Celtics dominate fourth to pin loss on Knicks
Midway through the fourth quarter, coach Doc Rivers walked to the end of the Celtics' bench, where Gary Payton sat. The game appeared in hand, but with this team, Rivers can never be too sure. Player and coach talked briefly amid the increasing din of 15,655 at the FleetCenter.
The conversation ended with Payton shaking his head and waving Rivers back to the other end of the bench. Payton was fine with being a spectator as Marcus Banks led the Celtics down the stretch and secured a 114-109 win over the New York Knicks with a lineup that mostly included his contemporaries on the team.
In the locker room, reporters did not clamor around Paul Pierce and Payton as frenetically as they usually do. Knowing attention was deservedly focused elsewhere, Pierce jokingly shouted his version of an infamous Rasheed Wallace line ("It was a great game. Both teams played hard," Wallace answered to every question by
reporters) in an effort to quickly sum up the game. "Both teams played hard and we picked up our defense in the fourth quarter," bellowed Pierce. That was really only part of the story. Rivers, Payton, and Pierce knew the victory belonged to the team's young players. Al Jefferson started in place of an injured Raef LaFrentz, overcoming nervousness to finish with 12 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes. Kendrick Perkins recorded career highs in rebounds (13) and minutes (25). Banks rewarded the faith of Rivers as he led the Celtics during their decisive 21-5, fourth-quarter run, then stayed in the game and helped seal the victory.
"[Marcus] is running the pick-and-roll the way we've been trying to, with his speed instead of playing around with the ball and dancing," said Rivers. "It was a hell of a dilemma for me with about four minutes left because you have Gary Payton sitting on the bench. We know who he is. But I just rolled the dice. I didn't play the averages. For the future, for his confidence, I said, `I'm going to stick with him. If we can get through this game, this might mean something later for him.' I told my coaches that. And I've got to tell you I was voted out, but I still went with it anyway."
Maybe, after watching the way Banks contributed to the big run, Rivers could not help but go with his gut. With the Celtics trailing, 84-80, when the fourth began, Walter McCarty started the run with a 3-pointer from the left wing, off a feed from Ricky Davis. McCarty returned the favor by stealing the ball, then sending it across the paint to Davis for an 18-footer. The basket gave Boston its first lead, 85-84, with 11:15 remaining. Then, Banks went to work by attacking the basket, using his speed to elude defenders.
Banks slipped through three Knicks like he was running through a slalom course. Before the Knicks even knew where he was, Banks had scored on a reverse layup. The Celtics' next possession was almost a repeat, Banks accelerating for a layup.
"I've got a long future ahead of me and I've got a lot of learning to do, which makes it understandable if they don't want me in at the end of the game," said Banks. "I'm playing behind a Hall of Famer in G.P., who I'm trying to learn a lot from."
Case in point: Banks followed his two well-executed drives with an offensive foul. But the turnover and the one that followed from Perkins did little to disrupt the Celtics' momentum. A dunk by Davis, a 3-pointer from Pierce, and a pair of free throws from Banks stretched the lead. A dunk from Pierce and 3-pointer by McCarty capped the run and pushed Boston to its largest advantage, 101-89, with 5:40 remaining. It was only appropriate that Banks sealed the victory with a pair of free throws in the final seconds, after playing the entire fourth quarter.
"For myself, letting Marcus stay out there to finish the game, that gives him more confidence in himself," said Payton. "I think that we need that going into the new year and hopefully we can get a lot of wins and keep moving forward."
The game was a confidence builder for all the young players hoping to play major roles in the Celtics' future. That was never more true than with Perkins, who until last night had never played more than eight minutes in an NBA game. He passed that mark in the second quarter as Boston entered halftime behind, 58-50. He kept his focus on the glass, knowing more playing time would come with more rebounds. After all, Rivers recently told Perkins his minutes were tied to his defensive effort, and the second-year big man took the message to heart.
"Coach always tries to keep the young guys together because we're the bench," said Perkins. "We've always got to stay ready when the starters come out of the game. There can't be any letdown. We've just got to keep playing team ball."