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New era

Celtics game but fall to Blazers in O'Brien's debut

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Posted: Monday January 08, 2001 9:45 PM
Updated: Tuesday January 09, 2001 7:39 AM

  Steve Smith, Stacey Augmon, Bryant Stith, Shawn Kemp Boston's Bryant Stith is surrounded by Blazer defenders as he looks to shoot. AP

BOSTON (AP) -- New Celtics head coach Jim O'Brien didn't stomp up and down the sideline. He barely used the full-court press. He didn't yell at his players every second of the game.

In fact, the only thing he did like Rick Pitino was lose.

In Boston's first game after Pitino resigned, Steve Smith hit a pair of 3-pointers 42 seconds apart in the fourth quarter to give the Trail Blazers the lead and help Portland beat the Celtics 98-90 on Monday night.

"I've got news for you, I had a big part of us being 12-23," O'Brien said, dispelling any chance that Pitino would take all of the blame for the team's troubles. "But I feel pretty good that one of Rick's people can be involved in trying to turn it around."

It was the eighth consecutive victory for Portland. Boston has lost six in a row and 12 of the last 15, a skid that convinced Pitino to declare his rebuilding plan a failure earlier in the day and walk away with more than $20 million remaining on his contract.

Blazers at Celtics
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The lowly Celtics can't seem to win one for Jim O'Brien, either.Start
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"Jimmy has his work cut out for him," said Portland coach Mike Dunleavy. "I wish him luck."

Scottie Pippen, playing in his 1,000th regular-season game, scored 22 points. Smith had 17 points, Rasheed Wallace 15 with 12 rebounds and Damon Stoudamire had 21 points and eight assists for Portland.

Paul Pierce scored 25 points, and Antoine Walker had 17 with 11 rebounds for the Celtics. Boston made just 3-of-18 from 3-point range, missing five in the final minutes.

Pitino gave up on a team that wouldn't play the swarming defense he preferred and took bad shots instead of passing the ball to an open teammate. The Celtics seemed to come out inspired, taking a 72-69 lead after three quarters against the top team in the Western Conference before crumbling in the fourth.

"I think the guys look at it like a fresh start. It was like starting over," Pierce said. "I think I see a different kind of attitude."

But O'Brien said he didn't think the team was reacting to the day's news.

"I think they played hard and, for the most part, I think they played smart," O'Brien said. "I think that if Rick were standing here now, I think the guys would have played extremely hard tonight. I don't think there would have been one bit of difference."

Boston led 71-61 before the Trail Blazers closed the third period with an 8-1 run, getting two baskets apiece from Wallace and Stoudamire. Portland opened the fourth with a 10-3 spurt, taking a 76-75 lead on Smith's 3-pointer from the right wing and adding to it when he hit a 3-pointer with 9:36 to play.

Pitino, who inherited a 15-67 team with two lottery picks, resigned as Celtics coach and president 3 1/2 years into a 10-year, $50 million contract. He finished 102-146 with three consecutive losing seasons and part of a fourth.

"It has been a great privilege to coach the greatest basketball tradition in sports," Pitino said in a statement released by the team. "I wish we could have accomplished more between the lines, but I am proud with the efforts of my staff and players.'

O'Brien, who was Pitino's assistant with the Knicks and Kentucky, was named interim coach.

O'Brien's first message to his team was to edit the standings on a chalkboard in the locker room to erase all of the teams except the four ahead of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoff race. O'Brien said he was convinced that his team, which was three games out entering the night, could reach the postseason, which they haven't done since 1995.

O'Brien received an ovation from the half-filled FleetCenter when he was introduced before the game. But the crowd mostly booed as the team left the court after the loss.

The Celtics showed spurts of impressive defense but, just as they did under Pitino, they couldn't sustain it. Boston gave up five dunks and a layup in the first eight minutes but stayed close with offensive rebounds and second-chance points.

The Celtics led 46-44 at the half and used an 8-0 run early in the third to take an 11-point lead before Portland scored 18 of the next 22 points.

Notes: O'Brien coached one game when Pitino was ill in 1998. Boston beat Cleveland 78-71. ... Pitino beat the defending champion Chicago Bulls in his first game. ... Arvidas Sabonis was scratched from the starting lineup with a toothache. ... Portland plays 13 of its next 15 games against the Eastern Conference.

Related information
SI's Marty Burns: Milwaukee's brewing
Off the Glass: Rocky life of NBA understudies
Game Summary: Blazers-Celtics
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