SACRAMENTO, Calif. - So this is how the West will have to be won.
When Kevin Garnett launches a crosscourt pass over Eddie House's fingertips and out of bounds, and Paul Pierce has trouble getting off a shot - when the best team in the NBA punts a 24-point lead and turns the ball over 18 times - you know the time zone has changed.
The Celtics opened their first western road trip of the season last night, and as evidenced by some of the punishment doled out by Sacramento's Brad Miller and Ron Artest, there weren't going to be any easy baskets.
Instead, the Celtics took the hard road to an 89-69 win over the Kings, marking the first win by a Celtics team in ARCO Arena since Feb. 16, 1996.
``We just knew they were going to come out and play hard,'' said Pierce (16 points). ``You have to expect that. We're going to have a target on our back anytime we're on the road.''
Added C's coach Doc Rivers: ``They pressured us and we reacted to the pressure in a bad way. The ball stopped moving in the second half.''
The Kings opened the fourth quarter with five straight points, cutting what had been a 24-point lead to five (66-61) before the Celtics answered in a major way with back-to-back treys from James Posey and House, followed by a Tony Allen layup for a 74-61 lead.
But the Celtics appeared to draw their most energy when Garnett was poked in the eye while battling Artest and Miller for a rebound.
``I got poked in the eye twice and elbowed in the head,'' said Garnett, who went to the bench for a timeout in a dizzied state but finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. ``Sure it was edgy. Some of their guys might have been playing a little out of character. Maybe they were asked to, I don't know. But I'm sure from now until the end of the year we're going to see all kinds of different things.''
The third quarter - the Celtics' domain all season - turned on them for only the third time. They missed their first eight shots and turned the ball over seven times as the Kings, with a phenomenal 22-6 run, cut what had been a 24-point Celtics halftime edge (53-29) down to eight (59-51) with 2:59 left in the quarter.
A Garnett jumper and corner trey from James Posey finally evened out the flow, but the Kings had made a huge statement. By the end of the quarter they only trailed by a rickety 66-56 score.
The C's outscored the Kings 33-5 over the last nine minutes of the first half for the 53-29 lead.
Artest seemed to awaken the Celts when he inexplicably approached their huddle during a timeout before being pulled away by teammate John Salmons following a physical foul by Kendrick Perkins. The Celtics, to a man incensed by the event, responded by scoring 11 straight points over the last 2:54 of the half.
Garnett, perhaps the most bothered by Artest's antics - the Kings forward started laughing at the sight of Garnett complaining to the officials - buried a pair of mid-range jumpers during the spurt.
Rivers actually had to ask Garnett to calm down. ``I killed him,'' Rivers said. ``He's the one guy that I really can't tell to control his emotions because it's so a part of what he does.''