SEATTLE - Ray Allen's spotlight during his sold-out return to KeyArena last night was stolen by the other two Celtics stars with whom he shares the spotlight.
In his first game against the Sonics since being traded last June, Allen had a lackluster offensive night with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting in the Celtics' 104-96 victory before a national television audience.
But Paul Pierce scored 13 of his season-high 37 points in the fourth quarter and nailed five 3-pointers, and Kevin Garnett added 23 points and 14 rebounds.
The Celtics won their fourth straight to improve to an NBA-best 24-3, and have won six straight road games to get to 10-2 on the road. Heralded rookie Kevin Durant added 25 points for the struggling Sonics (8-21) and former Celtics Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak added a combined 33 points off the bench.
TNT analyst Kenny Smith said the Celtics are flirting with the Bulls' NBA record of 72 regular-season wins. Fellow analyst Charles Barkley responded by saying, "If they win 72 games I'll walk [from the TNT studio in Atlanta] to Phoenix in a Speedo."
"That would be worth winning 71," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I don't want to win that [Barkley in a Speedo]. That would be ugly."
Allen was the heart and soul of the Sonics since 2003 and was an All-Star the past four seasons. But with the Sonics looking for a new start under new ownership and a new front office wanting to build around Durant, Seattle traded Allen on draft night.
"The people here are still inside of me," Allen said.
Allen arrived at KeyArena about four hours before the game. He got a warm welcome and some ushers even gave him gifts.
He was the first player to work out on the floor. After shooting, he visited with former teammates Luke Ridnour and Damien Wilkins, as well as with assistant coach/director of scouting Walt Rock and equipment manager Mark St. Yves.
Allen said he needed about 35 tickets for last night's game. And he also held court with the media pregame for nearly 10 minutes. As Allen walked to the Celtics' locker room, he told the media pleasantly, "Good seeing you all."
Allen said before the game he didn't want the Sonics and the fans to make a "big fuss" over his return.
A representative from the Sonics and the Make-A-Wish Foundation also honored Allen before the game for his community work and gave him an award. He received a standing ovation during the ceremony and waved to the crowd in appreciation. Allen also received loud cheers and a standing ovation when he was announced a part of the starting lineup.
Allen missed his first shot hard off the glass just 26 seconds into the game. He missed his first three shots before cutting down the lane for a lay-in with 4:01 left in the first quarter to give Boston a 15-10 lead. Allen drove easily past Szczerbiak for a lay-in with 1:12 left in the first to give the Celtics a 24-16 lead. But West nailed a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in the first quarter to trim Seattle's deficit to 24-19.
"[Allen] probably wanted 40 [points] like all great players when they come back," Rivers said. "I thought he was pressing a little bit. They played great defense on him."
Allen had 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting in the first quarter and Garnett had 9 points.
"It was great," Allen said. "It stirred up a lot of memories about a lot of big games played in this building."
The Celtics did not turn the ball over, but Seattle had five turnovers and no free throw attempts.
With 8:57 left in the second quarter, West shot the Sonics' first free throws and made both to slice Boston's lead to 32-27. Szczerbiak nailed a trey with 7:32 left in the second to tie the score at 32.
A 3-pointer by Allen gave Boston a 40-37 lead with 4:26 left in the second quarter. A night after a physical game at Sacramento, Garnett was on the receiving end of a flagrant foul by West that sent Garnett into a cameraman on the floor with 2:01 left in the second quarter. Garnett glared at West afterward and hit one of two free throws to give Boston a 45-41 lead. The Sonics got within 47-46 on a Durant dunk with 23.3 seconds left before halftime.
Allen had 7 points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first half and Garnett (14) and Pierce (11) combined for 25 points. The Celtics, however, shot only 35.6 percent from the field in the half. Szczerbiak (12) and West (11) combined for 23 points for the Sonics.
"They were on fire," Rivers said. "Both are great guys."
The Sonics took their first lead, 48-47, on a Chris Wilcox baseline dunk with 10:43 left in the third quarter. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Allen and Pierce gave Boston a 59-53 lead with 6:52 left in the third and a 3-point play by Durant brought the Sonics within 3 with 2:58 left in the third. Szczerbiak nailed two free throws with 51.6 seconds left in the third to slice Boston's lead to 70-67.
Pierce was huge down the stretch. His jumper with 9:46 left gave Boston a 77-70 lead with 10:19 remaining in the fourth quarter and another jumper bumped the lead to 83-72 with 8:24 left. A 3-pointer by Pierce gave Boston an 88-77 advantage with 6:52 remaining and his two free throws with 4:52 left gave the Celtics a comfortable 93-81 lead.
"It was a great win for us," Rivers said. "The second half was terrific."