Celtics Surprise Seattle


SEATTLE - Let's hear it for the little guy.

Able to match up effectively with the also smallish Sonics, the Celtics swept the season series against Seattle with a 98-84 win last night at Key Arena. It was an impressive accomplishment considering Seattle entered last night's contest at Key Arena as arguably the hottest team in the NBA and had not lost a home game this season. Boston won by playing a complete game and holding Seattle to 33 percent shooting from the floor, including an uncharacteristic 21 percent (5 for 24) from 3-point range.

The Celtics, ahead, 75-69, after three quarters, entered familiar territory as they tried to keep a lead in the fourth quarter. Anyone who has watched Boston this season knows the Green has been unlucky and unproductive in the final period, often deviating from the unselfish play that gave them the lead and collapsing down the stretch. But against the Sonics, the Celtics were able to snap their three-game losing streak.

When rookie Tony Allen (12 points, 6 rebounds) tipped in a miss with 9 minutes 46 seconds to play, Boston established an 11-point (81-70) lead. The Sonics quickly went back to what has worked so well for them this season when Rashard Lewis (19 points) nailed a 3-pointer. Gradually, Seattle began to close the gap, largely with free throws and turnovers by Boston (two traveling violations and an offensive foul).

But after Seattle closed within 3 points, a layup by Mark Blount (11 points, 8 rebounds) and a dunk by Paul Pierce (game-high 22 points) pushed Boston back ahead, 87-80. Then, two straight layup misses by Ray Allen (16 points) were tipped in by Danny Fortson (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Seattle was back within 3. The baskets showed that Seattle was trying to attack the basket and not rely entirely on outside shooting. However, they quickly went back to their oustside game and were unsuccessful, clearing the way for a Celtics win. With free throws and a pair of dunks by Allen down the stretch, Boston closed out the victory.

If the Sonics failed to garner league-wide attention and admiration before traveling to Texas a few days ago, they certainly returned home to Key Arena with the kind of respect generally accorded a team with a share of the best record in the NBA. Back-to-back wins against San Antonio and Dallas will do that. The Sonics entered last night's contest riding a high that comes with a four-game winning streak.   Wednesday, they snapped the Spurs' 21-game home winning streak.

But perhaps the Sonics were too confident as they took the floor against the Celtics, one of just three teams to defeat them this season. Seattle has enjoyed success with a small lineup that Boston knew it would match up well against. With the Sonics struggling to make shots, the Celtics controlled the action for much of the first half and led by as many as 8 points in the first quarter. However, Seattle found its rhythm inside and outside at the end of the second quarter and took a 56-51 lead into the break.

Seattle closed the second quarter with a 12-4 run, behind a combination of lauyups, free throws, and a lone 3-pointer from Vladimir Radmanovic. The Sonics have been criticized for an overdependence on the 3-pointer, though they lead the league in 3-point field goal percentage (40 percent).

Having shot 36 percent from the floor and 22 percent from the arc in their loss to Boston, Seattle knew it had to find other ways to score last night. "It's a legitimate criticism, so to speak, that perimeter shooting doesn't win a lot of games," said coach Nate McMillan before the game. "That is a strength of our game and we try to play to the strength of our game. But we also are aware that we have to get something going to the basket, We try to attack the basket. The last time Boston did a nice job of not letting us get to the basket. We are aware that we have to find a way to attack you other than perimeter ball."

Seattle did a better job of getting to the basket facing Boston for the second time with 8 of 19 field goals resulting from layups or close-range jumpers in the first half. The Sonics made the most of seven offensive rebounds, scoring 8 second-chance points. They also scored 6 points off six turnovers.

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