This was also the first game in what looked to be the toughest road trip the Celtics would face this season, as they would face Seattle, then the Clippers, the Phoenix Suns, the Golden State Warriors, and the Sacramento Kings. It was imperative that this game be a resounding victory for the Celtics and a good start to the trip.
To this point of the season, the Celtics were
7-6 vs. the Western Conference - a very good record considering the Celtics
had played the entire first half of the season with a shallow bench.
Vin Baker did not start the game, and Tony Battie was not present due to
illness. The game also happened to take place on Jim O'Brien's birthday
- happy birthday Coach!
Seattle opened up the game with the first basket, and came out intent on their defense initially. Ann errant Celtics three-point shot resulted in a Seattle rebound, and a tightening up of my nerves as I began to wonder if they were going to exact revenge for that 40 point loss last week. On the next possession, The Celtics were exhibiting patience in good ball movement as they sent Eric Williams toward the hoop and drew the foul. Sending Strickland to the free throw line is always a chancy affair, but this time he hit both free throws.
The Celtics were playing good defense as the quarter opened, and working hard to disrupt Seattle's offense. Then Walter McCarty had the first three-point shot of the game, a sure bet to draw some of the Seattle defense out from under the hoop. But Seattle came right back and scored to maintain a 6-5 lead with 9:35 to go in the quarter.
On the next possession, Walter showed signs of heating up by sinking another three-point shot. Seattle responded and tied the game at 8 points apiece with 8:32 to go. Paul Pierce drove to the hoop and remedied that. Then Walter McCarty showed he could also drive to the basket, apparently deciding the three-point shot was falling little too easily.
Unfortunately, Seattle still has Gary Payton to rely upon for scoring. Following the shot, Antoine Walker fired the ball into Pierce from half court. For some unknown reason, he was left open. Oops.
The C’s were working hard on the boards, and it showed. But there was no sign of the overwhelmingly superior play that had characterized the previous game. Boston and Seattle played a fairly close game as timeout was called with 5:44 to go in the quarter with the Celtics leading 16-12.
The broadcasters did mention the fact that the new Celtics yearbook was now available at various newsstands in the area - presumably the Boston area, as I doubt it's available where I live.
The Celtics moved the ball around patiently on the following possession, ending up with J.R. Bremer taking the three as the shot clock wound down to 0. At last, they were beginning to build a lead. Grant Long demonstrated his willingness play defense by saving the ball in bounds to let Walker zip up court. In stark contrast to their normal style of play, the C’s were looking to go inside against Seattle. Perhaps the headbands they’d decided to wear once again were having an effect on their thought processes, and letting them think fundamental basketball. Of course, it might also have been the presence of Bill Russell in the stands. With 3:52 go, Vin Baker entered the game to chorus of boos from Seattle fans.
For those who complained Baker blew the first possession he got from Pierce on, keep in mind by the time he got the ball, the shot clock was down to three seconds. There just wasn't a lot he could do besides throw it up. Baker made up for it next possession, taking it strong to the basket and drawing the foul. The Celtics were slowly building their lead against Seattle. It wasn't the explosive lead that they had in Boston, rather a slowly building lead. Grant Long gave the Celtics a 25-18 lead with two minutes to go in the quarter.
The Good Guys kept going inside despite the absence of Tony Battie, who normally took care of their inside points. Vin Baker was moving more purposefully and scored another basket. Baker also was up on defense, bothering a shot. Seattle was not yet ready to give up, as they obviously had been in Boston. The C’s made a particular point of sending the ball down to Baker at every opportunity, and he was moving a little better than he had before. But he still has a ways to go. The Celtics played for the last shot, as Pierce launched from the top of the key and made the basket. The first quarter ended with the Celtics leading 29-20.
In the first quarter, the Celtics had shot 11-18
from the field, 3-6 on three-point shots, and had 11 rebounds. Seattle
was 9-20 from the field, had missed its only attempt from beyond the arc,
and had 6 rebounds. That's the kind of quarter that leads to winning
games. The Celtics had shot 60%, making it by far one of their most
productive opening quarters. Tommy Heinsohn predicted at this point
that the way things were going, they'd be cheering for Baker and booing
the Sonics. Maybe he can get a part-time job fortune telling.
Baker opened the quarter by getting a defensive rebound and the basket while drawing the foul. This is exactly the sort of play we’ve wanted Baker to do-we just want him to do it more consistently. He even made a free throw! This made the score 34-20.
Seattle took a really bad jump shot, which the Celtics would be happy to let them do all night long. Seattle was beginning to show signs of unraveling, particularly in the face of Baker blocking their next shot. They probably hadn't even bothered to remind themselves of what he was theoretically capable of, so anxious had they'd been to get rid of him. Kenny Anderson went up, and Vin Baker sent him down. And lest we forget whose in charge of the scoring on this team, Pierce immediately scored on Gary Payton. Timeout was called with 9:23 to go, and Boston leading it 38-22.
The Celtics were still out rebounding Seattle, and then they put Baker, Walker and McCarty on the frontline, in order to compensate for the absence of Tony Battie. The intent was to force the ball inside against Seattle at every opportunity. The strategy was beginning to payoff big-time, as the C’s began to build their lead to an even greater margin as the quarter progressed. Tony Delk announced his presence on the court by hitting a three-point shot.
In the previous 4:10 minutes, Boston had outscored Seattle 14-3, en route to making the score 41-23 with 7:55 to go in the half. Celtics defense was doing its job at one end, while Walter McCarty launched another three at the other. When timeout was called, Tommy’s prediction came true, as several of the fans were in fact booing Seattle.
Through this stage of the game, Boston was shooting 62% from the field while Seattle was a measly 36%. It didn't get any better when Desmond Mason launched up a shot clock clunker. By stark contrast, the Celtics worked for the open shot and even the misses looked good.
Walker was still obviously having some trouble with his knee. The Celtics pushed the score up to 45-23 halfway through the quarter. There’s not much to say about Seattle offensively in this quarter - because there wasn’t a whole lot of offense in this quarter. Eric Williams took off a breakaway basket and only prevented from the dunk by a foul that was properly called as a clear path. Eric didn't make the free throw, and the Celtics retained possession of the pumpkin.
Unfortunately, while Pierce’s shot didn't do down, Pierce himself did. He had pulled his groin muscle with 4:35 to go in the quarter, and would not return for the rest of the game. This was a potentially devastating blow to Boston, which had relied on Pierce to penetrate the inside and control the ball since Antoine Walker's it knee was preventing him from doing that himself. The Celtics were ahead by 20 points. Until now, it looked like it would be another route of the Sonics. Things were about to get nasty for Boston…very nasty.
Following a timeout, Pierce was at least able
to stand on his own by the Celtics bench, but he was unable to return,
meaning Boston was going to have to find its offense without him.
The Celtics continued doing what they had been doing throughout the rest
of the quarter, going strong to the hoop and working for the good shot.
Even with the injury to Pierce, as the quarter wound down, the Celtics
had actually increased the lead to 55-32 with 40 seconds left in the half.
But then we started playing eight guys again, as the officials seemed determined
to give Seattle an opportunity to close the gap. It didn't have a
lot of impact prior to halftime, allowing Seattle to decrease their deficit
by one. With halftime, the score was Boston 55, Seattle 33.
Through the first half, Boston was 48% from the field, while Seattle was 33%. Boston was out rebounding Seattle, 23-18. Paint points also favored Boston, 18-10. Amazingly, the Boston bench was out scoring the Seattle bench 15-4. Thank you Vin Baker. The Celtics were also doing better on second chance points, 10-2 in the second-quarter alone. Threes favored the Celtics 8-22 while Seattle was 3-16.
There was only one problem. The half was
over, and so was Paul Pierce’s playing time tonight. Normally this
wouldn't be a problem, as Antoine Walker would simply pick up the slack.
But Walkers knee was still obviously bothering him, notwithstanding his
boast that he would be free of the brace by the All-Star game. Now,
they faced a Seattle team that had every intention of making it as tough
as possible. The Celtics were going to have to take what was now
a mediocre team and play like they were champions against a team that had
every reason to mount a comeback and get revenge upon the Celtics for the
monumental beating that had been administered to them a week before.
The Celtics opened the quarter by forcing a shot clock violation, a very good sign. The Good Guys were holding a 22-point lead. The problem was that this entire season has been riddled with games - not just Celtics games - where one team held the huge lead over the other, only to see it evaporate. Worse yet, I was afraid for the dreaded third-quarter drought.
As the quarter opened, neither Seattle nor Boston could seem to get any points up on the board. I also began to perceive a problem with the officials as J.R. Bremer held position against Gary Payton, yet couldn't draw a foul though this feet were clearly set. I'm not saying the Celtics never commit fouls, I just wish that they call some our way more often.
But the Celtics were beginning to have problems in the first couple of minutes, as the fine look they’d exhibited on offense was gone. It was immediately obvious that the Celtics were settling for the outside shot instead of trying to get inside, at least initially. While Seattle was also settling for the outside jumper, they were getting rebounds where the Celtics were not. They’ve gotten spoiled by the options Pierce gives them, and no longer look to create their own offense.
To the first half of the third-quarter, neither team was shooting especially well, but all that meant was the Celtics needed to be the first to recover. Eric Williams did attempt to right things by going strong inside. With 6:30 to go, timeout was called as Boston lead 60-38.
Following the timeout, despite the drop in productivity the Celtics were still shooting 45% from the field while Seattle was down to 29%. But the Celtics defense was also going south, as players began to miss assignments. This lead to a long possession for Seattle, which lasted from the end of the previous timeout until 40 seconds later when a foul finally sent Gary Payton to the line.
This score was now 60-40 with 5:45 to go in the quarter. The Celtics still had their 20 point lead, but there was serious doubt about how long it could last unless something positive happened for Boston. But despite Seattle going dry, the Celtics weren’t any better on their offense. The defense was doing its job to a large extent, while you could also thank incredibly rotten offense on both sides for the low scores. With less than four minutes to go in the quarter, both teams combined for a total of four points from the field. It's not like Boston didn't have its chances, as shot after shot clanged off the rim, the backboard, and some guy sitting in the third row.
The only good part about this was the Seattle was equally bad. At this point hard I was ready to pull somebody out of the stands just a see if they could make a shot. The timeout was mercifully called with 2:35 to go, and the score was still 60-40.
After the timeout they made mention of what had was an entirely appropriate All-Star week quote from Antoine Walker, when someone had asked him “Why do you shoot so many “threes”?” His answer: “Because they don't have any “fours”.”
Things were getting so dead, Gorman openly wondered whether there had ever been a quarter in which both teams failed to get double digits. I wasn't so concerned about that as whether or not this would become such a quarter. Seattle began to actually score points, not many, but enough to force a timeout with 1:47 to go and the score now 60-44. I should note for the record, Baker got his first foul just after the timeout. That's very good, considering how foul prone he usually is. Seattle free throws had closed the lead to 14 points, as Boston desperately looked for some offense of their own.
The C’s were being out rebounded by Seattle, after they held that advantage for the first half. Oddly enough, the member of the Celtics who was doing the best offensive job in the quarter was none other than Baker! So far he was the only person who could manage to score more than one basket in the quarter. That qualified him as the Celtics hot hand.
The third quarter ended with score now 62-40.
About the only good thing about the lack of Celtics offense in the quarter
was the fact that Seattle had been unable to take advantage of it.
Just about any other team in the NBA would have not only eradicated the
Celtics lead, but mounted a double-digit lead of their own.
J.R. Bremer opened fourth-quarter with a layup. He was also making himself useful on defense. Baker dropped yet another basket, and I wondered if this wasn't the time to start going to him see what damage he could really do. I knew he wouldn’t magically transform to a scoring machine, but at this stage of the game he was the most scoring the Celtics had. The Celtics were down to 39% from the field, while Seattle had actually gone up to 30%. Overall the Celtics were 6-22 from the arc, while Seattle had missed all attempts. But Seattle had now out rebounded Boston 38-32. Could the Celtics get their offense going once again?
With 9:42 to go, Anton Walker got his fourth file. This was significant, if only because you had to have Walker in there with Battie absent. He was drawing the defense. Vitaly Potapenko came into the game, unfortunately, for the opposing team.
Kenny Anderson was also out there, and Seattle was visibly out rebounding the Boston team. The Good Guys needed help, and fast. Help came from Shammond Williams who sank a three. Timeout was called with 8:45 to go, and the score 69-52.
The only good things about the quarter so for was the Celtics field goal percentage had increased to 41%. Walker had been hit with his fifth foul—a mystery call- and had to sit down at least for a minute. It was obvious to look at his face he had nothing good to say to or about the referees.
Something else I don't quite understand, how Gary Payton can careen while he out of control down the lane knocking people over as he progresses, and yet still have a blocking foul called in his favor. Payton actually carried Shammond Williams on his hip as he went down the lane toward the basket, and yet he ended up going to the line. On the subsequent possession, Desmond Mason put in a runner that made the score 69-59 with 7:52 to go in the quarter. The 20 plus point lead was now gone, with over half the quarter to go.
Vitaly was continuing to make life difficult for the Celtics offense, by stealing the ball on three consecutive possessions, the last of which causing Walker to re-enter the game. Unfortunately Walker's return wasn't paying off much in the way of dividends as he wasn't able to hit any baskets. Timeout was called with 6:34 go, and Boston still leading it, 69-61.
It became obvious that the Celtics had gotten so reliant on Pierce and Walker to do their offense, they weren’t used to generating their own shots. Walker had to try to rise to the occasion, by sinking a runner. But Seattle answered immediately, and the score was now 71-65 with 4:45 to go in the game.
Vitaly Potapenko was quite familiar with the C’s offensive scheme, and made sure that he was close to Walker at every opportunity. Offensively, Seattle continued its onslaught. They narrowed the lead to 4.
Walter McCarty went inside, getting the rebound and a foul. Following a timeout Walter went to the free for line for two desperately needed free throws. The first was good to the bottom of the net. The second one rattled in as well. The score was now 73-70 with 2:49 to go in the game. The Celtics worked the defense, trying to force Seattle into more bad outside shots. The ploy worked in that the Celtics actually got the defensive rebound out of the deal. Unfortunately Seattle then got the ball into Vitaly, who was inexplicably unguarded beneath the hoop. With 1:55 to go the score was now 75-72. The Celtics still needed a defensive stop here, and after a great defensive effort, Eric Williams got run over, yet he was called by the foul while he was down the floor. Seattle went to the line, but justice prevailed as Lewis went 1-2. The score was now 77-73 with 1:22 to go in the game.
Eric Williams managed the offensive rebound, to give Boston the 79-73 lead with less than a minute to go. Delk rebounded a Seattle miss, and Walker slowed things down to use up some clock. Patience paid off as Barry committed a foul with 35.8 seconds left. The C’s took it back inside and got to Walker who missed the three. Antoine then fouled out on the next defensive play after a great game marred only by those mystery fouls that only the refs claim to fully understand. Payton went to the line and went 1-2, then fouled Waltah! As he secured the rebound with 15.2 seconds left. McCarty hit both, and the score was now 81-74 as Seattle called time.
After the timeout, Seattle took it in, Payton got two, and Bremer was fouled as he received the inbound pass with 8 seconds left and the score now 82-76. JR went 1-2 from the line as the Sonics once more called time. When play resumed, Seattle failed to score and Eric Williams came down with the rebound as the Celtics won it, 82-76.
This gave the Good Guys their second win against Seattle in a week, and was a great start to the road trip that marked the beginning of the second half of the season. Now, they would have to marshal their forces to face the Portland Trailblazers, often described as the hottest team in the league—and that’s even assuming none of them stole anything… :>)
And that’s the view from the doghouse.