Say hello, 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers and 1969-70 New York Knicks. How are you, 1981-82 Celtics?
The Celtics are surrounded by so much history, it is difficult for them to contribute anything new. But the current team is doing remarkably well at catching up to its past. After a 124-105 victory over the New York Knicks last night, the Celtics became the third NBA team to start the season with 26 wins in 28 games and the second in franchise history to win 18 successive games.
The Celtics can surpass both those marks when they host Philadelphia tomorrow night, though records seem to be low on the list of priorities.
"It's all good and well," captain Paul Pierce said. "The key is for us to play better and we're going to continue to say that, regardless of whether we're winning or losing. We feel like we still have a great upside. We're looking for the perfect game."
Indeed, the Celtics have been able to win despite their flaws - and there have been close calls along the way. Since early losses to Indiana and Denver, the Celtics have twice won in overtime and had other games go to the wire. Most of the time, though, they have set the tone with defense, dominating their opponents for long stretches and winning going away.
That was the formula for knocking off the Knicks in a game that turned the stats sheet upside down.
Rajon Rondo (26 points) had a Wilt-esque shooting night (12 for 14 from the field, 2 for 5 from the line). Eddie House grabbed six rebounds, tied for second on the Celtics and more than all but one Knick. Brian Scalabrine fouled out in 14 minutes of playing time. The Celtics had season highs for field goal percentage (.658), first-half points (66), and first-quarter points (40), and they tied their field goal mark of 50, set Friday in a 126-108 win over Chicago.
In the opening quarter, the Celtics were shooting 81.8 percent from the field when the Knicks allowed Rondo an opener jumper (he missed) just before the buzzer. Only one Knick (David Lee) grabbed a first-quarter rebound. And that set the stage for a rout, Leon Powe's dunk stretching the Celtic lead to 46-23 1:42 into the second quarter.
But the Knicks' offensive explosiveness took its toll on the Celtic reserves, who blew most of that advantage.
Chris Duhon's 3-pointer at the buzzer capped a 37-22 Knick run in the second quarter, cutting their deficit to 66-58 at halftime. That was the Knicks' seventh 3-point possession (plus a 4-point possession) of the quarter.
The Celtics' defense put the squeeze on late in the third quarter, though. The Knicks would not have another 3-point possession after Al Harrington's 3-pointer cut the deficit to 89-81 with 3:04 remaining in the third. Tim Thomas's drive then cut the deficit to 6 with 2:23 to go. But the Knicks would convert only once more from the field in the quarter, the Celtics taking an 11-point lead. Rondo capped a 9 for 9 quarter with his 10th successive field goal, a straightaway 17-footer, extending the advantage to 98-87 with nine seconds remaining.
For most of the quarter, Rondo was allowed an open route to his left and was uncontested once he entered the lane. Eventually, the Knicks began challenging Rondo.
"Rondo was unbelievable in the third quarter," Kevin Garnett said. "He totally took the game over. He got people some easy shots and stretched their defense. He had almost a perfect game - he was in the zone. I thought the bigs did a good job of giving him avenues and he did a good job of finishing."
The Celtics put things away by starting the final quarter with an 11-2 run, surrendering only a Duhon shot-clock-buzzer-beating drive in the first 3:43. Powe scored what turned out to be the clinching points 2:16 into the final quarter and then extended a 20-6 run with a follow for a 109-89 lead with 8:37 remaining.
"We're really scoring the ball as of late," Pierce said.
"To get 124 points with 22 turnovers makes me feel like, if we don't turn the ball over, we can probably score 140-150 points, with the way we move the ball.
"We still have room for improvement."