Rapid Reaction: Celtics 104, Blazers 86
HOW THE GAME WAS WON:
Two nights after getting humiliated in Philadelphia, the Celtics, wearing their St. Patrick’s Day colors, came out and did the same thing to the Portland Trail Blazers. Their defense was beyond outstanding, from pressuring the ball to forcing turnovers (see below) to using the turnovers to get easy baskets (shooting 60 percent in the first half). The Trail Blazers were never in the game mentally and, for the final three quarters, were in it physically only because NBA rules stipulated their participation. Maybe they were all playing in fear of being traded. There were way too many Celtics layups and the Blazers’ most effective defensive weapon all night was coach Nate McMillan’s signaling for a timeout. And yes, there was a rare Gino sighting with 2:29 left and the Celtics up by 22.
The Celtics had a 10-point lead after one and opened the second quarter with Avery Bradley, Keyon Dooling, Sasha Pavlovic, Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiesma. In a shade more than four minutes, that quintet outscored Portland by a staggering 16-0 margin to give the Celtics a 43-17 lead. Portland simply never recovered. The Blazers had four turnovers in that stretch, the most embarrassing being a Marcus Camby alley-oop pass to ... oops, no one. It hit the backboard and quickly led to an easy Celtics basket.
Sasha Pavlovic hasn’t had many highlight moments this season, so seeing him erupt in the second quarter was an eye-opener of sorts. Pavlovic opened the second quarter scoring with a three-pointer and then closed the aforementioned Celtics’ 16-0 run with a three-point play off the aforementioned Camby miscue. Pavlovic had eight points in the first 4:03 of the second quarter, or one less than his season high of nine in the Jan. 23 rout of Orlando. He later added a hoop to hit double figures for the first time this season.
There were a lot of them on this kind of night. Portland’s 30 points was a season-low for the first half. The Celtics’ 65 points was a season-high for the first half. The Celtics outscored the Blazers 38-13 in the second quarter. But, by far, the biggest and most important stat of the night was turnovers and the damage they wrought for the visitors. By halftime, Portland had committed 17 turnovers, leading to 20 points. That’s normally known as a bad game. The Celtics, meanwhile, had only 3 turnovers in the first half. Forcing turnovers isn’t the Celtics’ strength; they went into the game averaging a shade more than 15 a game. They forced 28 in the game, which is a season worst for the Blazers.
WHAT IT MEANS:
As Cedric Maxwell once said after a big Celtics win, “it’s too bad this isn’t cribbage. We could get a double skunk.” So it means only one W, but, coming after Wednesday’s pathetic performance in Philadelphia, this rout was a big shot in the arm. Another bonus: None of the Big Four played more than 26 minutes, which could bode well given that the next game is a 12:30 p.m. EDT start on Sunday in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The victory also came while the team was missing two rotation regulars, Mickael Pietrus and Chris Wilcox, which made it that much more satisfying. It’s an excellent sendoff for the biggest road trip of the season. The Celtics won’t be back in Boston until March 26. The great unknown: Will we see the same group of guys or will there be a new face or two?
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