The bad news was that Tony Battie was sick with
a 103-degree temperature, and would not play. Antoine Walker still
had his knee brace and the Cís were in the midst of their major Western
Conference road trip of the season. Both New Jersey and Philadelphia
had come out and gotten their butts kicked across the board. Now,
the Cís had to dig in and show them who wanted to win the championship
Portland had opened up a quick 4-point lead, to which Paul Pierce responded with a deep two from the corner. Right from the start, it was plain that the Blazers were playing hard. But would the Celtics match them? Paul Pierceís three said, ďyes.Ē
Walker also contributed to the scoring early on. But the Blazers were working the ball on offense and getting rebounds and good looks for their trouble. They did make a few mistakes, like trapping JR Bremer at the expense of leaving Pierce wide open at the top of the key. But Portland had also established a 12-7 lead with 8:00 left in the quarter.
The Cís were not keeping up on the boards early on, and that would be deadly if allowed to continue. But Walter McCarty cut loose with a three to cut the deficit. Pierce was left open once again and made the Blazers pay for their inattention with another three. Then JR Bremer followed suit, prompting a timeout with 6:20 left and the score 16-14, Boston leading.
Following the timeout, the Blazers managed to pass the ball out of bounds, and the Cís obliged by letting Walker shoot from somewhere back toward halfcourt for another three. That made it a 14-0 run for the Good Guys.
Of course, Portland isnít Denver, and they did get back to work on offense, but those pesky turnovers led to Eric Williams joining the scoring fun. Another turnover led to a fast break hoop where Pierce passed behind his back to Bremer on the break. Bremer then fired it right back as the defense tried to move, and Pierce had another basket. Portland finally decided to foul Pierce en route to the hoop on the next trip. Amazingly, he missed the first free throw, though he did hit the second. It was now 26-16 with 3:43 left as Boston had things going their way through the quarter.
Portland wasnít getting many breaks, even missing free throws when they werenít turning the ball over. The Cís were doing their best to take advantage of Portlandís abuse of the basketball.
Grant Long came in and missed shot, but Vin Baker was there for the put back. About the only plus for Portland was they were out rebounding the Celtics. Of course, itís hard to get a rebound when youíre making most of your shots. After a timeout, the only noticeable effect was to let the Cís get another transition basket. He also made the free throw after the foul.
Portland apparently was impressed by Pierceís work and handed him the ball again. Paul obliged them with another hoop. One possession later, Eric Williams was unobstructed to the hoop. The Good Guys were in the process of having the most points in a quarter that the Blazers had allowed this season. Even Sabonis wasnít able to accomplish anything when he came in. Pierce simple launched from way behind the three and Sabonis.
The only positive for Portland was Pierce going
to the bench with two fouls as the quarter drew to a close. Antoine
Walker spun on that leg to get another hoop. Portland played for
the final shot and finally made one go in. the first quarter ended with
Boston leading, 39-23.
The second quarter began with Pierce on the bench and the Blazers getting another defensive rebound leading to a score. Bostonís first two possessions didnít result in any points, and then Grant Long committed a foul. Portland converted the free throws. They began to cut into the lead, as the Blazers played with more energyóand fewer turnoversóthan they had in the first quarter. That led to Pierce going back in. But Paul was no sooner in the game than he picked up his third foul with 9:52 left in the quarter. Back to the bench he went. Now, the Cís were going to have to play without him, something theyíd had difficulty doing in recent games.
They didnít get off to a good start as Walker committed a turnover, and drew the defensive foul on Baker at the other end. Rasheed Wallace went to the line, and when he was done, the score was now 39-31 with 9:12 to go in the half. So much for double-digit leads.
The Cís had now missed their last 5 shots, while Portland scored again, having mounted a 14-0 run of their own as time was called with 8:35 left and the score now 39-33. Following the timeout, the Blazers continued to rebound well. JR Bremer shot an airball from the arc, symbolic of the Cís total lack of offense to start the quarter. Baker went up, but got stuffed by Sabonis from behind. Two more Portland free throws later, the lead was down to 4 points before Walker finally hit the Cís first hoop in nearly five minutes.
But the Cís defense wasnít stopping the Blazers, nor was any Celtics players a measurable presence on the boards. Thatís not good against a team like Portland. Vin Baker spun around like a dancer and hit a fade away shot. Iíd rather have him stuffing it down the rim, but Iíll take the points however they come right now. Time was called with 5:42 left and the Celtics still holding the lead at 43-37.
As well as Boston had played in the first quarter, it all evaporated in the second. Had Pierce not been such a dominant offensive force in the opening quarter, the Cís would be at the hind end of a double-digit lead by now. This was emphasized as Bonzi Wells hit a breakaway dunk.
At least Baker was trying to work his way inside, and drew the foul on Bonzi as he scored. Vinnie went to the line for one, and put it in. Yay, Vinnie! That made it 46-40 with 4:06 left.
Tony Delk rattled a three in and out, and on the next trip, Baker rebounded a Bremer miss for two more. Baker was looking more mobile and animated than he has in a while. But things improved when Portland missed a wide-open shot after the Cís defense missed completely.
How different were the two quarters offensively? In the first, Boston had 39 points on 70% shooting. With 2:21 left in the second, they had 9 points on 25% shooting. And they still held the lead!! Walker emphasized this by missing an easy basket.
Then Bremer hit a three as the Cís picked up a rare offensive rebound. The Cís were slowly rebuilding their lead as the quarter wound down. Then Delk was fouled on a clear path, and went to the line. Unfortunately, he missed the free throw. The Cís retained possession with 11.3 seconds left. Portlandís defense prevented a shot, and the half ended with the Celtics leading it, 51-43.
So far, the Celtics were barely holding their
own after dominating Portland in the first half. That theyíd managed
to do so with no contribution from Pierce in the 2nd quarter was impressive.
The game still favored Boston slightly, but the third quarter would be
pivotal. The Celtics could ill afford to let the Blazers mount a
comeback. One thing in Bostonís favor was that Scottie Pippen, while
providing some stability to the Blazers, was not providing any points.
Pierce, I had little doubt, would be coming back in the third quarter.
But would he be effective as in the first, or a non-factor as in the second?
We were about to find out.
Bremer opened the quarter by committing an offensive foul by running into Bonzi Wells. Rasheed Wallace likewise committed an offensive foul on the Blazers first possession. It fell to Pierce to start the third quarter scoring off a nice inside pass from Walker.
Portland seemed to be standing around a bit like they had in the opening quarter, but the Celtics shots werenít falling now. Portland, on the other paw, was going inside and scoring right at the hoop. The good news was that Portland was still being really careless with the ball. But still, they continued to score, as timeout was called with 9:03 to go, and Boston now leading by only four points, at 53-49.
Pippen went to the line after Bremer fouled him and by now, theyíd taken fifteen more free throws than Boston. Yes, the Cís were launching form outside, but not on every trip. Then Rasheed picked up his third foul, and people began backing away from him in trepidation. Temper, temper, Mr. Wallace.
Then, Walter stole the ball, and let Pierce maneuver inside for two and the foul to give the Cís some breathing room. But Dale Davis remedied that with a score of his own. Then, when the Blazers had a chance to close the gap, Rasheed got his first ďTĒ. Like clockwork, that guy. :>)
But the Blazers managed to score again, and the Cís turned it over in their own display of carelessness. With 5:57 left, Pippen and Davis combined to tie the game at 57. A trip to the line was fruitless, and Dalk made two at the other end off the rebound. But Portland was back in the game now, and Tony Delk had to hit a three to stem the offensive tide. Then Pierce finally hit another shot, a three of course.
Following a timeout, Portland kept pushing the Cís from behind, though the Celtics defense was beginning to play like they knew what defense was. Still, it was disjointed, and created opportunities for Portland to go to the line, where they closed the gap to tie it again at 64 with 3:30 left.
Both teams traded misses before Pierce sank a high arcing three that lofted gently through the net. But the Blazers werenít going anywhere. They fought hard on the boards and continued to draw fouls. A trip to the line by Rasheed made the score tied again at 67 with 2:14 left.
Pierce tried to draw the foul, successfully, as
he drove to the hoop, and his trip to the line was good for 1-2.
Boston then pushed the defense more than they had been, and succeeded in
stopping the Blazers on that possession. The Celts capped it off
with a three from Delk. But Rasheed made a two to get some back.
Walker somehow managed to weave his way to the hoop, and go to the line
as a result. He went 2-2 and the Blazers took the ball. Wallace
made another shot, and the Cís missed the last shot of the quarter, which
ended with Boston leading 72-71.
The final twelve minutes of the game began as The Good Guys stole the ball from Portland. But their offense was sadly one and done as the Blazers came back. Rasheed went to the line yet again and gave Portland its first lead since the first quarter. With 10:36 left, the score was now 76-74, Portland.
Boston was unable to answer, and Portland scored again to widen their new lead. But Walker launched a three to bring Boston within one. But Portland continued to benefit from weird calls, as Coach OíBrien was ejected for expressing his opinion of the officiating in no uncertain terms at a volume the refs heard across the court. Maybe he was talking about lollipops. But I doubt it. The Celtics would now have to play the last nine minutes plus without their Coach. Portland took full advantage of the situation as time was called, with 9:03 left and the Blazers now led, 84-77.
After the timeout, the Cís were unable to score, and Portland nearly hit a three to widen the lead further. But the Cís picked up a defensive rebound and took the ball up court. But to no avail. No score was made as Portland went on the offensive again. Then Pippen drew an offensive foul on Delk. Walterís rebound prevented them from converting, and Walker put another three through the net. Now it was 84-80 with seven minutes left in the game.
Pierce went to the line and hit 1-2, but Portland went to the hoop and got both points at once. Pierce got hit with an offensive foul, doing the same thing Rasheed had done at the other end with no call. But the Cís kept up the defense and pushed the ball hard on offense, finally drawing a foul the right way, as timeout was called with 5:45 left, and Portland leading 86-81.
After the timeout, The Celtics couldnít make the free throws go, and a jump ball somehow got called. Then, Walker was called for a jump violation. What you might describe as a mystery call. Or maybe coach OíBrienís description was dead on target. In any case, Bonzi Wells and Shammond Williams traded shots, before Sabonis ran into Walker. Well, thatís how it happened, but you know how it got called.
After Sabonis went to the line, the score was 89-84 with 4:45 left. Then Pierce got hit twice and undercut once en route to the hoop. This time, they HAD to call it right. Pierce went to the line and made 2-2. Portlandís lead was down to three points. Bonzi added two more then.
Portland had out rebounded Boston 40-22, and the Cís were struggling to overcome the deficit offensively as they also kicked up the defense. Walter made a rebound and Pierce drove from the arc to the hoop to get his first hoop of the quarter with 2:26 left. Now the score was 91-88 Portland.
After a timeout, the Cís took the ball up again, but got stuffed and were forced to foul at the other end. Bonzi went to the line and made 1-2 as Eric Williams came down with the rebound. Boston now moved to the attack as Walker took it over half court. Eric Williams got the pass under the hoop and drew the foul as he went up. He made both, and ti was now 92-90 Portland with 2 minutes left.
Rasheedís three was no good, and there was a floor fight for the ball, won by Shammond Williams. Shammond was at the line shooting two, making both, to tie it up at 92 with 1:52 left. The Cís deflected the shots from Portland the next trip up, but drew the foul from Eric Williams, who would now go to the line for two with 1:34 left. He missed both and Pierce took the rebound. Paul then drew the defense and shot the pumpkin to Walter, who nailed the three with 1:11 left, and Boston having regained the lead at 95-92 as a timeout was called.
When time was back in, Portland once again had
the ball, but missed again as Walker took the rebound. Eric Williams
made a rebound of a Walker miss, and then Walker stole the ball from Portland
on the way back to launch an uncontested three. Shammond then went
to the line and when he was done, with 31 seconds left, the score was 100-92
Boston leading. After a timeout, the Blazers lost the ball again,
and the Celtics dribbled it out to end the game, winning it 100-92.
This was a tough, hard-fought game, and the Cís managed to keep going even though things went mightily against them from the second quarter onward. There are inklings of the kind of offensive explosions in store if the Good Guys ever put together four quarters like the first one.
It was a heck of a game, and a well-deserved win. About my only problem is that itís become clear that the Cís have come to expect Pierce not only to create his own offense, but everyone elseís too. That needs to change, against those nights when heís not on the court, whether from injury, foul trouble, or whatnot.
Now, they would move on to their next challenge, the Los Angeles Clippers. Beat L.A.!!!
And thatís the view from the doghouse.