C's Subdue Sonics
You had the feeling this one was going to be over in a hurry. Seattle had lost five straight and nine of 10, was playing on the second night of a back-to-back, was finishing up an Eastern swing of seven games, and, well, is one of the worst teams in the NBA. The Celtics, meanwhile, had won nine straight, were unbeaten in March, had won 10 in a row at home, and had the best record in the league.
Not even Tim Donaghy could change this one.
The Celtics took control early, led by double digits for the final three quarters, allowed Doc Rivers to sit and watch - as opposed to actually coach - and drilled the overmatched SuperSonics, 111-82, before another de rigueur sellout at TD Banknorth Garden.
"We played well," understated Kevin Garnett, while Paul Pierce, sitting next to him at a table, cuffed around Garnett's bobblehead ("Get back on defense!"), which had been given to the first 5,000 in attendance.
Garnett and Ray Allen each had 18 points - in very limited minutes - as the Celtics rolled to their 10th straight victory, their longest winning streak since the halcyon days of 1986, when they rang up 14 straight in March and April. Pierce had all 14 of his points in a shot-from-guns first quarter as the Celtics again played superbly at both ends in manhandling a Seattle squad that looked every bit like the 16-win team it is.
"A nice, professional win," Rivers said. Prior to the game, his only remarks to the team were that this was a game the Celtics should win, so they might as well go out and win it.
The wiseguys in Vegas had the Celtics as 17 1/2-point favorites, which pretty much summed up the state of affairs for both franchises. But say this for Seattle - it had the temerity to actually lead the Celtics, by 4 points in the first quarter before it all went downhill.
Why is that noteworthy? Because it marked the first time in 11 days the Celtics had trailed in a game. In their previous four games, they had a wire-to-wire blowout of the hapless Grizzlies and were tied once by Detroit, once by Philadelphia, and twice by Chicago. When Seattle's Earl Watson opened the scoring with a jumper 72 seconds into the game, it marked the first time the Celtics had trailed since they were behind, 46-44, to the Hawks early in the third quarter March 2 in Boston.
Told about finally allowing an opponent to actually lead, Danny Ainge cracked by text message, "That is unacceptable."
Though it's hard to gauge off last night's blowout because of the quality of the competition, the Celtics sure look to be hitting their stride at a great time. No one is seriously banged up. They're on a 10-game run since their Feb. 22 loss in Phoenix. They've won 11 straight at home since the Jan. 23 loss to Toronto. They've added the final two pieces to their roster in P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell. They are at the top of the two statistical categories they hold near and dear - points allowed and defensive field goal percentage - and last night they shot 56 percent over the first three quarters. They led by 10 after one, by 20 at the break, and by 32 after three.
"I could see that [the Sonics] were searching," said Allen, who knocked down 8 of 10 shots in 25 minutes. "We have all been on the other side where you are trying to find your way against a team who has everything working. I won't say we were playing great. But, on both sides, we were executing."
That was not good news for the Sonics, who were, to be blunt, awful. They played six minutes and then fell apart like a cheap suit. Kevin Durant had 16 points and showed a few nice moves. But the Sonics couldn't shoot (38 percent) and were sloppy with the basketball (22 turnovers), and you can't play that way against a team like Boston and live to tell about it. Mentally, the Sonics were on the team charter back to Seattle by halftime.
"We need to take what we did this game and execute more, play a little bit more defense, and we'll be OK," Durant said. The callow fellow may actually believe that.
Boston opened the third with a Garnett-led 11-3 run that blew the lead out to 28 points (75-47), and soon thereafter, Allen slalomed through what passed for the Seattle defense for a reverse layup to make it 77-48 with 7:46 left. This meant one thing - showtime. It meant a corkscrew dunk for Rajon Rondo on a breakaway, another early evening for Garnett (an exhausting 23 minutes of work), and a lot of time for the bench, who already had shown its merit in the first half, producing 27 of its eventual 50 points. A Brown sighting was confirmed in the final minutes of the third. Cassell logged 14 minutes.
The 29-point spread marked the 16th time this season the Celtics won by 20 or more, and the 11th time Seattle had lost by 20 or more. At least for Seattle's sake, a fourth-quarter rally of sorts avoided what could have been its worst loss of the season. But the outcome by then? That was never an issue.