There have been a few thoughts floating around the Celtics that both Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore have been reluctant to assert themselves offensively so as to not offend the standing rule of law. To wit: Thou shalt not be bigger than the team.
That’s fine as far as it goes but it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the Celtics Code, which is not actually do no harm, but rather, do what you do when you’re supposed to do it and do it well. If you’re Paul Pierce, for example, that may mean taking over in the fourth quarter when it’s needed, or dialing it back when it’s not.
So, if you’re Mikki Moore it means taking that 17-foot jump shot when the opportunity arises, and if you’re Stephon Marbury, it means putting your head down from time to time and going aggressively to the basket. That Moore and Marbury haven’t, until Friday night against the Hawks that is, has become something of a problem. (Click here for a recap of the Celtics win over Atlanta).
It’s a fine line that needs to be walked and one that the Celtics starting five has mastered to the point where Pierce noted last week that when they are all together, ” we are like one.” The whole thing speaks to the larger culture that the Celtics have created in a very short amount of time and Moore and Marbury’s hesitancy proves that it is not a media myth, but rather something that is well-known and established throughout the league.
Which brings us to the Atlanta Hawks. Former Celtic Joe Johnson is the team’s resident All-Star. Mike Bibby is the veteran head. But it’s Josh Smith who is the team’s zeitgeist and it’s fair to say that he and coach Mike Woodson do not always agree on things.
To quote from the Atlanta-Journal piece linked above:
‘I want to set the record straight about this one last time,’ Woodson said, tugging at the neck of his shirt and leaning forward in his chair. ‘This is not now, and has never been, about me hating Josh or Josh hating me. It’s not a personal thing. We get along just fine.’
Except for all those times they don’t.
Right, and when the coach has to say publicly that he and the team’s star player don’t hate each other, well, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of peace, love and understanding. Smith, who is a phenomenally talented player, is under the delusion that he is occasionally a 3-point shooter, and when he does hoist 3′s at his career 26.2 percent career clip his team tends to not play well. But when he plays like the athletic freakshow that he is, Smith is capable of doing things like erasing a 20-point deficit in oh, three or four minutes or so.
There’s no question that the Hawks bother the Celtics. Whether it was their temerity to take the eventual champs to seven games last spring or their marketing staff’s over-the-top theatrics for their first regular season re-match, the Celtics view the Hawks as somewhat less than worthy adversaries. Witness Rajon Rondo’s, “It’s not a rivalry” quote.
Perhaps it’s the Hawks very essence that offends the Celtics so much. A team that talks when it hasn’t won anything. A team that shoots 3′s when it should be pounding the ball inside. A team with players who seem to do what they want, when they want. It’s a bit of a shame that the Hawks and Celtics are probably relegated to the opposite ends of the Eastern Conference bracket because they seem to bring out the worst of each other in a way that’s highly entertaining.
Six more observations:
1. The injury to Kevin Garnett has officially become worrisome. At this point there is no guarantee that he is ever going to be 100 percent the rest of the season, and if he’s not, it’s hard to make the case that the Celtics can repeat as NBA champs. Mike Gorman made an interesting point on the telecast. The Celtics are locked into either the 2 or the 3 slot in the Eastern Conference and it won’t matter if they finish one game behind Orlando or four games behind.
The Celtics clearly are not scared of the playing Orlando without homecourt and if so, then it’s not worth extending Garnett for the next few weeks.
2. It was not lost on anyone over here at Green Street HQ that Eddie House, and not Stephon Marbury, was summoned from the bench early in the first quarter when Rajon Rondo got two quick fouls. Marbury was left on the bench for the duration of the second half against Orlando Wednesday and his play had sunk to such a level that Garnett felt compelled to sing his praises to the press yesterday.
But when Marbury did get in the game he finally looked like the guy people have been hoping he would be. How does 11 points, two assists and zero turnovers in 17 minutes strike you from your backup point guard?
3. Speaking of E-House, I haven’t seen the latest returns in the Sullivan Tire Sixth Man award, but if he isn’t the winner then the fans voted for the wrong guy. House has been the one constant off the bench all season and he continued his hot shooting with a dozen points Friday. Once again he was the offense for a good chunk of the second quarter until Marbury got untracked.
4. Last week, Doc Rivers had some strong words for Glen Davis after he went 1-for-11 against the Clippers. “When he comes in the game thinking about being a scorer, then he struggles,” Rivers said. “He’s a terrific player when he stays within his limitations, and that actually allows him, especially numbers-wise, to play out of people’s expectations.”
Baby had 19 points and 12 rebounds against the Hawks and he was the best big man on the floor until Smith went crazy in the fourth quarter. He continues to do some things that are frankly amazing, like his huge block on Joe Johnson, but his offensive game was quietly efficient and that’s what Rivers wants.
5. While not as brilliant as Marbury, Mikki Moore also had something of a breakout game. After picking up three fouls in about a minute and a half in the third quarter, Moore finally seemed to get it. He finished with 10 rebounds and had some huge defensive stops against Smith late in the game.
6. Hadn’t noticed it until Comcast put the numbers up, but Paul Pierce has really struggled at the free throw line in the month of March shooting just 72 percent. That’s a fine number, if you play for Syracuse, but for a guy who is at 83 percent on the year, that’s a slump.
Pierce has been slowly coming back around. He had a couple of shots rim in and out against the Hawks that would have made his final numbers look better, but 21 points and 37 minutes seem just about right for him for this time of year. Also, Pierce finished the game going 8-for-10 from the line.