Rogers Comes through in the Clutch

March 5, 2002

PHILADELPHIA - Maybe it was the complete confidence of Rodney Rogers as he nailed a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that made the Celtics appear different, more determined.

   Maybe it was the way they attacked the glass, coming up with five offensive rebounds with the game on the line.

Maybe it was the way Paul Pierce made his presence felt by scoring 11 of his 28 points in the fourth.

Maybe it was the way Tony Delk took over the point without hesitation when Kenny Anderson found himself in foul trouble.

Maybe it was the way the defense shadowed Allen Iverson, keeping the league's leading scorer a basket below his average with 28 points (8 for 30).

Whatever the reason, one thing was clear last night: The Boston team that defeated Philadelphia, 100-94, and returned to .500 on the road was different from, the one that had shown up for recent games.

In ending their losing streak at four games, the Celtics (32-27) rediscovered the edge they had earlier in the season, when they were never out of a game. They remembered to execute down the stretch and played consistent defense through all four quarters. To earn their first win since defeating the Lakers Feb. 19, the Celtics played like one of the top teams in the East, making the Sixers adjust to their game as they spaced out the floor with shooters, not the other way around.

Still, the Celtics tried to downplay exactly how big the win was. Wearing shades and a hat pulled low, Pierce tried to affect a detached cool in his postgame comments, as if beating the Sixers for the first time in nine tries was expected.

"A win can usually give you your edge back," said Pierce. "We showed how mentally tough we were after we got down in the third quarter and we were able to battle back. That's the toughness of this ball club. We lost that for about a week and a half. I think we really got it back tonight and it showed."

The biggest gut check came with 3 minutes 33 seconds left in the third, when a Dikembe Mutombo layup gave the Sixers a 65-56 lead. Boston needed to answer and answer big, otherwise the crowd of 20,430 would have made the First Union Center an impossibly hostile enviroment.

The Celtics responded by going strong to the basket and getting fouled. They closed the third with a 16-4 run, with half their points coming from the line.

"We don't worry about leads," said Antoine Walker (17 points). "We don't want to bury ourselves. We kept fighting as we were able to attack the basket.

"I'm sure they thought a lot of things over there. I wouldn't put nothing past them. We get their A effort. They've dominated us in the past."

Rogers (15 points) started the spurt with a driving layup and a free throw for a 3-point play. McCarty (8 points, 6 rebounds) capped the run with a baseline jumper with 2.1 seconds remaining to give Boston a 72-69 lead.

It was all the momentum the Celtics would need, as they continued to hit big jump shots in the fourth. Three of the Celtics' first four shots in the fourth were 3-pointers (two from Rogers, one from Pierce) as they built an 87-80 lead with 7:11 to go.

But the Sixers made another run, drawing within 1 point (87-86) with 4:43 left on a running, leaning jump shot by Eric Snow. Gut check No. 2. Rogers stepped up again. He put back a Walker miss and got fouled in the process, another 3-point play. Then Pierce took his turn on the offensive glass, rebounding a 3-point miss by McCarty and getting to the line for his efforts.

When McCarty rebounded a Pierce miss and converted the second chance into a layup, the Celtics had a 95-89 lead with 1:51 to play. Derrick Coleman would hit a 10-footer to make it a two-possession game (95-91), but the Sixers would not come any closer.

In the teams' previous two meetings this season, Iverson & Co. parlayed early advantages into late blowouts. The Celtics trailed in those games before they could begin to figure out what did or did not work. It was a different story in last night's first half, which ended with Boston ahead, 48-41.

"We just wanted to focus on being solid, each and every quarter," said McCarty. "That was it."

No comments:

Follow by Email