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Starter’s Choice: C’s Wallop Nuggets 105-89

 

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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

KG clarifies his Charlie V trash talk to George Karl

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.

* * *

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.

  • Dan

    I thought Rondo would sit and Bradley would get minutes. Thus this game was a disappointment.

  • AussieCeltic

    I love that Rondo getting 13 assists seems pedestrian. He is an amazing part of this amazing team.

  • Dan

    Chauncey in my mind is part done and part dumb. He is done playing at the level he did for most of the decade, but his abhorrent basketball IQ is preventing him from transitioning to an effective role player. Frankly, I've been stunned whenever I looked at his win shares/48 or PER the last few years because he seems like such a dumb player on the court. Pull-up threes early in the shot clock to some of the worst late game shot selection I've ever seen in an effort to be the hero and live up to his monicker will prevent him from accepting the fact that his talents are not what they once were, especially after a summer overseas at his age.

    I'd also favor benching Rondo for health reasons. Nate's shown himself to be capable so far when given the chance to start and having Rondo fully healthy is going to be key come playoff time. Plus, if the team is going to slack off after starting hot akin to last year, then they can just make up the difference when Rondo comes back.

    Finally, the most (potentially) interesting thing about the Celtics regular season is Avery Bradley (we know they can turn it on come playoff time and be one of the best, if not the best, teams in the league, we can't control how hard they fight for seeding). In my mind regular season appeal comes from intense and important seeding battles (which are neither for the Celtics in their division and with their road prowess), evaluating the contendability of an unsure team (Celtics are contenders), historically great seasons by a team/player (not happening on the Celtics), and watching players develop/evaluating the potential and talent of young prospects. The only high-potential prospect on the Celtics is Avery Bradley and in a few years his contributions may be needed as a starter. Thus, watching the brief periods he gets on the court are something I eagerly look forward to. If Rondo resting gives me a better opportunity to watch Bradley, all the more reason for Rondo to sit out to heal and recover.

  • JP-

    If I remember right an easier part of the schedule is coming up, sit Rondo down for now, let Avery play against guys he is probably comparable to in the 76ers and the like. This team can beat the dregs of the league without him.

    I have never understood the "Mr. Big Shot" that was attached to Billups, he had some really good years in Detroit, but beyond that, he's never shown too much.

    No Melo in this game made a big difference early, I don't think the score would have been as high in the 1st quarter had he been playing.

  • MDftw

    Baby is fine in the post….

    he missed the shot maybe twice last night but he has shown that he can hit that shot this year

    he just backs a man down (thats either smaller than him or his size)… and when he is close enough, he does a 180 fadeaway in the air to get off a clean look

    although he might not have the softest touch… the great thing about big baby is that if he is given the ball, he'll always get himself a decent look

    If you want him to solely to score on jumpers putbacks and o boards then he'll go back to being the most blocked man in the league

    keep feeding him in the post i say

    • zebulon

      Agreed. Baby has created a number of layups for himself on postups (most notably by using his spin move), which is something KG really hasn't done this year. Of course, his turnaround fadeaway is nowhere near what KG's is, but he has been pretty successful with it so far.

      I would be interested in seeing what the synergy data looks like for their success rate on postups – my eyes tell me both KG and Baby have been similarly successful in the post this year.

  • llemur

    what is this nene thing? i don't get it

    • BrendanJackson

      obviously, you're not a golfer

      • llemur

        i'm not
        (crying)

      • zebulon

        Hilarious.

  • NHBluesMan

    i vote Doc cuts Rondo's minutes drastically tomorrow night, or just sits him altogether since its the Sixers. Nate can fill in well, and Bradley will get a chance for some minutes. I'd rather have Rondo healthy in the playoffs and win games then instead of having us force him against teams we can beat without him now.

  • JCP

    Great post. Although the "nothing here will make the highlight reel" line seemed to forget that first assist of the game from Rondo to RayRay.

    • http://twitter.com/M_DeVelaine @M_DeVelaine

      Indeed. Glad someone mentioned it before I could. That's going to be on highlight reels for years.

      • Ryan DeGama

        Yeah, that's a fair point. I was really just referring to the whole game itself as a non-event. Amazing, isn't it, how spoiled we are with Rondo's passing? He operates in degrees of the fantastic.

        • What More Can I Say?

          Do you and Hayes discuss Boston basketball? Because your post about Baby in the post was VERRRY interesting. You two are the exact oppposite in terms of how you WANT Baby to play. He gets scared when he shoots jumpers and you get scared when he is in the post.

          LOL!!!

          • Ryan DeGama

            I don't like Baby shooting a ton of jumpers either, to be honest. I don't love him as a high-usage guy, period.

            We haven't really talked about it in depth amongst the guys at CH, but my guess is Baby would be one of players we have the least agreement on…

  • Rachel

    I am in favor of sitting Rondo, but I have concerns about Nate as a point guard. Is it just me or did he seem sloppy last night? trying to move too fast and losing control of the ball, making bad passes… Nate can be a great shooter but he has a lot to learn about directing the offense. are there any other bench players that are feasible at the point guard spot?

    ps. I predicted Marky Mark would narrate the Association, and it's Donnie Wahlberg instead, so I was half-right. My brother thinks Mark Wahlberg may have crossed over to being a Lakers fan in his years in LA – does anyone have any intel on this possible treason?

    • KBA

      Rondo should def be rested. Nate and Marquis can run the point fairly effectively in my opinion, perhaps Bradley as well. Any 2 of those guys on the court at the same time could split the duties…. this is when u miss Delonte West though. This does give Bradley a chance and hopefully he can get some meaningful minutes. I do trust Doc though and he'll get Rondo the rest he needs.

      I wonder what Doc would do if the O'neals, Perk, BBD, KG, Erden are all healthy. That would be a tough job to distribute mins, of course a good problem to have but might get to be too much. Doesn't look like it'll happen at this rate though.

      • What More Can I Say?

        Erden wouldn't play! LOL! It wouldn't be tough at all.

  • Tom W

    how about Garnett blocking a shot, running the floor, and catching rondo's alley oop for the slam? seeing as how we've spent the past two years watching Garnett hobble around in pain, that play should merit some highlight reel mention. :)

    • What More Can I Say?

      Good point. That alley-oop looked soooooo easy for KG.

      • Ryan DeGama

        Does that mean it's not really a highlight now, and that it has become standard issue stuff?

        Wouldn't that be nice?

        • Tom W

          oh man. i like that possibility better…

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