You could tell Doc Rivers wanted this one.
He shortened his bench, bringing only Jeff Green, Delonte West and Glen Davis (a collective 17-23 from the field and +35 overall) into the game to aid his starting five. And after yet another ghastly opening salvo from the starters (the C’s were down 28-14 after the first quarter), the Celtics pulled themselves together at halftime and played something resembling the basketball we’ve come to expect from them in 2010-11.
In particular, Davis and West brought the team back in the third quarter (the Celtics entered the period trailing by 11 and exited up by 3). Without their energy and intensity, Boston might not have pulled this one back under control.
Encouragingly, the second half featured some recognizably Celtics-y defensive stands which limited New Orleans to 34 points in the final 24 minutes. With every defensive stop, the Celtics seemed to rediscover part of their identity, one they seemed to completely forget during last night’s abomination in Houston. By the fourth quarter, on three key possessions down the stretch, Boston forced a shotclock violation, Kevin Garnett tied up Emeka Okafor to force a jump ball, and then Ray Allen recovered to strip Marco Bellinelli after the Hornets guard took him to the hole.
Those three plays (along with a Garnett 20-foot jumper) seemed to break the will of the Hornets, which wasted an enormous game from David West (44 minutes, 32 points, 8 rebounds). West scored in isolation, off pick and rolls, and drained perimeter jumpers against pretty much anyone the Celtics threw at him. It’s a good thing he’s safely stowed away in the Western Conference.
The offense leaves New Orleans with something to build on. Scoring the ball has been a chore lately (to put it kindly) but the ball movement improved tonight and jumpshots were not the default method of attack (although Rajon Rondo hit a few outside jumpers and looked more like himself). Allen went for 44 minutes and while his defense continues to leave plenty to be desired, he did heat up in the second half on his way to 20 points. Davis also had 20 points and 8 boards including a few momentum turning buckets in the third. Really, only Paul Pierce (1-9) and Nenad Krstic were bad tonight, and Pierce seemed more focused than in recent games, if not exactly more effective.
So, it’s one step forward as the Celtics move into a tie with Chicago for first overall in the Eastern Conference. The key now is not to take two steps back Monday night against the Knicks.
More on this one tomorrow…