Abdur-Rahim Sinks Celts


PORTLAND, Ore. - The Celtics have suffered more than their fair share of deja vu this season. Last night at the Rose Garden, it came mixed with an unfortunate dose of dramatic irony. Shareef Abdur-Rahim hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the left wing, giving Portland an 89-87 win in a game that was close from start to finish.

It was the reverse of the first matchup between the teams this season, when Boston beat Portland, 90-88, at the FleetCenter Nov. 10 with a buzzer-beater by Paul Pierce. The Celtics' losing streak was stretched to three games, leaving them winless and frustrated on their West Coast swing.

   "Down the stretch, I think if we would have rebounded the ball well, we would have won the basketball game," said Gary Payton (14 points, five assists), whose assessment was correct, as the Celtics were outrebounded, 62-39, overall. "We go down and we were in the wrong place and we didn't get the last shot off. If the ball hits the rim, the clock is still running and they don't have a chance to set up those type of plays, and they'll try to throw up anything. It's a learning process and it's unfortunate we have to lose by doing it."

The Celtics finally started to open up a lead when Payton hit a 10-footer over Sebastian Telfair and followed it with a pair of free throws that put the visitors ahead, 85-80. But it was back to a 1-point game (85-84) when Zach Randolph hit a pair of free throws with 58.4 seconds remaining. Then, it was time for the big shots. Ricky Davis nailed an 18-footer with 34.9 seconds left to give Boston an 87-84 advantage, but Portland kept the game within reach (87-86) with a pair of free throws by Randolph.

But on a night when, for the most part, the Celtics moved the ball well, they failed to get off a shot on their final possession, committing a shot-clock violation with 5.4 seconds remaining. That stopped the game clock and gave Portland time to plan its final possession, though Boston coach Doc Rivers thought the officials gave the home team a little too much time. Following the game, he commented that the officials should have "just given Portland a timeout at the end." Regardless, the Trail Blazers regrouped enough to put Abdur-Rahim in position to win the game.

"We just wanted to get the ball to Derek [Anderson] or Damon [Stoudamire] on the run and then try to get the basket and make something happen," said Abdur-Rahim (15 points, 14 rebounds). "That's what [Anderson] did. He got in there, made Paul [Pierce] bite a little bit, kicked it out to me, and I just thank God for giving me the concentration and confidence to knock it down."

The fast-paced scoring of the first half slowed considerably and the shooting percentages dropped precipitously in the third quarter. The slower pace was not entirely a bad thing as Pierce was under the weather. He was clearly struggling to hit shots, though he made up for it by finding his teammates and racking up five assists. But even with just 6 points from Pierce, the Celtics and Blazers remained close through three quarters. Portland took a 66-65 lead into the fourth.

"I've been in bed the last two days and I haven't been able to really practice," said Pierce. "I'm just a little weak. My throat was kind of bothering me, but I told Coach I wanted to give it a go."

Payton scored on a driving layup as the halftime buzzer sounded, giving the Celtics a 52-50 lead. The fast-break basket prompted Rivers to pump his right fist in the air, celebrating the fact that Boston regained a slight edge after a first half featuring 11 lead changes and seven ties. He was also pleased that Payton scored the basket on the break, reinforcing how effective the Celtics can be when running.

Both teams played uptempo in the first half, though Boston outscored Portland, 14-5, in fast-break points. And each team led by as many as 5 points in the first two quarters. Since defense on both sides was spotty, the game seemed destined to come down to which team would make stops when it mattered.

"This was a heck of a game for us," said Portland coach Maurice Cheeks. "We tried to change our offense a bit and get the ball up the floor quickly; changing the tempo a little bit, I thought, helped get us some better shots in the first half. But the key to the game, other than Shareef's shot at the buzzer, was our defense down the stretch. We were down 5 points and I thought we did a great job in holding them at bay."

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