Bowen keys press, NY is left flat

February 27, 1999

Bowen keys press, NY is left flat

   Forget about Bruce Bowen's 0 for 7 from the field and remember his two third-quarter blocks and stifling defense, an integral part of a 24-9 run that put last night's 94-80 Celtics victory over the Knicks away for good.

When it was over, Celtics coach Rick Pitino talked about going up against a "tired and fatigued" New York team that had won an overtime game the night before and was ripe for the picking.

Having their way in the orchard were Bowen, Tony Battie, Paul Pierce, Andrew DeClercq, and Dana Barros, who gorged themselves on assorted Knick turnovers while expanding a 70-63 lead to 80-65 in less than a minute and a half.

"Against their press tonight," said the Knicks' Chris Childs, "we couldn't start our offense unless there was 10 seconds left on the shot clock." 

The Celtics recorded six of their eight blocks in the third quarter, while forcing New York into seven of its 22 turnovers.

And the crowd appreciated the effort, especially when Bowen went airborne to swat an Allan Houston shot into the Celtics' bench. Bowen then came up with a steal and it was the beginning of the end for the visitors.

"When all five of us are playing defense like that, we feed off each other," said Bowen, whose block of a Charlie Ward shot was sandwiched between the pair of Pierce 3-point daggers that extended the Celtics' lead to 78-63. How much did the pressure D affect New York? Well, how about a couple of 24-second violations, a 10-second and 5-second violation, and a trio of offensive fouls that were the result of frustration over Boston's pressure.

It was 69-63 when Barros and DeClercq entered the game and helped turn up the defensive heat. A Bowen steal and two free throws, a five-second violation and Pierce 3-pointer, a Bowen block on Ward, and another Pierce trey quickly turned the advantage to 78-63 with 2:34 left in the third quarter.

"We were all over them in that third quarter. We felt real confident out there. We had active hands and we made some good things happen," said Battie, who made all three of his field goal attempts, had a steal, and added eight rebounds, equally divided between the offensive and defensive glass. "We applied the pressure, they mishandled the ball a little bit, and we took advantage of it with some fast-break opportunities. They didn't have much daylight because we did an excellent job of pressuring the ball."

But if you think Pitino was thrilled, guess again.

"We're still not in the shape we need to be in," said the coach. "I think in the fourth quarter both teams were gasping for air."

The difference was that the Celtics had long since broken things open, and, said Patrick Ewing, "they outhustled us and outplayed us. Being tired is no excuse. As a team, we were too drained to come back [ in the fourth quarter] ."

Bowen said he just wanted to help any way he could.

"I take pride in my defense," he said. "I didn't do well offensively tonight and making that block [ on Houston] wasn't anything personal, it was my way of picking up the team.

"Plays like that get the unit out on the floor excited and gets guys thinking that they don't want to be the player who gives up the easy basket."

It was clear by the fourth quarter that the Knicks were worn out after being harassed all over the parquet and that the Celtics, who tied a team record for fewest points allowed in a fourth quarter (9), were sucking a little wind of their own, scoring only 12.

"We had a tremendous advantage tonight," said Pitino, "and I think we could be an explosive basketball team. Last year's conditioning with this year's talent would make us a good basketball team."

But they were still good enough last night to turn up the pressure when they had to. "We tried to speed the tempo up," said Pierce. "We knew if we wore them down in the third and fourth quarter, we'd win."

With a man who didn't score a field goal making a blanket statement of his own.

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