By A.Sherrod Blakely
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."