All season long, the third quarter has been where games have been won or lost for the Celtics.
Tonight, it was won. Emphatically.
Paul Pierce started and ended an 8-0 run in the space of 48 seconds late in the 3rd period, helping the Boston Celtics to simultaneously open a 26 point lead and nail the coffin shut on the over matched Los Angeles Lakers at TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday night.
Over matched? The Lakers?
The Celtics literally ran circles around them – just ask center Dwight Howard, who had his head on a swivel all evening, swiping at ball balls from awkward angles and fouling out with just over five minutes left in the game as Boston dominated 116-95.
They fell behind the Raptors by 10 in the quarter last night – but instead of folding like they had many times during their losing streaks, they blitzed the Raptors behind Leandro Barbosa and Kevin Garnett and took control midway through the fourth quarter, cruising to a tough win.
Tonight, the third quarter was pivotal as well – for much better reasons – but instead of Barbosa and Garnett, Wednesday night it was Pierce, Jeff Green and Jason Terry carrying the load, with timely contributions from Avery Bradley.
Pierce busted out with 24 points, leading another balanced attack that saw six Celtics in double figures. Bradley, who scored 10 points and pulled down five boards gave some insight as to why the Celtics are so balanced lately.
“Moving the ball,” he said, echoing Garnett’s sentiments from last night. “You look at the box score, our whole team scores in double figures. It’s because we’re moving the ball.” He should have added that his tough defense was key as well.
Boston outscored Los Angeles by 10 in the second quarter, and carried a 14 point lead into halftime. The teams went back and forth early in the third period before the Celtics ripped off a 23-8 run, finishing it off with the 8-0 run to take a 95-69 lead into the final frame.
Jeff Green rocked the house properly with a season high 19 points – none bigger than stealing the spotlight from Pierce momentarily during the 8-0 run, taking a pass from Pierce on the break and delivering a hammer dunk that brought the sellout crowd at TD Center to their feet, then Pierce stole it right back, nailing a three to bring the house down.
Garnett scored 15, Courtney Lee had 13 and Terry chipped in 15 off the bench as the Celtics won their sixth straight and moved to three games over .500. Chris Wilcox showed up, scoring 8 points and ripping down nine big rebounds, leading an otherwise balanced Boston rebounding effort that saw every player pull down at least four.
The Lakers got an star calibre game from Kobe Bryant who scored a game high 27 and pulled down 7 rebounds, but got little help from his teammates. Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison scored 13 and 11 off the bench respectively, and Dwight Howard showed up with 9 points and as many rebounds as the Lakers suffered their worst defeat of the season.
The Lakers now have to jump on the charter to Charlotte for date with the Bobcats tomorrow night then get a day off before visiting South Beach to tip off agianst the reigning World Champions. The Celtics also have a visit to Charlotte on their itinierary for next Monday, but first will host the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
The Nuggets offer a an athletic style of basketball, and can do it whether they have their bigs on the floor or a smaller lineup – so this is the type of match up that could become a chess match and may rely on a more perimiter approach.
Regardless, one can’t help but to be impressed with the Celtics last two games, coming from behind and overcoming a sluggish offensive performance to beat the Raptors in Toronto last night, flying home, then owning the rival Los Angeles Lakers from the opening tip.
Owning? I meant to say the Celtics opened up a can on them – but either one works.