Celtics shred Nets
Impressive first half sets tone for a rout
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Celtics spent yesterday morning in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice gym on Manhattan’s West Side. The workout prepared them for a less-strenuous training session/regular-season game last night, and also could have put them in the mood to investigate the credentials of the New Jersey Nets, who have played the part of NBA impostor in winning three of 38 games.
The Celtics took a 111-87 victory over the Nets, putting the contest away early, and allowing the starters to rest in preparation for tonight’s home game against Chicago - their sixth in nine days.
This was the Celtics’ first blowout win since Dec. 20 (122-104 over Minnesota), a 71-35 halftime lead giving the Izod Center crowd a head start toward an early exit, leaving the building nearly deserted for the final minutes. Though the Celtics (27-10) played without Marquis Daniels (wrist), Kevin Garnett (knee), and Rasheed Wallace (foot), they had no problems with the Nets.
Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 29 minutes. Brian Scalabrine made his second successive start, getting into the first-unit rhythm, a positive sign for the Celtics’ depth. But the reserves faltered in the second half, a negative indication for the team’s bench strength, at least until a late dunk-fest led by J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker.
“Down on bodies, [against] a team that’s been struggling,’’ coach Doc Rivers said, “our whole thought was, if we can get off to a good start, maybe we can get other guys rest. And it all came on the defensive end first. And then the ball movement in the first half was as good as it can get.’’
The Celtics let up in the third quarter, but the starters maintained enough momentum for a blowout margin. The Nets closed within 19 in the final quarter, before Walker drove for a dunk and Giddens a backward slam.
“Bottom line is, we accomplished what we needed to,’’ said Rivers. “We got those guys a ton of rest and that’s important.’’
The Celtics shot 26 for 38 (.684) in the opening half, their most productive half of the season.
Paul Pierce (24 points) sustained a knee bruise but continued to play. The other Celtics, led by Rondo (11 points, 14 assists), appeared to survive unscathed.
“We’ve been on the other side of the spectrum,’’ Ray Allen said. “You go up big and then you get a lead against a team that is struggling a little bit. And then it’s the ballgame. We’ve been there before.’’
The Celtics got off to an even stronger start against Toronto Sunday, scoring the first 10 points of the game. The Raptors, though, forced the Celtics to produce a 48-minute effort.
The Nets presented little resistance, the Celtics having worked up more of a sweat earlier in the day on the other side of the Hudson.
“We didn’t have to really talk about it,’’ Allen said of the Celtics’ focus. “It’s the small things, just keep playing the right way, keep doing what we’re doing, and don’t ever look at the score. Whoever’s going to get the ball gets the ball - that’s what we tell ourselves, just keep playing basketball.
“I thought we played well enough to put ourselves in that position. You just want to ride that swell in your favor, get back on defense and make them take shots over the top of us, make them make plays.’’
The Celtic starters, who committed six turnovers in the third quarter, shot 26 for 43 (.605). The reserves appeared to lack direction, but eventually found a groove.
“Just seeing the young guys coming in and playing and being able to run up and down the floor,’’ Allen said, “it continues to make them work harder. And then it gets a lot of rest for the starters.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.