By A. Sherrod Blakely
NEW ORLEANS The Boston Celtics are in the midst of their own brand of March Madness these days, as they turned in one of the more bizarre performances this season.
A thing of beauty?
It doesn't matter what you call it.
The Celtics have one word for it a win.
And Saturday's 89-85 win over the New Orleans Hornets in the Big Easy, ways about as tough a victory as the Celtics have managed to pull out this season.
Ray Allen, who had 20 points, put the game away with a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds to play.
Bosto trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half and fell behind by 15 early in the third, before rallying for the victory.
"To come back the way we came back; to start out the third quarter poorly, I thought it meant a lot to the guys to come back," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "They wanted this win and I thought they liked it because a lot of people pitched in."
Among the Celtics contributing to the victory was Glen Davis.
Davis, who grew up in nearby Baton Rouge and starred at LSU, looked very much at home most of the night.
He finished with 20 points off the bench, which included eight during a decisive third quarter surge by the Celtics (49-19) who are now tied with the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
"We haven't got real good wins lately," said Davis. "So this is a good win for us."
While there has been some debate of late about the Celtics being too offensive-minded, their strong showing in the third quarter was fueled in large part because of their ability to take the Hornets out of doing what they wanted to do.
New Orleans' Marco Belinelli had 23 points, with only seven coming in the second half.
And after shooting a shade under 61 percent in the first half, Boston put the defensive deadbolt on New Orleans in the third quarter by limiting them to just 6-for-21 shooting, or 28.6 percent.
"Give the Celtics credit. they picked up their presssure, we couldn't' run a play and they hit some big shots," said New Orleans coach Monty Williams. "Their defensive presence in the third quarter hurt us."
And to some degree, healed some of the wounds that the Celtics were still licking after a dismal 16-point loss the night before at Houston.
While it wasn't Boston's largest margin of defeat this season (that was a 17-point loss at Phoenix on Jan. 28), it was arguably the worst.
Against the Rockets, the Celtics trailed by as many as 29 points.
But Saturday was a different opponent, a different kind of game and fortunately for the Celtics, a different outcome.
"We won this pure defense, man," said Kevin Garnett, who had 12 points and nine rebounds. "Pure defense."
And that defense led to a slew of easy scores for the Celtics, especially in the third quarter.
Following a 3-pointer by Allen that cut New Orleans' lead to 58-47, the Celtics went to work defensively.
The net result was a 20-6 run to end the third, essentially wiping out all the momentum that the Hornets had built up over two-plus quarters.
And in the fourth, Boston continued to display its defensive swagger by forcing 24-second violations, jump-balls and turnovers.
It was a much-needed win for a Boston team that came in having lost four of its last six games.
While much of the attention during Boston's recent skid has focused on Rajon Rondo and the problems he has had, Rondo's role has been just part of the team's overall poor play.
On Saturday, Rondo was actually one of the few bright spots for the Celtics in the first half, when he scored eight points which included a buzzer-beating jumper to end the half that cut New Orleans' lead to 51-40. He suffered a hand injury in the third quarter and missed some action, but was able to return to the floor.
Rondo finished with nine points and five assists on 4-for-8 shooting from the field.
"They were cool. It felt good to hit a shot, more than one," Rondo quipped. "More than one. It was a relief."
The same could be said for the Celtics, getting a much-needed road win - a rarity for them this season when it's a back-to-back set and the second game is on the road.