Marbury provides lift as Celtics down Pacers
The Celtics might be writing the script for another storybook season.
The plot thickened this week when the Celtics acquired Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore, and by late last night, the newcomers seemed to be on the same page in Boston's 104-99 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
The Celtics played at home for the first time since a Feb. 8 loss to San Antonio, a result that exposed some of the team's vulnerabilities, the lack of depth accentuated in the next week and a half as Tony Allen (thumb surgery) and Kevin Garnett (knee strain) were sidelined.
But the Celtics (47-13), who host Detroit tomorrow, displayed transformative qualities, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge making moves as he did a year ago with the late-season additions of P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell.
Ray Allen (30 points), Glen Davis (18 points), and Rajon Rondo (career-high-tying 17 assists) appeared energized by the circumstances.
Allen thrived in a three-guard setup as the Celtics pulled away early in the third quarter, converting a 4-point play, a 3-pointer, and a 20-footer during a 16-4 run.
Allen and Marbury combined to stretch the lead to 13 points after Marbury replaced Paul Pierce 15 seconds into the quarter. Marbury found Allen for a 20-footer with 11:06 to go, then hit a 16-footer, found Allen for a 3-pointer, scored on a lefthanded layup, and banked in a shot off a Moore rebound for a 92-79 lead with 8:23 remaining.
Kendrick Perkins went into a composure funk, giving away a rebound to Jeff Foster, then went into foul overdrive, his fifth setting up T.J. Ford for two free throws, which cut the Indiana deficit to 103-99 with 35 seconds left. But Davis, replacing Garnett in the starting lineup, scored the last 6 Celtics points, closing things out by converting a free throw with 20.9 seconds to go.
Marbury, who spent the first four months of the season attempting to negotiate a buyout of his $21 million contract from the New York Knicks, might have been expected to turn the Celtics' locker room into a stage for comic opera. But he got into the team spirit, entering to a standing ovation with 19.4 seconds remaining in the opening quarter and finishing with 8 points in 13 minutes, then noting the TD Banknorth Garden crowd "really showed me a lot of love."
"He still had the timing, which you usually don't have," coach Doc Rivers said. "I was really surprised - you sit out that long and your timing is that good."
Marbury started the second quarter with Pierce, Eddie House, Moore, and Leon Powe. The first time he directed the offense, Marbury found Powe underneath, then converted his first shot, a 15-footer, for a 29-20 lead.
But this improvised Celtics lineup soon lost its way.
Brandon Rush hit a 3-pointer for a 33-30 Indiana lead, the Celtics starters returning midway through the quarter but needing time to slow the Pacers' 19-4 momentum over a 5:04 span.
A Perkins block got the Celtics running, Rondo's 17th assist going to Powe for a layup and a 74-69 lead with 3:20 remaining in the third. But the Pacers pulled within 76-75 on a Rush drive before the Celtics regained control with Allen and House on the perimeter, Marbury choreographing, and Moore and Powe low.
"I wanted to take [Allen] out twice because he had gone over his minutes allotment," Rivers said. "When a guy gets it going like that, there is no minute allotment - you just keep going until you think his shot has dried up."
Marbury's influence also removed some of the pressure from Pierce, who scored 16 points in 39 minutes with a dislocated right thumb sustained in a 93-91 loss to the Clippers Wednesday. Allen played 43 minutes.
"[Marbury] really looked good for no practicing and just coming in and Coach throwing him into the fire," said Pierce. "It's going to probably take a while for him to get his legs under him, but he looked really good for his first day out there. He's a guy who can make plays. He's a pretty good defender at the 1 and 2 and a guy who can knock down shots and get into the lane and find open people."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.