Rivers Finally Gets a W


NEW YORK - In the wake of a second straight fourth-quarter collapse Friday night, coach Doc Rivers said, "It just doesn't take a lot to distract us right now."

   And a Saturday night home-opener at Madison Square Garden - with Paris Hilton and Howard Stern sitting front and center - can be pretty distracting. But the Celtics did more than survive in a city that can force a team off its game. They thrived.

By posting a 107-73 victory over New York behind an astounding 43-16 run, Boston proved it could stay focused and sustain a large lead. In the process, the Celtics earned their first win of the season, much to Rivers's relief. Meanwhile, the Knicks suffered their worst loss in a home opener in franchise history.

"They stayed focused, and before the game, I thought they would because of what happened the last two games," said Rivers. "There was a lot of chatter in the locker room about moving the ball, staying focused, let's help out on defense. When they're saying it and not [the coaches], you know that they're serious.

"Paul [Pierce] gets on the early bus. There were just a lot of little signs. You felt pretty good going into this game. I didn't know if [the Knicks] were going to play well or not, but I thought we were going to come with a good game."

Arguably, New York did not come with any game on the defensive end. "Terrible" was how Stephon Marbury described the Knicks' efforts to stop Pierce (28 points), Ricky Davis (20 points), Marcus Banks (10 points), and Co. The Celtics moved the ball at will (27 assists), playing with the kind of unselfishness the coaches hope becomes a habit. With everyone contributing, they shot 56 percent from the floor and scored 46 points in the paint.

Davis capped Boston's run of dominance with a pair of free throws, giving the Green an 85-52 lead with 1 minute 33 seconds left in the third. The run took 14:33 off the clock. A 9-0 spurt by the Knicks in the third did little to slow the Celtics' momentum. For a change, Rivers could sit back and watch his younger players finish the game. But Boston still made a point of playing hard in the fourth.

"We learned from our last two games," said Pierce, who suffered a chipped tooth in the second quarter, but still managed to add 10 rebounds and 8 assists. "We really came together. We didn't have any letups. We closed the game the way we're supposed to."

Rivers and the rest of the Celtics were satisfied with their newfound aggressiveness on the glass, especially considering the players struggled on the boards during losses to Philadelphia and Indiana. The Green out rebounded New York, 45-31.

Pierce set a strong tone on the glass, collecting a pair of offensive rebounds in the first.

"Team rebounding was the key of the game for us," said Rivers. "Paul, Jiri [Welsch], and everbody was in on the glass. I told them before the game that it was not the big man's job to rebound. It is everybody's job. We are not a team that can just say, 'Ben Wallace, get us 15 to 20.' Everyone had to do it and we did it."

The Knicks clearly could not say the same. Boos echoed throughout a sold-out Madison Square Garden with two minutes remaining in the second quarter. By that time, Boston was well on its way to a 55-36 halftime lead. When Kenny Thomas threw up a 25-foot airball to end the first half, he provided a perfect snapshot of the Knicks' frustration and futility. Meanwhile, the Celtics enjoyed their best half of the season.

The Celtics' decisive run started when Banks hit a running jumper with 3:26 remaining in the second quarter, pushing the visitors ahead, 44-36. Banks found his scoring touch at the Garden, recording all of his points during 12 minutes in the first half.

Welsch followed the Banks jumper with a 3-pointer. Free throws and a pair of jumpers by Davis kept the run going as the first half came to a close. The Celtics carried their momentum into the second half with Gary Payton (9 points, 6 assists) and Pierce hitting consecutive 3-pointers to open the third.

"I would have booed, too, if I was a fan," said Marbury (12 points). "We deserved to get booed by the way we played."

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