Even with the comeback win tonight, moving the Celtics to 11-4 on the season, the story that will rightfully grab headlines is Delonte West’s broken wrist. The Celtics guard, playing in just his fifth game of the season after serving a 10-game suspension, landed hard on a drive to the basket in the second quarter, bracing himself with his right wrist, which absorbed enough of the impact to break it. He was in considerable pain and quickly shuffled off to the locker room, from which he would not return.
Post-game, Doc Rivers didn’t sound optimistic about West’s wrist or any timeframe for his return.
“It’s broken for sure,” Rivers said. “Don’t know anything else more than that; a compound fracture most likely. But [it’s] going to be a long time, let’s just put it that way.”
The injury overshadowed a spirited second half comeback, after a slow start. Paul Pierce put up 18 points and Shaquille O’Neal dropped a Thanksgiving turkey-sized 25 points and 11 rebounds on the Nets, on 9-10 shooting from the floor. New Jersey had no one who could keep him from scoring without fouling him, as O’Neal continued to outperform the value of his contract.
Rivers: “That was the young [Shaq]. I mean – he was just good. He had great energy. And we had to have it. We had to leave him on the floor at times. He was just – his energy, his size, everything – he was phenomenal for us.”
Shaq ended up logging 32 minutes, including a stint with the second unit, where he might take up residence once Kendrick Perkins returns. In the meantime, Shaq continues to make a strong case for himself as the permanent starter, something we’ll consider on Celtics Hub in the near future (one key argument against Shaq applies whether he’s starting or coming off the bench: the consistently horrific results on D when he has to step out and guard the pick and roll/pop. New Jersey made a living on that in the first half and even in the second half, when the Celtics clamped down, it usually involved help defense rather than O’Neal making any adjustments himself).
Re-watching the game tonight, it was notable how many good shots the Celtics had and just missed. Kevin Garnett (4-12 for 8 points) made a number of strong post moves that just didn’t fall. Glen Davis (3-9 for 8 points) missed a batch of open jumpers he normally knocks down. Pierce missed all but one of the five threes he took, but they were all good looks.
Really, the Celtics controlled this game for the first eight minutes or so, and then the entire second half. It was just that slodgy (not a real word) 16-minute stretch that kept the Nets in the game.
As a result, there was plenty to like from this one:
- He didn’t look sharp early on but can we now appreciate Pierce’s superb second half? Maybe the captain was deliberately trying to pick up the energy and the crowd after West’s injury. Maybe it was merely a function of being forced into a point-forward role, but Pierce was all over the place in the last 24 minutes. He cut up the porous NJ defense off the dribble, found open guys for good looks, played strong help defense, rebounded the ball, and even knocked down a couple of elbow jumpers down the stretch, an all-too-rare occurrence lately.
- Marquis Daniels had one of his best games of the season. Like Pierce, his numbers won’t wow you, but if you saw the game, you saw him break up Nets’ offensive sets, handle the ball, grab a couple of loose balls, and, like everyone else on the Green, kick up his energy as the game moved to its conclusion. In a way, he functioned like West does – by doing a lot of little things well that quietly contribute to victories.
- Von Wafer put up an impressively odd line tonight. Five minutes, then a whole line of zeros. Then +7. Which is about right – he was good on the defensive end, and remains less than an afterthought on offense. At least right now. We’ll see if that changes now that a spot in the rotation has opened up for him.
- Nate Robinson, in foul trouble much of the night, got a chance to finish out the game with the starters, and did so in style, nailing a big three-pointer in the closing minutes to ice the win (not only that – the shot came off a high screen-roll with Paul Pierce with tiny Nate setting a passable pick and spotting up on the arc).
- Shaq’s post-game rhetoric matched his performance tonight. Except you get the sense it’s not rhetoric; it seems like he really means it when he describes this Celtics team as the best team he’s ever been on and his sole focus as adding championships – to everyone’s resumes. “I think people appreciate my hard work, especially over the past 18 years,” O’Neal said. “I think they understood that when I came here for the 1.5 [million], they knew what was on my mind. For them, it’ll be 18. For the big three, it’ll be two. And for me it’ll be number five. That’s the only thing that I’ll focus on right now.”
So, what now, given the West injury?
First – don’t expect Rajon Rondo back Friday against the Raptors.
Rivers suggested it was unlikely he’d see the court. “I’m probably less likely [to play him] the way things are going. I’m serious about that. Unless [Trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] says he’s feeling great.”
Beyond that – it’s unclear.
We’ll look at this in greater depth once we understand the severity of the injury but it seems certain we’re going to see a lot of Nate Robinson even after Rondo returns. He’ll have to take on the PG role on the second unit, and look for his shot. That kind of multi-tasking has been problematic for him so far in his Celtics career. We may also see Daniels as the primary ballhandler and Robinson at SG. And Wafer looks to see his minutes stretched out. We’ll see if he’s up for it.
But tonight, it’s all about West. Just as his comeback (is that the right word?) was picking up steam, he has to start all over again. Let’s hope he’s not out for too long. He’s too important to this team’s championship aspirations.
Back tomorrow with a Thanksgiving Day notebook.