An NBA season is a journey with lots of small but important moments of growth scattered here and there. Today’s game was one of those moments, because the Celtics played–and beat–a solid Minnesota team without KG, who was out with the flu. We could expect certain things to happen without KG around, and they did:
• Paul Pierce had a monster game (36-8-6), and hit two big shots down the stretch when Minny trimmed the lead to five.
• Ray Allen scored 22 points.
• The Celtics interior defense was sloppy, with slower rotations on the Foye-Jefferson pick-and-rolls and absolutely no answer for Big Al, who shot 15-for-21 from the floor.
Again, all to be expected. Now, let’s look at something less predictable: How four other Celtics fared without KG around.
A strange game for Rondo. He was a non-factor offensively for much of the game, taking only six shots (and making just two). I wonder: How much of Rondo’s offense, in terms of scoring, is linked to KG’s presence in the post? The two are so good at working that little give-and-go that starts with a Rondo entry pass and ends with a Rondo lay-in. Without a credible low-post threat, Rajon just wasn’t getting good looks at the hoop tonight. Good thing KG never misses a game (/prays to Leprechauns in the sky).
Baby got the starting nod and played 37 minutes, second-most on the team. Defensively, he’s never going to be as quick as KG darting out on pick-and-rolls and darting back to his man, and scorers like Al Jefferson are always going to give him a hard time. But he maintains strong position and drew two big charges down the stretch.
Offensively, we saw Baby’s limitations today–and glimpses of his strengths. He spent the first 10 minutes of the game camped out on the perimeter and was a non-factor before Doc lifted him. After that, he took 12 shots, including six jumpers from 15 feet or further out. He made two of them, which is consistent with his poor jump-shooting percentage this year–and one of them was a lucky, one-handed, fading-away-from-the-hoop baseline shot early in the third quarter he could never make again if he tried. As 82games shows, Baby is taking too many jumpers this year after being more aggressive last season.
There’s a place for Glen to shoot J’s, and we saw one example with 3:53 to go in the 2nd quarter. Rondo drove along the baseline, drew three defenders underneath the hoop and slung a pass to Baby, who was all alone from 17 feet away near the baseline. He set his feet and fired–swish. If he doesn’t have that kind of time, he should be taking the ball to the rim or dishing and setting screens. (Speaking of which, Baby showed skill as a passer at the top of the key, with two nice looks to Pierce late in the 2nd quarter as PP curled off of screens near the foul line).
Leon played 19 minutes, his most PT in six games and his third straight game with at least 10 minutes after a stretch in mid-January when it appeared he was losing favor with Doc. Even better, Powe reasserted himself as a scoring threat in the post in the fourth quarter. Take a look at this stretch of consecutive possessions:
(8:03): Perkins backs down Jefferson, draws a double team and dishes to Powe for an easy lay-in.
(7:15): Jefferson fronts Powe in the post, and Powe creates space for a Tony Allen lob entry. Perfect pass, and Powe dunks.
(7:01): Powe demands the ball in the post again, backs Jefferson down and draws a reach-in foul on Carney, who came on the double-team.
(6:13): Powe again posts up Al, and misses a nice-looking (and relatively open) jump hook. That’ll fall next time, Big Fella.
(5:41): Doc designs an inbounds pass for Leon, who blows the lay-in.
This is all good news, despite the two misses at the end there. The Celtics bench is much more potent when Leon is active and creating his own offense.
Tony Allen’s offensive role should be limited to attacking the rim and drawing fouls. Don’t shoot jumpers, don’t pass the ball off penetration unless someone is WIDE open and there are no defensive players between you and that man. Just go up strong.
We saw exactly what Tony Allen can be when he plays under control: A dangerous, foul-drawing machine who can make sure the offense doesn’t stagnate when two of the Big 3 are on the bench. He took eight free throws in just 19 minutes on the floor and finished with 14 points.
Check out this 2nd Quarter stretch:
(9:22): TA hits a 17-foot pull-up. No defender was within 10 feet of him. He is allowed to shoot in this situation.
(9:01): TA drives right at a hapless Brian Cardinal in transition, drawing the foul. He makes both FTs.
(7:58): TA botches a fast break by losing control of the ball in the lane. He recovers and dishes to Ray Allen in the corner for an open three. Ray misses, but TA corrals the rebound and draws a foul going up.
(7:24): TA misses a 22-foot jumper so badly he was yelling “SHORT” almost as it left his hand.
(6:43): A classic TA sequence. He streaks into the lane on the dribble but finds himself with nowhere to go. He tries a lob to Powe underneath the rim, but the ball accidentally hits the rim–and caroms right back to Tony, who lays it in.
People are going to be tempted to say Tony has turned the corner when they see stat lines like 14 points in 19 minutes. I’m much more cautious. The sequence above shows he is still too often out of control on his drives to the rim. Also: Minnesota has the kind of defensive line-up Tony can exploit. Their quick guards (Telfair and Foye) are too small to stop him around the rim, and the bigger guys who were guarding the back line when TA attacked in transition (Cardinal, Love and Mike Miller at separate times) aren’t athletic enough to leap up and stop him without fouling.
But, as always with TA, let’s take the baby steps and smile. A win without KG is a good thing for the development of this team, and Minny has proven in the last month they are not a pushover.