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One Magic player willing to follow Howard's lead was Quentin Richardson, who has been feuding with Pierce for years. In the third quarter Richardson listened to a tirade from Pierce as he waited for referee Jason Phillips to silence the Celtic with a technical. "They laugh and think I'm losing it, like I'm not paying attention," said Richardson, who heard Boston's bench riding him. "But I was really looking at [Phillips] like, How long are you going to allow this?"
Instead of slapping anyone with a T, Phillips placed the ball at Richardson's feet on the baseline and began a five-second count. Richardson hurriedly reached down and inbounded the ball at two, catching the Celtics' defense off guard. "That," said Rivers to assistant Lawrence Frank on the sideline, "was genius." Though the Celtics ultimately recovered in time, Rivers said he was going to design a play based on it. "It almost worked for them," he said of the Magic. "If they had been ready, they would have scored."
Orlando's loss meant that Boston clinched the season series 2--1. Howard had no defensive help—6'11" Marcin Gortat went to Phoenix in the deal for Jason Richardson—while Turkoglu and Arenas continued to struggle in their new roles. "Not even in the same ballpark as these guys," said Van Gundy of the Celtics. "We can be, but we're not right now."
There will be a lot of postseason games like this one, on those rough nights when good playmaking is hard to find and less-gentlemanly means are necessary. Quentin Richardson was looking forward to a postseason rematch against Pierce and Garnett. "That would be great," he said. "That would be great."
FEB. 10: LAKERS 92, CELTICS 86
During his four years in Boston, Ray Allen has been the third option, often seen merely as a three-point specialist even though his movement without the ball, his playmaking and his defense have been crucial to Boston's runs to the 2008 title and the '10 Finals. On this Thursday night, however, the third man would be first: Allen needed two threes to overtake Reggie Miller—who would be broadcasting the game courtside with TNT—as the NBA's alltime leader.
Only three active players have played more minutes than the 35-year-old Allen, yet his game shows no signs of deterioration: At week's end he was second in minutes among shooting guards this season (only 25-year-old Monta Ellis of the Warriors had played more) and third in three-point shooting (45.6%). He wasn't coasting toward the record so much as sprinting at it.
Against the defending champions Rivers had never needed Allen more. Pierce had lost six pounds fighting a 24-hour bug that had kept him out of practice the day before. And the loss of Marquis Daniels to a bruised spine in the Magic game combined with an early-season broken wrist suffered by Delonte West left the Celtics with no one other than Pierce to guard Kobe Bryant. The dearth of perimeter size had been Boston's undoing in a 94--89 loss three days earlier at Charlotte, where Bobcats guards 6'8" Stephen Jackson and 6'7" Shaun Livingston combined for 29 points. With that opportunity for a win wasted, the Celtics needed to find some way to slow the 6'6" Bryant, the most ruthless of rivals.
Rivers used Allen's pursuit of the record as an early decoy, running him off screens inside the three-point line for a trio of two-pointers. "I just wish we could have kept it going until the fourth," Rivers joked.
But in the eighth minute Allen flashed to the corner for a catch-and-shoot three, and then, with 1:48 remaining in the opening quarter, he came to a stop in transition just as a pass arrived from Rondo. As he'd done thousands of times before, Allen released a three before the defense could react. After hitting his 2,561st shot from beyond the arc, he met Miller at midcourt for an embrace during the ensuing break, and the home bench took joy in watching Bryant fist-bump Allen in spite of their long-standing enmity. "You know that was hard for Kobe to do that," said one Celtic.