Paul Pierce stayed focused after the frustration of costly free throw misses late in the fourth quarter. Indifference never appeared in the play of Mark Blount as he did, indeed, look like his old self.
West, Davis, Pierce, and Blount were primarily responsible for the Celtics' 20-6 romp in overtime, when they shot 83 percent. After missing three out of four free throws in the final quarter, Pierce put Boston on the board first in overtime, breaking a 94-94 tie with a pair of foul shots. Davis followed with an 11-footer as the Celtics began gathering unstoppable momentum. Blount kept Boston ahead with more free throws after New York threatened briefly to close the gap. By the time West kicked the ball to Davis in the right corner for a 3-pointer with 2 minutes 57 seconds remaining in the extra session and a 103-96 lead, it was clear the Knicks were done. Boston piled on with West and Davis and West and Pierce on the break. When Davis connected with Raef LaFrentz for a 3-pointer, the Celtics established their largest lead, 112-97, with 40.9 seconds left.
''The couple of big shots early was the difference in overtime," said Rivers. ''You don't know how overtime is going to break, honestly. It was nothing we did as a coaching staff. I can tell you that. It was all the players that put in great effort."
Nursing a 74-71 lead, Rivers put Davis, Al Jefferson, Justin Reed, Brian Scalabrine, and Orien Greene on the floor to start the fourth quarter. It was an interesting choice, but not a combination that worked. New York tied the game early in the period as Boston could not get shots to fall. It wasn't long before Rivers went back to his starters. Now, that combination worked. West rattled in a hoop (initially ruled a 3-pointer) from the left wing, bringing Boston within a basket (82-80). Then, Pierce zipped a pass inside to LaFrentz for a layup that tied it, 82-82, with 5:56 remaining. A LaFrentz 3-pointer with 5:30 left returned the lead to Boston, 85-82.
With the game tied, 86-86, West snatched an offensive rebound out of the Knicks' hands on a missed 3-pointer from LaFrentz. It proved a big play as Boston used the second chance to kick the ball out to Davis in the right corner for a 3-pointer. The basket pushed Boston ahead, 89-86, with 2:24 remaining. Jamal Crawford came back and hit a 20-footer, allowing New York to close within 1 (89-88) with 2:01 to go. Boston had a chance to stretch its lead with Pierce at the line, but he missed both free throws. To the Celtics' credit, they battled for the rebound on the second miss and Blount got to the line, making both foul shots.
But they did not make the Knicks work for the next basket as Matt Barnes scored on an alley-oop dunk. Blount came through at the other end with an 18-footer from the right wing, and the Celtics went ahead, 93-90, with 1:01 left. Stephon Marbury went in for a layup and, once again, the Knicks pulled within 1. The Knicks sent Pierce to the line, where he made the second of two foul shots, giving the Knicks one last chance to tie the game. Antonio Davis did just that with a 10-foot fadeaway from the lane, and the contest headed to overtime.
''We just didn't have our heads there," said Pierce (30 points, 12 rebounds). ''We know we should have closed the game out. We used it as [motivation]."
In many ways, the fourth quarter was a microcosm of the game and the kind of play expected from the young Celtics. They were up. They were down. They were hitting shots. They couldn't score. They were looking for rebounds, steals, and blocks. They were absent-minded on defense. But Boston survived despite its inconsistencies. The Celtics led at the end of the third, even though they went nearly four minutes without a field goal at the end of the period. They entered halftime trailing only, 54-53, even though they allowed the Knicks to shoot 56 percent. But in the end, young legs and young minds allowed the Celtics to forget mistakes made in regulation and keep attacking in overtime.
''Guys just stayed with it and executed," said Ricky Davis (27 points, 5 assists). ''We didn't execute down the stretch and came into overtime and just executed everything we tried to run . . . Guys are in shape. We've been running a lot in practice and preseason, so that was our goal, to come out and try to wear them down."