Not a lot of chirping from the Celtics after the win tonight, but as a team motivated by, amongst other things, arrogance, pride, and revenge, you can be certain that thoughts of the Christmas day loss weren’t far from their minds when the ball was tipped off at the TD Garden.
The big story is Kevin Garnett’s return. We were reminded again tonight that part of what makes KG great is how he holds everyone accountable, not just on the defensive end where his you-gotta-work-blue comic yapping seems to galvanize the Celtics D, but on the offensive end, where his instincts towards passing, his sublimation of his own ego, gets everyone operating in concert.
We saw that early on as the Celtics moved the ball beautifully, making multiple passes for good looks and getting off to a ten point lead. During this run, and happily, throughout the game, Garnett looked sharp and unhindered by any lingering effects of his calf injury.
Then the bench came in and things took a turn for the worse. Luke Harangody’s first half efforts (honest but ineffective) got him sat for the second half and Glen Davis, who wasn’t bad tonight on the offensive end (good decision-making and 6-10 overall against uniformly taller and longer players) just couldn’t do anything with the Magic’s behemoth center (33 points, 13 rebounds for D12 on the night, aided in part by an impressive new face-up bankshot that looks like a reliable weapon). I can only assume Semih Erden couldn’t give the C’s anything tonight because at least he brings height to the table. A Davis/Harangody 4/5 (or 5/4) is a sure recipe for disaster.
Of course, Doc Rivers wasn’t getting a ton from Shaquille O’Neal tonight so he was shy options. Now that we have KG back, we can start fixating on how much Kendrick Perkins will mean to this team. His rebounding would have lessened Orlando’s 13 offensive rebounds, many of which were of the backbreaking variety after the C’s forced a miss – and then had to defend all over again. His man-to-man defense on Howard would have been welcome and his hard pick-setting would have freed up even more perimeter guys for jumpshots.
By the time the fourth quarter came around, this one felt dodgy, as though the C’s might succumb to the Magic’s inside-outside offensive onslaught and periodically impressive defensive pressure. They were doing a better job closing out and/or staying home on Orlando’s shooters but the long ball kept burning them anyway.Then Ray Allen (26 points, two big three-pointers down the stretch), Paul Pierce (a timely ‘pump fake, elbow jumper, and-one, PP special’), and Garnett (the big steal to put a bow on things) came through for the umpteenth time in the last four years.
After the jump, we hit the lightning round for some quick hits on other notable bits and pieces from this one.
- Allen continues his magical month, knocking in 8 of his 11 shots. His shooting bailed the C’s out on a few occasions.
- Pierce took only one shot in the fourth. A democratic offense that doesn’t force shots is fine, but Pierce has to get more shots in tight games against elite teams. This will be a topic to revisit in the season’s second half but with Davis leading the team in shots so regularly lately, the question arises: isn’t forcing it on offense a good thing sometimes? Don’t you need to get your best guys looks more often than not? Okay, that’s two questions.
- Harangody. Challenged to defend big or fast. A whole lot of the PFs and Cs in the league fit into one of those two categories.
- Gilbert Arenas is almost invisible out there. I know there are issues of acclimation and injury but that’s an awfully big contract to be carrying for that level of production. Perhaps we’ll see a different Agent Zero by the playoffs.
- Nate Robinson has been put on this Celtics team to slowly drive me insane. His decision making and defense are consistently inconsistent. We’re only a year into the Robinson era and I’m dreading the next 12 months. I know, I know – shut up and stop hating on Nate.
- Ryan Anderson. Can really play. Gonna be a huge pain in the playoffs if the C’s end up playing Orlando.
- Rajon Rondo. 10 points, 13 assists, unremarkable defense. Ho-hum.
- Reggie Miller seems to be finding his groove as a color guy. He’s been borderline unlistenable the last few years anytime he’s had to feign or force enthusiasm and get all “Mama, There Goes That Man” about things. He’s a sharp guy, with things to say and doing it calmly suits him.
That’s a wrap for this one. More coming from Hayes later this morning at CelticsHub and from the C’s on Wednesday night, when KG again attempts to take out his fury on Charlie Villaneuva, perhaps this time without giving everyone a heart attack in the process.