It was not your typical halftime talk, not even for a team trailing by 18 points and trying to rebound from an embarrassing loss.
Celtics assistant coach Tony Brown started to play video designed to show players what went wrong in the first half. Coach Doc Rivers quickly told Brown not to bother. After all, what's the point of replaying the Clippers scoring layup after layup as they shot 58 percent from the floor?
Rivers didn't need to make adjustments or point out mistakes. The players simply had to execute on defense. With a FleetCenter crowd of 13,136 booing as they left the floor at the break, the Celtics knew what the problem was, and fixed it in the second half, bringing energy and intensity to the defensive end and holding the Clippers to just 29 second-half points. Better defense allowed the Celtics to come back from a 20-point, third-quarter deficit and defeat the Clippers, 94-89. The victory pushed Boston back to the .500 mark and extended its Atlantic Division lead to 1 1/2 games.
"I deserve absolutely zero credit for the comeback," said Rivers. "I told [Brown] to shut [the video] off. I said, `We're not making any adjustments. This is up to you. This is on you. We can make all the adjustments we want to, but if we don't play with more energy, if we don't play harder, if we don't box out, if we don't share the ball, we're going to lose the game. If we do, we're going to win the game.' That's all I said. They did it, and I'm proud of them because they did it."
Although the Celtics fell behind by 20 points (62-42) at the start of the third quarter, they picked up their defense, and that made all the difference. The Clippers shot 20 percent (3 for 15) in the third, giving the Celtics the opportunity they needed. Boston staged a 13-2 run midway through the period and cut its deficit to 8 points, which is where it stood entering the fourth.
The Clippers should have known no lead is safe when playing the Celtics. When the teams met in December, Boston trailed by 12 points in the fourth quarter before rallying to win in double overtime. Last night, the Celtics efficiently finished the job in the final period.
Trailing by 14 (79-65) with 10:04 remaining, the Celtics buckled down on defense even more. They started a decisive 19-1 run that included a pair of shot-clock violations by the Clippers, four blocked shots, and an offensive foul on Los Angeles forward Bobby Simmons. It seemed like every time the Clippers tried to get near the rim, there was a body or a hand in the way. Raef LaFrentz, Mark Blount, and Paul Pierce kept close-range shots away from the basket and stayed active on the glass. Delonte West pressured Clippers point guard Marko Jaric.
"I'm not even going to lie to you," said Pierce (25 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists). "When they pushed it up to 20, I was like, `Here we go again, like [Tuesday] night [a 121-97 loss in Milwaukee].' But the team showed a lot of guts. It was nothing we fixed. We just came out with a better sense of urgency [in the second half]. We know when we're not playing well."
Pierce, who racked up five assists in the fourth quarter, found LaFrentz for a 3-pointer with 5:17 remaining. The basket gave Boston its first lead, and the home team never trailed again. Jaric cut the Celtics' advantage to 1 point with a 3-pointer, but Pierce again found LaFrentz for a shot from behind the arc. In the closing minutes, free throws by Pierce and Ricky Davis sealed the win. Once the Celtics took the lead, they looked like a team that would not lose, which was a reversal from the first half.
Returning to the FleetCenter after a two-game road trip, the Celtics were behind, 60-42, at halftime. The Clippers shot 62 percent in the first quarter, Elton Brand scored 15 of his 30 points. At the end of the first, Boston trailed, 31-24. Corey Maggette, who had missed the previous four games with a left collarbone injury, scored 13 points in 10 minutes off the bench in the second quarter, and finished with 21 points.
"Doc was basically like, `What's wrong with you guys?' " said LaFrentz (16 points), recalling halftime. "We were like, `We don't know.' We really didn't do one good thing in the first half. We were getting beat in every facet of the game and beaten badly. The 20-point margin reflected that. In the second half, we just wanted to come out with energy and see what happened."
They already knew what happened with the opposite approach.