When the Celtics  went out on their annual West Coast swing following the All-Star break, they were a team that was searching for itself. A narrow win over the Kings gave them some much-needed relief. A win over the Lakers gave them a much-needed victory over an elite team.
But it was Friday night against Portland, in the second game of a back-to-back, that the Celtics finally started to look like the Celtics of old in a 96-76 victory. (Recap .)
The Celtics put together a complete game that featured strong shooting (53.4 percent), low turnovers (11), solid rebounding and, most of all, defense. The Blazers shot just 34 percent for the game and scored just 15 points in the fourth quarter and 13 in the second.
The Celtics looked sharp early, making 14 of their first 18 shots. Kevin Garnett , in particular, was strong as he made his first six shots while Rajon Rondo  had six assists in the first quarter. The Celtics then put the clamps down defensively, holding the Blazers to just three field goals in the quarter to take a 56-38 lead into halftime.
The Blazers closed to within nine early in the fourth quarter, but Ray Allen  scored 11 of the next 14 points as part of a 14-2 run to put the game away. Allen led all scorers with 21 points and was 9-for-14 from the floor.
Turning Point: Portland scored just six points in the first six minutes of the second quarter as the Celtics built a 45-31 lead with their second unit. The starters picked it up from there as Garnett knocked down his first 3-pointer of the season on a desperation heave as the shot clock expired. Garnett followed that with a length-of-the-floor layup off a feed from Rondo.
Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo once again controlled the Celtics offense with 10 points and 11 assists in only 31 minutes.
* The Celtics’ physical defense got to the Blazers late in the first half as Kendrick Perkins  and Andre Miller  became entangled under the basket. Perkins and Juwan Howard  were assessed double technical fouls.
* Rondo and Rasheed Wallace  both picked up technical fouls in the third quarter. Wallace had his technical from Thursday night rescinded. Assuming he keeps this one, Wallace now has 13 technical fouls this season. His 16th would trigger an automatic suspension.
* The second unit played well with a combined 33 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Glen Davis  was a force around the basket in the fourth quarter while the Celtics were able to pull away.
* Thanks to the lopsided final, Garnett played just 21 minutes, but he still scored 16 points and had seven rebounds.
* Paul Pierce  was a game-time decision, but was in the starting lineup as usual. He scored just nine points on 3-for-9 shooting in 26 minutes. Danny Ainge said on The Big Show that Pierce was still fighting through his foot injury. (Click here for a full transcript  of Ainge’s appearance Friday.)
* Nate Robinson  did not play and will likely miss Sunday’s game with the Nuggets as well. Robinson has had the flu. The other new Celtic, Marcus Landry, is also not expected to join the team until Tuesday, when they both newcomers are scheduled to make their debuts against their old team when the Knicks come to town.