Pierce Da Man
January 4, 2005
If there was ever an opportune time for point guard Gary Payton to strain his left hamstring and have his consecutive-game streak snapped, it was last night, with the New Orleans Hornets at the FleetCenter. With or without Payton, the Celtics were favored against New Orleans, which entered with a 2-26 record. The visitors have just one road win all season and they have not won since Dec. 15 against Golden State.
It took the Celtics two quarters to adjust to life without Payton, but by the third quarter Boston was dominating, and it went on to a 108-90 victory.
The Celtics broke a 48-48 tie with a 14-4 run started with a driving dunk by Raef LaFrentz and capped by a 3-pointer from Paul Pierce. With Payton sidelined - his streak ends at 305 games - Pierce picked up the slack, especially with his passing, and recorded his third career regular-season triple-double, his fourth overall: 19 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists.
Boston closed the third quarter with a 15-2 run that included an 8-footer from Ricky Davis and a pair of 3-pointers by Walter McCarty. The Celtics entered the fourth quarter ahead, 82-65, and coach Doc Rivers let the reserves and younger players get some extra minutes. It was not a bad idea, since Payton may miss more games. While Boston's upcoming schedule is certainly more favorable than what it went through in December, the next two home games against Golden State and Detroit will not be easy, with or without Payton.
After a disconcerting start, the Celtics shot 45 percent and finished with 22 assists. Davis led all scorers with 23 points in 30 minutes off the bench. Baron Davis and Lee Nailon led New Orleans with 18 apiece.
"We kept them in the game because we were turning the ball over," said Pierce. "I think that was just the initial reaction from not having Gary out there for the first time this year. We were a little bit stagnant, a little bit confused on offense. In the second half, we were able to settle down and really get things going.
"I just wanted to try to make up for some of the things we didn't have with Gary not being out there. I didn't want to put pressure on myself going out there thinking I've got to score every time down the court. I just wanted to play a good all-around game and make sure everybody was involved."
The first half left spectators with three questions: First, why did the Celtics finish it tied, 46-46? Second, could the Celtics activate rookie point guard Delonte West during the break? Third, what were the folks at Reebok thinking when they designed a custard-colored road uniform for the Hornets, which nearly matched the empty seats in the FleetCenter loge?
While West could not come off the injured list midgame even if he were ready to return, and there's apparently no accounting for the NBA color palette, an explanation of the Celtics' first-half performance was more involved.
The absence of Payton explained a lot. The veteran was nowhere to be found, not even on the bench, as Boston amassed 16 turnovers before halftime, which New Orleans converted into 17 points. For some starters, the field goal and turnover columns looked a lot alike. At the break, Jiri Welsch had two field goals and two turnovers. LaFrentz had four field goals and two turnovers. Mark Blount had three field goals and four turnovers. Marcus Banks had no field goals and two turnovers. Pierce had three and three. The number of Celtics turnovers was nearly double their number of assists (9).
The fact that the Hornets could capitalize on the Celtics' mistakes was impressive considering the visitors shot just 34 percent (17 for 50). Other frightening numbers? The Hornets held advantages in points in the paint (22-14), second-chance points (12-4), and fast-break points (11-3). Even though the Celtics owned the edge on the glass (31-26), New Orleans still managed multiple cracks at the basket.
Boston led by as many as 9 points (27-18) early in the second quarter after a 7-0 run, but five straight turnovers allowed New Orleans to tie the game at 37 with 4:16 remaining until halftime.
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