Celtics-Raptors: Statement Game
|01.11.09 at 2:26 pm ET|
Two weeks ago, Doc Rivers wouldn’t have rushed the starters back on to the floor after a 20-point lead became fourteen following a couple of quick baskets. As early as last week, Rivers wouldn’t have left Kevin Garnett out on the floor for 39 minutes. But a lot has changed in the last 15 days or so for the Celtics, and so Doc took a page from the KC Jones circa 1987 playbook and employed the last option he had left: Ride the starters until they dropped.
The Celtics had to win Sunday’s game against the Raptors. (Go here for a recap). It didn’t matter that they’ll play again tomorrow night or that the Celtics were on their fourth game in the last seven days. When they got up by 20 points after three quarters, a win became even more imperative. There was no way they could drag themselves back to Boston after getting hammered by the Cavs on Friday and then blowing a 20-point fourth quarter lead.
So Doc called on Garnett, Ray Allen and Brian Scalabrine a mere two and a half minutes into the fourth quarter. He brought Rajon Rondo back a few minutes later and he left Paul Pierce in for the entire second half. Doc watched the final quarter with his arms folded like a man being fitted for a straitjacket. Really, what else could he do?
Kendrick Perkins didn’t play because his achy shoulder acted up again after getting whacked by Ben Wallace. Brian Scalabrine fouled out after 25 energetic minutes. Big Baby Davis was active, but set an unofficial record for most misses within two feet, and Doc must have been unhappy with Leon Powe’s defense, because he barely had time to break a sweat.
Doc has been reluctant to use the KC option, and for good reason. The Celtics best players aren’t pups anymore, and after Sunday’s game they have now played 147 times in 14 and a half months. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so we had this:
Rajon Rondo: 38 minutes
Ray Allen: 43 minutes
Paul PIerce: 41 minutes
Kevin Garnett: 39 minutes.
The Celtics had to make a stand Sunday. For 36 minutes they were aggressive and nasty defensively and, if not entirely pretty, then at least efficient on offense. If the final 12, just surviving was enough.
A few more observations on a snowy Sunday afternoon:
1. People have been shoveling dirt on the career of Walter Ray Allen for so long, you think they would have learned by now. Please, the next time he goes in a shooting slump could everyone just take a deep breath and exhale?
Allen bailed the Celtics out all afternoon, and it wasn’t like he was getting wide open looks either. The other day in mentioning that Allen had passed the 900-game mark for his career, I noted that his improved field goal shooting was directly related to a huge jump in his two-point field goal percentage. In fact, Allen is down from 39 percent last year to 36 percent in 3-point shooting.
Credit him with making an adjustment in his game. He has worked the pump-fake, two dribble pull-up jumper into his arsenal with obvious benefits. But a 36-percent 3-point shooter is still a darned good shooter. Allen went 8-for-10 from distance and made two huge three’s in the fourth quarter. Whatever ails the Celtics, Allen’s occasional slumps are about ninth on the list.
2. Kevin Garnett was 3-for-16 from the floor and he was awesome. Garnett stayed outside for most of the game, drawing Chris Bosh out with him and leaving the middle wide open for Rajon Rondo to drive at will. Consequentially he took a ton of 20 footers.
That he only made one shot from outside the paint is far less important than the defense he played on Bosh, who has been killing people lately. Bosh was 5-for-14 and so obviously flustered by KG that he spent most of the Raptors hell-bent fourth quarter run on the bench. In 39 minutes, Garnett made one noticeable mistake when he bodied up on Bosh and got beat, but that was about it.
KG’s crazy-man persona sometimes obscures the fact that he is an excellent defensive technician. Witness the way he overplayed Bosh and gave him the baseline with his right hand. Bosh is about as comfortable going to his right as Big Baby is around the basket. It was a phenomenal display by Garnett.
3. Rajon Rondo has to shoot. Has to. Everyone wants him to make open jump shots, but that’s not as important as simply finishing in the lane once in a while. It wasn’t until he took the hand-off from Pierce and went baseline and dunked at the end of the second quarter when it finally dawned on Rondo that he could score. Fourteen points are great, 12 shots are even better.
4. If Big Baby Davis could have made a layup, the Celtics would have won by 20, but it’s hard to fault the guy after he gave them 30 minutes, 11 rebounds and tons of energy. OK, it’s not that hard.
Like Kendrick Perkins, Baby has one major mechanical flaw in his game. In Perk’s case it’s his insistence on putting the ball down on the floor. For Baby it’s when he worries more about drawing contact than making the basket. Because he is a physically, let’s just say, odd player, Baby rarely gets the benefit of the doubt from the officials when he goes to the basket. If he concentrated more on the finish than the contact, the calls would go his way.
Still, an inspired effort by Davis defensively.
5. Loved the decision by Doc to start Brian Scalabrine. As soon as Andrea Bargnani saw Scal opposite him instead of Perkins he wanted to play a post-up game. Thing is, Bargnani has been playing some of the best ball of his career lately by hanging out at the 3-point line. It took him until late in the game to get back to that.
Scal did more than mess with Bargnani. He also made his shots, spaced the floor, played solid defense and got in the face of Raptor tough guy Joey Graham.
There is a thought that the Celtics are frontrunners, classic bullies who talk the talk when they’re up 20, but fall apart when things get tough. Charlotte rookie DJ Augustin said as much last week. Graham, who looks like he is chiseled out of marble, tried to punk Scal, who looks like he is chiseled out of fluff, and Scal not only didn’t back down, he got right back in his face. It’s time the Celtics got ornery again.
6. Graham is what the Celtics hope Tony Allen can be.
7. Don’t sleep on the Raptors in the second half. Bosh is a legit star and if Jose Calderon can get himself healthy that’s a great 1-2 punch. Now, do they make a move with Jermaine O’Neal, and, are they any takers?
8. Paul Pierce’s jumper that made it 90-83 was the biggest shot of the game and KG was the guy who set it up with a Zaza Pachulia-esque screen.
9. Been meaning to get to this. The problem with the Stephon Marbury thing is that it doesn’t look like the Knicks are in any hurry to do him any favors, and really, why should they?
The reason there’s so much focus on Marbury is that the Celtics are really hamstrung from a roster standpoint. They don’t have any big expiring contracts, and while their young guys might have some value they don’t make enough to have any trade value.
If the Celtics are going to make a move it’s looking more and more like it will have to be a street free agent, which is why no one has given up on the idea of wooing PJ Brown back to the fold. Joe Smith would of course make a lot of sense, but OKC GM Sam Presti is no dummy and he’s not going to cut him just so a contender can be happy.
10. So, free BIll Walker?