An impossible pair of free throw misses by Ray Allen left tonight’s Celtics-Spurs chess match in the hands of a balding, left-handed, Argentinian wizard. A late, nine-point Celtics lead had dwindled to two, and it was Ginobili’s opportunity to flip a certain defeat upside down.
But the Celtics, even if their 61.3% shooting percentage for the night could easily fool you, still pride themselves on defensive execution. Marquis Daniels shadowed Ginobili over two Antonio McDyess screens, and Paul Pierce joined Daniels in swarming the Spurs’ magician. Rather than swing a pass to his less-contested teammates, Ginobili let fly with an ill-advised jump shot, his toe on the three-point arc. Pierce’s arm reached up and knocked the shot away, Rajon Rondo picked up the loose ball, and the Celtics escaped with a 105-103 win against the team with the NBA’s best record.
Really, the win shouldn’t have been so difficult. The Celtics’ defense (wait, what defense?) was porous in the first half, and the Spurs got whatever shots they wanted. Yet Boston began getting stops in the second, utilizing a small unit that can best be described as “Paul Pierce played power forward.” Against certain teams, that lineup wouldn’t work. Against San Antonio, with DeJuan Blair firmly secure on Gregg Popovich’s shit list for below-average defense, the Celtics could get away with a smaller five. Matt Bonner, though a few inches taller than Paul Pierce, doesn’t exactly cause a mismatch.
Forgive me for looking ahead, but the small lineup was a good example why the Celtics will be so tough to beat come playoff time. They possess the depth and personnel to force other teams to match up with them. Oh, you guys are going to play Matt Bonner? Then we’ll go small and abuse him. Oh, nobody on your team can chase Ray Allen around screens? We’ll run your players ragged all day, and feed the beast. Oh, you don’t have anyone to slow down Rajon Rondo? Don’t worry, no other teams do either.
The late near-collapse almost overshadowed what had been spectacular late-game execution. There was the one play when Glen Davis switched onto Tony Parker, and somehow — by the grace of God, or at least the grace of Red Auerbach (RIP) — stayed in front of Parker. Davis forced Parker to pass to the corner, where Richard Jefferson caught the ball looking to make a move. He swept through to the baseline, where he expected daylight. What Jefferson failed to realize was that Glen Davis, Mr. Charge himself, was in the vicinity. Two seconds after miraculously hounding Parker into a harmless pass, Davis shuffled his feet to the baseline and took a charge. I half expected Tommy Heinsohn to offer Davis the season’s Tommy Award on the spot.
That play wasn’t the only example of solid late-game execution. There was the pretty Rondo floater, the beautiful Rondo-to-Davis-to-Daniels passing sequence, and (corny joke alert) Ray’s learning Oliver Twist’s “Got to pick a pocket or two.” The Celtics buckled down in the fourth quarter, and should have won handily had it not been for a near-choke job at the end.
Paul Pierce dribbled into a double team and got ripped. Nate Robinson threw a lazy, left-handed pass in traffic, and it was (obviously) picked off. Within the next few days, I hope Nate will have his head surgically removed from his ass. Somewhere in that span of nonsense, the C’s nine-point lead was cut to two and Ray ended at the line ready to seal it — err, I mean to brick two shots and give Ginobili one last chance.
The Celtics still badly miss Kevin Garnett, the only Boston big man dedicated to grabbing rebounds. While the Celtics only lost the rebounding battle by one, their three centers (Davis and the O’Neal brothers) played a combined 76 minutes. They grabbed a combined eight rebounds. And no, that’s not good.
The Spurs tried to isolate Shaq’s pick-and-roll defense early and often, but, barring a short span in the second quarter where Tony Parker made moves, Shaq wasn’t half bad. Glen Davis shot the basketball 18 times, which seems like a lot, but he made ten of them and very few were forced. Actually, I don’t remember a single force. I could be wrong.
The Harangody-Bonner matchup was one I live for, I liked Von Wafer’s contributions despite a line that showed mostly zeros (his defense on Ginobili was actually quite rugged), and at one point I actually thought Ray forgot how to miss. Then he stepped to the line and showed me he still remembered. Paul Pierce shot 7-10, including two free throw line isolations that were vintage Pierce. The methodical killer. Also, when I described the Haranody-Bonner matchup in my notes, I wrote, “The Harangody-Scal matchup is one to die for.” I suppose I just don’t want to let go.
At one point, according to the Comcast broadcast, Doc Rivers asked his team, “What are we running on offense? What are we running on offense?” Raise your hand if you’re surprised Nate Robinson was point guard at that time. (*Nobody raises hand.*) There was also a three-second violation called on Nate, which made me wonder A) what, exactly, Nate was doing in the lane for so long, and B) how Doc Rivers felt about the play of his backup “point guard.”
And no, I have not done Rajon Rondo his justice. Nor will I do Rondo his justice, mostly because it’s impossible for a write of my average-at-best caliber to do a “12 points, 22 assists, 10 rebounds, six steals” line justice. The point guard Rondo played tonight wasn’t minced liver, either. It was Tony freaking Parker. But Rondo just does his thing, holds such control over every game he plays, and continues to amaze me even on nights I expect to be amazed. Rondo even showed confidence in his jumper, a confidence that seemingly grows by the day.
Watching Rondo is like the first time I watched Good Will Hunting. I was late to watching the movie, so I knew Good Will Hunting would be incredible. Everybody and their mothers told me it was incredible, and so I expected nothing short of the best movie I’d ever seen. My expectations were that high, and STILL that movie blew me away. I bowed down to Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that night, just as I now bow down to Rajon Rondo. When expectations are THAT high and you still find ways to raise the bar, that’s when you know you’re special.
And I’ll be damned if I finished this recap without mentioning how Rondo blocked George Hill. George, you’ve been served.