I hope nobody missed this one.
You can write off the last month of poor games. They portend nothing.
Did the C’s mail in games throughout March? Without a doubt.
But with a couple of days rest (similar to what they’ll get between playoff games) and the big stage of a nationally-televised game (also similar to the playoffs), against one of the best teams in the league (playoffs), Boston came out with focus and maintained it to the final buzzer.
If anything’s been missing in this March maddeningness, it’s been that kind of intensity.
Ultimately, shots will fall, or they won’t. Matchups will be favorable, or they won’t. Players will be hurt, or they won’t. But on a team with such a high basketball IQ, applying the kind of effort we saw last night will keep the Celtics in games against any team in the league.
So, let’s get the touch of grey out of the way and then move onto a whole batch of happy. Nenad Krstic may have played his last game as a Celtic. Or maybe he hasn’t. He’s due for an MRI in Boston on Saturday and we’ll know more then. Let’s play worst case scenario. I’ve seen a few comments floating around suggesting Boston wouldn’t miss Krstic because his game was subpar in one way or another but imperfect though Krstic may be, without him Boston is doubling down on the health of Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, who have played one total game in the last two months.
We’re at the point where it’s entirely possible for Boston to enter a June game where Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett and Troy Murphy are the only healthy bigs. No way is that beating the Lakers.
Rajon Rondo was spectacular tonight, finishing with 22 points, 14 assists, 0 turnovers, 6 made jumpers from 14 feet and out, and complete control of the game-changing third quarter where Boston outscored the Spurs by 7.
Plus, did you see the way he went at Tony Parker, who he appears to despise? It was almost feral. (Remember, Parker’s the one who made past comments about how Rondo’s reputation is built not on his skills, but by standing on the shoulders of his Hall Of Fame teammates. Pot, kettle, black?)
There’s always the danger RR can take himself out of a game when he gets too jacked against the other elite PGs in the league, but I’ll take that risk every night if he’s going to be this engaged. And if he’s going to finish at the basket like this:
The flow of the game was beautiful. It reminded me of a couple of high-powered 1980s offenses in the way both teams moved the ball in the halfcourt and pushed it in transition. It was high scoring early, sure. But it wasn’t because the defenses were poor. And even with the D tightening up in the second half, the two teams combined for 50 assists. That’s a pretty solid indication you saw an entertaining basketball game.
As Hayes noted earlier, Parker got into the paint any time he wanted. Rondo was working hard on him but Boston’s help defenders were initially reluctant to leave their men, which gave Parker a seam to the basket. Layups and open jumpers ensued. It took Boston’s bigs showing harder and cutting off the paint in the second half before Parker was finally neutralized.
Paul Pierce is on a roll the last couple games. He was all over the court, pushing up against a triple-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists, including a a key offensive rebound and put-back, and a great balance between perimeter jumpers and forays into the paint.
Still struggling: Ray Allen. He just can’t get going. Boston ran a bunch of sets designed to get him open but San Antonio did a great job of either denying him the ball off a screen or curl or getting on top of him the moment he caught it. The result? Another 8 misses in 11 tries. He was working hard though. A breakout seems imminent if he can get some open looks.
Davis can’t guard Duncan. Without that mismatch, Boston might have blown San Antonio out in the fourth quarter. But Duncan either backed Davis down and scored or caught the ball in motion and shot over top of him. It’s kind of pick your poison on that one: either double Duncan and leave guys open on the perimeter or stay home on them and let him go one-on-one with Baby. A little Krstic would have been nice down the stretch.
The Spurs took 29 threes (league average: 18, Spurs average: 21) and only hit 9 of them. You may have heard Gregg Popovich griping about that during the TNT broadcast. All those misses helped the C’s get out in transition.
J.O. is back. His return was less eventful for what happened on the court (11 minutes, 5 points, 1 rebound) and more for the fact that he looks svelte and is moving well, and may actually resemble the player Boston thought they were getting last fall. It’s actually a good situation for him. If Boston goes onto win the title this spring, it’ll almost certainly require his contributions. So nobody would be able to deny that he earned the ring.
That’s it for now. More later today, and the Hawks await a SEGABABA-ing C’s team later tonight.