The home locker room at TD Banknorth Garden was quieter than usual last night; Kevin Garnett's vocal presence was missing. But there was plenty of talking on the court, and the Celtics reserves made a loud statement with their play in a 110-101 win over the New York Knicks.
The Celtics went to a power-forward-by-committee setup, a sort of Little Three combination of Glen Davis, Leon Powe, and Brian Scalabrine providing enough defensive quickness and offensive variety to compensate for the absence of Garnett, who was suspended one game by the NBA. Scalabrine had the final say, sinking a late 3-pointer and tapping out an offensive rebound, allowing the Celtics to run out the clock.
"It's always nice, whenever you don't have one of your Big Three and you win a game," coach Doc Rivers said. "It's a bonus. I thought everybody was up for it, so it was good."
The contest presented a contrast in styles. The Knicks (6-5), averaging more than 120 points in their three previous games, fired away from all points. The Celtics (10-2) concentrated their offense inside the 3-point arc, relying on low-post moves by Powe in the first quarter, pick-and-rolls involving Davis in the second, Kendrick Perkins's inside game in the third, and transitions off misses by the Knicks, who launched at least five airballs. "We said before the game: no rushed shots," Rivers said. "We want open shots but not rushed shots."
The Celtics' fundamental play in terms of shot selection, positioning, and boxing out paid off, judging by statistics. They were shooting 62.1 percent after three quarters (they finished at 53.2 percent) and allowed the Knicks only six offensive rebounds off 48 misses (the Knicks shot 37 for 85). But the Celtics did have to regain their composure after a brief copycat game early in the fourth quarter, as they tried to match the Knicks' hurry-up offense.
Paul Pierce (22 points) provided the clinching score with 2:47 remaining, concluding a 40-second possession that included a Rajon Rondo rebound of his own miss and a Rondo assist.
But with the Knicks' firepower, that lead hardly seemed safe. Chris Duhon's 3-pointer and Wilson Chandler's lane move pulled the Knicks within 103-99 with 2:06 to go. Chandler squandered a chance to cut the deficit by missing on a 3-point play opportunity, Pierce rebounding the foul shot and converting a free throw. Scalabrine's 3-pointer gave the Celtics a 107-99 edge with 74 seconds to go.
The Celtics seemed all set going into the final quarter, an Eddie House jumper with 2.2 seconds to go in the third followed by a technical foul on Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni after the quarter ended. House converted the foul shot before the start of the final quarter, then Davis's 18-footer 23 seconds into the quarter provided a 92-77 edge.
But the Celtics went into a shooting slump, scoring only once over a 6:35 span, the Knicks closing within 94-88 on David Lee's shot with 5:23 left. The Celtics then went to a lineup with four starters plus Powe, whose block set up a Pierce 3-pointer for a 97-88 advantage with 5:02 to go. Then Scalabrine completed the tag-team ploy, replacing Powe with 1:50 left.
As for the on-court trash enunciating, there were two versions. The Celtics blamed it on the Knicks, and vice versa.
"They do a lot of talking," Zach Randolph said of the Celtics. "They know they're protected on the court; that's why I don't pay that no mind. A lot of guys get off the court, they tuck their tail. A lot of them guys I ain't never heard them say a word, but all of sudden now this year they're doing a lot of talking."
Quentin Richardson: "I'll just be real curious to see what a lot of those guys would say if we weren't in a basketball arena, where there ain't no referees and the NBA officials are going to stop certain things. I mean, it wouldn't be the same story.
"They are the world champions and rah, rah, rah. But, I mean, the tough talk I don't buy. I come from a neighborhood where you can say what you want to say. Until you do something, it really don't mean nothing.
"Some of those guys are woofing about 'get a ring.' You ain't been in the league long enough to talk like that to some people who's got as many years as we got over here. I don't got a lot of respect for that."
Said Pierce, "Randolph, he tries to get you caught up in the talking game but I really don't pay too much [attention] to it. We just have to keep our composure. The Knicks try to get you to play their game, with the talking and the small ball. We just can't get caught up in the way they're playing. We just have to play our game and take advantage of what we do out there well."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org