Celtics go quietly against brash Kings
SACRAMENTO - It was apparent from the opening tip that the Celtics were not invested in their matchup with the Kings Friday night at Power Balance Pavilion. Maybe it was too much time in California or the trade deadline passing with no deals, offering several Celtics on the roster security.
The Celtics came out lackadaisical and were outplayed, outhustled, and even out trash-talked by an upstart Kings team missing its best player.
The absence of Tyreke Evans made no difference, especially in the second half, when the Kings went on an impressive scoring spree to extinguish the reeling Celtics, 120-95.
Ahead by 1 point at halftime, Sacramento went on a 17-1 run to begin the third quarter that essentially sealed the game. The combination of Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas combined for 24 of Sacramento’s 41 points in the Celtics’ worst quarter of the season.
If Doc Rivers despises 30-point quarters, his reaction to a 40-point quarter must have been for adults only after the game.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak and dampened what had been a positive West Coast trip. Now the Celtics must come back Saturday night and play the high-flying Nuggets.
Thornton, a well-kept secret in the Western Conference, led the Kings with 36 points, including five 3-pointers, most with a hand in his face.
The Kings seemingly couldn’t miss in the second half and they ran the same plays that allowed Thornton to spring open at the left wing, and he continuously burned the Celtics.
“Whatever you have, it looked like we didn’t have it,’’ Rivers said. “Our defense helped. I don’t think we’ve played with the great spirit we’ve had throughout this streak.
“If we can win a lot of games and have one of these every once in a while, I can live with that. I don’t want this to be a habit.’’
Ray Allen led the Celtics with 26 points and Paul Pierce added 19 points on 5-for-15 shooting. But, save a brief second-quarter spurt, the Celtics played as if they expected the Kings to hand them victory.
Pierce left the game with 6:24 left with a sprained left ankle he said he sustained stepping on Thornton’s foot while setting a screen.
“It’s a little tweak, hopefully it won’t swell up and I can play [Saturday],’’ Pierce said. “We didn’t come out with the defensive attitude [in the third quarter] like we needed to. They pretty much got everything they wanted. It was just one of those good ol’ fashioned butt whippings.’’
Kevin Garnett got into a trash-talking competition with emotional second-year forward DeMarcus Cousins and lost that battle. Cousins finished with 20 points and reminded Garnett every time he scored in his face.
Garnett had little response and scored just 10 points.
“It was about like outside today, gray and muggy and slow,’’ Garnett said. “Third quarter, they opened up and never looked back. We never recovered from it.’’
Meanwhile point guard Rajon Rondo (4 points, 2-for-9 shooting) played his Jekyll-and-Hyde role again, getting frustrated with officials and tossing lazy passes that were clipped by eager Sacramento defenders. The Celtics followed his disinterested lead and Rivers allowed them to play through the Kings’ third-quarter run, perhaps as a form of punishment.
“I thought, just how I saw the game, I thought everybody was pretty upbeat and ready to play,’’ Allen said. “The third quarter was the killer quarter. We gave them too much confidence and they scored. By us, that’s just unacceptable. We can’t allow a team to score that many points.’’
It took the Celtics more than a quarter to actually become engaged. After shooting 33 percent in the first quarter, they responded in the second period by making 11 of 20 shots (55 percent) while Allen tallied 11 points.
Pierce fueled a 20-7 run by getting to the line and Allen drained two 3-pointers during the surge for a 40-38 lead. But just as the Celtics started feeling comfortable, they began committing silly turnovers, playing into the Kings’ aggressiveness.
The Kings countered early scoring from Garnett with Cousins. The Kings’ rugged big man went right after Greg Stiemsma the moment Garnett exited.
Thomas, at 5 feet 8 inches matched up against the 6-5 Allen, scored a layup to cap an 18-8 run for a 26-18 lead. The Celtics were putrid in running their offense and the catalyst of those struggles was Rondo, who one day after the trade deadline, returned to his frustrating ways.