This one was fun, and it was big, considering what’s coming up on the schedule.
The Celtics, despite shooting 54 percent, had no business winning this game. They turned the ball over 19 times, including five TOs in a 1:26 span of the second quarter (note: that is not a mis-print) to help the Sixers erase an early 15-point deficit.
This was the kind of game where it’s 92-85 Sixers in the fourth quarter and you’re talking yourself into how it’s an acceptable loss — KG’s out (again) with the flu, the Celtics are committing bizarre turnovers (like casually tossing an inbounds pass to Reggie Evans) and the interior defenders are missing assignments and rotations in a way they never will when KG’s playing 35 minutes a game.
But the Celtics still have Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and the two future HOFers used basically the same play on two consecutive possessions to tie and then win the game. Here’s how it went:
(42.0)–Celtics down 97-94. Allen sets a screen on Pierce’s right near the top of the key. Pierce dribbles by and Allen rolls back to his left (away from Pierce) and camps behind the three-point line. Pierce’s man (Iguodala) freezes in between Pierce and Ray, and Pierce tosses a pass to Ray. Reggie Evans is late rotating, and Allen cans the shot. 97-97.
(30.5)–On the other end, the Celtics play their most spirited defense of the night, with Big Baby rushing over to contest what appeared to be an open three for Thaddeus Young in the left corner. Young dishes to Iggy on the left sideline. Pierce is on him close. Iggy dribbles hard to his right, creates a smidgen of space and hits a tough, tough shot over Pierce for the 99-97 lead.
(6.8)–Ray Allen inbounds the ball to Pierce above the top of the key. Pierce pump-fakes a three and then dribbles hard to his left and toward the foul line, where Thaddeus Young steps over to help. Only by doing so, he’s left Ray Allen alone behind the three-point line on the left side of the floor–exactly what Doc Rivers wanted. Pierce leaps and throws a two-handed pass to Allen. Young changes direction urgently but runs right into a huge Big Baby screen. Money. 0.5 seconds left. Game over.
A really fun finish to a game that revealed some concerns (and some unexpected positive signs) we’ll get to after the jump.The bad:
• 19 turnovers, including that spree in the 2nd quarter. Look, we all know the Celtics turn the ball over too much; they’ve been at the bottom of the league in this category all season. On the one hand, we could disregard tonight’s problem as a fluke. The turnover-itis happened with the following lineup on the court: Ray Allen, Rondo, Perkins, Davis and House. This is not a lineup we’ve seen on the court much (if it all) this season, and we’re never going to see it in a big game, since Doc almost never plays Davis and Perkins at the same time (and the numbers suggest he shouldn’t).
On the other hand, the Celtics wilted when the Sixers pressured them all over the court and generally created havoc–and this is exactly what the Sixers do. Look at some of the turnovers in the 2nd quarter:
(5:24): Baby loses the ball under pressure between midcourt and the three-point line, recovers it and stumbles into Royal Ivey for an offensive foul.
(5:09): Rondo travels catching an inbounds pass after a Philly score.
(4:41): Ray Allen slips trying to dribble around a defender pressing him just over half-court.
(4:26): Rondo throws an inbounds pass to Reggie Evans after a Philly score.
This is why the Sixers are a frightening potential first round opponent for the Celtics–a turnover prone team against an underdog that thrives on creating chaos.
• Sloppy interior defense with KG out. The rotations were slow all night on pick-and-rolls orchestrated by Andre Miller, and I was surprised Philly went away from that in the fourth quarter and turned the ball-handling duties over to Lou Williams instead (though Williams did just fine). One example:
5:13 to go in the 2nd quarter: Miller and Reggie Evans run a pick-and-roll on the left side. Big Baby rushes out at Miller, who bounces a pass to Evans about 18 feet from the hoop on the left wing. Baby is slow getting back, so Perk takes a couple of half-hearted steps over to help. Evans bounces to Perk’s man (Dalembert) for the slam.
Perk, in fact, looked off all night. He failed to box out Marreese Speights on an Andre Miller missed free throw with about five minutes to go. Instead of jumping back at Speights, Perkins slid gently toward the hoop and Speights inched in and out-leaped Perk for the rebound and put-back.
It wasn’t all bad on the inside, though. Baby grabbed 11 tough rebounds and hustled back in transition all night.
ALSO ON THE GOOD SIDE:
• Big Baby’s jumper is coming along. His jumper has been bad this year, but Doc has been urging him to shoot it more to add some diversity to his game. (One other great point from Doc in that story linked above: Davis is a terrible finisher at the rim. Doc thinks it’s because Baby goes up looking to get fouled, perhaps out of lack of confidence in his finishing ability. The result is that he goes up weakly and doesn’t get the call–his free throw rate is down this year, and he’s become more a jump-shooter). He hit two 17-footers in the fourth quarter, including one with 1:37 left to bring the C’s to within 95-92. Baby’s working hard, and he is becoming a useful player.
• Rondo showed the offensive aggressiveness we need out of him after a passive 2-for-6 performance on Sunday. He was 9-for-12 from the floor, and all nine makes were lay-ups or dunks. What’s encouraging, though, is these weren’t the kind of lay-ups Rondo usually takes–the ones where he has absolutely no choice but to shoot because KG has found him wide open under the rim. These were tough takes in traffic, the times Rondo usually gets airborne and passes it back out instead of trying to finish.
Two examples from the 3rd Quarter:
• (1:50): Rondo drives against Iguodala, who stays right on Rondo’s left shoulder. Rondo rises up, takes contact from Iggy on his left side and lofts nice floater off the glass. Tough take.
• (4.1): Tony Allen steals the ball and outlets to Rondo on the left side. Lou Williams is between Rondo and the rim, and Rajon streaks right at him. He goes up–and here’s where I expect the desperate look for a bailout pass–but Williams doesn’t challenge, and Rondo slams it home.
These are good signs. The more consistent weapons the C’s have, the less the offense will stagnate when two of the big three are on the bench.