When a team needs a spark, playing the Sacramento Kings can do wonders.
That said, the Celtics’ third-quarter effort, when they outscored Sacto 33-18 and generally did just about everything perfectly, put any doubts about competition level to rest. Tonight’s win should elicit smiles even from the most pessimistic C’s fans (I’m looking at you, James), and, even though the Kings (rather than the Heat or Lakers) were tonight’s sacrificial lambs, the Celtics should feel pride in returning to their hard-working roots. The result was an easy 119-95 victory.
Paul Pierce started things right for the Celtics with 15 first-quarter points. Pierce’s reaction to being defended by Francisco Garcia was very similar to my reaction to smelling Buffalo Wings — his eyes lit up, his mouth started to water, and pretty soon he was drooling/licking his lips. Pierce wasn’t taking tough shots to score, either. He just made hard cuts, or utilized strong moves, and — voila — he had an easy, wide open layup. By my count, Pierce made a million uncontested layups tonight. In other news, Garcia may now fear Pierce more than he fears the kinesio-ball.
After Pierce carried the offense through most of the first half, the whole team responded in the third quarter. You’ll probably call me a liar, but I predicted a great quarter on the very first possession. Beno Udrih dribbled out top, and Rondo hounded him. Absolutely hounded him. Udrih was lucky enough to pass the ball to a teammate, who then fed the post. Glen Davis contested a would-be turnaround jumper perfectly, forcing a kickout. Unfortunately for the Kings, the kickout was to DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins took a 20-foot jumper as the shot clock expired, and — you’ll never believe this — Shaq actually contested the jumper. After THAT possession, I knew big things were ahead. I didn’t know for sure the Celtics would win the quarter by 15 points, or Rondo would play masterfully, or Pierce would make enough layups to feed a small country, or Tommy Heinsohn would say “That’s a flying shenanigan” after Nate Robinson’s ceremonial wing-flapping celebration. But that first possession signaled the C’s mentality coming out of halftime — they meant business.
After the third quarter, the rest of the game was simply an extended look at the bench. And the bench performed just as Celtics fans would like. Nate Robinson broke out of a slump that seemed like it lasted forever (and might begin all over again next game); Semih Erden posted career highs with ten points and nine rebounds (aka produced more than Jermaine O’Neal ever has); Luke Harangody took a charge with 27.9 seconds left in a 21-point lead; Marquis Daniels was active Marquis Daniels rather than disappearing Marquis Daniels; and Von Wafer continues to prove his increasing comfort level. Even Avery Bradley swiped a steal and took off for a breakaway dunk, after which my 12-year old brother (hyperbolically) said, “He’s the best defender in the NBA.”
Unfortunately, the night started with some unpleasant news. Kevin Garnett would not play against the Sacramento Kings, and neither would Jermaine O’Neal. With the C’s struggling to overcome a January swoon that left Doc Rivers brutally peeved by their effort, bad injury news was the last thing the Celtics needed. But Garnett missed yet another game with his mysterious calf injury, and O’Neal joined him in the DNP-injury section. Rivers even seemed worried about O’Neal’s long-term diagnosis, saying the forward’s knee has swelled up routinely during the last two weeks. (Which relieved me, if anything. Look on the bright side — at least he’s injured, rather than plain bad!)
With 5:10 remaining in a 105-84 game, Luke Harangody dove after a ball only Superman could have grabbed. Harangody’s attempt proved futile, and the Kings received the ball after it bounced harmlessly out of bounds. But Harangody’s effort was symbolic. The Celtics didn’t just show up tonight and think, “These are the Sacramento Kings. Of course we’re going to beat them.”
Okay, maybe they did. But the C’s also decided to assert their superiority on the court, something they haven’t done much of lately. The result, one easy blowout. And one exceedingly content blogger.
Now, if Jermaine O’Neal could only find a way to tape together his paper-mache body. In fairness to Jermaine: even sitting out the game, he mustered only one fewer rebound than Shaq.
But those qualms can wait for another day. Tonight, the Celtics regained their lost swagger. The January swoon, for at least one night, seemed like nothing to worry about. Friday brings the Charlotte Bobcats to the TD Garden. If the C’s bring the same energy they showed tonight, I like their chances.