Last night, the Portland players were in fine form as they put the finishing touches on a 100-91 win over the Celtics at the FleetCenter. Apparently, gloating never gets old.
When Bonzi Wells (20 points) hit a 3-pointer from the right corner with 11 seconds left, it pushed the Blazers ahead, 98-91, and erased any fleeting hope of a Celtics comeback. After the shot, he ran by the Boston bench clutching at his throat with both hands; he wanted the home team to know it had choked in the fourth quarter. Then he collapsed in front of the Blazers bench in mock exhaustion as teammate Ruben Patterson leaned over him and laughed.
When Derek Anderson (13 points) went to the line for a pair of free throws that would produce the final margin, Scottie Pippen took the opportunity to get back at a fan who had heckled him all game. Flanked by Rodney Rogers and Paul Pierce, Pippen raised his hands, palms up, as if to ask the heckler, "What do you have to say to me now?"
The fan in question was in a position similar to the Celtics, who also had no answers for the Blazers. Portland proved too big and too talented, withstanding every attempt at a Boston comeback.
The Blazers took advantage of the Celtics' soft defense in the second quarter to build their first double-digit lead (51-39). In the fourth, Portland punished Boston for five turnovers in uncharacteristically rapid succession, building its final double-digit edge of the evening. It was enough to hold off a late rally by the Celtics, who have lost two straight, including Saturday night's game in San Antonio.
"The last two games, we played two very good basketball teams," said Antoine Walker (19 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists). "They're hungry. They're fighting. They're probably the two teams playing the best basketball since the All-Star break.
"We know it's tough. We know there are going to be games like that where we have to battle and fight till the end. We've been on the winning end of those games and sometimes you're going to be on the losing end. You have to take the good with the bad."
Even when Boston was able to tie it at 77-77 on a Pierce 3-pointer at the start of the fourth, Portland behaved like a team certain of the outcome. Derek Anderson rattled off two quick shots from the arc to start a 14-4 run that made it 91-81 with 5:23.
The Celtics got it to 94-91 with 34.1 seconds left but opted not to foul, and the Wells 3-pointer - complete with gestures - followed.
It's rare for an opponent to attempt more 3-pointers than the Celtics, but the Blazers did just that (32-23), and made 11 of them. Portland shot 47.3 percent, as the Celtics suffered a number of defensive breakdowns.
"It's a mental focus we've got to have and be consistent on a night-in and night-out basis," said Pierce (28 points, 8 rebounds). "If one person is out of synch, it really kind of messes up the whole defense."
Though they fell behind by 13 (71-58) in the third quarter, their play was markedly improved. They closed with an 8-3 run, and got a little bit of luck at the end. Eric Williams lost control of the ball in the lane but it dribbled out to Pierce at the arc. Pierce waited for Patterson to fall for a fake, then hit a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds to get the Celtics within 77-74.
"They shot the ball the first half and that usually creates a monster for the game," said Kenny Anderson (14 points, 9 assists, 9 rebounds). "They built their confidence and started hitting shots when they needed them.
"At home, you've got to really come in and put your stamp on it early. We didn't do that."