Originally created 05/12/02

'Ugly win' looking better all the time for Celtics



WALTHAM, Mass. -- Maybe people who watched Boston chuck up all those 3-pointers during the regular season got the wrong impression, but the Celtics have turned things around this season with defense, not offense.

"We are not the Dallas Mavericks. Nor are we the Sacramento Kings. ... We aspire to that," coach Jim O'Brien said Saturday.

The Celtics beat the Detroit Pistons 66-64 Friday in the lowest-scoring NBA playoff game since the inception of the shot clock in 1955. The night before, the Kings and Mavericks were tied 66-66 at halftime of their playoff game.

"I would love to coach those high-powered, get out on the fast break offenses where our guys would run every night and score 130 points and win the NBA championship," he said. "But we attempted to build this for the long term, and we started at the defensive end."

Sixteen-time NBA champions who hadn't made the playoffs since 1995, the Celtics took almost 300 more 3-pointers than the next highest team in the league during the regular season. Even so, they were not a high-scoring team, ranking 18th in the league in total points and ninth in points allowed; Detroit was 18th in points scored and sixth in points allowed.

O'Brien wants his players shoot 3-pointers out of necessity, not choice, saying that his 49-win team would have had trouble winning 25 games in the regular season if they tried for points in the lane.

"For as long as I've studied basketball, the toughest defensive team has won championships," he said. "That's why we're where we are, and that's why Detroit is where it is."

And that's why O'Brien had his team going over video of its defensive lapses from Friday night, even though it would have seemed the offense would have needed the work after scoring the fewest points of any winning playoff team in the NBA's shot-clock era.

"We're not worried about our offense," forward Rodney Rogers said. "You win games with defense."

Rogers has the dubious honor of being in two of the lowest-scoring playoff games in NBA history, having played for the Phoenix Suns when they beat San Antonio 72-70 on April 22, 2000, one of three games previously tied for the honor.

Did he expect another game like Friday's?

"I hope not, anyway," he said. "But if we can do it and win, it would be great."

Thanks in part to tough defense and in part to poor shooting, the Celtics and Pistons struggled to score on Friday night - especially in the third quarter, when they combined for just 26 points. In all, they each shot 35 percent from the floor and made 10 percent of their 3-point attempts; Boston was 2-for-19 and Detroit was 2-for-20.

Although the Celtics are working with the philosophy that there is no such thing as an ugly win - Hall of Famer Bill Russell stopped by the locker room afterward to remind them of that - the Pistons feel like they sent a message by hanging so close on the road.

"I feel good. I feel like we really struck a nerve, even though we didn't win the game. They know. I really believe they know," Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse said after practicing at the FleetCenter on Saturday.

"We locked them down. We locked them down and we really don't feel like anybody has locked us down. We have shot a very bad percentage, but we feel that's more on us."