The box score kept some secrets from us last night. It tried to hide Marquis Daniels’s impact.
Daniels registered seven points, one rebound, one assist, and one steal. Not exactly a masterpiece, by the numbers. Not exactly a game-changing 19 minutes, if you didn’t see the game. But Daniels entered last night’s game for the first time with 4:09 left in the first quarter. After immediately watching Nenad Krstic make a free throw to give Oklahoma City a 17-14 lead, Daniels showed why box scores can’t reveal everything.
His first play was the easiest of the night. Kevin Garnett lost the ball, picked it back up and then found Daniels wide open underneath the basket. Two points. Coming back on defense, Daniels saw himself matched up with Kevin Durant. Always who you want to defend when you first come off the bench and your legs are still a little tight, right? In most cases, hell no. In Daniels’s case, at least last night, he seemed to relish the opportunity. Durant’s first touch resulted in a turnover. With Daniels’s chest stuck directly in Durant’s path, the NBA’s leading scorer dribbled it off his leg out of bounds. Score one for Daniels’s pressure defense.
The next time Durant touched the ball turned into a dunk, but Daniels can’t be faulted for that. A lazy Rajon Rondo pass led to a fast break slam. Daniels had no chance. Durant’s third touch wasn’t such an easy look, and this one ended in advantage, Daniels. Durant caught the ball on the wing. He tried to sweep the basketball through, but Daniels wasn’t having it. No, no, no, no, no! He poked the ball away and it flew to Rondo. The steal was Rondo’s, but the play was made by Daniels. Six seconds later Daniels pump-faked Sir Goofy, Cole Aldrich, and finished a layup. If you’re scoring at home, that was four possessions out of six that ended in Daniels glory. But he wasn’t done.
The very next time down the court, Russell Westbrook tried to feed Durant. Didn’t Westbrook know yet that Durant had no chance against Daniels? Okay, that’s quite a damn bit of hyperbole. But this time, Daniels wouldn’t even let Durant receive the pass. He intercepted it and outletted the ball ahead to Rondo. Rondo shoveled it back to Daniels at the other end, and Daniels had himself another hoop. It was an and-one, too. That made eight possessions that Daniels had played. It also made six possessions that ended in either a Daniels bucket or a Daniels forced turnover. Cue my buddy Jimmy’s favorite reaction to good play: “That’s what the f*ck I’m talking about!”
These are the dangers of looking at the box score. A player like Daniels isn’t supposed to light up the scoreboard every night. He’s not supposed to drop 20 points, or snag 10 rebounds, or dish 10 assists. Hell, he’s not even supposed to get 10, five or five. His role is simply to affect a game in a positive manner every time he steps on the floor, to provide what my high school coach used to call “good minutes.” Good minutes don’t have to consist of eye-popping stats. They can be achieved by boxing out, diving on the floor, taking charges, forcing turnovers or simply being opportunistic. If a player does his job on every play, positive things tend to happen. Even if the player doesn’t accumulate the stats all on his own.
And yes, I understand that I chose the span where Daniels DID accumulate stats to try to prove that stats don’t always matter. I’m clearly insane. But Marquis Daniels has been giving the Celtics good minutes all season. He’s not a star, and he never will be in a Boston uniform, but he’s impacting games. He’s doing what we complained he never did last year.
Stats don’t lie. But they don’t tell the whole story, either.