Celtics Pin Loss on Knicks
The Celtics are beginning to bring their road toughness home. After trailing for three quarters last night at the FleetCenter, the Celtics defeated the Knicks, 114-109, by opening the fourth quarter with a decisive 21-5 run.
The win brought Boston within a game of the .500 mark (12-13).
Besides winning in comeback fashion, the Celtics saw plenty of positive signs, especially from their younger players. In his first start, Al Jefferson finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes. And Kendrick Perkins, who saw a significant amount of playing time (25 minutes) for the first time in his career, grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. Mark Blount led Boston with 22 points, as the team placed six players in double figures while shooting 51 percent.
Walter McCarty opened the fourth quarter by hitting a 3-pointer that once again reduced the Knicks' advantage to a point (84-83). On Boston's next possession, McCarty sent a pass across the paint to Ricky Davis, who hit an 18-footer that gave the home team its first lead, 85-84, with 11:15 remaining. The spurt ended just as it had started, with a 3-pointer from McCarty, though this one pushed the Celtics ahead, 101-89.
It didn't seem to be a good omen when Davis missed a breakaway dunk with 47.1 seconds left in the third and the Celtics trailing, 81-78. They finished the quarter behind, 84-80. This was no mere miss by Davis. With plenty of time to collect the ball and his thoughts, Davis approached the rim and the ball hit the back of it with such force that it bounced into the crowd along the right sideline. But as it turned out, the Celtics were just getting their act together, and dominated the fourth quarter.
"It was an interesting game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought the key was we never let them get away. They had the 12-point, 8-point, 12-point [lead]. It kept going back up and we never let them get away."
No one calls Jefferson by just his first name anymore. He goes by "Big Al," a nod to both his size (6 feet 10 inches) and potential. Last night was a big night for Big Al, as he earned his first NBA start in place of injured power forward Raef LaFrentz. Jefferson kept pace with the other starters, easily reaching double figures, though his shot was not falling as consistently as it had in recent games. For a change, he welcomed when Rivers sent Perkins in as a replacement. Out of breath and drenched in sweat, Jefferson gladly rested for a few minutes before he was called on again.
Jefferson helped Boston take an early advantage in points in the paint, though New York entered halftime ahead, 58-50. Allowing the Knicks to shoot 56 percent, the Celtics never led during the first half and trailed by as many as 11 points (36-25) early in the second quarter and as many as 14 in the first. They staged a 10-0 run and closed within 1 point (36-35) when Paul Pierce hit an 18-foot turnaround jumper. But almost as soon as Boston caught up, New York built back its lead. With three quick turnovers by the Celtics, the Knicks were back ahead, 44-35, with 5:35 left in the second quarter.
Again, Boston battled back, closing within a point (47-46) on a finger roll by Pierce. And again, the Celtics could not keep it a one-possession game. New York restored a 10-point spread by mounting a late 11-2 run.
Despite the streakiness of the Celtics' play, the FleetCenter crowd cheered wildly for Jefferson, who handled his new role with surprising composure. He didn't try to do too much, though when he made a mental mistake Jefferson could be seen knocking himself on the head as a reminder not to repeat it. With all their warmth and well wishes reserved for Jefferson, the crowd booed Vin Baker in his return to the FleetCenter. It was the first time Baker had played in Boston since the Celtics terminated his contract last season and he subsequently signed with the Knicks. Besides the hostile greeting, Baker's appearance was largely forgettable as he went scoreless during five minutes of first-half action. The scoring and assists compiled by the backcourt combination of Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford, along with the efforts of Kurt Thomas, accounted for the Knicks' advantage at the break.