The number for tonight, boys and girls, is twenty. As in assists. In their loss to Golden State, the Celtics  had 18 assists, and only two from the bench. Against Portland, the number was 13, and only one came from a reserve. On Friday night against Washington (go here  for the recap), the Celtics had 31 assists, with seven coming from the second unit.
“The big thing,” Brian Scalabrine  said, “is that we passed the ball so well.”
The Celtics have so many weapons offensively, but it’s both a blessing and a curse that they don’t take advantage of those weapons if they don’t share the ball. The Celtics are so well-conditioned to not exert their individual personalities on the offensive end that there are times when the offense breaks down and gets muddled when the passes aren’t moving and the cuts aren’t being made.
This goes against the prevailing Alpha Male wisdom that has permeated the NBA since the rise of Michael Jordan . That is, the great player is the great player because he is unstoppable one-on-one. That was fine for MJ, who was the greatest of them all, and it worked out well for Hakeem Olajuwon, as well, but for 40 some-odd years before Jordan great teams worked because they played as a team.
Certainly other teams of recent vintage have played like that (Detroit in 2004 being the best example), but what makes the Celtics so unique is that they have three certain Hall of Famers who willingly share the ball and the responsibility, sometimes to a fault.
“We play against ourselves,” Scalabrine said, and what he meant is on the rare occasions when the Celtics actually lose, it’s generally because they don’t play well together as a team.
The starting five has figured that part out. Paul Pierce  was at his best against Washington, taking advantage of a hideous mismatch against young Dominic McGuire who has neither the size nor the experience to play Pierce.
Pierce dropped in 26 of the most effortless points you will ever see him score, and he so mystified McGuire that Washington coach Ed Tapscott was forced to put Caron Butler on Pierce, and Butler is coming back from an ankle injury.
“Paul was terrific,” Tapscott said. “They are a very good team. They share the ball. They don’t seem who to care who scores.”
They don’t just seem to not care who scores, they really don’t care. “I was just playing in the flow of the game,” Pierce said. “We moved the ball and spaced the floor and I was just taking advantage of my opportunities.”
But here was the difference Friday. The second unit came in and did the same thing. The reserves racked up seven assists, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a whole lot better than what they managed on the road. “That’s more like how we’ve been playing,” Doc Rivers  said. “Both units.”
The reward, as Kevin Garnett  termed it, for the bench’s play was a short night for the starters. Ray Allen  played 30 minutes and everyone else was in the 20’s. That’s exactly the blueprint for the Celtics as they enter the dog days of their schedule. They have road games at New York (Sunday) and Charlotte (Tuesday), a home game against Houston Wednesday, and then two more on the road, Cleveland Friday and Toronto Sunday.
“Great night,” Rivers said referring to the short minutes. The fine line that Rivers has to walk for the next few months is keeping the minutes down for Garnett, Pierce and Allen, while developing the second unit that clearly has some flaws, and finding a way to win games.
“We need some practice,” Rivers said almost wistfully. “We need to work these things out, but we don’t want to lose while we’re working them out. We want to win.”
Post-script: Normally it’s Garnett who gets off the great one-liner, but Pierce took home the honors when he was asked about tying Danny Ainge’s team record for most 3-pointers in a game without a miss. Pierce made his first five, but missed the sixth, his only misfire of the night.
“Hmmm, I’ve got to think about it,” Pierce said. “Records and Danny Ainge? I guess so because he doesn’t hold that many records. It would have been nice to erase his name. Just messing with you Danny.”
Just to illustrate the point, all five of Pierce’s 3-pointers came on assists.
For a complete breakdown of Friday’s game against the Wizards, visit the Celtics Game Day Blog .