MINNEAPOLIS -- Sometimes Ricky Davis wonders what might have been if he remained with the Celtics. He believes Boston would be a better team today, certainly not a squad setting a franchise record with every loss and inching ever closer to the NBA record for consecutive defeats in a season (23 by Vancouver and Denver). Based on what transpired in the closing seconds last night, Davis would be right.
With 3.6 seconds remaining and the score tied, the Target Center stage was set for high drama. Following a shot-clock violation by the Celtics, the Timberwolves had one possession left to earn a win in regulation. Marko Jaric inbounded to Randy Foye. The rookie point guard drove a few steps, then saw Davis wide open in the right corner directly in front of the Celtics bench. Foye passed to Davis, who did not hesitate as he launched an 18-footer that went through with 0.2 seconds left and gave Minnesota a 109-107 win.
"I knew it was good when my guy [Paul Pierce] left me and went to Randy," said Davis, who scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half. "I thought, 'Just shoot, don't rush it.' "
Davis posed with his wrist cocked in midair. He remained that way until Mark Blount gleefully jumped on top of him. The pair of former Boston players half skipped and half ran what could best be described as a victory lap around a quarter of the court. The final possession for the Timberwolves showcased what could have been for the Celtics, for better or worse. The official celebration commenced moments later after the Celtics failed to take a final shot, making it one of the toughest defeats during the recent skid and extending Boston's record streak to 18.
"It's special when you get traded together with a guy like Mark," said Davis. "He feeds off me and I feed off him, and it was just a great feeling for us to beat 'em. He came over and gave me a big hug [after the winner] . . . It was a great feeling for me and Mark [not to let the Celtics end the streak]. Just great.
"It was very important for us, pride-wise at least."
Down the stretch, it remained an agonizingly close game. Re energized by Pierce, Boston hustled after loose balls and tried to make smart decisions on offense. The smartest one was giving the ball to Pierce, who despite straining a muscle around his left hip scored 13 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter as he looked more like his old self in his second game back from a stress reaction in his left foot and an infected elbow.
With less than five minutes remaining and the Celtics trailing, 101-96, Pierce did what he does best -- carry the team through crucial, late-game possessions. With six trips to the free throw line and a 3-pointer, Pierce personally staged a 9-0 run and pushed Boston ahead, 105-101, with 3:20 left. But neither Pierce nor the Celtics had enough to stay ahead.
"The guys played so hard and deserved to win," said Pierce. "We did everything we could. Down the stretch, they made the last play. You definitely feel it in the locker room with each loss. It definitely hurts. These guys feel it, but these guys are going to keep playing hard."
The Celtics enjoyed a 56-51 halftime lead, though their edge could have been greater. Boston led by as many as 9 points in the first quarter and 10 on a couple of occasions in the second, and never trailed in the half. Boston stayed ahead by getting as much as it could from an obviously fatigued-at-times Pierce, as well as strong showings from Delonte West and Ryan Gomes. The Celtics built an early cushion by keeping down their turnovers and shooting 60 percent during the first quarter, though they could not keep their turnovers down in the second as the Timberwolves closed with 4 (50-46) in the late going.
But with a tired Pierce and a more determined Minnesota, the second half was not a repeat of the first. Following the lead of Davis and Blount (20 points), the Timberwolves showed a more aggressive side.
The pair of former Celtics sparked a 15-7 run that allowed Minnesota to tie the game, 64-64, after a Blount steal turned into a 3-point play by Davis with 6:51 left in the third. Minnesota took the lead for the first time when Davis knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner in front of the Boston bench. Davis extended the Minnesota lead when he nailed another trey from almost the same spot.
Blount and Davis accounted for 28 of their team's points in the third quarter as the Timberwolves outscored the Celtics, 36-29. Thanks in large part to the pair's play, Minnesota took an 87-85 lead into the fourth quarter. But it was not just the fact that Blount and Davis poured in points and came up with a big steal and a big block, it was the timing of their big plays.
When Davis hit each of his three 3-pointers in the third, they seemed particularly demoralizing for the visitors. When Blount blocked a shot by Gomes, it prevented Boston from retaking the lead in the third.
At that time, little did Boston know its past would come back to haunt it even more in the fourth.