(Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Boston put on the defensive clamps in second half, particularly in fourth quarter, making it hard on Blazers guard Brandon Roy. In the first half, by contrast, the Celtics over-helped on defense, which allowed Portland to make five 3-point shots in the first two quarters and go into halftime with the lead.
Offense matters too. Celtics guard Ray Allen (season-high 35 points) was great, shooting 12-for-20 from the floor in the 100-90 win. Allen had been mired in a serious slump in a recent stretch during which Boston lost three of four games. Maybe the Washington Wizards, who won back-to-back games over Boston, present one of those mismatches that certain teams have a hard time overcoming.
Great teams win with defense, but offense can bail them out. The offense did not save Boston in its three recent losses. If this game against the Blazers is an indication of things to come from Allen, it's a great sign for the Celtics.
Two of the big three thrived offensively in this contest; Allen and Kevin Garnett (26 points) led the way for the Celtics. Paul Pierce (12 points, 3-for-11 shooting) looked pretty poor at times against the Blazers.
Notably, Boston's point guard Rajon Rondo (sore lower back) was out of action. Eventually, I think there's going to be a move made to get help behind Rondo at the point. Having Eddie House play the position takes away from focusing on his strength, which is shooting.
Some suggest the Clippers' Sam Cassell could be that man. That kind of point guard upgrade would seem to be a good thing. He's already played with Garnett in Minnesota and Allen in Milwaukee.
This game also featured two coaches who are strong coach of the year candidates: Boston's Doc Rivers and Portland's Nate McMillan. There are several guys also worthy of consideration. (Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, for instance, is winning with a mostly-unheralded roster and having lost his best player in Gilbert Arenas.) You also can't slight Rivers the way some might not credit Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose football team is so dominant and so good, winning is expected.
Portland's been winning much more than expected. The Blazers (23-15) are still the hottest team in the league, having won 18 of their last 21. They played well Wednesday night. On the road, being down five points with three minutes to go is all you can ask for.
The team's makeup is excellent, with Roy looking like an All-Star and big man LaMarcus Aldridge at the head of the pack of most improved player candidates. I like what the Blazers' dual point guards offer: Steve Blake is a passing-oriented floor general, while Jarrett Jack is more of a scoring threat. Travis Outlaw looked good once again Wednesday night, offering tremendous potential.
The Blazers are a legitimate competitor in the Western Conference playoff hunt, but I don't think they'll hold on for the Northwest Division title. I see Utah stepping up and fighting it out with Denver.
I heard a story about Portland when I was there recently for a game. When the Blazers lose, the team bus is dead silent. They take each loss to heart, like a college team.
They haven't had much reason to be silent lately. But when Boston is on top of its game, the Celtics can quiet even the hottest team.
ESPN analyst Jon Barry was a first-round pick of the Celtics in 1992 before being dealt along with a second-round draft pick to Milwaukee for Alaa Abdelnaby.
For a young player, Mike Conley has shown an impressive amount of courage in using his right hand (he's a lefty) to finish attempts at the rim. That will serve him well throughout his career. The scouting report on him is still "goes left almost every time," especially from the left wing. But being an ambidextrous finisher shows he is not a one-handed player. Middle penetrations from the left wing are a good thing for him to focus on in the coming weeks.
Jamal Crawford, Knicks guard: While dusting off a "Mission Accomplished" banner might be premature, the Knicks have won three straight, aided in each win by Crawford's shooting. He torched the Nets for 35 points, including a back-breaker in J-Kidd's mug, in a 111-105 win.
Ron Artest, Kings forward: In his first game back after missing nine games with right elbow surgery, Ron-Ron shoots 2-for-10 (four points) in 29 minutes of action in a 116-91 loss to the Raptors.
Quote of the Night
"When you give up 126 points defensively at home and you've already lost 10 in a row, it's bad. I have now, tonight, at this moment, no answers for it."
-- Heat coach Pat Riley, after losing by 30 to the Bulls. • See how all 160 players fared
-- Andrew Ayres
J.A. Adande and Chad Ford discuss Andrew Bynum's injury. How will this affect his progress? Plus, is Isiah Thomas the worst GM ever?
(Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
Mike Bibby, playing for the first time after missing 36 games with a torn ligament in his left thumb, finished with 19 points, six rebounds, no assists and four turnovers in 29 minutes of a lopsided loss in Toronto.