Celtics grind out a win in Portland, 88-78

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Celtics grind out a win in Portland, 88-78

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

PORTLAND, Ore. When you've had as many injuries as the Portland Trail Blazers have had this season, mucking the game up is a given.

Even as the Blazers managed to get the usually efficient Boston Celtics to play one of their sloppiest games of the season, the C's still managed to get more than enough stops and timely baskets down the stretch to kick off their first West Coast trip of the season on the right foot with a 88-78 win.

With the win, the Celtics (35-10) have won 11 of their last 12 against Portland, and five of the last six series.

But this one didn't seem to be the Celtics kind of game, not while committing 21 turnovers that led to 22 points.

"Their pressure got us going a little too fast in the first half," said coach Doc Rivers. "They played extremely hard."

This was expected after Rivers and his staff as well as the players, read about how the Blazers planned to be more physical with the always-physical Celtics.

"When we read that, we actually like it," Rivers said. "That means the game is going to be played our way."

At times, the physical play seemed a bit much.

There was an instance where Rajon Rondo was fouled by Blazers center Joel Pryzbilla, which sent Rondo sprawling to the floor.

Kendrick Perkins, who had 10 points and 9 rebounds off the bench, got in Przybilla's face moments after the play.

"Sometimes you have to set a tone," said Perkins, playing in just his second game back after suffering a torn MCL and PCL against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Six of the NBA Finals last season. "Teammates are going to take up for teammates. It doesn't matter how it goes."

When asked about Przybilla attempting to play the role of bully, Garnett responded, "Przybilla is far from a bully. You understand? We weren't going to let anybody beat anybody up out there. You can't just pick up and be tough one day, and the next day, go back to being who you are."

After seemingly having the game in control, the Celtics found themselves trying to fend off a late surge by Portland, which cut Boston's double-digit lead in the fourth down to just 82-77 following a 3-pointer by Rudy Fernandez with 48.9 seconds to play.

That would be as close as Portland would get, as the C's closed the game out by scoring six of the game's final seven points.

If you went by the box score, it would be hard to believe that the Celtics won.

Portland outscored Boston 48-34 in points in the paint. The Blazers had a 15-5 edge in second-chance points. In addition, Portland held a slim 9-8 advantage in fast-break points.

"They showed why they're champions," said Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 17 points and 16 rebounds. "They play champion basketball."

Blazers coach Nate McMillan added, "That team is prepared and built to win a championship. Our guys scrapped. I thought they played hard, they battled. But the Celtics have so many options that they can go to. When you have that many options and that team is locked into playing that way, knowing how to win, it's going to be a tough game. They're very good."

On the night when the Boston Celtics' Big Four discovered that none of them would start in next month's All-Star game, they went out and showed why it didn't matter.

"The goal was to be the best team before the break," said guard Rajon Rondo, who, along with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett, is expected to be chosen by the coaches as All-Star reserves. "We can't do that with San Antonio (which has the league's best record). For the East, we can still get as many victories as possible with this big road trip, before the break."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Blakely's five throughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

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Blakely's five throughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

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BOSTON – As has been customary with the Celtics in recent years, their open practice on Friday night featured a pair of 10-minute scrimmages pitting the “Green” team of starters against the “White” team of reserves.
 
The White team, which apparently has been kicking the Green team’s butt for a good chunk of camp, emerged with a 33-26 win. And the Green team had to rally to win the second scrimmage, 24-18.

Similar to summer league, you can’t read too much into what happened and what didn’t happen on Friday night.
 
That said, there were a number of clear and undeniable positives for the Celtics to take from the game and hopefully build upon them going forward.
 
 
5. Al Horford's leadership established
 
The first player’s voice that the 6,000-plus fans at the TD Garden heard from was Al Horford and don’t think for a minute that was just happenstance.
 
For all the scoring and rebounding and defending that the Celtics will look for Horford to do, it is his ability to lead this team that separates him from most of his NBA brethren.
 
The fact that he’s a four-time All-Star speaks to what he has done in this league as a player. But even more telling is that was the fact that he’s been to the playoffs every year he has been in the NBA. And during that span of nine years, he has been pivotal in leading Atlanta beyond the first round – a primary goal for him and the Celtics this season – five times.
 
 
4. Celtics defense could be an elite unit this season
 
The Celtics were a top-10 defensive team last season, and have every reason to believe that they’ll be even better now. Boston has a trio of Pit Bull-like defenders on the perimeter in Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and All-NBA first team defender Avery Bradley. Throw in Jae Crowder’s defensive versatility at the wing along with a pair of upper echelon rim-protectors in Amir Johnson and Al Horford and the Celtics no longer are a team that can put a couple good defenders on the floor at one time. They actually have the depth now to go with a ‘Big’ all-defensive team or a ‘small ball’ all-defensive team which provides the kind of versatility that should result in Boston being a top-3 defensive team this season.
 
 
3. Marcus Smart poised for breakout season
 
Smart seemed about as comfortable as we’ve seen him on Friday, showcasing his range as a shooter while still being able to get after it defensively. Based on what he has done in terms of improving his game, Smart seems more likely to play off the ball than on it. With his size, strength, athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Boston does indeed have one of those magical-type seasons, Smart is a player that has the potential to help significantly. He understands the Celtics’ system inside and out, and is doing what young players on the rise should do – show growth as a player.
 
 
2. James Young playing best basketball at right time
 
These are some pretty stressful times for James Young, but you wouldn’t know it by the extremely cool demeanor he has exuded. Although it has only been a few short days of training camp, James Young has stepped up his game knowing anything less than his best could result in him being waived and potentially on his way out of the NBA. During the first Green-White scrimmage on Friday night, Danny Ainge said there were five guys essentially fighting for two roster spots. He didn’t single out Young specifically, but it’s no secret that the 21-year-old who is heading into third NBA season is among the players in that group. To Young's credit, he's doing a lot of those little things such as playing solid defense, getting deflections and making "hockey assists" to show he belongs in the NBA and more significantly, should remain a Celtic. 
  
1. Terry Rozier's tremendous strides
 
Rozier was the star of the two scrimmages the Celtics put on in front of about 6,000 people at the TD Garden Friday night. He scored, got assists, rebounded … he did it all. What impressed me the most about him was his defense on Isaiah Thomas. Rozier loves Thomas and respects the hell out of him. But Rozier  has made no secret about wanting to get more playing time this year, and is out to snatch some of the minutes from anyone ahead of him, Thomas included. We saw the tenacious potential Rozier has as an on-the-ball defender, but he seems to have taken that up a notch from his rookie season. And the confidence he has in his shot-making is undeniable. We saw that in summer league and it’s good to see that he brought it with him into training camp. Ditto for his decision-making and leading of the team at the point which are also areas in which he has improved but still needs to continue to get better at on a more consistent basis. There’s no doubt at this point Rozier will play this season and likely get a lion’s share of the minutes vacated by Evan Turner’s departure to Portland.