Celtics' Defense Returns

March 21, 2002

Truth be told, The Truth said, he is better at defense. "What's so funny? You don't think I can play any 'D'?" Paul Pierce, the NBA's third-leading scorer, asked after his assessment of his game drew giggles. "I don't get any credit for my defense.

"I think I'm one of the top five defenders in the league - truthfully. I don't know what coaches think, but I know what I think. I lead our team in blocks [77], and I'm not a center."

   Meanwhile, Kenny Anderson was admiring his full line in the box score: 13 points, 6 assists, 9 rebounds, 4 steals. "I'm doin' to 'em!" the rejuvenated point guard proclaimed to no one in particular. "Doin' to 'em!"

The Celtics certainly had a right to feel good about themselves last night. After missing much of the month suffering from players' amnesia, Boston's defense returned against the Cavaliers and starred in a 96-70 rout at the FleetCenter.

Coach Jim O'Brien and his staff had stressed defense at practice Tuesday, and, evidently, they didn't waste their breath. Cleveland scored a mere 12 points in the third period and 17 in the fourth as the Celtics turned a 42-41 (halftime) sleeper into a laugher by the end of the night. The Cavaliers shot 35.5 percent and committed 20 turnovers, including 14 steals, led by Antoine Walker's five.

A day after showing his team a 30-minute compilation of its defensive mistakes, O'Brien got 48 minutes of highlights. Aggressive rebounding. Challenged shots. A consistent presence in the passing lanes. Help. Hustle.

"I thought our defense was outstanding all night," O'Brien said. "We played with great, great tenacity and great unity on the defensive end, and I thought that was the difference in the game."

"I thought we did a great job of focusing and concentrating," said Pierce, who had 2 blocks, 2 steals, and 10 rebounds, not to mention a game-high 22 points. "Concentrating on our half-court defense, quick hands, everybody. It seems like we were a step faster today on defense."

The Celtics were a couple of steps quicker to loose balls than the Cavaliers (who played their fourth game in five nights), which led to a 25-8 edge in fast-break points.

Some scenes sure to be included in O'Brien's "Good 'D' " instructional video: Anderson robbing ex-teammate Bryant Stith and taking it all the way for 2 late in the second quarter; Walker taking it from Zydrunas Ilgauskas (who had rebounded Walker's missed 3-point attempt, which followed Tony Delk's steal) and dishing to Pierce for one of his five treys; Anderson swiping Ricky Davis's pass in the fourth quarter and converting high off the glass; Pierce stealing from Davis later in the fourth, Erick Strickland diving and tapping to Walker, who finished the sequence with an alley-oop to Rodney Rogers.

Even rookie Kedrick Brown managed a steal and a block during garbage time.

"We just emphasized in a positive way today that they worked so hard to build their defense," O'Brien said. "Let's get it back."

Done. For one game at least.

"It's good to get it back," said Walker (17 points, 9 assists, 7 boards). "Obviously, we hadn't had it in a while. We were trying to outscore people, but the shots weren't really falling [during back-to-back losses]. To get our defense back is the most important thing."

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