Price of Success: Target Now on C's Back


SALT LAKE CITY - They're stepping up in all forms.

Some talk trash and others hack, without second thoughts about the cheap shots.

And all of them, faced with a chance to take down the team with the best record in the NBA, are playing inspired basketball.

As the Celtics have quickly discovered on this road trip out West (with the next stop tonight against a very tough Jazz team), they are back to being everyone's big game after spending almost two decades in anonymity.

Delonte West watched with amazement as his former team went into Sacramento Wednesday night and struggled to get through a glorified wrestling match. He saw the shots that Brad Miller and Ron Artest took on Kevin Garnett, with the Celtics forward continually rubbing his head and eyes from the contact.

``I think it speaks volumes on a competitive level of what they're up against every night,'' the Sonics guard said. ``It's going to bring the intensity level up for any team, with all of the extras surrounding a game against them now.

``They're a team with an `X' on their back now, throughout the league. It can't be an on and off switch for teams, though. They should want to play like this all the time.''

If only they could.

West, in just his second game back after a nine-game absence due to plantar fasciitis, played his best game as a Sonic Thursday night with 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting and eight assists in a 104-96 Celtics win.

But it's the exclamation point he put on that stat line that the Celtics will remember; for even old, lovable Delonte - that former Garden fan favorite - put his name on the Garnett hit list.

His takedown of the Celtics forward in the second quarter - an over-the-top hack that had a furious Garnett pointing at him from the floor - was bad enough that West was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul.

West, generally not a smack talker, walked away.

But Sacramento's Francisco Garcia decided to let Garnett know he was alive with behavior straight from the playground.

The Kings guard and Garnett both had their hands clamped on a rebound after a whistle and both refused to let go. Garcia, with a petulant stare trained on Garnett, finally knocked the ball to the floor and walked away shaking his head as he smiled in disbelief.

``I guess it's going to be like this,'' said Kendrick Perkins, who as the Celts' enforcer already has had a busy road trip. ``In a way, things seem to be getting a little more intense out there. But we're on the road, so teams are going to come out and go after us like this. None of these games are going to be any different.''

Doc Rivers just hopes that his team remains enough above the fray so that his players don't start getting into trouble. On Wednesday night, the Celtics coach actually asked Garnett to stop talking and immediately regretted it when the power forward's game went into a shell.

But no matter.

The great teams, according to Rivers, keep their heads.

``We were doing it, too, and I'm not a fan of it,'' Rivers said. ``Sometimes both teams handle it well and sometimes not. The way I look at all that crap, it's OK as long as you still play the game.''

Or walk away.

That was Garnett's eventual decision upon leaving the floor in Sacramento. Garcia, chin still jutting out a little too far, offered his hand. Garnett, shaking his head, kept walking. Without looking back, he then gave Garcia the one gesture he deemed appropriate: a dismissive wave.

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