Antoine Walker's Rookie Campaign
The old rivalry ain't what it used to be.
But the Celtics put on a great show against the Los Angeles Lakers last night at the FleetCenter, surprising their longtime rivals and a national television audience with a 110-94 victory.
Celtics rookie Antoine Walker played his best game of the season, collecting 19 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, while Dino Radja had 19 points and nine rebounds, and Eric Williams added 18 points. Radja was also a defensive stalwart, limiting Shaquille O'Neal to 22 points with a little help from his friends.
"Nobody stops Shaq one-on-one," said Radja, forced by injuries to Pervis Ellison and Alton Lister to move from power forward to center. "What we did against him tonight took a great, great team effort.
"We played the game the way it should be played."
They picked the right game to do it. Making their only scheduled national TV appearance, the Celtics took control late in the third quarter, then held off a late charge by the visitors to register back-to-back victories.
"We've won two in a row for the first time this season, and we did it by beating a team not many people thought we had a chance against," said Walker. "It's going to take more than just a few good games to get the fans behind us again, but this is definitely the way to do it."
Many in the sellout crowd of 18,624 had come to see Shaq in a Los Angeles uniform for the first time. But by game's end, the Celtics had effectively converted them back into hometown fans. In the final minute, the "Beat LA" chant made popular at the Garden during the rivalry's peak years in the early and mid-'80s echoed loud and clear.
"It was nice to hear the fans getting into it like that," said Celtics coach M.L. Carr, a Celtics reserve at the height of the rivalry. "We haven't given them much to cheer about this season, but this game was a different story. The support was fabulous."
The support was earned with an uncharacteristic display of patience on offense and a defensive gameplan that made certain Shaq had little room to operate. Los Angeles created some anxious moments down the stretch, using an eight-point run to cut an 11-point Celtics' lead to three (96-93) with 2:49 left.
But Dana Barros (15 points) and Walker canned consecutive 3-pointers to give the hosts breathing room. After Eddie Jones missed a drive, Rick Fox hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back to 11 (104-93) with 1:10 left. Rookie Derek Fisher accounted for the Lakers' only scoring in the final 2:48 of the game, hitting 1-of-2 free throws to cut the lead to 10 with 1:10 left. A breakaway slam dunk by Williams with 39 seconds left put an exclamation point on the victory.
"It was definitely a different atmosphere in this game," said Radja, who played a team-high 40 minutes. "It was fun out there. We had the fans behind us and we responded. Let's hope we can build on it."
Said Walker: "I know a lot of people probably came here to see the Lakers and Shaq, but maybe we gave them something else to go home thinking about. I've only been here for 10 games, but I think this is what they mean by Celtics Pride. It felt great to be a part of it."