Bucking the trend
Celtics say enough is enough, halt team-record 18-game losing streak
The words of public address announcer Eddie Paladino echoed throughout TD Banknorth Garden last night, words that hadn't been heard in these parts for 40 days and 40 nights: "Celtics win!"
Surely, some of the generously estimated 14,482 fans who braved the rain, sleet, and snow to watch the Celtics thought they must have been hearing things. But Boston finally decided that 18 was enough.
With both Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak in the lineup for the first time since Dec. 16 and a sense of urgency befitting the playoffs, not the NBA draft lottery, the Celtics snapped their franchise-record 18-game losing streak with a 117-97 win over another woebegone Eastern Conference team, the Milwaukee Bucks, losers of 19 of their last 23 .
With a victory in their final game before the All-Star break, the Celtics avoided potential NBA infamy, as with a five-game Western swing looming after the show in Las Vegas, Boston was perilously close to challenging the league's all-time mark for consecutive losses (24) and consecutive setbacks in a season (23).
"We won't be a topic of conversation each and every night," said Pierce. "I saw everybody talking about the longest losing streak or possibly the longest losing streak in NBA history, so it feels good to finally get past that, especially with such a tough road trip coming up, because we could have easily fallen into that."
Pierce, who yesterday morning on WEEI expressed dismay at the plight of the team at this point in his career, went out and did something about it, scoring a game-high 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting.
He had help, as Gerald Green chipped in with 21 points, hitting all five of his 3-point attempts, Al Jefferson had a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds), and Szczerbiak, playing for the first time since twisting his ankle Feb. 7, added 14 points.
The Bucks were without leading scorer Michael Redd, who has missed 20 games with a strained left knee, and forward Charlie Villanueva, who sat out after twisting his right ankle in a loss to Dallas Tuesday night.
But things were not looking good early for the Celtics. They trailed by 15 (41-26), forcing coach Doc Rivers to call a timeout with 8:29 left in the first half. A dejected Ryan Gomes stared into oblivion -- which the Celtics seemed headed for -- on the bench.
Going bombs away from beyond the arc turned the tide for Boston, which connected on a season-high 15 3-pointers. Behind Pierce, who scored 13 of his 19 first-half points in the second quarter, and Green, who came off the bench to score all 16 of his first-half points in the period, the Celtics staged a 17-7 run to get back into the game. Pierce and Green scored all the points in the spurt, with Green hitting four threes. The Celtics closed the half on a 32-13 run to take a 58-54 lead at the break on the strength of a 39-point second quarter.
"Gerald Green's shooting, that and then Paul Pierce made a couple and that turned the momentum," said Bucks coach Terry Stotts. "Those are momentum plays not only for the team, but for the crowd."
The Celtics led by 15 at the end of three, when Gomes buried -- what else? -- a 3-pointer from the corner with 0.8 seconds left. Boston poured it on in the final quarter, smelling victory, pushing the lead to as many as 23 before calmly walking off the court as the buzzer sounded. Jefferson said they didn't want to celebrate as if they'd won a championship, but they were happy, according to Rivers.
"The guys were taking the monkey off each other's back and all that stuff, but it's just a relief to get that done, just to win a game, and hopefully, that leads to the next game," said Rivers. "After the Minnesota game [a 109-107 loss Sunday], I told the guys, 'We got our team back. We got our energy back.' I thought the Minnesota game we just played a basketball game and almost won it and [last night] we played a basketball game and won it. Obviously, if you have Paul and Wally, that helps."
The win was the team's first since Jan. 5, when Boston upended Memphis, 128-119, on the road. It also was the first in front of the home crowd since Dec. 15, snapping a 13-game skid on the parquet.
Still, some may have left disappointed. It's all about Greg Oden and Kevin Durant at this point, right?
"I could care less about them," said Rivers. "We're going to try to win every game we can. I think it's more important, if you can, to teach young guys how to win."
Jefferson said the Celtics could get used to this strange feeling called winning.
"Honestly, I wish that we had two more games right now before the All-Star break," he said.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.