Kings Slip Past Celts

February 17, 1999

   SACRAMENTO - You may soon stop wondering why you didn't miss the NBA. The Celtics and Kings made it hard last night not to pay rapt attention.

In a truly entertaining game featuring two teams who like to run and score, the Kings outlasted Rick Pitino's desperadoes, 101-98, with Corliss Williamson's 3-point play with 7.5 seconds left determining the outcome. That hoop and subsequent freebie snapped a 98-98 tie and sunk the Celtics in their first game of a four-game road trip, which continues tonight in Vancouver.

The Celtics had a chance, sort of, to tie the game at the end. But Antoine Walker, who struggled most of the game, rimmed out a running trey. The Celtics continued their yin/yang season, losing their third game in five. They've gone loss-win-loss-win-loss so far, and with the Grizzlies on tap tonight, well, you get the picture.

The flavor-of-the-month Kings, meanwhile, who had lost a tough overtime decision to Utah the night before, are now 3-3, including 2-0 at home.

Boston got a big game from the returning Ron Mercer (24 points in 43 minutes) and the now-obligatory 19 from rookie Paul Pierce, who also had 7 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 blocks, two of them dunk-rejectors. Walker added 17, but was 7 for 21 from the field and had 5 turnovers. He was in a funk for most of the game, awakening in the third quarter, when he scored 9.

The Celtics got themselves in an early hole, even though they had not played in six days and the Kings were coming off the tough road loss in Utah. Boston fell behind by 9 early, trailed by 13 at the half, by 15 early in the third, and by 3 entering the fourth.

The Kings, who got big games from Williamson (22) and Chris Webber (22 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks), hung on until 4 straight Boston points gave the Celtics a 96-93 lead with 2:59 to play. The Celtics then came up empty on five of their last six possessions while Sacramento, with Williamson scoring 5, finished strong with an 8-2 victory kick.

"To lose this game would have been disastrous," said Kings center Vlade Divac, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists. "I don't think I could have slept for five days if we had lost. Especially after coming so close [ in Utah] ."

Not to worry, big guy. After Boston took its 96-93 lead, the Kings tied the game on a free throw by dynamo rookie Jason Williams and a Williamson layup from Divac. Then old friend Jon Barry, who is with his fourth team in the last four years, banked in a short jumper after a Walker miss/turnover to give Sacramento the lead. Kenny Anderson (12 points, 8 assists) quickly tied it, setting the stage for the big play.

After Webber was called for an offensive foul, Mercer missed, as did a couple of Boston tips. (The Celtics were outrebounded, 50-43.) The Kings got the ball on the break and Barry hit a driving Williamson, who tossed in a scoop. He was fouled by Walker, made the shot, and the Kings then held on.

Pitino pointed to Boston's poor shot selection (41.7 percent) and lack of transition defense (epitomized by the Williamson basket) as primary reasons for the loss. But he also said the Celtics' flat play in the opening quarter was something from which they did not recover.

"This game was lost in the first quarter," Pitino said. "We didn't come out with the offensive or defensive fire that we should have. We made some good plays, had some good looks, but we weren't ready to play and that hurt us."

Midway through the first quarter, the teams had combined for 13 points, with Sacramento shooting 3 for 12 and the Celtics 2 for 14. Walker, who had some big games against Webber last year when Webber was a Wizard, looked as if he had spent too much time in Old Sacramento. Pierce made some nice defensive plays but couldn't find the basket.

It wasn't until Pitino went to his bench that a 19-10 Sacramento lead started to deteriorate. Two late hoops by Dana Barros got the Celtics within 22-18 at the end of the quarter, even though Boston shot 32 percent, was outrebounded, 17-11, and did not attempt a free throw.

As for Mercer, who hadn't played since the Feb. 5 opener, he looked pretty crisp after a slow start. He ended up with 8 rebounds to go along with his 24 points, although Pitino said he probably played too many minutes.

"I'm fine," Mercer said. "I needed to get a lot of minutes. I just wasn't as explosive as I usually am, but I'm fine."

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