"Jesus" saved the struggling Celtics last night.
Boston defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 100-90, at sold-out TD Banknorth Garden and snapped a two-game losing streak thanks to Ray Allen, nicknamed "Jesus" by his teammates because he played the character Jesus Shuttlesworth in the movie "He Got Game."
Allen scored 26 of his 35 points - a game high that matched his season high - in the second half. Kevin Garnett added 26 points.
"Every game I walk out of this building feeling like I left something on the table and I still feel that way tonight, regardless of the points I scored," Allen said. "I was telling someone before the game that I'm never completely satisfied."
Allen is one of the most feared shooters in the league, but entering the game, he was averaging 17.6 points, his lowest average since the 1998-99 season, and a career-low 41.2 percent from the field. He has been hampered by ankle problems and a pinched nerve in his neck.
But last night, Allen said he felt the best he has all season, and it showed.
"I still had shots I would like to see go down," he said. "I do feel like I'm turning the corner, though, being able to feel good out there on the floor after everything I've gone through early. Still being able to go out there and get those shots and run up and down the floor. For me, the biggest key is getting my conditioning, just being in the best possible shape I can be in."
The Celtics came in having lost three of their last four, but left all smiles, with a bit of their swagger back.
"To tell you the truth, we were kind of upset that we lost," said Paul Pierce, who had 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting, missed 5 of 11 free throws, but contributed 8 rebounds and 5 assists. "But by no means was our spirit down. We're going to take our bumps and it's about how we respond throughout the year."
Said Portland coach Nate McMillan: "They showed why they are the best team record-wise in the league right now."
The youthful Trail Blazers weren't exactly welcome whipping boys. Led by guard Brandon Roy, they came in with a surprising 23-14 record and only two losses since Dec. 2.
So not only did the Celtics get back to their winning ways, Garnett felt they did it with a quality victory.
"This is the hottest team in the league," he said.
Said Pierce: "This is going to be a good team in the Western Conference. You've got to respect them, regardless of age."
Allen made 3 of 6 first-half shots as the Celtics trailed, 45-43, at the break. Roy, who was being guarded by Allen, had 13 points through two quarters.
But in the second half, Allen made 9 of 14 shots, hit two 3-pointers, and nailed all six of his free throw attempts. Roy, meanwhile, scored 9 points on 3-of-8 shooting, including 0 for 2 from 3-point range.
"We came in tonight wanting to play well against them," said Roy, who had a team-high 22 points. "I don't think we believed we could beat them."
Boston finished the third quarter with a 74-69 lead after outscoring the Blazers, 31-24. With only one starter (Allen) on the floor, the Celtics opened the fourth with a 6-1 run to take an 80-70 lead. Garnett's 23-foot jumper with 4:31 left gave Boston an 84-76 lead.
A Travis Outlaw 3-pointer sliced Portland's deficit to 86-81 with 3:18 remaining. But Allen nailed a 3-pointer on a broken play at the shot-clock buzzer to give Boston an 89-81 lead with 2:18 left.
"I'm sitting there looking at that play in slow motion, and the ball rolls right to Ray Allen, out of all people," McMillan said. "And I've seen that form enough to know he has a good chance of knocking that down. That was a big shot. Our guys were scrambling and rotating and we got a finger on it and it was just a break for them."
Portland wasn't quite done. LaMarcus Aldridge's jumper with 1:30 remaining made it 89-84. Allen's 16-foot jumper with 1:14 left gave Boston a 91-84 lead. Jarrett Jack's 3-point play with 56.9 seconds left kept Portland alive, 91-87. But Allen's 3-pointer with 49.3 seconds left gave Boston a 94-87 lead and sealed the game.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.