Mikki Moore had just checked into the game when Paul Pierce hit him for an easy dunk. It was as if the light had switched on for the veteran forward. Twenty-seven minutes later, Moore had his best game as Celtic with 12 points and 10 rebounds in their win over the Thunder Sunday (click here for a recap) and he allowed himself a smile when asked about it afterward.
“It felt pretty good,” Moore said. “My teammates have been great. They’ve been real supportive. They just said, ‘Relax and play.’ I let the game come to me.”
Stephon Marbury had his own breakout game the other night against Atlanta, and while he scored only two points against Oklahoma City, he had seven assists and continued to impress as a facilitator, particularly to Eddie House who dropped in 16 points. “I love playing with guys who can shoot,” Marbury said. “I played with Allan Houston (in New York) and I made it my business to get him the ball.”
Slowly, but surely it’s starting to come together for the Celtics late-season additions and with injuries holding back Kevin Garnett it couldn’t have come at a better time as the C’s try to stay ahead of Orlando for the second spot in the East. But finishing ahead of the Magic is less important to Doc Rivers then getting his team healthy and ready for the playoffs. To that end the coach is encouraged by what he’s seen of Moore and Marbury.
“Slowly, but it’s coming,” Rivers said. “The only thing I told Steph at halftime is I thought he had open shots and he was thinking pass. Even the one, you remember when he bobbled it out of bounds, that was a layup but you could see him. He was catching the ball to pass. He has great instincts and I thought he did that in the second half. And Mikki’s starting to understand when he’s open, shoot the ball, because he can really shoot the ball. Honestly, I thought he didn’t think he was worthy. It’s an adjustment when you’re on the floor with Paul, Ray (Allen) and Kevin (Garnett). You’re open and you think that there’s no way I should shoot the ball.”
Adjusting to the Celtics way has been tricky for Moore. Not only is he learning to be more aggressive offensively, he’s also learning to adjust to the way the Celtics play defense. It’s a different kind of strategy then most teams play, and after his experiences in Sacramento (not exactly a defense-first team), he’s had to unlearn some bad habits.
“Letting go,” Moore said. “Knowing that if I leave my man somebody will help me. That’s the biggest thing. When I got here my reaction time was slow. I was worried about leaving my man. Everybody was telling me, your man is not your man anymore.”
That’s been the interesting thing with this group of additions. Unlike last year when PJ Brown arrived with a career’s worth of defensive training and unselfish mindset, Moore and Marbury have had a little bit more of an adjustment. With the Celtics it’s not just being unselfish, it’s being willing to do what is necessary, be it looking for your shot or finding the open man.
Marbury noted that his game was not to be a high-volume shooter in the past. “I shoot when I feel it,” he said. “I like to take shots that I think I can make.”
But playing with the second unit requires Marbury to not just facilitate, but to take the offense by the throat on occasion, and to that end he feels like his legs are finally starting to come around.
“I’m definitely more comfortable with the system,” Marbury said. “I feel like I’m turning the corner on the pick and roll and trying to get guys open shots.”
The guy Sunday night was House who was a high-volume shooter (15 shots to get 16 points), but after starting the game 1-for-5, House heated up in the second half when the Celtics made their move. The two have fit in better as the backup backcourt than anyone could have expected. “He told me a few games back that he likes to get the ball in the open court because that’s when he’s at his best,” House said of Marbury. “If I get a rebound or somebody kicks it to me I look for him immediately. He’s going to make something happen.”
There’s still work to be done. Moore noted in the locker room that he was looking forward to some practice time this week because both he and Marbury have had to learn their roles in games. Looking forward to practice? Definitely spoken like a true Celtic.