What do you do with a game like this? Do you praise the 72 percent true shooting mark or worry about the 62 percent true shooting mark the Celtics yielded to a mediocrity like the New Jersey Nets? Do you wring your hands over the slower-than-usual rotations and the open threes, or do you smile at yet another Paul Pierce performance you can add to the dozens and dozens he’s piled up over 11 seasons (12-of 14 for 31 big points)? Or do you savor the thought of having Rajon Rondo on your team for the next 11 seasons?
There’s a third option we’ll call the My Dad Option, and that’s to laugh at the idea of even caring about a regular-season NBA game–let alone one in which a line-up of Eddie House, Bill Walker, Mikki Moore, Leon Powe and Stephon Marbury plays the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. For my sanity, I’m going to take that option (not really, of course) and assume that the Celtics will bring the defensive intensity and precision on Friday that were missing until the very end of the game tonight.
It was actually after the starters re-entered in the fourth that the Nets shot their way back into the game. The Nets hit 13-of-30 from three, which can happen, just not usually against the Celtics. But it was the nature of the some of those threes that got my attention. Celtic perimeter players (all of them) were ducking under screens more often than normal, allowing Devin Harris, Jarvis Hayes and Vince Carter (who came in shooting horribly) to sit behind Brook Lopez and take clear looks at the rim. If Harris isn’t way off (7-of-21 with rumblings about both asthma and a rib cage injury), the Nets win this game.
The perimeter guys also didn’t protect the paint as well as usual. Example: Celts leading 103-97 with 4:10 to go. Keyon Dooling brings the ball up the right side in semi-transition and blows by Eddie House into the lane, draws the defense and finds Hayes in the corner for a wide open three.
And as much as I hate to give the whiner any credit, Vince Carter had his way with the Celtics defense tonight, including Paul Pierce, thus derailing (for a day) my Pierce For All-Defense campaign. Not only did he shoot well (13-21 for a game-high 34), but he got into the lane and created for others.
Example: 6:02 to go, C’s up 101-92. Vince gets Pierce to bite on a pump fake and drives into the lane; the defense collapses, and Vince kicks to Dooling in the left corner for an open three. Dooling’s shooting 45 percent from there so far this year (Hot Spots), but he bricks this one and finishes 0-of-5 for the game overall.
It all peaked (valleyed?) when Vince made a contested three to give the Nets a 111-108 lead with 1:14 to go. But that’s when the Celtics showed up. Read it, after the jump.
Remember the classic game against Philly last month when Ray Allen hit two straight three-pointers, one to tie the game and one to win it? The first 15 seconds of the clip below shows the game-tying shot. The Celtics ran that exact play again for Ray Allen tonight, and it worked again, as Allen nailed the open three to tie the game. (Nice screens from Perk on both of these plays).
Then it was all Pierce. After a stop, the C’s got the ball to Pierce on the left block and cleared everyone to the other side–except Ray Allen, who stayed in the left corner, creating an impossible choice for the Nets: Have Allen’s man slide over and help on Pierce or live and die with Jarvis Hayes guarding Pierce one-on-one. They chose the latter. Pierce faced the basket, drove left and hit a step-back jumper for the lead. Where was Vince Carter? Not guarding Pierce.
The Nets got the ball back with 20 seconds left, and where was Paul Pierce? Guarding Vince Carter. That tells you all you need to know about the difference between these two players. Carter drove right starting from the top of the key; Pierce kept himself attached to Carter’s left hip the entire way down the lane and timed his jump perfectly as Vince rose for the runner. Carter had to loft a high-arcing shot over Pierce’s out-stretched hand, and it missed. Game over. And I didn’t even mention the two straight jumpers Pierce made with 3:08 and 2:12 left to go, respectively.
Rajon Rondo also treated us to an exquisite third quarter. Someone either said something to him at halftime or he decided on his own to assert himself, because he was pushing the pace and attacking the rim the entire quarter. He went 7-of-9 from the floor (two nice-looking jumpers and five lay-ups) for 16 points and a couple of assists. The offense just reaches a different level when he’s involved.
And we got to see the aforementioned Bench Mob on the court for about seven minutes total–two minutes in the second quarter, five in the fourth. For the most part, it wasn’t pretty. They scored eight points on 13 total possessions (five of which ended in turnovers), and one of those points was a technical free throw. After three games, we still haven’t seen Marbury score in the lane on a half-court set, though a nice up-and-under baseline shot glanced off the front of the rim tonight. His other lay-up attempt barely left his hand before Sean Williams swatted it away.
It’s way too early to conclude Marbury has lost it as a scorer. But it’s not too early to conclude that he still has something to offer as a distributor–four assists in 15 minutes, and he’s finding people in the right spots at the right moments. Is that enough to get him on the floor for a playoff game? The jury is still out.
• Perk was a beast tonight, despite a missed dunk and some bouts of vintage Perk fumble-itis. He went off for 17-13, thus proving once again my infallible (not really) theory of Perk the Difference Maker.
• Baby’s JumperFest ended; he was 1-of-4 on jumpers, though he did provide the game’s funniest moment when he missed a shot so badly he started chasing after it while it was still on its way to the rim. He ended up diving into the crowd behind the baseline, knocking over about three Nets fans.
• Bill Walker looked competent for seven minutes. He and Marbury combined on a nice play in the fourth, when Steph drew defenders toward the baseline and Walker cut right down the middle, received Steph’s pass and laid the ball in.
• Nice games tonight from both Powe and House off the bench. I’m calling this now: When the C’s narrow their rotation for the playoffs, I want to see Powe playing over Moore.