4.10.2008

C's (67-15) End Season with a Win

Green Finish Season at 67-15, Second Best Record in Team History

So much for the Big 82, and so much for the most dominant home-court advantage in modern NBA history. The Celtics are in the books with a season's record of 67-15 and a home-court mark of an astonishing 40-1.

They took care of the final details yesterday afternoon by breaking loose from an irritating 51-51 draw at the half with a season-high 46 points in the third period, an eruption that set up a 135-107 destruction of the New Jersey Nets in the season's finale. In so doing, they looked far more like the team that had locked up the league's best overall record with five games remaining, and a lot less like the daydreaming, October-like outfit they have been in the past week.

There was absolutely nothing pretty about the first half, a dismal 24 minutes in which the Nets were allowed to get where they were despite 37 percent shooting because the lazy Celtics allowed them 14 offensive rebounds and 20 more shots attempted from the floor. This business of the opponents getting too many offensive rebounds was getting to be a regular thing, and one had to wonder when the Celtics were going to start doing something about it.

It's obvious K.C. Jones had a few things to say about that, and about some other matters, too, because when the Celtics came out to play the third period they were a much different club.

"I was a little upset with them at halftime," Jones said. "We discussed it. Then in the third quarter we played with some intensity. I didn't like the idea of New Jersey using us as a battle cry to get ready for the play-offs."

The third quarter showcased what the fans would like to think is the real Celtics team. They ran a halfcourt offense of such variety and precision that by the time the score was 82-69 (a Larry Bird pull-up, fast-break jumper) they had shot 12 for 14 from the floor. They played good team defense, and eliminated the troublesome New Jersey second shots. And they got some needed production from a fast break that had resulted in a skimpy first-half total of one field goal and four free throws.

The third quarter was an artistic delight, featuring a pair of nice Dennis Johnson feeds to a cutting Bird, the obligatory Bird three-pointer, a perfectly executed Danny Ainge-Kevin McHale post-up and roll-in collaboration and, to the surpise of everyone, a Johnson lane drive and violent two-hand stuff.

There was also the matter of the Great Free Throw Derby, an enticing subplot pitting an idle Chris Mullin vs. Bird vs. Ainge vs. The Coach.

Bird entered the game trailing Mullin (189 for 211, .896) by a hair. He was 434 for 485, .895, and he needed to go at least 5 for 5 to catch Mullin. If he missed even one, he would have needed to go up to 13 for 14, an unlikely prospect on the last day of the season.

Nos. 1 and 2 came on an off-the-ball bonus foul near the end of the awful first quarter (Boston, 23-22). No. 3 resulted from a second illegal defense violation on New Jersey early in the second quarter (thank you, Joe Crawford). No. 4 came on a technical assessed on Mike Gminski late in the half (thank you, Dick Bavetta).

Needing one chance, Bird posted up Albert King and sank a right box turnaround at the 5:11 mark of the third quarter, picking up a switch-off foul on Gminski. He swished that one, and padded the lead with two more four minutes later. He left the game five seconds before the end of the third quarter, having shot .8963 from the line to Mullin's .8957.

But here came Ainge, who started the day needing to reach 125 made to qualify. His career high for attempts in a game had been 10. With 7:50 left in the third quarter, Ainge started picking up fouls, going to the line six times (12 attempts) in the next 11 minutes. He even got there once by passing up a 15-footer to head into traffic, something he never does. But Jones denied Ainge his bid by yanking him in favor of Rick Carlisle with 8:58 to play.

The rest of the quarter featured Grade A garbage time performances by Carlisle (10), Sam Vincent (4 points, 2 assists) and, especially, David Thirdkill (8), who is rapidly becoming an end-of-the-game crowd favorite.

Whatever happens in the play-offs, be assured of this much: Rudy Vallee will be back on the charts before a team goes 40-1 at home again. Meanwhile, frame that Portland ticket. We're talking about a future hot item at a collectors' show.

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