Allen’s blast lifted them out of a hole
SACRAMENTO — Last February, the Celtics traveled to Sacramento on their first of a post-All-Star Game road trip, and the contest dripped with significance.
Ray Allen was left stewing about a potential trade two days before the trade deadline. His contract was expiring, the Celtics were slumping, and Sacramento’s Kevin Martin was available.
The Celtics needed to prove they would get into a rhythm on the road. They had just been drubbed by Darren Collison and the New Orleans Hornets just before the break. And doubt crept into the Celtics locker room about whether the veteran-laden team was capable of another run.
Last night’s trip to California’s state capitol didn’t hold similar significance, but it did hold significance. The Celtics were coming off one of their biggest wins of the season Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers and will begin a rugged stretch Friday that includes the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats, Lakers, and Miami Heat.
Ending this West Coast swing with a loss wouldn’t have been catastrophic, but it would have been damaging. The Celtics avoided such turmoil with a 95-90 victory over the Kings, a splendid way to end the trip. And the trip may be longer since the Celtics weren’t able to fly home Tuesday night.
The Celtics have to keep distance between themselves as the rest of the East competitors, and dropping games such as Tuesday’s night’s could prove costly. More impressive than the win is how they overcame the Kings.
Boston played a pathetic defensive second quarter, allowing the upstart Kings to shoot 66 percent and Donte Greene, who averaged 5.3 points per game, to drop 13 in the quarter. The Kings strutted into the ARCO Arena locker room with their chests bulging, and Allen was furious.
He challenged his teammates, especially the reserves who lost the lead, to respond in the second half. The usually reserved 3-point specialist exerted his locker room power and the Celtics came back with a sparkling 24 minutes.
“From one season to the next, it’s always interesting how where we end up, who we play on the road,’’ said Allen, who fully recalled last year’s turmoil in Sacramento. “There’s always something swirling around the team so I think it’s a testimony for every game for each guy to do their job. You put whatever agendas aside and make sure you come out and play your game.’’
Sometimes it takes unusual occurrences to spark a team that can sometimes get bored. The Celtics were bored in the second quarter, believing they had knocked out the Kings by taking a 7-point lead in the first period. The Celtics came out with the same energy they ended with in the Lakers win, but coach Doc Rivers decided to give the starters a breather and the bench’s apathy led to a 34-point Sacramento quarter.
Allen knew his guys would have been miserable spending the night in Sacramento following a loss, and then even more so having to face a cross-country flight into the aftermath of a storm. So he chided the team for their lackadaisical play. Final games of West Coast trips are especially valuable because they can create momentum going home.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve not had to be too boisterous,’’ Allen said. “I pretty much go out there and lead by example. Tonight there’s things I say when I need to say it. I kind of went off at halftime in the locker room because I was [upset]. We started the game, I felt like we took their confidence, but going into the second quarter we gave them confidence right back by not playing, having any energy offensively. So when I came in, I kind of let everybody have it.’’
The team needed the dressing down to maintain its steadiness. The Celtics have not lost more than two games in a row this season and special attention has been paid to trap games and matchups against lesser teams.
They tread carefully, never taking anything for granted. In the second quarter, the Celtics took their success for granted and needed to be reminded that the worst thing they can do is create their own drama. Last year’s club finished the season 27-27, thriving in drama and chaos.
The personality of this team is unwavering. The Celtics are more focused and more passionate about winning regular-season games. They don’t want to approach this year’s trade deadline — which will include another post-All-Star Game West Coast swing — with unnecessary drama. The injuries have provided enough adversity; the Celtics don’t need disinterest to creep in.
So they took care of business with a dominant second half — 51 percent shooting, 13 forced turnovers, production from the bench — and now look forward to a peaceful flight home Wednesday morning.
The Celtics will exhale briefly before another rugged stretch begins Friday.
“All these games are important,’’ Paul Pierce said. “These are games we’re supposed to win.’’