C's Hold Off Bobcats
While several players talked openly about the likely addition of veteran point guard Sam Cassell, Celtics coach Doc Rivers had a more immediate issue on his mind.
"I'm not worried about it," he said. "I'm worried about [Charlotte]."
Considering how the Celtics had struggled against the lowly Bobcats, Rivers had reason to be concerned. This game was no different as Boston held on for a 108-100 victory in front of a sellout crowd last night at TD Banknorth Garden.
"For some reason, this team has confidence against us," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who had 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists in 32 minutes despite early foul trouble. "They come up with a nonchalant attitude. They are going to make runs. Just because they have a not-so-decent record doesn't mean they are a terrible team. Anybody can be beat night in and night out, and we know that."
Up by only 5 points with 1:23 remaining, the Celtics improved to an NBA-best 45-12 and completed a 9-4 February.
The Celtics have won six straight home games and three straight overall. They barely missed the franchise-record start of 45-11 set during the 1985-86 season. Charlotte dropped to 19-39 overall and 4-22 on the road.
This was reminiscent of the previous two meetings. The Celtics needed a Ray Allen 3-pointer at the buzzer to defeat host Charlotte, 96-95, Nov. 24. The Bobcats defeated Boston, 95-83, Jan. 9, behind 34 points from Jason Richardson.
"Look at the guys on the roster," said Richardson, who scored a game-high 30 points and connected on four 3-pointers last night. "You got Kevin Garnett, future Hall of Famer. Ray Allen, future Hall of Famer. Paul Pierce, future Hall of Famer. They're a top team in the East.
"That brings everything out in you. I just love playing here. Great arena, great fans here, just love playing against those guys that bring the best out of my game."
Pierce, who had 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting, said: "We should have been 0-2 versus them. Tonight, we really beat them."
Allen scored 23 points, including five 3-pointers, and center Kendrick Perkins had 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks. But the Celtics' individual stat of the night belonged to point guard Rajon Rondo, who dished a career-high 16 assists with only three turnovers. It was the most assists by a Celtic since Sherman Douglas had 18 March 1, 1995. Of Rondo's assists, the one talked about the most after the game was when he stopped despite being alone underneath to pass to Perkins for a dunk in the first quarter.
"They are lucky they are playing in this generation, I'll say that," said Rivers. "What do you think would have happened [back in the day]? ... It's nice in one way that you see your big [man] running and you wait for him, but not that long. Actually, if I was a ref, I would have called three seconds on him."
Said Perkins: "[Rondo] is very unselfish. Sometimes he is too unselfish."
The Celtics led, 96-84, after an Allen 3-pointer with 6:09 remaining. The Bobcats, however, went on a 7-0 run to trim their deficit to 96-91 with 2:49 left. Richardson's two free throws with 1:37 left sliced the Bobcats' deficit to 98-93. But Garnett gave Boston breathing room by nailing a 20-foot jumper with 1:22 left for a 100-93 lead. Charlotte couldn't get closer than 6 the rest of the way.
"Tonight, we were more the culprit than them," Rivers said. "We had a chance to get away from them so many times and [we're] throwing the ball around, just missed layups, bad breaks, bad shots. I thought we let our guard down a little bit."