Pace: 102 possessions (extremely fast)
Offensive Efficiency: 113.7 points/100 possessions
Defensive Efficiency: 107.8 points allowed/100 possessions
A 3-1 record on what will be the Celtics’ most difficult road trip of the season? I’ll take it. You can’t help but be happy if you’re a C’s fan. Not after another game in which the Celtics whipped up their usual recipe for success:
1) Somebody will have a huge game (tonight it was Pierce with 28 points),
2) Balanced scoring from the starters (Ray was 5-11 but the rest shot 50% or better)
3) Get a big contribution from somebody off the bench (Nate with 15 points tonight)
And then of course, there’s Shaq.
At halftime tonight, I looked down at the box score and saw that Shaq had a team-high 14 points. I said to myself, “Uh-oh. Doc is going to play him a lot more in the second half, and it’s going to hurt us.” And luckily, I was wrong. Doc stuck to the plan that he’s been following all along. Shaq gets that little “s” next to his name in the box score that denotes “Starter,” but Big Baby gets the crunch time minutes down the stretch. It’s been a solid 1-2 punch for the games in which Shaq’s been healthy. And it’s going to be a great combination if Shaq continues to have games like tonight.
So what was the difference for Shaq tonight? Coming into the game, Shaq was shooting only 60% on shots at the rim. That’s too low for pretty much any NBA player, let alone the most powerful force in the history of the sport. From simply watching the games, I think Shaq has played well this season, even though the numbers don’t necessarily leap out at you. Tonight, I just thought Shaq looked lively. He shook off a few early traveling violations, and was simply more focused and determined with the ball in his hands. Do I really think the Celtics did anything differently on offense? That they did a better job of getting Shaq the ball in advantageous positions? Not really. I just think Shaq made shots.
So in the end, I’m glad Doc didn’t get carried away with Shaq’s big first half. Personally, I don’t really like him on the floor with the Big Four anyway, because he’s such a big presence and I think we try to force our offense through him. But tonight was exactly the type of game we brought O’Neal here for, and he was an undeniable factor in the C’s victory.
Other thoughts on tonight:
- Despite this 8-2 start, I refuse to make any “there isn’t going to be a mid-season slump” predictions. There’s really no point. Just taking it one game at a time. One game at a time.
- My focus for Rajon Rondo tonight wasn’t on the number of assists he was going to tally, it was on his decision making. Memphis came into the game leading the league in forced turnovers and points off turnovers, plus Mike Conley was second in steals behind John Wall at over 3 per game. I wanted to see the smart Rondo tonight. The one that would allow Pierce and Ray to get theirs against relatively weak defenders in Gay and Mayo. Overall, I give Rondo a B+ for tonight. I think he was a bit too aggressive (which I realize is what makes him great) and tried to do too much. Remember the beautiful alley-hoop to Garnett that Rondo threw up from behind the 3-point line? Me too. But the next possession down the court, Rondo tries a lazy behind-the-back pass to KG that Gasol picks off and throws up to Mayo for an easy dunk. Maybe I’m being too picky, because he did have 17 assists and only 3 turnovers. But if we’re going to start talking about Rondo as arguably the best point guard in the league, these are the criticisms he’s going to hear.
- Love the double screen from the two bigs. We ran it twice and it worked both times. The first one ended with Rondo’s alley-hoop pass to Shaq. The second one resulted in a wide open 3-pointer for Nate. Call me crazy, but I’d like to see the Celtics run that a couple more times per game.
- I just wanted to send a personal “Thank You” to Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and just Grizzlies management in general. Sure, Greivis Vasquez was playing really well offensively and trying 120% on defense and simply making me nervous in general. But Mike Conley is our guy! So let’s go back to him with 3 minutes left in regulation and all of overtime even though he shot just 3-10 from the floor and finished the game with 6 turnovers. Honestly, that contract is going to be found in “Managing an NBA Team 101” textbooks for years to come.
- Great game for Pierce, but was there a doubt in your mind that the final play in regulation would turn out the way it did? I don’t blame Paul for not driving to the basket because Memphis had a foul to give and Rudy Gay would have simply wrapped Pierce up (or maybe I’m giving Gay too much credit here). But how many times do we have to see this isolation play unfold exactly like this? Doc is actually one of the best coaches at drawing up plays after timeouts, but under 10 seconds it’s hit or miss. And Pierce is at fault for not getting the shot off on time.
- Question: How many Celtics fans really were in attendance tonight? Every time the Celtics had a dunk or some sort of nice play, there was a noticeable amount of “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” from the crowd. At first I thought the Grizzlies fans were just really excited to see good basketball (it was their first sellout of the season), but Mike and Donny said on the CSN broadcast they had never seen so many people waiting for the Celtics to leave the hotel en route to the game. Maybe Celtic’s Nation is the new Red Sox Nation?
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