These are the nights when Marquis Daniels reminds you of his ability. When he methodically slithers inside the defense, poses matchup difficulties for anyone unlucky enough to defend him, and looks like he should be a front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year.
Tonight, I would even say Daniels took over the game. He was the main reason the Celtics shook off an ugly first quarter (and a few ugly minutes in the third) to beat the Indiana Pacers, 95-83.
Unfortunately, these are also the nights that make you wonder why. Why doesn’t Daniels do this every night? Why can’t he always provide such a threat? Why does he often fade into the background, rather than making such a severe impact?
I’m barely going to discuss those answers, mostly because I’ve discussed them in the past. (Put a markedly smaller or slower guy on Daniels, and he’s a major threat. Put a player his size and speed on Daniels, and he’s not nearly as productive. If Daniels were seven feet tall, I’m entirely convinced he would have been one of the premier low-post players of all-time. Unfortunately, he’s a post player in a small forward’s body.) Daniels was able to erupt tonight because he saw a favorable matchup. Every once in a while, Daniels sees a defender he can easily work out. His eyes light up, his passiveness washes away, and Daniels becomes a nightmare for opponents. Like tonight.
But more impressive even than Daniels’ offense, to me, was his defense.
The only reason the Celtics get away with a Daniels-Allen-Pierce backcourt is Daniels’ ability to keep quicker PGs in front of him. That ability seems odd, because Daniels always seems like he’s idling. His gas pedal rarely pressed very forcefully, Daniels slowly coasts around the court, like a middle-aged man out for a weeknight jog. He almost never seems quick, even for a small forward. And then he defends Darren Collison, a blur with the ball, and keeps him in between his knees the whole time. (Pause.)
You see, Daniels travels at his own speed. There’s a calmness and pace to his game, which usually hide the quickness he displays while defending the league’s quicker point guards. Yet when he needs to, Daniels breaks out another gear. Let’s call it the “I desperately need to be quicker than normal, because otherwise Collison will blow right by me every time” gear.
While Daniels was a catalyst, he wasn’t the only Celtic who brought it tonight. Kevin Garnett didn’t exactly scorch the nets, but he didn’t need to. He was everywhere defensively, disrupting everything Indiana tried to do. There was one possession when Roy Hibbert desperately tried to post Garnett on the blocks. Sorry, bro. Not happening. Garnett fronted him, denying Hibbert the ball. Hibbert tried again to establish position. Again, not happening. After a third attempt at good position, Hibbert finally gave up. But Garnett’s defense wasn’t done. Danny Granger drove to the hoop, and Garnett contested the shot. If I’m not mistaken, he also grabbed the rebound. Try again, Pacers. This ain’t last year’s Garnett.
Paul Pierce, as Pierce tends to do, gave the game what it needed. After picking up two quick fouls, Pierce re-entered the game early in the second quarter. Seeing that Nate Robinson was not doing a very good Rajon Rondo impression, Pierce became the primary playmaker. He threaded a pass to Glen Davis for an easy layup, then proceeded to score seven straight points himself. One of the buckets was vintage Pierce, posting up a smaller defender at the elbow and making the defender his puppet. Is any other player better at making smaller defenders pay? (And no, Marquis Daniels isn’t quite at Pierce’s level.)
Avery Bradley won’t get much credit for a good night, but actually kept a smile on my face the whole time he played. Bradley’s offensive game (wait, what offensive game?) still needs work. He’s hesitant, and doesn’t yet make instinctual moves. But defensively, and hustle-wise? Yes, please. There was one play when Bradley hounded T.J. Ford, forcing him to aimlessly dribble 20 or so seconds off the shot clock. There was another play when Bradley hunted down a rebound with ferocity, and another when he missed a shot, scampered after his rebound, and got fouled on a reverse layup attempt. Bradley still lacks any type of polish whatsoever, but he plays SO hard. Hustle alone doesn’t make a great NBA player, or else Brian Cardinal would have been an All-Star. But Bradley’s got impressive heart, and if he plays as hard as he did tonight, he’ll impact every game he plays.
Von Wafer played decently, Nate Robinson continued his recent struggles, Ray Allen was silently Ray Allen, and Shaq keeps compiling fouls like they’re worth something. Glen Davis was the 2010 version of Glen Davis, and Jermaine O’Neal logged more fouls (3) than points and rebounds combined (2). Let’s hope he’s just taking some time to get his ‘C’ legs (see what I did there?).
For the Pacers, I still have a soft spot in my heart for James Posey (and Jim O’Brien, and Walter McCarty, but most definitely not Vitaly Potapenko). Also, one more thing: when Josh McRoberts played for Duke, if you told me he was going to start for an NBA team in 2010, I would have told you, “Yeah, only if the NBA expands to a 70-team league.” But he’s actually halfway decent, and it’s weird. As a Blue Devil fan, McRoberts was somewhere between “ridiculously disappointing” and “the most over-hyped recruit in Duke history.” Now, he’s a high-flying white boy who lives to attack the rim.
But no matter how improbable McRoberts’ NBA success (can I call it that?) has been, this night will remain Marquis Daniels’.
If only Darren Collison could defend him every game.