The Pistons were who we thought they were, the Celtics were who we hoped they’d be, and by the time the 109-86 whipping was finished, the once-rowdy Detroit crowd had spent most of the night playing the silent game. My kindergarten teacher’s favorite past-time.
The Celtics’ win was a workmanlike display of efficiency. They shot 51.9%. They assisted on 33 of their 42 buckets. They turned the ball over only eight times (thank God). They scored 122.5 points per 100 possession (!). Not that the Pistons offered much resistance.
On one play Paul Pierce caught the ball in the corner with space galore. He had time to stop, look around, lick his finger to check the wind, microwave a bag of popcorn, pitch a tent and then finally release a three-pointer. He didn’t actually do all that, but he could have. Detroit’s defensive indifference was easily evident. 0-4 after tonight, they already seem like a team resigned to failure. As for the Celtics? There was only one problem: they once again let an inferior team back into the game.
Maybe I’m nitpicking (on second thought, I’m definitely nitpicking), but I sense a pattern developing. The Celtics were winning by 11 points in the second half against Cleveland, then lost by eight. They led by 12 in the fourth quarter against New York, then won by only four. They ended up defeating Detroit by 23, but at one point in the final period the Pistons cut the lead to twelve and forced Doc to reinsert the starters. I sat at my TV like the announcer from Mortal Kombat, hissing, “Finish him.” Again, maybe I’m being too harsh. The Celtics led from start to finish and got solid contributions from every starter (including Jermaine O’Neal). The game was never in doubt, and the Pistons didn’t even cut it to single digits once during the entire second half. I just expect more. I expect a killer instinct that hasn’t always been evident. Okay, deep breath (“Woo-sah”), moving on…
Somehow, it took me this long to discuss Rajon Rondo. What did he do? Oh, just a ho-him 17 assists. Oh, just zero turnovers. Oh, just more assists through four games than any other player in NBA history. Oh, just another night of dominating without scoring double-digit points. Absurdly, that’s become Rondo’s average game. Once upon a time (and by that, I mean last year), Rondo took nights off. He showed the ability to dominate here and there, but there was one thing holding him back from becoming a superstar: he didn’t do it on a daily basis. Rondo would pile up 16 or 17 assists one night, then disappear the next. Sometimes, he’d even disappear from one quarter to the next. Not anymore.
Now it’s as if Rondo is using every quarter, every play, to compile a highlight tape for Coach K: “Hey, Krzyzewski! 24 assists! How do you like them apples? Yo, Coach K! 67 assists through four games! Suck on that!” Rondo has never lacked confidence, but he now plays every night like he believes himself to be the NBA’s best point guard. Or, at least, like he’s trying to prove that point to everybody else.
A few of Rondo’s assists were to Jermaine O’Neal, who exceeded expectations in his first start. O’Neal had a couple nice dunks, blocked a couple shots, and even got the jumper working towards the end of the game. (Shoot on the way up, Jermaine, not on the way down.) He hadn’t shown much (anything?) before tonight, but vowed yesterday that Celtics fans would be happy with his contributions by the end of the season. Then he made good on that vow, at least for one night.
While O’Neal impressed, his backup was more intriguing. Semih Erden’s regular season debut wasn’t anything for the history books, but he should have earned a little bit of Doc Rivers’s trust. He continues to be seven feet tall (“no kidding, Jay, you idiot”) and uses his long frame well. When Pistons drove to the hoop, Erden moved his feet over to stop them. When Pistons took shots in the lane, Erden outstretched his long arms well above his head. He blocked two shots and altered at least a couple more, doing the little things while showing Doc, “Hey, I might not be a seasoned vet, but I know how to play basketball. I know how to play my role.” Erden also fired a nice dime to a cutting Marquis Daniels and finished a solid fast-break dunk. He’s not a star by any means, but Erden can do a lot of things to help a team. (He can also hang on rims with the best of them. I’m still not sure how he didn’t get a technical foul after his dunk.) Of course, he’s also a rookie playing for Doc Rivers, which means he’ll likely spend most of the season picking splinters out of his ass. Knowing that, I’ll now move on to the veterans.
Kevin Garnett did exactly what he’s supposed to do when defended by Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva. He finished with 22 points, six rebounds, and left the impression, “These skinny, unproven dudes can’t guard me.” Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Glen Davis were also impressive. Pierce scored 21 points, including two fast-break finishes that showed his improved explosion. One was a tough take right into Daye’s chest, and the other was a wide open dunk that Pierce finished with ferocity. Allen did as Allen does, silently compiling 16 points through a variety of leaners, jumpers and swished free throws. The only real blemish on his night was an uncharacteristic 2-7 three-point shooting night. Davis scored in double figures (10 points) for the fourth straight time to begin the season, also adding five boards. He continues to show a newfound maturity to his game. (Although he was the recipient of one of the worst technical fouls in NBA history. Oh, well.)
Should I be happy that the Celtics won by 23 points, or worried that they still haven’t shown the ability to kick opponents when they’re down? Happy that Boston’s offense shredded an inept Pistons defense, or worried that they allowed the Pistons a lot of easy shots? Happy that the Celtics finally limited their turnovers, or worried that they lost the rebounding battle (for the first time all season) to a team that started Austin Daye?
Oh, who cares? A win’s a win, and the Celtics were dominant. It wasn’t perfect, but tonight’s blowout was all Boston from start to finish. Who am I to ask for anything more than that?