|Portland's Joel Przybilla makes a short-armed attempt to block this jumper by Kevin Garnett, who finished with 10 points. (Don Ryan/Associated Press)|
PORTLAND, Ore. - Doc Rivers is not a fan of afternoon games, especially on the road, but he wasn't all that upset about having to play the Blazers at 3 p.m. yesterday.
"We've had some strange starting times this year, but, the middle of the afternoon? But, you know what? I kind of like that because we play back-to-back and I like it that the first game is the early one," Rivers said. "That'll give us a chance to get to LA [last night] and more than 24 hours to recuperate."
Then, contemplating his lads enjoying a night on the town in Britney/Lindsay Land, Rivers said, "come to think of that, strike that last remark."
Well, the Celtics earned whatever they wanted to do in Los Angeles last night after yesterday's 112-102 dispatching of the Trail Blazers. They just waited a while to earn that right.
They trailed by 16 after one (scoring just 16 points in the process). They trailed by 17 midway through the second, en route to what looked like it might be a fourth straight loss on this trip. Already they had lost as many games in four days as they had in the first two months, they were winless since Kevin Garnett returned to duty, and they were getting out-everythinged by the young, frisky Blazers.
"They were excited. They attacked us. We didn't handle it very well," Rivers said.
That would be an understatement. They were getting overwhelmed. And, as Rivers noted, "It's dangerous to get down on the road."
But then the Celtics' big guys finally showed up, as did the one common denominator of Boston's excellence all season - the heretofore missing defense. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, who were a combined 5 of 25 in Phoenix Friday night, awoke offensively and Garnett anchored a defense that held the Blazers to 70 points over the final three periods on 41-percent shooting. "After that first quarter, I thought our defense was phenomenal," Rivers said. Had the Blazers not enjoyed a Tommy Heinsohn-infuriating 26-15 advantage at the free-throw line, this one would have not have been as close.
"We figured out what they were doing," said Garnett. "As the game went on, the defensive pressure got better."
Garnett, who had 10 points and 7 rebounds in 31 minutes, said he still doesn't have his legs after missing nine games with an abdominal strain.
"I'm in no rush," he said. "I don't see myself as one-dimensional. I can affect a game in many different ways and I know that."
And because he can, and does, that is not good news for the Celtics' opponent.
The Celtics' rally began after a Joel Przybilla dunk made it 46-29 Portland with 5:38 left in the half. Four minutes later, Rajon Rondo (15 points, 8 assists) converted on the break to finish off a 15-4 run, which featured 6 points by Pierce (on two 3-pointers) and 5 by Allen (his first two baskets of the game, an uncontested lefty layup and a 3-pointer.) The run, which featured 6-of-6 shooting, took the Blazers out of their comfort zone, the crowd out of its glee, and allowed Boston to pull to within 54-47 at the half.
The Celtics then kept it going in the third, opening with a 12-2 run that featured 3-pointers by Pierce (30 points) and Allen (19). The two were 19 of 22 on this day and the Celtics are not going to lose many games when they're shooting like that. They also were 8 of 10 from international waters, as the Celtics matched their season high of 14 threes. Eddie House and James Posey also had three apiece. Over the last three quarters, the Celtics were a scalding 63.8 percent from the field.
A 3-pointer by Pierce 3:52 into the third gave the Celtics a 59-56 lead, their first since a 6-5 advantage in the first. Although Portland tied the game twice more, the Blazers never regained the lead. It didn't help their cause that their best player, Brandon Roy, had to leave with 5:44 left in the third with an aggravated right ankle sprain. As Posey noted, "He's a very big part of what they do."
Said Roy, who was scheduled to have an MRI last night, "I hope it's just a sprain. I hope it's nothing more serious than that."
The Celtics led by 8 after three and by 11 with 8:29 left when Pierce inaugurated a quick 8-0 burst to blow the lead out to 19 on a Posey dunk with 6:40 remaining. The closest the Blazers could get the rest of the way was 10 following a 3-point barrage. But Posey (15 points, his highest output since Jan 27) coolly knocked down a pair of treys to keep the hosts at bay and time eventually ran out on the Blazers, who lost for the seventh time in eight games and are 7-14 over the last 21 games.