Paul Pierce set a back screen. Kendrick Perkins floated a lob up near the rim. Kevin Garnett rose up, snatched the pill out of midair, and slammed it home with authority.
With that, the Boston Celtics’ first possession of the game, the tone was set. That one play symbolized what the Celtics proved for the rest of their 113-99 victory: They aren’t too old, and they aren’t ready to pass the torch to the next wave of contenders. What they ARE ready to do — finally ready to do — is to establish themselves somewhere in the vicinity of the NBA’s mountaintop as the regular season draws to a close.
Every game Boston has played recently has been another opportunity to prepare for the playoffs. With the postseason only a few weeks away, the Celtics are wiping off the rust, sharpening the edges, and regaining lost magic.
Pierce, especially, has returned to being a constant scoring threat capable of imposing his signature on a game. By the time the Garden crowd sat down, it seemed, Pierce had already scored in double figures. He finished with 14 first-quarter points, scoring in every conceivable way besides the long ball (Pierce ended the game 0-3 from deep). For the game, he had 27 points, in only 32 minutes.
My favorite Pierce moment? It was probably his most selfish play of the night: He drove to the hoop from the right wing, and two defenders collapsed on him as he took it hard to the cup. As KG’s defender keyed in on Pierce, KG opened up just outside the free-throw line for a jumper. What did Pierce do? He put it into another gear, drawing contact and bulling his way to the bucket. He didn’t finish the play for an and-one, but his aggressiveness drew the foul and got him an easy look. He could have tossed the ball out to Garnett for a jumper, but instead took it in his own hands to keep pressure on the defense. No need to settle.
The Celtics didn’t settle at all, all night long. They pounded the glass. They got to the rim with ease. They did exactly what they were supposed to do against a Denver Nuggets team missing its toughest player: Go into beast mode. It’s rare to see a team win a basketball game in which it shoots just 4-18 from behind the three-point arc, but that’s exactly what the Celtics did. They were able to come away victors, despite laying a hotel full of bricks from outside, by constantly being the aggressors. How many times this season have you seen the Celtics a step slow and a day late going after loose balls? A lot. But tonight was different. Far different. The Nuggets were the ones who looked stuck in cement all night.
I’ve written almost 500 words so far, and haven’t mentioned Rajon Rondo once. All he did was chalk up a triple-double. All he did was pounce on every loose ball. All he did was dominate a game in which he took only nine shots. 11 points, 15 assists, 11 rebounds. Oh yeah, and four steals too. And he held Chauncey Billups to just 12 points. Advantage, Rajon.
Another player who played superbly? Those of you who didn’t watch the game aren’t even going to believe me, but Tony Allen. In his first significant action since the Celtics signed Michael Finley, Allen subbed in for a foul-plagued Marquis Daniels early in the second quarter. By halftime, he’d scored 10 points, flushed down a tomahawk slam off a beautiful Rondo left-handed around-the-back pass, and completely changed the complexion of the game. Daniels didn’t return to the game after halftime, and it wasn’t because of foul trouble. It was simply a case of being outplayed by a minutes-starved T.A.
All the great individual performances were great, but it was the team play that clinched the C’s best — and most impressive — home win of the season. A late run by a small-ball Nuggets lineup to end the third quarter was the only time the game seemed at all in doubt. A couple minutes later, after implementing a small lineup of their own, the rout was back on. The Celtics put on a clinic in team basketball, with 30 assists on 44 field goals; great ball movement throughout; punctual defensive rotations at every opportunity; box outs, even; and a team-wide commitment to the offensive glass, too.
And they did it all against a good team. One of the best in the league, if you want to get into a little more detail.
If you’re a Celtics fan, times are good.
- Carmelo Anthony is very good at basketball, and even better at scoring. He ended with 30, despite being silenced down the stretch.
- Garnett had a double-double, with 20 points and 10 rebounds. He could have had even more points, missing a lot of chippies.
- J.R. Smith scores buckets. 21 points, in 30 minutes.