Potapenko Rises

March 16, 2002

MEMPHIS - When the Celtics' winning streak started, most players were quick to offer a qualifier. "We're winning without Tony Battie," they said, implying that the return of their starting center would make an added difference. Vitaly Potapenko was filling space in the middle, but certainly not occupying anyone's thoughts. That was until he started grabbing rebounds at key moments, especially on the offensive glass.

   Potapenko's effort on the boards last night was nearly lost in a thrilling comeback win by the Celtics. In his seventh straight start, he finished with a season-high 15 rebounds (7 offensive). He was the biggest reason Boston outrebounded Memphis, 48-42.

Not including the March 4 game against Philadelphia when he played just 14 minutes, Potapenko has averaged 8.4 rebounds (4.0 offensive) during the seven-game streak. That's almost three more than his season average.

Since Battie was forced to the bench with a small tear in his right calf, Potapenko has been gaining minutes and momentum. Against New Jersey Wednesday, Potapenko tied his then-season-high with 12 rebounds.

"Sometimes now when we get five on the court and four guys spread out because they're all good shooters and can score from outside, that leaves me inside to rebound," said Potapenko.

"We all have roles on the team. I have to go in and get offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and be a presence inside. It's all about chipping in your part and, in the end, we all win. That's my job. That's the bottom line. I have to be strong and big inside."

When the Celtics met Memphis for the first time this season, Dec. 23, they recorded a season-high 61 rebounds, with double-digit efforts from Antoine Walker, Battie, and Potapenko.

Battie was available last night for the first time since March 1, and he played three minutes off the bench. Ticket master

If you didn't know that Memphis was a mere 45 minutes from Tony Delk's hometown of Brownsville, Tenn., you might have thought he was volunteering for a political campaign last night instead of preparing for a basketball game.

In the visitors' locker room, Delk sat surrounded by scraps of paper and envelopes. He spent much of the pregame warmup period stuffing the envelopes with tickets and postgame passes for family members and friends.

"I don't care where my house is," said Delk, "this is always home."

At last count, he had filled some 50 ticket requests, and that was after he whittled his list. His parents, Florence and Leslie, decided to watch the game on television from home.

This was Delk's third trip to Memphis this season. He came twice while with the Phoenix Suns. He didn't disappoint his family and friends, getting 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists in 32 minutes. He's not shy

Walker's 33 field goal attempts (he made 13) were the second-most by an opponent in Grizzlies history. The 34 3-point attempts hoisted by the Celtics also marked the second-most by an opponent in franchise history . . . The Celtics' 17 steals were the most by a Memphis opponent this season and also a season high for Boston . . . The Celtics' 98 field goal attempts were the second-highest total for a Grizzlies opponent this season . . . The Grizzlies' five offensive rebounds tied a season low.

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