Finish fit for a king
Celtics end trip with a flourish
SACRAMENTO – Doc Rivers didn’t bother with the X’s and O’s on the blackboard.
The Celtics were on their last leg of a four-game road trip. They were coming off an ego-boosting win over the Lakers at Staples Center that made them every talking head’s power-ranking darling, and they were facing a Sacramento Kings team they had beaten seven straight times, five by double-digits.
It was a trap game, the kind that would have ruined the Celtics entire trip if they lost, and Rivers wanted to remind his team they were indeed capable of losing.
So he broke out the Sharpie, and he scratched out the names of all the teams with losing records they had lost to this season.
“Guys really took exception with that,’’ said Paul Pierce. “These were games that we were supposed to win.’’
With that in mind, the Celtics were determined not to spoil an otherwise solid stretch on the road. But after stunning the Lakers at Staples Center before the Celtics did, then snapping the Hornets’ 10-game winning streak, the Kings were just as set to pick up their third straight win over one of the league’s top teams.
Something had to give, and after falling behind by 10 points in the first half, the Celtics got 22 points from Ray Allen and a 17-point 10-assist night from Rajon Rondo, sealing a 95-90 victory at ARCO Arena.
The Celtics swept the season series and stretched their winning streak against the Kings to eight games. The Celtics finished the road trip 3-1.
“We wanted to go undefeated on this trip,’’ Rivers said. “We’ll take 3-1. You’re happy when you go out West and you go 3-1, but it was funny, to a man, we talked about what we wanted. The goal literally was 4-0, but we’re happy with 3-1. Don’t get me wrong.’’
In some ways the win over the Kings meant as much as the win over the Lakers.
“It means that game in LA meant something,’’ Pierce said. “If you lose a game in Sacramento after beating LA, it’s like it erases that game.’’
Allen and Rondo sparked an early first-quarter surge for the Celtics, combining for 7 of the team’s first 10 field goals, but the second unit struggled to start the second quarter and the Kings capitalized, going on a 14-4 run and catching fire from there.
Seeing the second unit blow a lead they had built, the starters got hot at halftime, particularly the normally diplomatic Allen, who flipped his lid as soon as the Celtics turned the corner into their tiny locker room.
“Ray doesn’t really say much,’’ Pierce said. “He usually talks to us on the bench, on the court. But he kind of lit us up a little bit at halftime, and it woke guys up knowing that we’re not playing to our potential.’’
Rivers was glad to let Allen and the other starters do his job.
“I kind of stood outside the locker room,’’ Rivers said. “You could hear the starters, they let the second unit have it. You don’t see that very often. They were upset. They weren’t upset because they didn’t play well. They were upset because of the way they were playing. You could hear them talking. ‘We don’t play that way. That’s not Celtics basketball.’ ’’
The starters had to break out the extinguishers, pulling out every possible stop to regain control of the game.
After a slow start in which he missed four of his first five shots, Kevin Garnett (12 points, seven rebounds) splashed onto the hardwood for loose balls, giving the Celtics extra possessions. Pierce came alive in the second half, finishing with 15 points.
But the Celtics defense woke up, and suffocated the Kings, forcing 25 turnovers and cashing them in for 23 points.
“The fourth quarter was a hustle quarter,’’ Garnett said. “A lot of the loose balls, a lot of the hustle game, we wanted to win. We know they play really well at home, they’ve got a lot of confidence. If anything, I thought the second half we were in a better rhythm, defensively. We got stops and we turned them into buckets. We got better stops defensively.’’
The Celtics return to the Garden Friday for a matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. Initially, the plan was to fly out of Sacramento Tuesday night, but after the Kings made winning tough, the weather made flying even tougher.
“It was just nice to win the game,’’ Rivers said. “There was a lot of distractions going into this game with the game that we just played . . . This whole travel stuff that we’re going through. It seems like we’ve been having travel problems this entire trip. Now, we can’t get home. I told them before the game, ‘We have a game. We have to focus on the game. We’ll worry about the other stuff later.’’