This was a game that was fun to watch as the C’s toyed with a Thunder team before pulling away in the 4th quarter to bring home a 19 point win. The Celtic starting unit (with the exception of Big Baby) played this game however with the same amount of intensity that you’d expect to see at a pickup game at a local YMCA. The Celtic starters made a multitude of mistakes early on, but you certainly couldn’t tell from their demeanor on the floor as smiles remained on the face of the carefree C’s despite the turnovers.
I don’t know whether it was the lack of respect and/or fear of the Thunder, the absence of Kevin Garnett (likely a combination of both) but these factors caused the Celtic starters to play careless basketball until the fourth quarter. Constant overpassing, unnecessary dribbling and a plethora of highlight reel moves made it seem like the Celtics were trying out for the ESPN streetball series.
The Thunder were not playing particularly good basketball during this sequence, but took advantage of the Celtics’ lack of fire and held a lead over the defending champs for the better part of the first three quarters.
There was never really any doubt that the Celtics were going to win this game in my eyes. The thing that stood out to me though (besides Big Baby’s terrific performance) was the Celtics bench. This part of the team that had been its Achilles heel during many nights this season with its inability to be consistent and sustain leads the starters had given them. For one night though, they made up for the starters deficiencies and brought the intensity and motivation needed that propelled the C’s to a lead and an easy win.
Plus 61. That was the combined +/- of the five Celtic bench players last night. Let’s take a closer look at their contributions.
Mikki Moore: Despite his 12 points and 11 rebounds, Moore’s most impressive stat of the night as far as Celtics fans were concerned was the fact he did not foul out in 27 minutes of play. Seriously though, Mikki did play extremely well in the first half scoring his 12 points on a couple of jump shots and 4 easy dunks that were created thanks to some nice dribble drive penetration by his teammates. At halftime, Moore mentioned that the Big Three were trying to get him to play more relaxed and that certainly showed in this one as he put together his best performance in a green uniform to date.
Stephon Marbury: Stephon’s performance excited me even more than Mikki’s. Starbury only scored 2 points on 1/4 shooting but he did have 7 assists compared to just 1 turnover in 22 minutes to go with a +12 on the floor. There have been some growing pains in the past 10 plus games for the point guard but he is finally starting to look comfortable with the bench unit by distributing the ball to his teammates in the right spots. I also noticed a lot of these assists came off of some nice penetration, allowing him to draw multiple defenders to create dunks and open jumpers for his teammates. Great news to see him putting it together at the right time.
Eddie House: It was an off night for most of this one for Eddie as he was getting the open looks but his threes were refusing to go down. Keep shooting is the mantra elite marksmen live by and that is exactly the advice House followed last night. Eddie continued to hoist threes, going 3/9 by the time this one was over on his way to 16 points and a +22. The threes he hit in the 4th also were pivotal in sustaining the deciding closing run so it was nice to see the team remain confident in the backup guard despite some early struggles in this one.
Putting it all together, this was a performance by the bench that will hopefully quiet a lot of the doubters. These guys in the past month have played with so many different lineups due to injuries, it has been difficult to establish any kind of rhythm and cohesion especially with the arrival of Moore and Marbury. Last night though was the first time I can ever remember when I couldn’t wait for Doc to insert these guys into this game in the 3rd quarter, since they had been playing with much more urgency than the starting unit.
This unit has set a strong tone by their play in the last two games which has given me hope that these guys have worked through the hiccups and can be an asset rather than a detriment in the second season. More observations of Big Baby, Pierce, and Ray’s minutes after the jump.
Big Baby was once again an absolute beast last night, coming back from 10 stitches in the 3rd quarter to help this team take over the game in the 4th. Davis played with as much confidence as I’ve ever seen in this one, showing no hesitation in his mid range game and showing his all around abilities by getting to the hoop with ease.
19 points and 10 rebounds was his final line, the number of rebounds being an encouraging number as well since Baby struggled with grabbing boards consistently earlier this year. Right now though he is doing it all for this team, stepping up his game to a new level to make up for the absences of Leon and KG.
Ray Allen only had to play 23 minutes in this one, getting an unofficial night off, despite the reality this was not a blowout until the forth quarter. Rondo only had to go 29 as well. Look for the minutes to remain low with these guys, as well as Paul Pierce as Doc looks to give his big guns some rest against inferior competition down the stretch here.
Paul Pierce had an extremely quiet 27 points, catching fire in the 4th with the rest of the team to help put this one out of reach.