According to Bill Walton, Ray Allen’s jumper is as flawless as Yomesite Falls. That would make tonight’s game as flawless as Tony Allen’s outside shot, Ronnie Brewer’s shooting motion, or Shelden Williams’ 2010 NBA Finals. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as flawed as Shelden Williams’ 2010 NBA Finals — not much could be. It was bad. Really bad. Somehow, after all the turnovers, missed box outs, and Portland points in the paint, the Celtics escaped the Rose Garden with a 88-78 victory.
For all the game wasn’t (i.e. pretty to watch), it was a win. In a hostile environment, while playing their “D” game (or so), the Celtics still managed to start their West-coast road trip the right way. These are the wins that separate the one seeds from the two seeds, and so on. Prevailing on the road, against decent teams, while playing a brand of basketball that can only be described as “raggedy”, is actually a good recipe for gaining homecourt advantage in the playoffs. (Though I’d also take “steamrolling opponents every night” for $800, Alex.)
Paul Pierce continued to show his improvements from last season. I hate to keep harping on last year with Pierce, but the difference is night and day. With the Celtics struggling through a first half that made the sport of basketball look ugly, Pierce took things into his own hands. He drove to the hoop. He drained three-balls. He generally did what he wanted, whenever he wanted to, affording the Celtics a 41-37 lead after a half in which they were severely outplayed. Just the latest evidence: Pierce’s body is again right, and his game has followed suit. Of course, as I wrote this paragraph, Pierce left to the locker room to get his body checked out (the CSNNE telecast said it’s a knee injury of some sort — update: it’s a right thigh bruise). Remind me never to write anything positive about Pierce’s body again.
But I will gush about Kendrick Perkins’ body, which hardly seems affected by a six-month layoff and offseason ACL surgery. What did Perk do tonight? Oh, just 10 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes. That’s all. Just a near double-double. Just his normal stout defense, quarterbacking of the defense, and garbage pail effort. Just a permanent scowl, even as he makes Celtics nation smile everywhere. On one play, Perk defended Rudy Fernandez on the perimeter. Fernandez put the ball through his legs approximately a million times, attempting crossover after crossover to try losing Perk. But Perk wasn’t going anywhere. He stayed right with Fernandez, hopping left and right to stay in front of the quicker, more agile player. The leg looks, if not 100%, pretty good.
Perk has vastly outperformed my expectations through two games of his comeback, even if he still becomes easily winded, hasn’t quite reached top game shape, and still enjoys the slowest layup release in post-George Mikan NBA history. Those negatives are nothing more than the picking of nits, as we couldn’t possibly have expected more from the beast. At least not this soon.
For the losers, I couldn’t be more impressed by LaMarcus Aldridge. He was frustrated at times, yes, and I imagine most players defended by Kevin Garnett feel the same way. But Aldridge reacted to his frustration as any coach would love — he just worked harder. His shot wasn’t falling? Aldridge found easy tip-ins. He couldn’t breathe against KG’s defense? That’s fine. He worked off the ball to free himself and find easier looks. Tonight was far from Aldridge’s crowning moment. He couldn’t get any rhythm going, and the Garnett-Perkins tag-team tandem can’t be fun to play against in the post. But Aldridge is not the same player we saw last season. He’s not the same player who can be deterred by bad shooting. He’s different; a bad man on a mission to get his, a mission to help his team even on nights when it’s not pretty.
Aldridge’s aggressiveness on the glass helped to highlight a nagging Celtics rebounding deficiency, which resulted in 19 Portland offensive rebounds and a -7 rebounding differential for Boston. Tommy Heinsohn, who was in the studio rather than at the game, said he wished he could play against the Celtics — rebounds would come easy.
Of course, rebounding wasn’t the only thing the Celtics missed tonight. They also missed Rajon Rondo. He played, sure, but this wasn’t the Rondo we’re used to. He accumulated a season-low five assists, while throwing away more turnovers (six) than dimes. I have yet to check the stats, but I’d wager my left big toe that tonight was the first time this season Rondo registered more turnovers than assists. As Walton said, “Rondo’s pretty much taken this game off.”
Indeed, Rondo pretty much sat this one out, and the Celtics struggled as a unit. But a win’s a win, and a 1-0 start to the Western Conference road trip ain’t bad. As somebody once told me when I played golf, there are no pictures on the scorecard. After this win, thank God for that.
Also, Nate Robinson may have finally found Doc Rivers’ dog house for good. When the Celtics’ second unit made a run during the fourth quarter, the Diminutive Dunker’s keister was stapled firmly to the bench.