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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Did you really think the Celtics would lose on St. Patrick's Day?

Last night could not have started any worse for the Celtics but nobody will remember that as they eventually came away with a thrilling, 93-91 win at the San Antonio Spurs.

Watching championship week on ESPN last week, I remember former Vermont men's basketball coach Tom Brennan talking about how a team getting out to a big lead too early can strangely enough be the kiss of death as they get complacent.

That theory was on display last night as the Spurs (44-23) couldn't do anything wrong for the first quarter and a half. They led Boston (53-13) 28-11 after one quarter and by as much as 22 points in the second before the Celtics fought back to cut it to 10 at the half.

The win was a complete team effort as Sam Cassell (17 points, 5 rebounds) settled down Boston in the second with 10 points while Rajon Rondo (20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) had his best quarter in the NBA: 12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists in the third. Paul Pierce (22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) took over in the fourth and Kevin Garnett (21 points, 8 rebounds) was steady all game. Ray Allen missed his second straight game as he recovers from an ankle injury.

The Celts used a 15-2 run to start the third and take the lead. From there, the game was back and forth the rest of the way.

Manu Ginobili (game-high 32 points, 4 rebounds) was unstoppable all game while Tony Parker (17 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds) and especially Tim Duncan (10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) were shut down when it mattered most.

The fourth quarter had the look and feel of a playoff game. There were big plays all around. Eddie House hit a 3-pointer, Cassell hit a three (prompting Kendrick Perkins on the bench to imitate Sam's big balls dance which Sam obliged him with) and Rajon Rondo turned in the hustle play of the game as he gathered a Garnett miss and was fouled. He calmly hit the two free throws and put Boston up four with under a minute left.

Parker got a layup then KG threw away the ensuing inbounds pass (he was about to be called for 5-seconds) and Bruce Bowen intercepted it. Wouldn't you know, Big Shot Bob-Robert Horry-got a decent look at a 3-pointer (which would have won it) but it hit the side of the rim at the buzzer.

The Celtics also got a break in the fourth when Ginobili's attempt at an And-1 lay-in somehow rimmed out after being down (it spun around for a good two seconds, just wild).

San Antonio was desperate for a win as they've now lost four in a row which is a death sentence in the Western Conference. Impressively, since the end of last season the C's are now 3-0 against the Spurs. Tim Duncan had never lost to them until last St. Patrick's Day.

Things don't get any easier as the Celts go to Houston tonight to take on the Rockets, winners of their last 22 in a row. It's the second-longest streak in NBA history. No guarantees but a win against the Rockets would be another notch on the belt of this team that can once again claim the moniker of best in the league.

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