Doc Rivers: Hanging around, hanging around. They’ve got alligator blood. Can’t get rid of them.
Okay, so I kind of stole that quote from Rounders, and spiced it up a little to fit the game. But, just like Mike McD, those Goddamn Grizzlies sure did have some alligator blood. (Although, unlike Mike McD, they wouldn’t end up winning.)
Every time the Celtics looked like they might get away, there was Rudy Gay with a swooping drive to the hoop, or O.J. Mayo with a stop-on-a-dime jumper. Even Mike Conley was getting into the act with some shot clock buzzer-beating jumpers, which were dropping all net, all night. (Side note: When Hasheem Thabeet shot a 15-footer with plenty of time left in the shot clock, I’m pretty sure he thought the game was being played with NBA Jam rules and Memphis was on “team fire.” There is no other excuse for Hasheem Thabeet to be taking a jumpshot. His jumpers are more likely to shatter the backboard than to go in. Tommy Heinsohn’s quote after Thabeet shot the jumper? “Well…umm… that was a gamble.”)
Moving on, I don’t know about the rest of the world, and maybe it’s only because playing the Bulls the other night conjured memories of the terrific playoff series, but this game really, really reminded me of that seven-game series.
There was Ray Allen hitting dagger threes. Rajon Rondo running wild.
Ben Gordon O.J. Mayo hitting contested jumpers with a perfect, quick release. Mikki Moore Shelden Williams playing 12 scoreless minutes. Kevin Garnett being injured acting like he was injured for the first half. Me holding my breath every second Tony Allen was in the game. A young, upstart team against the experienced, accomplished Celtics. There was little defense, and big shot after big shot being made. All this game needed was Vinny Del Negro’s part and seven trillion overtimes, and it would have been a perfect match.
That said, as good a game as it was, as competitive as it was, and as close as it was, I still wasn’t happy with the Celtics effort. (Mike McD: “Would you stop f—ing around, for five Goddamn minutes, once in your f—ing life?”) Early in the second quarter, Tommy Heinsohn said, “They… their defense is porous, man.” He was talking about the Grizzlies of course, but he could have been talking about either team on this night.
The C’s couldn’t get stops, and it wasn’t that Memphis was playing good team basketball. They were simply making one-on-one forays to the hoop. I can’t really describe how Memphis played, besides saying it was “selfishly unselfish.” It wasn’t like any member of the Grizzlies took a ton of shots. Their four top scorers (Rudy Gay, Mayo, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol) all took between 12 and 17 shots. If you were to look at the boxscore, you’d probably think they played great team basketball, and shared it nicely. But it wasn’t that; It was more like the Grizzlies took turns being selfish. One play, they’d clear it out and let Mayo go to work. The next, it was Gay’s turn. Then Randolph’s, and on and on. There wasn’t a lot of ball movement, and the Grizz only had 5 assists in the final three quarters, but their offense was nonetheless effective.
As was the Celtics’ offense. Whatever I say about the Celtics defense, I saw little wrong with another well-played offensive game. The ball was once again moving, finding open shooters and cutting slashers. I was surprised Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett didn’t take more advantage of Memphis’ weak defensive tandem of Gasol and Randolph, but the Celtics hang their hats on taking open shots and finding the best possible shot. For the most part, that’s what they did.
While Ray Allen hit the big shot, it was Rondo who led the way throughout. The poise with which he has played, and the aggressive manner with which he pokes and prods at the defense until an opportunity opens up to make a play, illustrates the maturation process he has gone through. Rondo has now become a consistent force, a player to be reckoned with at all times, and when he gets humming the C’s are very tough to beat.
He had stretches of brilliance tonight, but my favorite Rondo sequence happened in the third quarter: Rondo drove baseline out of a halfcourt set, leaving a dump-off between two converging defenders for an open Kevin Garnett. After Garnett bobbled the ball, then got blocked on his subsequent shot attempt, Rudy Gay ended up with the ball dribbling downcourt for an apparent fastbreak. But Rondo had other plans, poking the ball away from Gay and securing it for a steal. A few seconds later, a slashing Rondo dished to an open Ray-Ray for three, and he’d shown in a ten-second span why he’s been so good this season. He had the vision to spot KG, the speed and quickness to run down Gay, and the patience and presence of mind to draw the defense before hitting Ray for his trifecta.
Speaking of Ray, I don’t really have to say much. Ray can miss every three he takes for a whole game, but I’d still be comfortable with him shooting an open shot with the game hanging in the balance. So when he’d already hit four of his first five no-brainers, I was confident knowing it was in Ray’s hands with the C’s up only two and the shot clock winding down. I was even more confident when I realized it was Zach Randolph contesting Ray’s shot. (After getting over the initial shock that Randolph actually contested a shot.) Why was I so comfortable with Z-Bo playing defense? It always seems like whoever Randolph’s guarding tends to hit shots.
Rasheed Wallace thinks so, at least. For the past, oh, four years or so, ‘Sheed has been reluctant to take his game into the post. But tonight, with Randolph guarding him, ‘Sheed’s eyes lit up and he became the low-post scorer his fans have craved while he’s been launching three after three. ‘Sheed was executing drop-steps, he was hitting turnaround jumpers, and he even had Tommy Heinsohn singing made-up lyrics, “ALLLLLLLLL NIIGGGHHHTTTTT” in some funky tune. (Tommy also said about Randolph’s defense: “That’s like ME trying to guard Wallace in the post.” Sadly, I think Tommy was insulting himself, not Randolph.)
Sheed also helped a balanced rebounding effort that neutralized the Grizzlies’ biggest strength. No Celtic had more than 8 boards (KG), but Boston nevertheless tied the rebounding battle, 36-36 and even outrebounded the normally tenacious Grizzlies.
Despite the good offensive performance, no lead was ever safe, mostly because no lead was ever greater than 8 points (I think). Neither team could get a stop when it needed one, as the Grizzlies were content to take turns working one-on-one and, on this night at least, their talented scorers were putting the ball in the basket. (Teddy KGB: “In my club, I will splash the pot whenever the f— I please.”)
One of those talented scorers, Rudy Gay, really impressed me tonight. For years, I’ve wondered about his shot selection and thought to myself, “Damn, why doesn’t he work harder to get a good shot? He’s 6’8″, a long 6’8″, with moves, touch and athleticism, so why doesn’t he get easy shots???” Well, there would be no settling for Rudy on this night, as he continuously strived to get to the hoop. He earned himself 9 free throws and, even on a night when he didn’t shoot well from the perimeter, still wound up with 23 points.
As well as I thought Rudy played, though, I am absolutely in love with O.J. Mayo’s game. I thought he could have been more aggressive, especially going to the hoop, but Mayo is an incredibly smooth operator on the court. He is always in balance, always ready to shoot, and gets his shot off so quickly, so effortlessly, that it’s like watching music prance around in high-tops. If I could choose any one player in the world to play like, one player whose game I patterned my own after, I don’t know if I’d pick Mayo. But the very fact that I would even think about playing like him speaks volumes about the grace with which he plays basketball.
Besides Gay and Mayo, the rest of the Grizz played well, too. Conley hit the aforementioned prayers, Randolph — while not exactly exhibiting the defensive prowess of a young Bill Russell — did his thing on offense, and Gasol played a good all-around game, and Hasheem Thabeet is far from a bust. Even now, he’s a difference-maker because of his length, mobility, and timing on shot blocks. But it’s Gay and Mayo who make this Grizzlies team scary on some nights, not anybody else.
Am I forgetting anything about the Celtics? Yes, actually. (That’s a *shock*.) Tony Allen was pretty good. He did a good job limiting Rudy Gay, was actually patient on offense, and grabbed a couple offensive boards. (Calling Tony Allen “patient” is like calling the Steinbrenner family “frugal.” It just doesn’t happen very often.) Shelden Williams grabbed a bunch of boards in the short time he was in the game, but is so limited offensively I cringe when he’s on the court. He does everything in his power to help the C’s, really giving a full effort each and every time he’s on the floor, but Williams just doesn’t have any skills to speak of. (Mike McD: “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”) Glen Davis will be a welcome addition when he returns from his injury.
KG and Pierce both hit huge shots before Ray’s. (Teddy KGB: “Nyet! Nyet! No More! No! Not tonight! This son of bitch, all night he, “Check. Check. Check.” He trap me!”) KG’s was an open jumper from the top of the key, right in his wheelhouse, and Pierce’s was a drive past Gay and over Conley for the lay-in. Don’t forget about those two shots when giving Ray all the credit for clutch play.
At the end of the day, the Celts were just too experienced, too good, for Memphis to overcome. (Teddy KGB: “He beat me… Straight up… Pay him… Pay that man his money.”) The Grizzlies were ready to play, and played just about as well as they could but, in the end, it just wasn’t enough. There weren’t many stops in this game, but the Celtics got a couple more than the Grizz.
It wasn’t a perfect effort, but it was enough, and completing another stretch on the road undefeated speaks volumes to the C’s great play of late. The winning streak is 11, the road streak is now 8, and life is good in Celtics Town.
We’ll leave the last words to our good friend Mike McD…
“Are you satisfied now, Teddy? Because I can keep busting you up all night if you like.”