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A Team I Recognize: C’s 94, Rockets 87

 

ESPN RecapRed 94The Dream Shake

Pace: 89 possessions (slow)

Offensive Efficiency: 105.6 points/100 possessions (below average)

Defensive Efficiency: 100 points allowed/100 possessions

Thumbnail: It felt a bit like 2008, as the Big Three combined for 60 points on 23-of-42 shooting and the C’s played one of their best defensive games of the season in a solid road win. The bench was solid, the energy was high and the C’s showed resiliency after Houston opened the 2nd half on an 11-2 run to tie the game. Rajon Rondo scored two points and the C’s still controlled the game. Paul Pierce scored 15 in the 4th to put the game away.

This was a good way to start a tough nine-game stretch.

Recap: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This was the first game of a brutal nine-game stretch. The C’s committed 28 fouls (their 6th-highest total of the season), allowed nine offensive rebounds in the 1st half and coughed the ball up three times in the early part of the 3rd quarter to help Houston get back in the game. 

But this looked like the team that started the season 23-5. I rarely comment on whether the team looks energized or lazy; I don’t trust myself, watching from the couch, to make that sort of judgement in most games. It seems too likely that I’ll allow how the game goes to color my judgement about the team’s effort. But tonight I’ll make an exception.

This team was flying in the 1st half. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen understood they were guarding players (Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin) who match them in terms of speed and off-the-ball movement. Rondo ran around as if the NBA title depended on his ability to keep Brooks in front of him and deny him the ball. Allen ran through and around screens as if he were guarding himself. Martin and Brooks had six points combined at halftime, and though they got going in the 3rd, you’ll accept a final Martin/Brooks line of 27 points on 10-of-24 shooting every time. 

On the other end? Put it this way: Rasheed Wallace grabbed four defensive boards in the 1st half, and the outlet pass seemed to be out of his hands before he had even set his feet after landing. The C’s wanted to run on misses, and they did so effectively; Allen, Paul Pierce (26 points in just 28:19 of playing time, yay efficiency) and Nate Robinson all hit transition threes. 

With a few exceptions, the Celtics played the kind of defense tonight that only they can play. The Rockets got very little on screen/rolls. On the few occasions when Brooks turned the corner and got in threatening position, the C’s helped and then rotated back without leaving huge gaps for Houston to exploit. The legs were moving, the arms were in passing lanes and the C’s forced a team that normally turns the ball over on about 13 percent of its possessions to do so on 18 percent of its possessions tonight. Boston forced 16 turnovers, and that’s the number the C’s normally commit, so you know it’s a lot.

The most encouraging sign? The team did not wilt when its energy level inevitably fell and Houston made a run. That happened early in the 2nd half, when Houston opened the 3rd on an 11-2 run to tie the game at 52. The C’s (missing Paul Pierce, who picked up his 4th foul at the 11:38 mark and checked out soon after) helped with three early turnovers, but credit Houston for making plays.

Brooks turned the corner on screen/roll and made a tough floater. Kevin Martin made a few Kevin Martin shots—step-back jumpers with a hand in his face, awkward-looking Js coming off screens and one nice drive into the paint after Chuck Hayes caught an unsuspecting Allen (guarding Martin) with a weak side back screen.

These were good plays. Hat tip. 

We had seen this movie before, right? 

Not tonight. Ray Allen hit two big threes, Nate Robinson scored five quick points off the bench, Glen Davis grabbed a bunch of offensive boards and Houston missed its last six shot attempts of the quarter. All but one of those misses came from 16 feet and out. 

For one night, the C’s looked like contenders again. Will it last? Let’s talk Monday night, after the C’s have faced Dallas and Utah on the road. 

Bullets:

• Michael Finley should not have been defending Kevin Martin in a close game in the 4th quarter. 

• Luis Scola made KG look bad early. He posted up KG twice in the first 4:30 on the left block. The first time, he beat KG driving right for a lay-up. The second time, he drove by KG on the left side for a lay-in. Glen Davis looked better defending Scola in the post when he got the chance in the 1st quarter, and I was surprised Houston didn’t go back to Scola on the block later. 

Luis, one of my favorites to watch, scored 10 in the 1st quarter but finished with just 17. KG defended him well when Scola served as the screener on screen/rolls and kept right with Scola off the ball. 

• Paul Pierce crushed this game in the 4th quarter. Absolutely took it over and made sure the C’s kept Houston at bay. The Truth scored 15 in the 4th on 5-of-7 shooting. You know what’s interesting about this 4th quarter explosion? Pierce, known around the league for his mid-range game, attempted zero mid-range shots in the 4th. He attempted five shots and the rim (making three and rebounding the two he missed) and two three-pointers (making both). That, my friends, is how you score efficiently. 

If the Celtics are going to truly contend, they will need Pierce to score and draw fouls at the rim. 

• Speaking of fouls, there were again too many tonight. I wrote about this last week, and it remains true: The C’s are fouling too much and allowing too many opponent free throws. It’s hard to win when you commit 28 fouls—a ton in a slow-paced game—and shoot 13 fewer free throws than your opponent. Hitting 10 three-pointers helps, but you can’t count on that every game. 

Fouls are going to happen, but there were too many needless ones tonight. Nate Robinson committed two on Kyle Lowry in the first three minutes of the 2nd quarter—one going for a no-chance-in-hell steal in the passing lane, and the second when he almost crawled into Lowry’s uniform 25 feet from the basket even though Lowry can’t shoot threes. Use your noggin’, Nate. 

Save goes for Rondo, who tried to get around a Battier screen by running right through it midway through the 4th. 

The C’s were in the penalty before the 7:00 mark in the 2nd and 4th, and you’re not going to be able to do that against Cleveland in May. Clean it up. 

• Glen Davis with five offensive boards in 17 minutes of playing time. No one else on the team can do this. Yes, at least two of those boards came when Baby rebounded his own misses (or found the ball after one of four Rocket shot blocks on Big Baby), but if you’re going to get stuffed on 30 percent of your shots and miss half your lay-ups, you might as well get good at getting your own rebounds, right? 

• The C’s allowed two more offensive rebounds on missed FTs tonight after giving up three to Anderson Varejao alone on Sunday. This cannot happen. The first one (5:28, 2nd Q) was KG’s fault, as he was responsible for boxing out Trevor Ariza and moved in toward the rim instead of putting a body on Ariza. Trevor, a superior athlete when allowed to move freely, lunged in and stole the rebound away from KG. The Rockets hit a three on the resulting possession. 

• You know that play I’ve nicknamed the Rugby Scrum? The one where two big guys rush up from the foul line together and set a monster double screen for Rondo? 

We saw a new twist on it tonight: Paul Pierce took Kevin Garnett’s place as one of the screeners, while KG chilled out in the left corner. Rajon prefers to go left around the double screen, so KG was stationed in easy position to receive a pass from Rajon. 

The C’s ran the play twice in a row down the stretch—at 4:20 and 3:48 of the 4th. Perk and Pierce set the double-screen, with Perk rolling down the middle and Pierce popping out to the three-point line. Rajon drove left, and KG’s man (Jordan Hill) drifted toward the paint to help on Rajon and Perk. 

Twice in a row, Rondo passed to a wide-open KG in the left corner. Twice in a row, KG stuck the shot. Nice tweak from Doc, nice execution from the team. 

That’s it for tonight. I’ll be back with more tomorrow, and Brendan and Brian will take you through the Mavs game.

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