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The Three-Pointer: Backup Bigs Boost C’s

Posted By Ben Rohrbach On November 2, 2010 @ 10:43 pm In General | 2 Comments

Boston Celtics forward Jermaine O'Neal, left, talks with head coach Doc Rivers during their practice at NBA basketball training camp at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. , Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers (right) got a solid effort against the Pistons out of an embattled Jermaine O'Neal. (AP)

With Kendrick Perkins sidelined until at least January with a knee injury and Shaquille O’Neal sitting with his own knee issues, all eyes were on Jermaine O’Neal and Semih Erden.

And they responded.

Getting his first start of the season, Jermaine O’Neal totaled 12 points in 21 minutes during last night’s 109-86 win over the Detroit Pistons, despite dealing with a few nagging injuries that kept him out of Friday night’s game against the New York Knicks.

From the start, J.O. set an early tone with aggressive defense — blocking two first-quarter shots while also picking up a pair of fouls that kept him from completely getting into a rhythm.

As a result, O’Neal started slow offensively, but kept finding open spots. Eventually, his knack to find the right place was rewarded by Rajon Rondo at the right times — leading to a 5-of-8 shooting night.

In O’Neal’s absence, Erden also blocked a pair of Pistons attempts, picked up three rebounds and ran the floor for a wide-open dunk. The latter was a shining example of the energy the Turk played with throughout his 15 minutes on the floor.

Most importantly, Erden looked as though he belonged on an NBA floor.

The first-half play of Erden could be the best sign for the Celtics future, as he showed that the potential to spell both O’Neals — who, as we know, will need their share of spelling. That leaves Glen Davis to continue¬†giving Kevin Garnett¬†his rest, limiting minutes for all three veteran big men over the course of the 82-game season.

Of course, any excitement over the play of J.O. and Semih last night can be tempered by the fact that they played the Pistons, who by the looks of things should be one of the worst five teams in the league.

It’s important to note, too, that both bigs faded as the game went on. Erden did all of his damage in the first half, and O’Neal grabbed only two rebounds in his time on the floor. It’s no coincidence that Shaq’s absence led to the Celtics getting out-rebounded for the first time all season.

But it was a start — literally, a start in place of Perkins and Shaq. And any time the C’s can win without those two, it’s a good sign. After all, that’s what they’re here for.

WHAT IS RONDO’S CEILING?

In the last 28 seasons, only nine players have led the NBA in assists: John Stockton (9 seasons), Jason Kidd (5 seasons), Steve Nash (4 seasons), Magic Johnson (4 seasons), Chris Paul (2 seasons) Isaiah Thomas (once), Mark Jackson (once), Rod Strickland (once) and Andre Miller (once).

Of those nine players, only Stockton managed to average 12 assists or more. Through the first four games, Rondo has totaled 67 assists, and nobody in the history of the league has done that. He totaled 17 assists last night, and his average only moved from 16.5 to 16.8 per game.

Currently, only one other player in the NBA is averaging more than 10 assists, and that’s Kidd at 11.7. There’s no doubt that Rondo’s departure from the USA team and all the talk about who’s the best point guard in the league -Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose – lit a fire under the Celtics point guard.

And did anybody else notice Rondo’s pull-up, knock-down, 17-foot jumper in the first half? If he ever gets that going, there’s no telling how good he’ll be this season. I’m talking MVP consideration. Even without the scoring — just 10.8 points per game — he’s already the story of this NBA season (unless you count the off-the-court hype of the Miami Heat).

WANTED: DELONTE WEST

The Celtics got little to nothing from their backup guards behind Rondo and Ray Allen. The starting duo combined for 25 points and 20 assists. Von Wafer and Nate Robinson? They combined for a whopping four points in 27 minutes between them.

Marquis Daniels has really been the lone bright spot at guard from the bench. He totaled nine points and four rebounds, but Doc has used him mainly at the 3 in smaller lineups this season.

Simply based on their play, we should’ve known better than to think Danny Ainge might cut Delonte West after his reported scuffle with Wafer late last week. I’m sure Doc is counting the games until West can return to the lineup. He’s now served four games of the 10-game suspension.


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