|Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo takes the low road as he drives past Trail Blazers center Greg Oden for a first-quarter basket. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)|
Usually, only nitpickers would detect negatives in a 15-point victory over the second-best team in the Western Conference.
But Celtics coach Doc Rivers went into near no-comment mode regarding the reserves following a 93-78 win over the Portland Trail Blazers last night. And Kevin Garnett went into a high-volume scolding of the second-teamers.
The Celtics got into the blowout spirit early in the second half, then got rid of Portland center Greg Oden after 18 minutes of playing time. But Rivers had to snuff out the victory cigar and reinsert the starters late.
"We forced us to put our starters back in," Rivers said of the Celtics' play. "I'm not going to even get into our bench right now. But I'm just going to say [the reserves] had a lot to do with [the Trail Blazers'] made shots. We had a lot to do with it."
Except for that 6 1/2-minute siesta, the Celtics (19-2) maintained the form that has led to an 11-game winning streak. They can tie a team record for best start to a season at Indiana tomorrow, set in 1963-64 and matched last season.
The Celtics led by as many as 25 points in the final quarter, but the second unit stumbled in surrendering a 16-2 run. The starters returned to close things out, a Garnett dunk off a Rajon Rondo lob the exclamation point with 1:57 remaining.
"I loved their defensive effort, I loved their energy," Rivers said of the Celtics' play in the second and third quarters.
Portland tried to establish an inside presence in the early going. But the Celtics matched the Trail Blazers' strength and turned the tables on their offensive-board aggressiveness.
"Once we stopped turning the ball over," Rivers said, "and started dominating the glass, which was the key - I mean, they're not a good offensive rebounding team, they're the best in the league."
The Blazers had six offensive rebounds (and 34 missed field goal attempts) through three quarters.
After the reserves pumped the advantage to 25 points on Leon Powe's layup nine seconds into the final quarter, the Celtics seemed free to start preparing for the Pacers. In fact, Paul Pierce's 15-footer, which gave the Celtics an 80-61 advantage with 7:22 to play, would suffice for the victory, but only because the starters would return to cut off the Blazers' scoring supply.
"Our theory was, if they're a great offensive-rebounding team, that means they have numbers on the glass," Rivers said. "And if we can rebound, that means we should have numbers in the fast break."
It helped the Celtics' cause that Oden had more fouls than points (5) for Portland (14-7).
The Celtics concluded the first half with a 49-36 lead, Garnett the driving force during a 14-0 rally, extended to 21-0 over both halves. Garnett concluded a 3-point, 55-second possession (kept alive by Kendrick Perkins and Garnett rebounds), giving the Celtics a 38-36 lead they would not relinquish, with 2:59 remaining.
The Celtics continued their vise-like defending in the second half, Portland's scoreless drought reaching 6:57 before Brandon Roy's drive cut the deficit to 56-39 with 7:01 remaining in the third quarter. Oden's fourth personal resulted in two Pierce foul shots and a 56-36 Celtics lead 2:27 into the second half.
Garnett went to the bench with 2:24 remaining in the third, purportedly for the night, and Ray Allen (19 points) converted his final field goal with 1:37 left in the quarter, which concluded with a Rondo buzzer 3-pointer for a 74-51 advantage. Rondo followed his first triple-double with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.
But the Trail Blazers did not concede.
The Celtics starters returned following a Channing Frye 3-pointer, which cut the Portland deficit to 80-67 with 6:05 left. Travis Outlaw continued a 16-2 Portland run with a jumper with 5:35 to go. But dunks by Garnett and Perkins reasserted the Celtics' inside game, then Oden fouled out with 3:46 to go, battling Perkins off a Portland miss.
"Our strength right now is the defense," Garnett said. "We've embraced it and that's what we hang our hat on every night. We know that in order for us to be the team we want to be, we have to play that. It's definitely our foundation right now."