Celtics outshine Lakers in L.A., 109-96

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Celtics outshine Lakers in L.A., 109-96

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

LOS ANGELES Paul Pierce has been at his best in the biggest games for the Boston Celtics.

Sunday was no different, as the Captain led the way in Boston's 109-96 win over arch-rival Los Angeles Lakers.

It was Boston's first time at the Staples Center since losing in Game Seven of the NBA Finals.

Regardless of that last meeting, there's always added significance to the game whenever these two longtime rivals face each other.

"These type of games, you love to be in," Pierce said. "It feels good when you come out with a win."

And Pierce's play had a lot with the Celtics pulling away in the second half.

He had a team-high 32 points, which included a 14-point outpouring of offensive juice in the third quarter that washed away whatever control of the game the Lakers enjoyed.

"I was able to just run the break, and Rondo just really kicked it ahead," Pierce said. "I was moving without the ball, really getting myself open. Just try to move without the ball, get out on the break, find the cuts, get to open spots, and Rondo and the other guys made the extra pass and I was the recipient of it."

As well as Pierce shot the ball, he wasn't the lone player putting up big numbers.

Kobe Bryant had it going offensively as well, leading all players with 41 points. He became the first player this season to score 40 or more points against the Celtics.

Even as Bryant continued to drain one shot after another, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't seem overly concerned.

Why?

Because even as Bryant was going off, the rest of the Lakers were, well, off.

Bryant's 41 points came on 16-for-29 shooting from the field. The rest of the Lakers shot a combined 20-for-52 from the floor.

"I didn't think anybody else wanted the ball," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "We did run a couple other plays to get guys into position, but I thought those times he had the best opportunities when other people were moving to the ball. But, a lot of times it didn't look like we were running anything out there offensively."

Boston continued to switch defenders on Bryant, but it didn't matter.

Bryant, who did not tally a single assist, was not going to be stopped.

"I told them, 'Don't overreact to Kobe. Kobe's Kobe,' " Rivers said. "We knew that before the game. He's not going to change. He's going to be great tonight, tomorrow and the next day. So don't overreact to that."

While there was a stretch in which Ray Allen (21 points) seemed to limit Bryant's effectiveness, Rivers was quick to caution to not read too much into that stretch of play.

"Right before Ray went out, Kobe was starting to get it going on him," Rivers said. "And we put Paul on him. Kobe is good. You can't keep one guy on him; just the look of a different guy helped."

Boston had a bunch of players who looked quite different than the guys who struggled the last time the C's were in this building.

In the Game Seven loss, the Celtics were horrific on the boards as the Lakers out-rebounded them by 13.

On Sunday it was the exact opposite, with the Celtics holding a 43-30 edge on the glass.

"Defensively and rebounding, were the key," Rivers said. "We held our own on the glass. And then our execution offensively, was . . . when you saw us play the last two games and you saw us play tonight, you don't think that's the same two teams."

Another change from the last time they played in the Staples Center, was the Celtics got some much-needed offensive firepower from the bench.

In the Game Seven loss, Boston's second unit only scored a total of six points, all by Glen Davis.

On Sunday, it was a different game, different story.

Davis, who was questionable leading up to the game because of a sore right hamstring, came off the bench and scored 13 points.

"It was a big game," Davis said. "It hurts a little bit, but if you can run, why won't you play?"

He wasn't the only Celtic giving the C's a lift off the bench.

Nate Robinson, who came into the game having missed 20 of his last 29 shots from the field in Boston's previous four games, had 11 points off the bench on 4-for-7 shooting from the field.

But against the Lakers, you can never be comfortable with a lead as long as Bryant is on the floor.

After a lay-up by Rajon Rondo gave Boston an 89-80 lead, the Lakers countered with a 7-2 run which included all seven points being scored by Bryant.

Rivers has seen Bryant when he gets on a roll like that, which is why he called a time out with 5:19 to play in hopes of cooling him off.

It worked.

Kevin Garnett nailed a jumper.

And after a defensive stop, Davis completed a 3-point play to give Boston a 96-87 lead with 4:29 to play.

The Celtics weren't done.

Another defensive stop allowed the Celtics to get out in transition.

That's when Rondo, who tallied 15 of his game-high 16 assists in the second half, connected with Kevin Garnett on a lob pass for a lay-up that gave the C's a comfortable 98-87 lead.

"We got the ball in Rondo's hands. He's the playmaker," said Garnett, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds for his 15th double-double this season.

And the Celtics continued to play their best against the best teams.

But in terms of what Sunday's win will mean to this rivalry, or even more significant, a potential meeting in the playoffs?

Not a whole lot.

"It's two good teams," Rivers said. "Both of us have to play better if we want to see each other again in the Finals. We're both winning games, but honestly, we both have to be better teams than we are."

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

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."