The mantra of taking one game at a time has served the Celtics well this season. But their fans were not allowing them to meditate on their success, loudly annunciating their own mantra with a "Beat LA" chant in the final quarter of last night's 110-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics' franchise-record 19th consecutive victory.
"They started it and it was still a 14-point game with five minutes left," coach Doc Rivers said. "To me, I was like, wait two or three more minutes, please."
The Celtics (27-2) improved to 17-1 at TD Banknorth Garden with their 12th straight home win, a sendoff for a four-game road trip that begins tomorrow against the Los Angeles Lakers.
They broke the franchise win-streak mark set by the 1981-82 team and also surpassed the NBA mark shared by Philadelphia (1966-67) and New York (1969-70) for best start through 29 games.
The anticlimax of another blowout victory allowed the sense of anticipation to begin building as the Celtics' reserves increased the lead.
"It was nice, our crowd is a very smart basketball crowd and so they were looking forward to it," Rivers said of the Los Angeles visit. "Both teams are looking forward to it, I'm sure."
Barely one-third of the season has been completed, and the league's dominant teams have emerged. But jockeying for home-court advantage in the playoffs places a premium on nearly every game, something the Celtics are emphasizing.
"I don't think you understand how we see it," Kevin Garnett said. "We're not downplaying anything, we're just being totally honest with you. Unless you win it all, it's pretty much just steam in the air - you see it and then it evaporates.
"Obviously, the significance of the history involved, we understand, and maybe we'll look back on this, winning it, and sit back and reflect on the year and then we might actually understand what it is and the significance of it. But, at this point, it's all about getting better."
Against the Sixers, the Boston bench displayed significant improvement, despite performing for the second successive contest without Glen Davis (concussion).
Though Rivers played the role of paranoid coach, the outcome was determined early and the second unit cemented things.
An 18-footer by Garnett (18 points) signaled the start of a 10-2 Celtic spree that allowed them to close the first half with a 58-44 lead. Rajon Rondo (18 points) scored 6 points during the rally, on drives with :03 and :02 left on the shot clock, and a follow after a Kendrick Perkins failed 3-point play chance.
The Sixers pulled within 60-50 on Samuel Dalembert's shot 2:55 into the second half. Then a 14-2 Celtic run over a 3:24 span extended the lead to 74-52, capped by Garnett's left-handed tip of a Paul Pierce lob with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
The Sixers responded with 10 successive points and a 14-4 spree, concluding the quarter with Marreese Speights's dunk to cut their deficit to 78-66.
The Celtics' second unit, plus Ray Allen, got off to an 11-4 start in the first 4:26 of the final quarter, Leon Powe scoring 9 points and blocking Reggie Evans, leading to the first of two successive Philadelphia 24-second violations. Powe's free throw for an 89-70 advantage with 7:47 remaining made Rivers feel secure enough to replace Allen with Gabe Pruitt.
Pruitt confirmed that faith with a 3-pointer for a 93-71 lead with 6:57 to play, which turned out to be the clinching points.
The "Beat LA" chants started soon after that.
"I don't see the magnitude because I can't understand it," Rivers said of the visit to Los Angeles. "But I do understand that it's a game that a lot of people are looking forward to; so are we and so are they.
"I mean, we can say what we want, and that's human nature. Kevin's right, it is just one of 82. If we win the game, does it mean anything that we can win? No. And if they win, same thing, they don't get anything after the game."
As for the team-record winning streak, Rivers said, "I'm not downplaying it. I know it's great and all that stuff. But we didn't get our hands in and say, 'Hip, hip, hooray,' or anything. Nobody even mentioned it.
"So we just want to keep playing and we want to keep winning, and we want to try to keep getting better."