Celtics Regaining War Mentality

Celtics Regaining War Mentality

March 9, 2002

A week ago, after the Celtics' fourth straight loss, and a bad one at that, a glum Paul Pierce told anyone who'd listen that he knew what was wrong.

"We've lost the war mentality that we had earlier this season," he said. "But we will get it back."

   After having just been pummeled by Charlotte, Pierce's words sounded unconvincing and almost hollow. Get it back? How? When?

A week later, he looks like Nostradamus. The Celtics do indeed appear to have it back.

In the past week, they have put together three big wins, the latest of which came last night in a 117-92 wipeout of the Detroit Pistons. This came 48 hours after a 130-110 whuppin' of the Orlando Magic, which came 48 hours after, arguably, their biggest win of the season, a 100-94 conquest of the 76ers.

That's three straight games of 100 or more points in a league where scoring 100 is usually a guarantee of victory (the Celtics are 24-2 in such tilts). The Celtics, the worst-shooting team in the league, shot 54 percent last night. They made the Pistons, who apparently lead the Central Division, look pathetic.

In two visits to Boston, Rick Carlisle's boys have held a lead for all of 6 1/2 minutes. They led for a total of 61 seconds over the final three quarters last night. They also became the latest victims of the McCarty Rule: Any team that allows Walter McCarty to reach double figures automatically forfeits its right to win. Not only did McCarty score 15 points last night, he was 6 for 6 from the field.

Yes, they have got it back. Coach Jim O'Brien has rolled the dice with Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers, at the expense, right now, of Eric Williams and Erick Strickland. But the Celtics are winning. Pierce likes what he sees.

"We had just lost our edge a little bit," he said of the four-game losing streak. "Now, when we smell blood, we go right for it. We definitely have our edge back."

The turning point of the week, maybe the season, came last Monday. The Celtics went into Philadelphia losers of four straight overall and eight straight to the Sixers. Philly was flexing its muscles, and Allen Iverson was saying they were the team to beat. The Celtics then beat them.

They then caught a break against an exhausted Orlando team and likewise faced a Pistons team that had played a down-to-the-wire affair the night before in Washington. The Celtics had at least a day to prepare for all three games; two for the Sixers.

"I think the win in Philadelphia might have been the biggest of the year for us," Pierce said. "We were one game from being in the fifth spot in the East if we had lost. But there's something about this team. We respond. We may fall down, but we get right back up again."

They didn't even stub a toe last night. They threw a 30-point first quarter at Detroit and, basically, never looked back. The Pistons' biggest lead was 4 points, at 6-2. The Celtics got the lead up to 30 in the fourth during garbage time.

But while the offensive numbers are gaudy, and the offensive execution was near textbook in the third quarter, the Celtics blew this one open at the other end. They absolutely stuffed the Pistons during a 16-3 run that turned a reasonably competitive game (62-57) into a runaway (78-60). The run came in a span of only 3 minutes 39 seconds, during which Detroit managed a single basket while turning it over three times.

"I thought we played with a great deal of intensity," O'Brien said, when asked about that stretch. He then mentioned the crowd, which was in playoff mode during this run, saying it "kept the adrenaline flowing throughout the game."

While the Celtics' new small-ball lineup is getting more time and more attention - and will get more in the upcoming back-to-backs against the Wizards - it is their improved defense that enabled them to break out in the first two months of the season.

The Pistons shot 39.7 percent. They turned it over 17 times. They were outrebounded by a team that routinely gets waxed on the boards. Jon Barry even missed a shot - but only one - for the first time in three games, during which he is 11 of 12 from the field. He also missed a free throw; you could almost hear his father cringe.

After the defensive surge in the third, the Celtics led by 13 heading into the fourth. They had blown a huge fourth-quarter lead in their visit to Detroit in January (you probably missed that because that was The Night Walt Coleman Saved the Patriots). They weren't about to let it happen again.

They scored 37 points in the fourth on 60 percent shooting. Kenny Anderson absolutely abused Damon Jones until O'Brien, in a merciful moment, went to his mop-up gang with 3:43 remaining. The one highlight left was a breakaway dunk by Kedrick Brown, which had the Boston bench almost airborne.

Last night, Pierce was bright, engaging, and funny. A week can be a long time in the NBA. It apparently was just long enough for the Celtics to remember what got them to where they are.

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