These “vintage Paul Pierce” games are the best.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the way the Celtics play team basketball. Nothing makes me happier than watching Boston’s 5-man unit work together to overcome a 45-point performance by LeBron, Kobe or Dwight in the playoffs.
But sometimes, it’s fun to watch your guy dominate under the bright lights, and that’s exactly what Pierce did last night.
Pierce finished the game with 38 points in only 33 minutes. He shot 14-19 from the field (74%). He was 6-8 from 3-point range, and he didn’t miss a free throw. It was essentially a perfect offensive performance.
We didn’t see Pierce attack the rim as often as we usually do, but that’s because he didn’t need to. He had that little 8-foot jumper working for him all night. Pierce got wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He hit 3’s in transition, and in the half-court set. Carmelo couldn’t hang with him, so Mike D’Antoni just tried the next guy (and then the next guy). Nothing worked.
But Pierce didn’t do it alone. In fact, the Knicks had their hands full with another Celtics’ veteran, as Ray Allen shot 8-11 from 3-point territory and finished with 32 points. If there’s one thing we know about Pierce, it’s that he doesn’t shy away from the big stage. Or competition. So you knew he wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to get in a shootout with his teammate in Madison Square Garden.
“After a while, I started feeding off of Ray,” said Pierce. “It was like he was making every shot and it was putting pressure on me to make shots. I couldn’t let him down, so it was fun to be a part of, just to kind of watch him take those shots, because I was looking at him saying how on fire he was. But then everyone was saying I’m on fire, so it was good to be a part of that and just have teammates that can really put on a show like that.”
Most likely, Pierce won’t replicate this performance in Game 4. If he goes for an efficient 18 points and the Celtics sweep the series 4-0, we’ll all be happy. But last night was a treat, and I’m hoping we get to see a few more this playoff season.
While this game was certainly one of the best games of the season for the Celtics, it was definitely THE best game for this starting five. There’s nothing more you could ask for from your starters. Pierce and Allen were exceptional, KG and JO did what they needed to do, and you could still make the case that Rondo was the best player of the floor tonight.
-Rajon Rondo: I think it’s safe to say that “Playoff Rondo” is back. After the 30-point outburst in Game 2, Rondo followed that up with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 20 assists. And he’s gotten back in the habit of pushing the ball up the floor as quickly as possible. Whenever the Celtics were in transition, Rondo would get right to the top of the 3-point line, and with his head on a swivel, assess the situation and make the right play. That’s when he’s at his best, and we saw that on display all night against the Knicks yesterday.
-Jermaine O’Neal: I haven’t been able to watch any of the Oklahoma City Thunder games so far, so I can’t comment exactly on how Kendrick Perkins is playing right now. But I’m willing to bet that Perk cannot be playing all that much better than JO, because O’Neal has been terrific. Listen, I’d never thought I’d say this, but JO is doing all the little things that the Celtics relied on Perkins for. He’s playing very good defense. He’s blocking shots. And more importantly, he’s simply been a presence. Is there anyone else besides me that thinks JO is the best fit for this team, even if Shaq is healthy?
Well, you can’t win ’em all, right? But at least we’re getting to the point where the starters can play 44 minutes a game and Doc won’t have to rely on his bench so much, because last night was not pretty. Brendan posted the +/- numbers in the previous post, and it’s a little concerning. It must be frustrating for the starters when they build up a nice 1st quarter lead, but as soon as they leave the game they know it’s going to evaporate.
To give Doc some credit, though, he’s mixing up his 5-man units as he tries to figure out something that will work. Yesterday we saw Jeff Green and Big Baby Davis playing mostly together, and Delonte West out there with Rondo. In Game 4 I bet we see a slight variation.
It’s hard to put your finger on the problem because the talent is there. Although they haven’t played like it, Green, Davis and West is a bench that you SHOULD feel comfortable with. They just all look a little lost right now.
A great sign for Celtics fans. The C’s made a point to improve in this area. They talked about it. They worked on it in practice. And then they went out and got the job done. In the playoffs, it’s all about making minor adjustments from game-to-game, and hopefully this is a trend in the right direction.
The Celtics out-rebounded New York 43-33 and took down 13 offensive rebounds. You have to credit Garnett, who clearly made it a point of emphasis and backed it up with a game-high 12 boards.
“One of the things we worked on in practice was rebounding better off the help,” said Garnett. “We are a help defensive team, but our second effort has to be better and it was tonight. We got bodies on bodies and we were able to get rebounds.”
And while Garnett also added 4 rebounds on the offensive glass, we all know that Rondo was the real key for the Celtics here. The point guard had 6 offensive boards, some leading to very easy put-backs. He created havoc for the Knicks throughout the entire game, something we really didn’t see from Rondo during the latter part of the regular season. But I guess that’s why we call him Playoff Rondo this time of year.