Avery Bradley to Luke Harangody. The next Stockton to Malone was born tonight.
Okay, I’m kidding. Though the two Celtics rookies did connect successfully on a pick-and-pop, comparing them to Stockton and Malone would be like comparing Air Bud to Hoosiers. The fact that Bradley and Harangody even played should tell you a lot about the Celtics’ 99-76 win against the Atlanta Hawks.
While the rookies got some rare playing time, this win was all about the starters. Nate Robinson looked like Rajon Rondo with a jumper, with 16 points and 10 assists in 30 minutes. I thought Harangody would win the dunk contest before Robinson notched a double-double in a Celtics uniform, but clearly I was wrong. Robinson was spectacular yesterday, but today he looked so much more comfortable running the offense. And hey, who knows? Maybe this short stint in the starting lineup will be exactly what he needs to learn how to succeed in Boston. Until now, Robinson has been inconsistent — at best — as a Boston Celtic. But he’s strung together his two best games in place of Rondo.
Joining Rondo in the land of double-doubles were Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal. KG looked to score in the post more than usual, using a low base to have his way with Josh Smith. The strong balance (body balance) KG showed on the blocks was a great sign. Last year it was easy to knock him off the low block. Now, KG is digging in and standing his ground. He’s able to make stronger moves down low than he was last year.
And Shaq? What did he do? You mean besides eat Al Horford alive, right? This is going to sound weird, because Horford has been Atlanta’s best player, but I suspect he also holds them back from being a true contender. At least while he plays center. Horford can’t handle real size, and the league’s true contenders (Boston, LA, Orlando) all have dominant post men. You probably remember how Dwight Howard man-handled the Hawks last season, and Shaq did the same tonight.
The only two starters who didn’t register double-doubles were Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. But check out their plus/minus ratings: Pierce (+33), Allen (+35). Not bad, right?
While the first unit dominated, the bench was again a bit underwhelming. Maybe I shouldn’t even bother pointing that out, because it was already garbage time by the first time substitutes entered the game. But the bench hasn’t performed well this season, and tonight was no different. It wasn’t like the C’s needed anything more from the second unit. Not at all. It’s just that I would have loved to see the bench provide something — anything — more than mediocrity. Other than a couple Delonte West hammer-blocks (and his sweet shot, miss and put-back), nothing the bench did set it apart. The lack of bench production is easy to overlook — mostly because the Celtics were ahead by 30 points quicker than you could say “Eddie House sleeps with Mike Bibby’s sister” — but it was evident. I can’t overlook it… even if the cause might have been an early lead that would have been almost impossible to lose.
The Celtics kept piling onto their lead, but Tom Heinsohn wasn’t satisfied. He began complaining about the Hawks trying to lull the Celtics to sleep by putting their third-stringers in. Heinsohn cautioned the Celtics not to slow down:
“Now is the time to beat them by 50, so [the Hawks] have to put the first unit back out there.”
And yeah, that was in the first quarter. The Hawks already had third-stringers in. It beat having the starters in, I guess. Only one Hawks starter scored in double digits (Bibby with 11 points), and each starter finished with at least a -20 plus/minus.
Anything else to add? Semih Erden somehow made a swooping left-handed hook shot, off the wrong foot. Jason Collins couldn’t play for my summer league team, and our starting center is a 6-4 point guard. Paul Pierce made an and-one at some point, then let out a primal roar like an animal from “Jurassic Park.” Glen Davis tried to follow a miss with a tomahawk lefty slam, before missing it and realizing, “Shit, I’m not Blake Griffin.” And at one point, the Hawks’ PA announcer played the Mario Bros. 3 theme song… while a play was going on. Coincidentally, that was just about the loudest the arena was all night.
So much for last year’s season sweep, huh?
I would write more but, well, Lawrence Frank is screaming at me. Something about a missed defensive rotation.
I’m just a blogger, Lawrence. Take a chill pill, man.