SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Even Ray Allen was fed up.
The Celtics were already spending an extra night in Sacramento because of a winter storm back East, and Allen wasn’t about to spend it soaking up a loss to one of the NBA’s worst teams. On a team with the boisterous Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the usually reserved shooting guard gathered everybody in the locker room at the half and delivered a speech that left them stunned.
“I kind of let everybody have it,” Allen said.
Allen sparked a stagnant start to finish with 22 points, Rajon Rondo had 17 points and 10 assists and the Celtics overcame a poor opening half to beat the Kings 95-90 on Tuesday night.
“It’s funny. We knew we were messing up when Ray’s the one yelling and screaming,” Pierce said.
Pierce added 15 points and Garnett had 12 to help the Celtics (37-11) pull away in the fourth quarter and clinch the Eastern Conference’s best record through games of Feb. 6. That means Boston’s Doc Rivers will coach the East in the All-Star game in Los Angeles on Feb. 20.
DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans finished with 20 points apiece for a Kings (12-34) team that returned to its losing form. They were coming off wins against two of the Western Conference’s elite — the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets — but missed out on their first three-game winning streak this season.
“Even though we got the loss, it showed how good we can be and the potential of this team,” Sacramento coach Paul Westphal said.
The Kings knocked Boston around for most of the first half until the Celtics finally pushed back.
Maybe even a little too hard.
A physical game spilled over after Garnett dived for a loose ball near the Kings bench late in the second quarter. Cousins stood over the Celtics big man — still wearing a bandage on his head from a gash that opened in the previous game against the Lakers — with the ball already out of bounds.
Rondo came to his teammate’s aid, exchanged words with Cousins and pushed the Kings forward in the chest.
“It was all in the game and it wasn’t nothing personal or dislike,” Cousins said. “That was the Celtics, and I was standing my ground. But it was really nothing.”
Added Garnett: “We’re a very proud team. We don’t really do that to other people and just want hold up some decency in this game and respect. We all have each other’s back. I guess (Rondo)felt he was standing over me, which is inappropriate to us.”
Things never escalated past that, although Rondo was called for a technical foul that could draw more attention in the NBA league office. The Kings led 54-45 at the end of a first half in which they dominated the Celtics in almost every phase.
The Eastern Conference champions were just too much to handle.
The Celtics withstood all the blows and clamped down defensively in the fourth quarter. Glen Davis’ fastbreak dunk highlighted the run that put Boston ahead 87-77 with 6 minutes remaining, and the Kings never seriously challenged after that.
If only that was the end of Boston’s otherwise successful 3-1 West Coast trip.
“Usually I have to say something at half time. I kind of stood outside the locker room,” Rivers said. “Ray and the starters, they let the second unit have it today, and you don’t see that very often. They were upset. They weren’t upset that they didn’t play well, they were upset at the way they played. We don’t play that way. That’s not Celtic basketball. That’s the great thing about having a veteran team.”
NOTES: The Celtics will fly home Wednesday and don’t play again until Friday at home against the Dallas Mavericks. … Rivers met with friend and Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, who lives in northern California, before the game outside Boston’s locker room. Baker’s son was wearing a green Reds baseball cap. … Kings reserve F Darnell Jackson took a few minutes to leave the court after the first half. He did not return. The team said Jackson had shortness of breath and kept him out for precautionary reasons…. Kings F Jason Thompson sat out the game with a sprained right ankle.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)