If you want to argue the Celtics had all the advantages yesterday, you’d have a case. Up 3-0, missing JR Smith and with a home game waiting on Wednesday, the Knicks had (and still have) a whole lot of room for error. And while there’s no guarantee anything the Celtics did right will carry over to Game 5, yesterday at the Garden we finally saw signs of the team that presented as, at minimum, a difficult out just a few weeks ago.
So, for one day only, here’s a roundup of good news only.
It’s never just one guy and it wasn’t in game four but Brandon Bass was Doc Rivers’ primary on Carmelo Anthony and before he fouled out of the game (after 31 minutes), he gave Rivers everything he could have hoped for on the defensive end. It’s safe to say the one-game experiment with Bass coming off the bench is at an end for the rest of this series. Bass’ emergence as a tough one-on-one defender against wing players is a nice salve for the wounds he’s tended to inflict on team defense. It’s also a nice harbinger for either his performance next year or his trade value this summer. And, of course, Melo can expect to see plenty of him back in New York this week.
Kevin Garnett put up his second straight absurd rebounding night, matching the 17 boards he pulled down on Friday. He bailed a flailing Paul Pierce out with the longest of baseline two-balls. He set a great last second screen for a Jason Terry jumper in overtime. He did it all despite early foul trouble and over long, uninterrupted stretches of court time. He will be 37 next month.
Another writer turned to me during the first half and said, “Jason Terry is playing really well.” Now, this season, the default reaction to a statement like that usually involves some petty derisive joke, followed by a reference to the size of his contract. But I didn’t get any of that out before I agreed with him. This was, by far, Terry’s best, most meaningful contribution of the season. By overtime, I didn’t even cringe at the transition three.
The Celtics finally got into the Knicks physically on both sides of the ball. Early in the game, Pierce worked hard to get an extra few feet deep on post catches, which allowed him to get both feet into the paint for shots. Late in the game, Garnett sealed off his defender and did the same thing and the Celtics got great looks at the basket as a result. Boston also made it harder for New York to make simple passes, pressuring ball handlers in ways that, however small, made every New York possession that much harder. In the end, it forced the Knicks (34% from the field, 23% from the arc) and Anthony (10-35, including 0-7 from the arc) into a lot of empty possessions.
Using Jeff Green to break New York ball pressure gives the Celtics something besides the ability to get the ball over midcourt without stressing out poor Avery Bradley: it gets Green the ball in stride, which is when he’s so dangerous. With that long stride, he was able to finish a near coast-to-coast layup after a Knicks make.
The quick start bred confidence. In Friday’s loss, the Celtics actually generated a number of good, early looks but they didn’t fall and by the end of the first quarter the team was deflated and rode that wave of malaise the rest of the game. Yesterday, off good ball movement, the Celtics found an open Bradley for a corner three only 16 seconds into the game. Garnett added a jumper and then Pierce hit two (including a three-ball!) and four minutes into the game, the Celtics were using offensive achievement to trigger defense focus and defensive stops to trigger offensive attacks. The Knicks second-half comeback aside, the C’s announced themselves with suitable attitude today.