A Tale of Two Celtics

Well, the Celtics won tonight, 103-94. In the end, this is a good thing. They came back from a 15 point deficit at halftime. That’s another good thing. And they put up 35 points in a single quarter. That’s a third good thing. So there were definitely good things about tonight’s game. It was exciting, even getting several of my roommates who don’t watch basketball to sit and watch almost the entire game. And come the end of the season, no one will really remember anything about this game other than that the C’s won and the Indiana Pacers lost.

Offensively, the player of the game was Ray Allen. He scored 23 points, most among any Celtic, and he was perfect from the line, nailing all nine of his free throws. Defensively, the players of the game were Rajon Rondo, who had 6 steals, and Paul Pierce, who had 5. You could say that what Ray Allen started in the 3rd quarter with his and Kendrick Perkins’ buckets, Paul Pierce finished in the 4th with his free throw shooting and heads up defense. All of the starters came to life in the second half, nailing shots, playing tough defense, and bringing down rebounds. But the inconsistency of this game was troubling.

We saw two teams tonight: First Half Celtics and Second Half Celtics. The First Half Celtics couldn’t do anything right. They committed multiple turnovers. They couldn’t shoot, not one of them. They gave up too many shots on defense. And they rebounded poorly, letting the ball go in and out of their hands over and over again. They allowed numerous three-point shots in the first half, a sure sign that things were not going to go well this evening. Three-point shooting is the benchmark for this team’s defense: if the other team is getting open looks from beyond the arc and draining their shots, the defense as a whole will not perform well for the game. If the opposing team is not making shots, being contested every time, and having to constantly go inside and take on big men like Perk, Sheed or KG, then the defense will probably be fine. While most teams can’t win by allowing three-pointers, for the Celtics it’s almost like a metaphor for their whole defense. Or maybe a simile, for those taking standardized tests: Nailing 3-pointers is to playing generally bad defense as protecting against 3-pointers is to playing generally good defense. When the treys are raining, the whole defense breaks down. And in the first half, the threes were falling, the Pacers’ lead was building, and the defense was breaking down.

However, it cannot be said that this team lets itself get discouraged. Second Half Celtics played phenomenally. They put up 61 points to Indiana’s 37, tying the game in the third and leading through most of the fourth quarter. They started protecting the perimeter and forcing errant passes. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo started racking up the steals. And Rasheed Wallace, despite playing with pain in his right shoulder, started playing the kind of defense we’ve come to expect from him. He blocked shots, surrounded players, and broke up passes. And defense is contagious, as Ray Allen started hitting the boards for rebounds and playing solid trap defense behind the rest of his team.

All in all, this was a gutty win that should have been easier but was a win nonetheless. This was clearly a game that the Celtics were not in mentally, and it starts with the decisions of the head coach. Starting Rasheed Wallace, resting Kevin Garnett when it was unnecessary, and putting Brian Scalabrine in for 22 minutes are all signs that Doc Rivers was looking past this game and towards Friday’s game at Orlando. It will be a huge game, with potentially the conference lead on the line. Hopefully Doc’s strategy will work, and the extra rest for Kevin Garnett will pay off with more minutes, solid shooting, and stifling defense (all of which KG is quite capable of doing). It didn’t bite him in the rear tonight, and with any luck it won’t backfire Christmas Day either. Happy Holidays!

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