Pace: 93 possessions (average)
Offensive Efficiency: 92.4 points per 100 possessions (horrific)
Defensive Efficiency: 82.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (ridiculous)
Thumbnail: The hardest-fought regular season win of the New Big Three Era. Oh, and KG says he’s OK despite taking a hard fall on his back/tail bone with just over one minute remaining in the game, according to the Globe.
Let’s go with bullets, since it’s Christmas:
* My family and I see a movie during the afternoon every year on Christmas (after we’ve opened presents). This year, we saw Invictus, a movie about the 1995 Rugby World Cup that would have been a better movie had Clint Eastwood been able to resist a few trademark bits of Eastwood-ian hokiness. The rugby scenes, though, were wonderful. They displayed the physicality of the sport and the endurance it takes to play it.
And then I got home and watched the Celtics-Magic game on DVR, and damn if it didn’t seem even more physical and more exhausting than the rugby games in Invictus.
Yes, it was “ugly.” Yes, the Magic missed some open threes. But how many of those misses made you feel lucky when they clanged off the rim? Three? Four? I’m sorry, but a Matt Barnes open corner three is not a terrifying thing, not this year, when Barnes is shooting 20 percent from deep. Overall, the C’s did a nice job of running Orlando’s best shooters (Redick, Anderson, Lewis) off the three-point line and making them drive and take contested two-pointers.
* Perhaps it’s the Christmas spirit (and the Christmas wine) talking, but Rajon Rondo’s performance today has to takes it place among toughest, most relentless regular-season performances in Celtic history. I don’t think that’s hyperbole. To play 47 minutes in a game that physical, and to keep going at the rim despite six first half turnovers and the visage of Dwight Howard waiting for you almost every time—it was just a gutsy, gutsy performance. It was almost too gutsy, considering this is Christmas and not, say, the Eastern Conference Finals. Too many minutes, too many times hitting the floor, too much pressure to pick up the scoring burden without Pierce and generally create offense for everyone else.
And yet Rajon pulled it off with a cool-headed, All-Star level second half. In my preview, I wrote that I wanted to see Rajon ascend a level by producing against the defense that has given him more trouble than any other. I’m not sure he quite fulfilled that wish, but he came close. He attacked the rim, he hit floaters when they were the only shots available to him and he dished 13 assists in (basically) half a basketball game.
* Oh, and that play when Rajon leaped for a one-handed offensive rebound and tapped the ball—in mid-jump—to Sheed for a dunk? Holy cow. How many PGs can make that play? Is there another one in the league?
* For the record, some of those first half turnovers were not Rajon’s fault. TA and Shelden Williams dropped passes from Rajon they should have caught.
* This game proved why it is so hard to evaluate Vince Carter. On the one hand, he scored 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting and was, at times, the only productive offensive player on the floor for Orlando. And yet you can’t quite shake the feeling that Vince’s habit of dominating the ball can decrease the production of everyone around him.
The Magic lost this game in the last half of the 1st quarter and the first part of the 2nd quarter. They had Perk, Sheed and Tony Allen in foul trouble, the Celtics were giving the ball away on what seemed like every other possession, and yet Orlando could not pull away.
And Vince took three horrible shots during that stretch, including two 20-footer jumpers with Brian Scalabrine guarding him. Wasted possessions when the Magic had their chance for the kill.
* It’s unclear how revealing this is, but Kendrick Perkins was +19 in 21 minutes. He has come so far as a player that I don’t know what else to say. To watch him switch onto Vince Carter on screen/rolls and force Vince into shooting (bad) high-arcing baseline floaters—it’s just a great feeling. It’s not surprising. This is Perk now. But it feels good, every time.
* If you taped this game, watch the possession that starts with the C’s up 78-75 with 1:01 to go. KG had just left the game after his bad fall. My Dad and I had the rare chance to watch this game together, and we (and probably everyone on the Magic) knew option #1 for the Celtics on that possession would be Ray Allen receiving the ball off a baseline cut and curl and doing something with it—shooting or passing to a big on the baseline if that guy’s defender jumped out to help.
And yet Ray still got free to knock down a 13-footer that was probably the biggest basket of the game for Boston.
Ray has had a rough season so far—36 percent from three and a barely-average Player Efficiency Rating of 15.2—but he can still be a knock down late-game shooter.
* There is nothing more fun than following a satisfying C’s win by flipping over to the Cleveland-Lakers game and seeing an angry LA crowd tossing foam fingers onto the court in a classic LA crowd protest. “Hey, let’s throw these completely harmless soft things onto the court! That’ll teach the refs for somehow causing our team to lose a game in which we’ve been outscored by 20 points! Should we start the M-V-P chant for Kobe now, or would that be weird?”
* Brian Scalabrine has to do more than grab one rebound and hit 1-of-4 from the floor in 16 minutes of play, but he worked his ass off defending Vince Carter—an assignment that should never fall to him anyway. Scal is living proof that a large part of being productive on defense is not falling for pump fakes and not trying to do anything spectacular. He made Vince Carter work hard for points tonight, and Vince (as I mentioned earlier) was more than willing to give into the temptation of isolating against Scal instead of playing team ball during a few key possessions.
* As I mentioned in my preview, I’m still waiting for the next advancement in Dwight Howard’s offensive game.
* Tony Allen also made Vince work for his points and turned the ball over just once in 22 minutes. Those are still the most crucial things for TA—defense and turnover avoidance. But he has to understand that a 19-foot jump shot can be as bad as a turnover if it’s an air ball or if it hits the backboard and bounces to an Orlando player. Resist the temptation, TA. Otherwise: Kudos on some nice work.
* The Celtics were missing Paul Pierce, but it’s also clear the Magic are still missing an All-Star point guard despite Jameer Nelson’s recent return to the line-up. Rajon Rondo went under Dwight Howard screens on the majority of screen/rolls involving Nelson as the ball-handler. This was a recipe for death last year, when Jameer shot 50 percent from the floor and 45 percent from three-point range. He’s shooting just 43 percent this year (and a very nice 42 percent from three-point range on very limited attempts), and the C’s played him more like this year’s 43 percent shooter than last year’s 50 percent shooter.
That’s something to keep in mind as the season goes on and Jameer settles in.
* The C’s ran one play I really liked and that they don’t run very often: A 1-2 screen/roll involving Rajon as the ball-handler and Ray Allen as the screener. It happened at the 3:39 mark of the 3rd quarter, when Rajon drove right around a Ray screen and turned the corner into the lane, in part because Ray’s man was so preoccupied with Ray that he could not jump out to cut off Rajon’s penetration.
The defense collapsed on Rondo, and he swung a pass across the court to KG on the left baseline for a wide-open 16-footer.
* All in all, a tough performance from Boston today. I don’t think it says all that much about where these teams stand right now (other than that they’re evenly matched), but it says something about Boston’s character and its defense.
The team will bring both when it matters. Every time. And that is all we can ask.