Eric Riley: 7 minutes, 6 fouls, no points, no rebounds

Boston No Match for Portland

February 20, 1999

 PORTLAND, Ore. - After two down-to-the-wire, strategy-matching, insomniac-rewarding performances out here on the Left Coast, the Celtics submitted a certifiable bow-wow last night. They were obliterated by the Trail Blazers, 106-86, as the Portland players spent the night taking turns going over the Celtics for rebounds and around them for baskets. The Blazers got 21 points and 18 rebounds from Brian Grant, who brutalized Antoine Walker before retiring to a standing ovation with 7:25 remaining and Portland comfortably ahead by 22. "Brian Grant was huge," said coach Mike Dunleavy. He sure was. So were his mates.

The Blazers' inside dominance was best reflected in the final numbers for rebounds (52-37), blocked shots (10-4), and free throws (38-13). It was a manhandling, men against boys. "We just got physically overpowered in the frontcourt," said Rick Pitino. The Celtics coach knows he must do something about the team's physical presence - or lack thereof - even if it means trading one of the club's assets. "We're getting dominated on the glass," he said. "If you don't rebound the basketball, you don't win in this league." Pitino said he is contemplating moving Walker to small forward, but that would mean taking time from either Paul Pierce or Ron Mercer. Walker had 15 points and 6 rebounds but could not deal with Grant underneath.

 "He was very active. But that's his job - to rebound the basketball," Walker said. "He does it very well." The loss continued the Celtics' she-loves-me, she-loves-me-not season. Through seven games, they've gone loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss. Their road trip concludes tomorrow afternoon in Washington, D.C., against the Wizards. The Celtics had few bright spots. One was Pierce, who had 22 points and 6 rebounds. Tony Battie had his best game as a Celtic with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, and 2 steals. But you had an idea it was going to be a long night when Pitino sent in 12th man Greg Minor in the first quarter.

Another bad sign: Eric Riley, last night's sacrificial starting center, played only seven minutes and fouled out without taking a shot or getting a rebound. The Celtics led briefly, 4-0, then were overrun. The hopelessness of the evening was illustrated when Blazers conductor Damon Stoudamire (14 points, 7 assists) missed his first four shots, picked up two quick fouls, and hit the pine. In came Greg Anthony, who scored 11 points in the first quarter alone, knocking down three 3-pointers, including one from midcourt as the buzzer sounded. Grant also set the tone in the first, collecting 6 points and 6 rebounds despite not making a shot from the floor.

He was constantly around the ball, many times retrieving his own misses. "He controlled the glass and he got into the paint," Dunleavy said. "He's a warrior. Brian's an effort player. Against Walker, we just wanted him to go after him and make him work hard on the defensive end. I think Brian made him do that." Said Walker, "It just wasn't our night. You're going to have nights like that. They played well. Give them credit. The big thing for us is that we have to bounce back and finish this road trip at .500." Portland led by 8 after one, by 11 at the half, and by 12 after three. The Celtics not only have not led at halftime once this season, they also have trailed by 10 points or more in every game. They were down 10 after three quarters against the Grizzlies and made their big comeback. But that was then and this was Portland. The Blazers opened the fourth with a 10-2 run, and it was basically garbage time the rest of the way.

 Noting the Blazers had a much-too-high shooting percentage on fast breaks, Pitino once again was upset with his team's transition defense, a season-long concern. The coach also expressed amazement at the number of short, uncontested shots the Celtics missed. While several qualified, the two most glaring were wide-open layups by Popeye Jones and Dwayne Schintzius. In many ways, those two misses summed up the evening for the Celtics. By tomorrow afternoon, they'll be somewhere else and playing someone else. That was reason enough to get out of town.

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