1.02.2018

Big Three have Big Supporting Cast

1/1/2008

File this under sights you will see only in La-La land:

Dorchester homey and Celtics regular Donnie Wahlberg and his brother Mark Wahlberg, a reputed Lakers fan, seated next to the Celtics bench Sunday night.

Meanwhile, across the floor, former Celtics/Lakers player-turned-actor Rick Fox hanging out for the entire game with teen golfer Michelle Wie and actress Sharon Stone.

Among those in uniform, Kobe Bryant was finally convinced, if he already hadn't been, the Celtics were the real deal.

``I wouldn't be (surprised),'' said the Lakers guard about a Celtics team that just dominated his Lakers for the second time this season and its chance of reaching the NBA Finals. ``Two teams hit me. One is the Pistons and the other the Celtics. They're the cream of the crop (in the Eastern Conference).

``(The Celtics) are a great team. They have the veterans, and the floor-spreaders to complement their three stars.''

Jack Nicholson, nowhere to be found, was on location somewhere. But the star who banned everyone from wearing Celtics gear on the set of ``The Departed'' probably wasn't going to give an endorsement, anyway.

And just as there was still a good-sized group of skeptics who doubted the Celtics' mettle, based on the fact they hadn't traveled west before last week, there will continue to be holdouts even after the Celtics aced their first Western Conference road test with a 4-0 record.

But that's everyone else's problem.

``I don't care what the league thinks,'' said Eddie House, one of the aforementioned floor-spreaders. ``It's about us, here in this room. We're just improving every game and every day.''

Improving more, perhaps, than some thought possible.

The Celtics won in a variety of ways on this trip, and contrary to one of the common misconceptions hung out in the NBA mill by people like Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, Celtics depth made much of it possible.

Credit the bench, for example, with turning around Friday's win against Utah in the fourth quarter. House provided the 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their first lead since the first quarter, and Tony Allen almost single-handedly made the defensive plays necessary to break down the Jazz.

Only then did Paul Pierce, on one of those phenomenal runs that the Celtics captain and few others can manage, polish off a tough Jazz home team with his 24-point second half.

For the second straight time, the NBA yesterday named Pierce the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He averaged 27.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.8 steals as the Celtics won four times in five nights out west.

But before Pierce did his damage, the supporting crew played a prominent role on the Celtics' trip, along with Kevin Garnett's interior excellence and Ray Allen's ability to bask in open opportunities.

``Part of the problem is that people just don't really know our bench,'' said Ray Allen. ``Our bench is really as stubborn as our starters when it comes to winning these games. It's just been a matter of them being tested.

``But I think there are constantly going to be questions on what is the weakness of this team as we go along. That's just the way it is.''

One legitimate issue - the Celtics' depth at point guard - was put on the line Sunday night, when Rajon Rondo missed the game with a strained hamstring. Tony Allen, not exactly a pure playmaker, started in Rondo's place and finished with 16 points and four assists.

In the three games he did play on the trip, Rondo didn't have a turnover. It's yet another reason this 4-0 trip - whether the Celtics care or not - sent an important message to the rest of the league.

``You've got to respect it,'' said Garnett. ``It's all work and effort. We've been able to focus on it a game at a time, and you see the results. We've been able to put our feet in the sand and say, `We're going to make our mark here.' ''

Fans are accustomed to the ``one game at a time'' mantra of the Patriots and Red Sox, so it was surprising to hear Celtics coach Doc Rivers admit after Sunday night's 110-91 win over the Lakers that, yes, sweeping their four-game western road swing was the goal from the get-go. But by pulling off four wins in five nights (quite a feat even at home), the Celtics recorded their first undefeated West Coast road trip since the 1992-93 season. They've now won in eight straight games on the road and are 8-0 against Western Conference teams this season. Here's a recap of how they did it.

CELTICS 89, KINGS 69 (Dec. 26 at ARCO Arena)

Ugliness greeted the Celtics the day after Christmas. They pushed out to a 24-point lead in Sacramento, only to give most of it back (with 18 turnovers ranking as one of their worst sins). Kevin Garnett bore the brunt of the punishment at the hands of Brad Miller and Ron Artest, getting poked in the eye twice and taking a Miller elbow to the head. But, as the Celtics discovered on this rough opening night on the road, this is how life would be in the wild, wild West.

CELTICS 104, SONICS 96 (Dec. 27 at KeyArena)

Despite classic revenge games by former Celtics Delonte West (19 points, seven assists) and Wally Szczerbiak (12 points in the first half), and a rough return to Seattle from Ray Allen (10 points), Paul Pierce springs for a season-high 37 points to push this one through.

CELTICS 104, JAZZ 98 (Dec. 29 at EnergySolutions Arena)

After falling behind by as much as eight points in the third quarter, the work of the bench puts the Celtics back on top when Eddie House buries a 3-pointer with the first shot of the fourth quarter. Tony Allen contributes three steals and four points to the ensuing 12-2 run, which Pierce caps with two free throws and a 3-pointer from the top of the circle. With one of the league's toughest home crowds dogging them at every turn, the Celtics then fight through six lead changes before Pierce breaks a 98-98 tie with 28 seconds left. He then seals the game with two free throws 16 seconds later. Pierce, after going scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting in the first half, finishes with a 24-point second half.

CELTICS 110, LAKERS 91 (Dec. 30 at Staples Center)

Paul Pierce eclipses 30 points for the second time in three games, scoring 10 of his 33 points over the last 3:07 of the third quarter. Pierce also had three of his four steals in the third quarter. Ray Allen finishes the Lakers off with the first three baskets, including a 3-pointer, of an 11-2 run over the first 2:32 of the fourth. The Celtics easily survive the injury-related scratch of Rajon Rondo.

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