Once again down the stretch, there was the sound of 15,000 people squirming in their seats. The Celtics
had led the hottest team in basketball from the first quarter last
night. They'd been up by 22 points with 11:08 to play. And now, with the
spread down to 10, everybody was thinking the same thing: Can these
guys blow it again? "I'm sure the whole crowd did," said coach Doc
Rivers. "Tommy [Heinsohn] probably did, too."
Not this time. This time, the Celtics
hung in, stifled Seattle for the final five minutes, and came away with
a satisfying (and surprising) 102-83 victory before 15,410 at the
good win, because that's a good basketball team," said Rivers, after his
mercurial squad had stopped the Sonics' winning streak at nine with its
best all-around effort of the young season.
not only threw a blanket over Seattle's white-hot shooters, who made
just 36 percent from the floor and under 22 percent from 3-point range,
they also put six men in double figures. And the chief bombardier was
Ricky Davis, who came off the bench like a cornrowed Havlicek to score
will be the [role], me coming in and being the sixth man," said Davis,
who was 10 for 14 from the floor and 4 for 5 on 3-pointers.
is exactly what Rivers was thinking when he put Jiri Welsch (12 points
and 8 rebounds) into the starting lineup for the first time this year,
hoping Welsch would feel less pressure to produce. "It was my
miscalculation on putting Jiri with that second unit that was so young,"
said Rivers. "That's asking too much of him."
Rivers asked Davis to be was Vinnie Johnson. "Just go for it," the
coach told him - and Davis wasn't bashful. He scored two baskets within
37 seconds to double the lead to 8 just before halftime, then hit three
jumpers - from 23, 19, and 12 feet - in the final 1:49 of the third
quarter to put Boston ahead, 75-58.
took the scoring load off Paul Pierce, who still managed 17 points, 10
rebounds, 7 assists, and a couple of steals in his 42 minutes. Added to
a dozen points apiece from Gary Payton and Mark Blount and 11 from Raef
LaFrentz, that was more than enough production. In fact, Boston's field
goal percentage (56.9) was its third highest in the last five years.
The question going in was whether the Celtics
could keep up with a Seattle team that was averaging more than 100
points a game and was off to its best start (9-1) in 11 years.
an explosive team," said Pierce. "If you allow them to go out and shoot
3-pointers, they can blow you out in a hurry. We did a good job of
getting up in their faces."
plan, Rivers said, was to take away the threes, force the Sonics to
work the clock, push the ball up the floor, and keep old friend Danny
Fortson (who ended up fouling out) from lighting a fire under his mates.
"We focused on him," said Rivers. "He's their energy guy."
Boston held the visitors to 14 points in the first quarter and took a
10-point lead, the hosts were on their way. "Doc had his boys ready,"
said Seattle coach Nate McMillan. "They earned the game. They beat us at
the game we have had success with. Tonight, they were better."
question, as it has been most nights, was whether Doc's boys could
close the deal. For several queasy minutes in the fourth quarter, the Celtics
didn't manage a shot and committed three offensive fouls. And what had
been a comfy 80-58 cushion had dwindled to 81-71. "They were on the
run," said Rivers, "and we were walking it."
20-foot fadeaway by Pierce got Boston moving again. Then, with the lead
still at 10 with six minutes to go, Payton grabbed a rebound and fired
it upcourt to Davis for a killer three that made it 87-74.
play," declared Rivers. "That allowed us to exhale. You knew that we
were going to get hesitant at some point in the fourth, just because of
the past. So it was good to exorcise that away from us."
This is a team that has little history together, so memories of recent failures haunt these Celtics
like leftover Halloween hobgoblins. This is a team that is about to
play nine of its next 12 on the road, including five on the hazardous
Left Coast. What they wanted, what they needed, was to play 48 solid
minutes against a high-stepping team and come out high-fiving. "It's a
win," Rivers testified. "I'll take it."
Though Seattle's Ray Allen (21 points) came close to his 25.7 average last night, the Celtics
put the shackles on Rashard Lewis (12 points), who'd been averaging
21.3 a night, but who was 4 for 13 and 0 for 6 on threes. Vladimir
Radmanovic, who'd been getting nearly a dozen, ended up with just 4, all
of them from the line. "Our defense was absolutely unbelievable," said
Rivers. "To beat a team that has been firing on all cylinders - that
won the game for us." . . . Rivers is all but turning handsprings about
Gary Payton's performance so far, both on the floor and in the dressing
room. "Gary's been amazing, absolutely amazing," said the coach. Payton,
who has heard his share of taunting from fans during his 14 years in
the league, reinforced the "Be smart" message that Rivers gave his
players about dealing with explosive situations with the customers. "He
said, 'I was archenemy for a lot of teams, but I never went into the
stands,' " said Rivers.
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