If the Celtics’ bench ever gets its health and focus together for a consistent stretch, Boston is going to run off a series of 20-point-plus wins, because this starting five is shredding teams all over the league. Focused, balanced and relatively healthy (Rajon Rondo’s gimpiness aside), there are few matches for the big five around the league right now.
The Celtics ran out to a 35-21 lead after one against the disinterested Nuggets (playing without Carmelo Anthony, who was out with
a knee injury). But that score doesn’t fully articulate how poorly Denver played and how crisp Boston’s shotmaking was in that opening stanza. It appeared we were headed for an epic blowout, the kind that might actually knock Nuggets’ Coach George Karl from 999 career wins back to 998.
Then the Celtics bench unloaded one of their classic non-efforts in the second quarter, as if to say to the Denver starters ‘whatever you can do poorly, we can do even worse’. The Nuggets got the deficit down to a single point before realizing at halftime that they didn’t really care enough about this game to put up another run. The Celtics starters put the hammer down in the third, and the resurgent bench finished it off in the fourth.
Ray Allen finished with 28 points on 9-14 shooting, Kevin Garnett just missed another double-double with 17 points and 9 rebounds and Rondo tallied 13 assists in an off-night-ish kinda performance.
Voila: a 17-4 record and eight wins in a row heading into tomorrow’s game against the Sixers.
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A Closer Look At The Beatdown
This was one of those junky games that will vanish from your memory in a few weeks; nothing here will make the highlight films at the end of the year, nor should it. But there are a few areas we should touch on from tonight’s win.
1 – The starters. Besides a healthy group of Lakers, what other teams can run out a starting-5 that can hang with the Celtics right now? The Celtics are offensively potent at all five positions, pass the ball efficiently and without ego, can spread the floor, can get to the line (when they’re motivated), have size underneath the basket, credible mid-range shooters, etc, etc, etc. Basically, on the offensive end, they can do it all. We saw that tonight (admittedly, it helped that Denver just sort of let Boston do whatever it wanted for awhile). On the defensive end, the C’s have almost everything you’d want as well. Good perimeter D (Allen being the periodic exception), great communication, two plus-rebounders on the frontline, an effective strong-side zone against elite scorers, and save for one glaring exception (see below), Boston provides great help defense.
2 – Doc Rivers didn’t have to abuse his starters with long minutes tonight, but had the bench stepped up in the second quarter, it might have given them a little extra rest on the eve of a back-to-back. More importantly, it might move the B-squad away from this pattern of one step up, one step back that’s been plaguing them all season.
Figuring the massive early lead was, in fact, safe, Doc chose to run out five reserves for a good chunk of the second quarter. But nobody’s an alpha-dog in that group, which means it’s offense by democracy. In any game, Marquis Daniels (17 minutes, 0 points) or Nate Robinson (18 minutes, 6 points) could rattle off a few baskets in a row, but on the other side of that coin, either of them could throw up a goose egg. There is no offensive consistency with that group. Which is why, I suppose, Doc likes to have Paul Pierce or Allen out there with them and why, for example, guys like Vinnie Johnson or Kevin McHale have proven so valuable over the years. Clear offensive option as first guy off the bench. It works.
On top of that, there’s no defensive quarterback on the floor when it’s five bench guys at once. Even though I have no doubt every guy on the roster has bought into the Celtics defensive system, somebody has to do the ‘holding everybody accountable’ part. Without KG or another starter directing traffic, it’s possible for the bench players to slip into the basketball equivalent of bystander apathy.
3 – Shaquille O’Neal’s pick and roll defense was problematic again tonight. Boston is typically superb with help-D rotations but Shaq is such a liability when pulled from the basket that good passing teams with quick cutters and good shooters can create points in a hurry. We’ve been talking about this all year and it remains a problem.
4 – Rondo did not look healthy tonight. When forced to cover Ty Lawson, Rondo struggled to stay with his man, and looked (to me anyway) like he was avoiding hard contact on screens. Robinson ended up finishing the game for #9, although he probably would have done so regardless of the health issue, due to the whole blowout thing. That said – the Celtics’ all-star PG doesn’t look like he’ll be back to full health anytime soon. It seems that whether it’s hamstring or foot or a combination of both, he’s going to have to gut it out, or like Brian reported this week, sit down for awhile to get back to full health. Anyone leaning towards the latter?
5 – Chauncey Billups. In 33 minutes, the former Pitino-backcourt-of-the-future partner of Ron Mercer, put up 2-10 shooting. His 15.41 PER has fallen off a cliff from last year’s 20.25. It’s his lowest since 2000-01. He’s 34. Is he done?
6 – Nene. Nice headbutt attempt. Clever girl.
7 – Glen Davis put up another solid line of 16 points, 6 rebounds in 27 minutes. I still cringe when I watch him back guys down in post-up situations because he doesn’t have a great offensive arsenal with his back to the basket, and on upfakes, defenders can stay on their feet because Davis is so small. I much prefer him scoring off of open jumpers, on putbacks off of offensive rebounds and catching and finishing off another player’s penetration. Fewer ISO-Baby situations in the post, Doc. Please.
And I think that about covers it for tonight. Another good win for the Celtics. Some frustration with the blown lead but they pulled it out in the end, and rather handily at that. That does appear to be a pattern this year and one, Celtics Nation, well worth celebrating.