The Celtics carried a 50-41 lead into halftime last night against the Rockets, only to see a Trevor Ariza three-pointer with 7:53 left in the third frame cap off an 11-2 Houston run, which knotted the score up at 52 apiece. Fortunately, Boston refused to roll over, which hasn't always been the case this season. Rather than suffer through another demoralizing third quarter collapse, the C's responded in convincing fashion.
Ray Allen buried a three-pointer with 7:06 to play in the third, giving Boston a 57-52 edge. Less than two minutes later, a Kendrick Perkins block led to a Rajon Rondo feed to Allen, who promptly responded with another three-point bomb, which kept the Celtics' lead at five (60-55). Allen wasn't done though, as he responded to a Kevin Martin fast break layup with his third three of the frame, making it 65-60 with 3:37 left in the third. Nate Robinson then got in on the scoring act, putting in a three-pointer of his own and following it up 30 seconds later with a baseline jumper, pushing the Celtics' lead to eight (70-62).
While all of this was happening, Paul Pierce was stuck on the bench with four personal fouls. After putting in 11 first half points, Pierce was called for a charge just 24 seconds into the third quarter, forcing the captain to the pine. The 12-minute break was not enough to derail Pierce for the remainder of the evening, however, as he finished up what his teammates started once the fourth quarter got under way.
Less than four minutes into the final quarter (just as I was starting to think Allen's hot hand was needed back on the floor), Pierce lost the ball under the basket, hung around the paint, and was rewarded as a failed attempt to save the ball on Houston's part ended up right back in Paul's hands, and he laid it in for a 75-68 lead. And boy, was he just getting going. Pierce scored 15 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter, picking the Rockets apart from practically every spot on the floor. He flat out owned Houston throughout the gut of the final frame, first by snaring his own miss and laying it back in with 7:54 to play, giving Boston a 77-71 edge.
Then, with 7:23 remaining, in classic Paul Pierce fashion, he stuck his head down and bulled his way to the hoop, where he got fouled and sunk both free throws, putting Boston up, 79-71. The next drive though, which came 28 seconds later, visibly demoralized Houston's players, particularly Louis Scola, and Pierce hit one of two from the free throw line, keeping the lead at a respectable seven points (80-73).
Exactly a minute later Pierce ditched the paint in preference to the perimeter, as he caught a Rajon Rondo pass and drilled a three-pointer, giving the C's a 10-point edge (85-75) with 5:55 left. His next bucket appeared to be the dagger in Houston's heart, as he connected on another three-pointer (off another Rondo feed), which put Boston up 11 with just under five minutes left. A jubilant Pierce stormed back to the huddle as the Rockets called timeout - he was STOKED.
The Rockets did respond, albeit briefly, as Jordan Hill scored inside with a minute left to pull the Rockets within five. Only Pierce and Kevin Garnett had other plans. After curling around a Ray Allen screen, Pierce caught a sharp pass from KG, rose up, and calmly flushed it for the final points of the game. Pierce finished with 26 points in 27 minutes, and scored the majority of them when the C's needed it most.
While I'm giving Pierce most of the credit, I could just as easily point out the superior efforts of several other players. Glen Davis played with great energy again last night, and while his execution inside was flimsy at times, he's routinely out-hustling his opponents these days. I gotta credit Rondo for his control over last night's game. Despite only taking five shots, he did a great job of dictating the pace whenever he had the ball and handed out 10 assists for good measure, with a fair amount of them coming in the midst of Allen and Pierce's scoring bursts. Loved his white shoes, too.
I also want to give credit to Rasheed Wallace, whose nine rebounds were a breath of fresh air from the big man. He only scored seven points, but he deferred to the paint on a number of occasions, and if he continues to initiate his offense down low, good things should happen for this team.
Let's keep it rolling tonight against Dallas. Pierce seems to be getting into a good groove. It's great to see, especially considering wins seem to be a part of the package.