There was some obvious atrophy from the five-day break and they again played without Kevin McHale, but the Celtics were unprepared for what unfolded in Arco Arena last night.
A 48-48 halftime tie turned into an embarrassing 81-60 Boston deficit at the end of three quarters because the Celtics made only four of 27 shots, got outrebounded, 21-10, and allowed Mike Woodson to score at will in the third quarter.
As a result, the last-place Sacramento Kings outscored the Celtics, 33-12, and snapped Boston's 13-game winning streak with a 105-100 victory over the Celts at Arco Arena last night.
The Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter behind Larry Bird, who finished with 29 points. But with Boston trailing, 101-98, and less than a minute left, Bird missed two from the line and Mark Olberding made one free throw for the Kings with 19 seconds left. The game ended in a hail of free throws.
The atmosphere in Arco is a cross between "Wheel of Fortune" and "Queen For A Day." There's an applause meter in one corner of the gym, and Sacramento fans cheer everything that moves. Last night's sellout (10,333) crowd was positively delirious by the end of the third quarter.
When the Celtics and Kings staggered to a stalemate in the first two quarters, there was no clue that Boston was in for third-period humiliation.
It was certainly a bad omen when Bird picked up his third and fourth fouls in the first two minutes of the third quarter and sat down.
Bird's absence did little to help Boston's inept offense, and the Kings ran to a seven-point lead. Arco exploded when Jones called for time.
The Kings kept charging, and the Celtics kept missing. When Eddie Johnson scored on a fast break after Danny Ainge missed a three-pointer, Sacramento led by 10 (66-56), and K.C. Jones called time again. Rick Carlisle and Jerry Sichting replaced Dennis Johnson and Ainge.
The vaunted second unit (Green Team) didn't do the job this time. Bill Walton tossed an air ball hook and Sichting missed two open jumpers. Meanwhile, Woodson and Reggie Theus scored and the Kings led by 14. A three- point play by Woodson with 3:17 left pushed the margin to a whopping 15 points. Jones replaced Sichting with Sam Vincent. Bird came in for Greg Kite.
Bird joined the brick parade and two more jumpers by the unconscious Woodson made it 79-59. The Celts were shooting 4 for 23 in the third quarter at that juncture, managed to miss four more before the end of the third and trailed by a royal, 81-60 at the end of the quarter. The Celtics shot under 30 percent in the first three quarters.
The decision to rest McHale was a troubling development considering McHale's decision to play 20 minutes in Sunday's All Star game. McHale worked out Monday night in Sacramento, but his left achilles tendon was sore again yesterday. He has now missed seven of Boston's last eight games and played only 12 minutes in his sole appearance. Scott Wedman started in McHale's spot.
All-Star-break rust was very evident. The C's were brutal on offense most of the night and missed 11 of 14 shots in the first 5:22. Fortunately for Boston, the Kings weren't much better and the Celts only fell behind by four. Walton replaced a scoreless Wedman midway through the period.
Robert Parish took 10 shots in the first nine minutes, but made only three and two of those were dunks. He was replaced by David Thirdkill after a flurry of Celtic turnovers.
At the other end, LaSalle Thompson did everything he wanted to do and teamed with Woodson to push the Kings to a six-point lead. A spectacular Otis Thorpe alley-oop dunk (off a pass from Eddie Johnson) made it 22-16 and the Kings settled for a 24-20 lead at the end of one. Boston made only eight of 24 shots (33 percent) and committed eight turnovers in the first quarter.
Jones put Wedman on the floor with the second unit at the start of the second and Boston's "Green Team" quickly tied the game. A Sichting free throw gave the Celtics their first lead (29-28) since 2-0.
Parish, DJ and Bird came back in, and the Celts staggered to a six-point lead. It was short-lived.