The first leg of the tour was in Portland, and even with Phoenix looming on the horizon less than 24 hours away, the C's left it all on the court. They were physical, they were relentless, they were at times downright dirty. Anything to get a win.
"We are who we are," coach Doc Rivers said. "That's how we play. We're not going to change now. We've done it for four years, so that's who we are."
The C's weathered the storm to win an ugly one in the Pacific Northwest — their 21 turnovers collided with the Blazers' 36.7 percent shooting, and the end result was an 88-78 victory in unfriendly territory. The Celtics weren't graceful, but they got the job done.
"Give them credit," Rivers said of the Blazers. "I thought they kind of sped us up tonight. But once we kind of got our legs back under us and started running our stuff, I thought we were pretty good."
The game was physical from the outset. In the opening minutes, Rivers witnessed both a collision between Rajon Rondo and Nicolas Batum and a near-wrestling match between Kevin Garnett and Joel Przybilla that sent the Big Ticket tumbling to the floor. The Blazers were out for blood, and they had the home crowd egging them on.
With a veteran team like the Celtics, you'd expect them to remain composed under adverse conditions. But the C's got a little rattled, they got rushed, and they tried to play an unnatural style, running and gunning like Western Conference natives. They were 3,000 miles from home and out of their element.
"I thought their pressure got us going a little too fast in the first half," Rivers said. "They played extremely hard tonight. You knew they would, reading the papers about how physical they were going to be with us, and all that stuff. But when we read that, we actually like it. That means it's going to be played our way. We're good with that. But I did think their pressure sped us up a lot in the first half. We just kept telling our guys at halftime, just get back to running your stuff."
The Celtics came out composed and re-established themselves after halftime, with Paul Pierce draining a 3 on the opening possession to set the tone. They started moving the ball again, they started finding their shots, and the game started to swing their way.
All in all, not a bad night of work for the Celtics for their first time out West. They've got three more grueling games to go before heading home, so it helps to have found a rhythm early.
If the Celtics think playing at the Rose Garden in Portland was tough, they've got another thing coming when they visit the Staples Center on Sunday afternoon, returning to the scene of the crime where they lost Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals last June. But the C's got a good introductory taste of life on the road Thursday night, getting them ready for the main event this weekend.
"There was a lot of energy in the building," Pierce said. "It was a nationally televised game, and they have great fans. So we kind of played to the energy of the game, and I think we got rushed, which forced us into some bad moves. But we settled down there in the third, we got the lead, ran our stuff and were able to keep the lead and ultimately finish out the game."
The C's now sit at 13-7 on the road this season and 9-4 against the Western Conference. They're starting to get the hang of this, but this weekend, the going will only get tougher.
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