By A.Sherrod Blakely
SACRAMENTO, Calif. The Boston Celtics seemed well on their way to continuing a disturbing trend, and that is to bring out the best in bad teams like the Sacramento Kings.
But even with the Kings stepping their game up Tuesday night, Boston still managed to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 95-90 victory.
With the victory, Boston (37-11) will finish with the best record by the Feb. 6 cut-off deadline, meaning Doc Rivers will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars later this month.
But this game, like so many this season against sub-.500 teams, wasn't easy for Rivers and his ball club.
"We had Rivers' blood pressure up tonight," said Kevin Garnett. "Sometimes he needs that. But in all seriousness, I'm happy for him. Not only Doc, but his staff. We see the countless hours they put in."
And the fruits of that labor were on display against a Sacramento team that came in having won three of its last four games, which included a road win over two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
After the starters put the C's in firm control in the first quarter, the second unit allowed the Kings to not just get back into the game, but take over.
In a matter of minutes, Boston fell behind by as many as 10 points to a team that had just as many wins on the season (12) as the C's had in the month of January (12).
Several players were bothered, but none seemed more irate than the usually subdued Ray Allen.
"Ray really doesn't say much at halftime, but he came out, kind of got on the guys," said Paul Pierce.
Whatever he said, it seemed to do the trick as the Celtics took Sacramento's control and seized it for themselves.
And at no time was this more apparent than the fourth quarter.
"The fourth quarter was a hustle quarter," Garnett said. "We got to a lot of loose balls and a lot of the 5050 game we want to win."
Down the stretch, the Celtics' late surge involved more than just the starting unit.
Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins came off the bench, with each contributing to Celtics closing out their West coast trip with a 3-1 record.
The Kings were one of the worst teams a year ago and they're on track to again be among the NBA's cellar dwellers. Still, Sacramento coach Paul Westphal was pleased with the way his team competed for most of Tuesday's game.
"Even though we lost that game, I really liked that game for our team," said Westphal, a former Celtics player. "I thought it was like a playoff game. I thought that both teams played extremely tough defense and made it hard for the other team to score. There was nothing easy about that game."
It never is for the Celtics when the opponent has a woeful record.
But the motivational factors to win on Tuesday were even more plentiful than usual.
There was the desire to close out the road trip with a winning record.
Boston was also coming off a 109-96 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, a game that to this point stands out as one of the Celtics' most impressive victories.
A loss to the Kings, according to Pierce, would have meant "that game in L.A. meant nothing."
Pierce added, "If you lose a game today in Sacramento after beating L.A., it's like it erases that game. We're trying to build a lead up in the Eastern Conference, first place and playing for home-court advantage. All these games are important."