If you looked closely during the first half of this one, you could almost see Boston taking Portland for granted.
Unmotivated and lacking energy, the first half Celtics eventually ceded control of this one to their more focused second half counterparts, and that group brought home a messy victory against the Blazers, tangibly marred not by its lack of aesthetic appeal, as much as the thigh bruise to Paul Pierce that may keep him out of Friday night’s tilt with the Phoenix Suns.
Still, with Miami’s 93-88 loss to New York, the Celtics are now a full four games up in the standings… over the Chicago Bulls, who took over second place in the Eastern Conference tonight. And while it makes me feel like a broken record to make this point yet again, at least it’s playing a pretty tune: this is exactly the kind of game the C’s would have lost last year.
- Portland out-rebounded Boston 49-42, and made good on our pre-game warning about offensive rebounds by pulling down 19 of them, often against Celtics defenders who seemed completely unaware of the need to box out their men on the glass.
- The Celtics fueled a Portland transition attack by turning over the ball 21 times and then playing half-hearted transition defense, when they played it at all.
- The Blazers – sans Marcus Camby and Greg Oden and Brandon Roy – scored 48 points in the paint compared to the 34 the larger, healthier C’s put up.
- Rajon Rondo turned in another unimpressive defensive performance and seemed constantly on the verge of injury, and down on the hardwood floor.
- LaMarcus Aldridge put up 17 points, and 16 rebounds.
That’s a lot to go wrong and still come out with a win.
So, what went right?
- Kevin Garnett actually besting that Aldridge line by flirting with a triple-double. KG recorded 10 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, that latter stat-sheet category stuffed mainly in the third quarter when he found shooters in the corner for open threes, big men underneath for dunks and cutters driving down the lane for layups. He (and the other C’s bigs) also forced Aldridge to take 20 shots to get his 17 points. Moreover, as TNT’s Kevin Harlan repeated relentlessly, he put his fingerprints all over this one in terms of focusing his teammates and getting them to settle down on defense.
- Kendrick Perkins played just a terrific 21 minutes off the bench, nearly missing a double-double with 10 points, 9 rebounds and on one dynamite third-quarter sequence, managing to stymie first Aldridge in the post and then Rudy Fernandez on the perimeter. Perk struggled with his wind at times but is, on a per-minute basis, making a huge impact so far in his return. Think too, how much more effective he’ll be with Shaquille O’Neal in there doling out six fouls of his own. By the end of the regular season, we may be talking about how no team in the league can match up with this Boston frontline (including the Lakers).
- The Celtics shredding the Blazers in the free throw battle by getting to the line 33 times compared to Portland’s 13 (admittedly, many of Portland’s point-blank shots were uncontested, particularly in the first half).
- The C’s holding Portland to a mere 36.7% shooting.
- Ray Allen and Pierce putting in 18 and 17 points respectively.
- Von Wafer (again!) showing impressive work off the bounce in short minutes. He’s earned extended run and may finally get it against Phoenix if Pierce can’t go. I was not a believer in him earlier in the year, and with the caveat that he may be exposed if he has to play longer minutes, I’m happy to have turned around on him. He’s a legitimate asset to this team, and could have a hand in playoff wins, if given the chance.
And to put a bow on this one, here’s the highlight of the night, perhaps the first alley-oop to Ray-Ray in his four years in Boston. Looks absolutely natural for him, doesn’t it?