Coach Doc Rivers tells the Celtics to consider themselves their own opponents in each game. In other words, don't worry about adjusting to the other team, just live up to your own standards.
And that is essentially what the Celtics did in a 124-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks yesterday at the TD Banknorth Garden. The Celtics, it turned out, had scored enough points to clinch the result and extend their winning streak to eight games by the end of the third quarter. The starters set such a blistering pace - a 74-47 halftime lead, their highest point total for a half this season - the contest quickly evolved into a glorified scrimmage.
The Celtics set the pace defensively, causing Dirk Nowitzki to miss his first seven shots on the way to a 2-for-12 first half. Paul Pierce provided proof positive about the Celtics' defensive emphasis by producing more personal fouls (5) than field goals (3). And, following the Celtic blueprint, the defensive stops turned into offense - Ray Allen, who converted 8 of 9 shots in the opening half, Kevin Garnett, and Eddie House each scoring 23 points.
As for matching standards, the Celtics (37-9), who play host to Sacramento Wednesday, equaled the pace they set on the way to a 66-16 regular season last season.
"It's the last game on a four-game road trip," Rivers said of the Mavericks' schedule, "which, on an afternoon game, I don't know if that's the toughest scenario you can have, but it's close. And we were just making everything.
"The ball was moving, too, and our guys - there were at least eight possessions where the clock was down to five and we made two more passes and still found the guy. No one panicked."
If the Mavericks' alarm clocks had not gone off, the Celtics gave them jolts of 18-3 over 3:33 in the first and 21-4 over 5:04 in the second. Dallas went without a field goal over a 6:51 stretch before Jason Terry's 20-footer cut the deficit to 66-39 with 2:43 to play in the opening half. By the time the Mavericks awakened, the Celtic reserves were in the game and House was converting five successive 3-pointers for the second time in three games - he tied a team record with six 3-pointers in a quarter during a victory at Miami Wednesday.
Nowitzki (18 points) was averaging 26.7 points on this road trip, the Mavericks' wanderings taking them to Philadelphia (95-93 win), Milwaukee (133-99 loss), and Detroit (112-91 win).
"With Dirk, I noticed he gets a lot of space," Garnett said. "If you give him any kind of space he is going to let the three go, and that's probably one of the deadliest, [most] unorthodox stepbacks in the game today. All I did was try to pressure him - you put a hand in his face and contest whatever shot he has and make him go to his second moves."
Which is what the Celtics have been doing since Jan. 11, when they broke a 2-7 slump with a 94-88 victory in Toronto.
The Celtics' passing set up several options for shots, often relegating Pierce to the role of a smiling spectator, both while he was on the court and on the bench. Pierce played 22 minutes, and only Allen and Rajon Rondo (34 each) exceeded 25 minutes among the starters.
"It's a great feeling," Pierce said, "because you don't have to work as hard when guys are making the extra pass. It's like a thing of beauty and it's like we are all on the same page. We are communicating at both ends and it's like perfection - but that's what we strive for each and every night. We know we aren't perfect, but it's something we try and reach for."
The Celtics are outscoring teams by an average margin of 16.25 points during this winning streak. Against Dallas, the Celtics scored 5 more points in the opening half than their previous high - 69 in the second half of a 126-108 victory over Chicago Dec. 19. And they matched their second-highest point total for the season, set two days later in a 124-105 victory over New York.
But those contests were unlike this blowout - the Celtics led the Bulls, 57-55, at halftime and the Knicks 66-58.
"We work hard at practice, man, and I'm glad Doc doesn't let the cameras in there," Garnett said. "We expect when we come in the games to carry that over. This may sound a little cliché, but when we have practices the way we have, we expect to carry that over, and, when we do, it is very hard to beat us."