The Celtics have expanded their priorities. Besides attempting to gain home-court advantage for the playoffs, they are now pushing to nominate Eddie House for the 3-point contest during All-Star weekend. And they made progress toward accomplishing both goals in a 119-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings last night.
In fact, the Celtics found a synergy in the campaigns during a 40-19 second quarter, with House scoring 16 of his 28 points. By the fourth, the TD Banknorth Garden fans were chanting House's name as he finished 8 for 9 on threes in 20 minutes 18 seconds of playing time.
Afterward, instead of discussing strategies and commenting on the Celtics' ninth successive win, Kevin Garnett acknowledged the team's lobbying efforts for House.
"That's what this press conference is about," Garnett said. "Eddie's been on fire. I think the one thing the bigs have been trying to do is run the floor, so it opens up the wings for Paul [Pierce], Ray [Allen], Eddie, and they've been doing a super job of being aggressive."
Despite an impressive start by the Kings, who were 10 for 11 from the field in taking a 10-point lead in the opening quarter, the Celtics dominated. But at least it was a game for a while. When the Celtics visited Sacramento Dec. 28, the Kings had 34 points in the opening half (29 in the second) and totaled only 19 field goals in a 108-63 loss.
But this soon turned into a breather for the Celtics' starters in preparation for tomorrow's visit to Detroit, and an effective reentry for Tony Allen (10 points), who went 4 for 4 from the field in the second quarter in his first appearance since he strained his right ankle Jan. 4.
Jason Thompson scored underneath to give the Kings a 23-13 lead 6:54 into the game. But Tony Allen's follow 27 seconds into the second quarter for his first points tied it at 30. A Glen Davis foul shot broke the tie 1:27 into the quarter, giving the Celtics a lead they would not relinquish.
Rajon Rondo (24 points, nine assists in 29 minutes) also made a case for All-Star inclusion, his penetrations setting the tone for the Celtics' offense and his lobs to Garnett disrupting defensive tactics.
"It's a pick-your-poison thing," coach Doc Rivers said of the Rondo-Garnett combination. "Actually, most teams are picking the lob because it's a tough pass and they're trying to get backside help. But Ray's standing back there and you can see every time it happens, the coach is yelling at Ray's guy. But Ray's guy is thinking, 'I'm not leaving Ray.' "
House converted his first four 3-pointers (for the third time in four games) and his final four before departing midway through the final quarter.
"I think the 3-point contest should be guys that not only can make threes but that can make it exciting," Garnett said. "I think you want to see all the top shooters in the league sort of shoot it out. That's what it's supposed to be about. Back in the day, when I would watch, everybody wanted to see Larry Bird shoot it out with Dale Ellis and all those other guys. I know I watched for all those reasons. I don't see why that should change now."
Pierce committed his third foul on a charge and was assessed a technical 9:04 into the game. He did not score from the field until 8:24 remained, and had more fouls (four) than field goals (one) for the second consecutive game. And in the second half, Pierce seemed content to penetrate, then search out House on the perimeter - four of Pierce's eight assists went to House for threes in a four-minute span of the fourth quarter.
"I've never been on a 3-point barrage like this," said Pierce, who finished with 8 points. "But Eddie's in a special place right now, and I know how he feels. It feels like every time he shoots, it's going to go in, no matter who's on him, who he is playing against. I can tell the way he's shooting it that he feels that every shot is going to go in."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.