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A House on fire

01.25.09 at 5:01 pm ET
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Question: How does a team win a game by 24 points when they are minus-22 at the free throw line? By making 10 more 3-pointers than the other team.

There is no one on the Celtics, not Ray Allen, not Paul Pierce, who can use the 3-pointer to more devastating effect than Eddie House. When House has it going from outside, as he did against Miami and as he did Sunday afternoon against Dallas, the Celtics second unit goes from a potential vulnerability to an undeniable strength. (Click here for a recap of the Celtics’ 124-100 blowout of the Mavericks).

In recent weeks, the Celtics starters have put great emphasis on getting out to big leads. During their current eight-game winning streak, the C’s have averaged a lead of greater than 10 points after the first quarter and have been outscored in the first 12 minutes just once. What has made them dominant has been a revitalized second unit that has maintained and extended those leads, often putting games out of reach by halftime.

“When the starters come back they don’t have to build the lead back up,” said second-year point guard Gabe Pruitt. “Our main focus is to defend and keep the other team from scoring.”

Defense is always the main focus with the Celtics, but you have to score, too, and Pruitt’s emergence as the team’s secondary ballhander has freed up House to do what he does best: come off screens and knock down 3-pointers. House hit seven 3′s against the Mavs and finished with 23 points, two off his season-high 25 against the Heat last week

“Our second unit doesn’t have the main guy that we constantly go to,” Pruitt said. “We look for Eddie coming off screens, or Leon (Powe) on the post.”

The 3-pointer is so devastating because it can completely negate all the hard work the opponent puts into coming back, and a couple of pops by House can make up for two or three empty offensive trips. “I’m just getting open looks,” House said. “It’s not like I’m forcing anything. I’m getting the ball in rhythm and open. It’s 50/50 when you shoot it.” With House these days it’s more like 60/40.

Tasked with being the primary ballhandler and the best outside shooting option, House had struggled to find consistency with his outside shot. But with his current hot streak, he has lifted his 3-point shooting to over 39 percent. Giving up the point to Pruitt has helped, but the insertion of Brian Scalabrine into the rotation has also been a factor, as Scal not only spaces the floor as well as any of the reserves, he’s also adept at setting screens.

“The biggest key for Eddie is instead of searching for shots, he’s letting shots come to him and he’s making shots,” Doc Rivers said. “Before he was rushing. He was forcing, taking some bad shots. I think actually Gabe has helped him.”

“Eddie’s a scorer,” said Rajon Rondo who turned in another stellar outing with 13 points and 14 assists. “When he doesn’t have to bring the ball up against pressure, he can come off screens and (Kevin Garnett), Baby (Davis), Leon and Scal do a great job of getting him open.”

The fear has always been playing House as an undersized two-guard, but so far teams have been unable to take advantage of any potential matchup problems, and the matchups have been favorable lately. But there again, playing with a big lead allows the Celtics to dictate those kinds of things.

Garnett, for one, feels that Celtics are playing better than they did during their 19-game winning streak when the players and coaching staff saw big red blinking warning signs around every victory. Defense, as always, is the primary reference point, but a 10-deep rotation that passes and shoots the ball as well as the Celtics have been is just as big a factor.

Against Dallas, the Celtics racked up 34 assists against only six turnovers. They probably won’t record a better ratio all season, but it’s indicative of the way the ball is moving that Paul Pierce scored exactly zero points after the first quarter and his offensive contributions were not missed in the slightest.

“It shows in the fourth quarter,” Rondo said. “The starters are able to rest. That’s big for us, especially down the stretch.”

And as the games get more spaced out, and the minutes go down, the Celtics become very frightening indeed. They have played 10 times this season with more than one day between games and they have won every single time.

Which brings us back to Eddie House. After the game, reporters wanted to know if he’d like to wrangle an invite to the NBA 3-point shooting contest. That wouldn’t have even been a question a couple of weeks ago, but things were different then. The bench was a major concern, people were openly salivating for Stephon Marbury and lamenting the loss of James Posey.

Credit the coaches with making the adjustments with the roster they have, not the one they might like to have, and credit House for continuing to be the ultimate professional.

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