Visitors are again picked on by Celtics
The 2007-08 Celtics were specialists in administering the coup de grace to opponents.
If they had a team down at the half, that team died a slow death in the second half. Of the 57 games in which those Celtics held a halftime lead, they won 49 of them. When they were ahead going into the fourth quarter they were 57-7.
The Celtics decimated the Bulls, 118-90, last night, digging a 15-point hole for Chicago by halftime. And the message Paul Pierce wanted to get across in the locker room during the break was simple: Throw dirt on them.
“That’s what we’re stressing right now,’’ Pierce said. “When you’ve got a team on its back, when we’re up 15 points in the half, we didn’t want to give them any confidence in that third quarter.’’
Pierce made it his personal duty to drain the Bulls of any confidence.
He had been quiet in the first half, taking just five shots and missing four, but for the second straight game, he came up huge after the break. From the top of the key and from the wing, Pierce let the 3-pointers fly, drilling all five he took in the third quarter.
“As a scorer, when you make one or two in a row, you feel like you’re on fire,’’ Pierce said.
Altogether, he was a perfect 7 for 7 in the third, scoring 20 of the Celtics’ 38 points. By the start of the fourth, the Bulls were down, 88-61, and Pierce was resting on the bench with the other starters. His line for the night was 22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.
And the irony of it is that if you had asked Doc Rivers, Pierce wasn’t even the best player on the floor. On a night when Rajon Rondo took only two shots but came within one of matching his career high for assists, Rivers said, “He was the most dominant player on the floor.’’
With the Monday deadline for his contract extension looming, Rondo handed out 16 assists, and in the third quarter he had the helper on nine of the Celtics’ 15 field goals.
He found Pierce, who hit a 25-footer that made it 53-35 early in the third. He found him again midway through the quarter for a 26-footer that made it 72-42.
“He just kept finding me,’’ Pierce said.
The challenge of a marquee point guard matchup with Derrick Rose was once motivation for Rondo, but Rivers said that since the preseason, his point guard has been playing at a consistently high level every night.
“There was a time where he kind of picked and chose,’’ Rivers said. “If it was Rose, he was really up. [Now] he’s just been up. And he’s been that through practices . . . He’s just playing now. He’s not, ‘Oh, tonight we have Rose.’ It doesn’t matter the opponent. He’s just playing his game and doing it, being very solid.’’
There was a stretch of three straight possessions in the third in which Rondo found Ray Allen for a long jumper and a pair of 3-pointers, and Allen said, “It’s weird because I never really felt like he had the ball at all.’’
The third-quarter surge came after the Celtics’ second unit had dug the hole for the Bulls in the second quarter. The unit inherited 2-point lead at the start of the period and stretched it to double digits within minutes. A shorthanded Celtics bench (minus Glen Davis, Brian Scalabrine, and Tony Allen) manhandled the Bulls. Eddie House, who came off the bench and scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, drilled four of his seven threes in the second.
“Eddie’s a great shooter,’’ said Marquis Daniels, who finished with four assists and scored all 7 of his points in that second quarter. “I’m always looking for him.’’
The bench allowed the Celtics’ stars to rest heavily in the fourth quarter for the second straight night.
“That was beautiful to watch. They’re coming in and if not sustaining the lead, keeping it, stretching it out,’’ said Kevin Garnett. “They’re just so beneficial right now. It’s a luxury right now. It takes so much pressure off us.’’
After watching his team hold Charlotte to its franchise-low scoring output (59) in Wednesday’s win, Rivers had complained that the offense lagged behind the defense. His team responded by shooting 58 percent from the floor (43 of 74) and 50 percent (12 of 24) from 3-point range.
The balance will come, but the emphasis last night was on finishing the job.
“When you have a team on its back,’’ Pierce said, “it’s important to keep them down there.’’