The Nenad Krstic era began with a wispy mustache, a barrage of offensive rebounds, and hustle galore. The Jeff Green era did not begin quite so seamlessly, but judgment on the C’s blockbuster midseason trade — for good or for bad — will not come instantly; it will not come until the Celtics either win the NBA championship or are eliminated trying. That said, a win tonight is a win, and the four mainstays still in Boston’s starting lineup remain talented and unselfish.
Krstic, Krstic, Krstic. He’s not a terrific offensive rebounder (though he’s competent), so don’t expect so many Krstic-related second chances every night. But he worked hard; oh, did he work hard, like a young boy at his first day of basketball tryouts. He battled for each rebound, which — despite tonight’s prolific rebounding, at least on the offensive side — normally is not Krstic’s strength. He hedged each screen-and-roll with his feet quick and his hips on a swivel. He fought, and he clawed, and he won over some members of Celtics nation who did not expect so much from the Serbian seven-footer. He even made moves with smoothness and canned a couple of pretty jumpers, sentiments (I promise) I never once wrote about Kendrick Perkins.
The Celtics will still need to replace part of Perk’s (11th-best in the NBA) 27.3% defensive rebound rate, and his hulking, intimidating presence down low. But the early returns on Krstic were terrific, even if, when Chris Kaman bullied Krstic in the fourth quarter for a far-too-easy lefty lay-in, I briefly worried how Krstic would ever defend Dwight Howard.
That’s a worry for another day, as tonight was about the two newcomers helping the Celtics to a win. Green wasn’t perfect, as his one “fall flat on his face while trying to penetrate the defense” maneuver evidenced. But you can see why Danny Ainge desired Green, and why Doc Rivers raved about Green’s versatility. Late in the third quarter, Rivers trotted out a lineup of Rondo-West-Pierce-Green-Davis. Speed, everywhere. Size, nowhere. But that’s the versatility Green brings (he can guard threes or fours, but handles the ball like a guard), and Rivers will enjoy his new toy.
Watching Green’s defense closely allowed me to see why he earned a poor defensive reputation in Oklahoma City. It was only one game, but Green’s positional defense seemed good. He was mostly in the right spots, and his rotations — especially considering he was playing in his first game as a Celtic — seemed mostly timely. But when Green’s man penetrated, Green’s hips opened right up and he escorted his opponent to the hoop. Once, after Green allowed an opponent direct passage to the hoop, he even recovered to block his opponent’s shot. It’s weird, but the block was actually a product of bad defense. Green’s impressive athleticism allowed him to recover, but improper technique let his opponent drive by him in the first place.
Green and Krstic made their debuts, but Delonte West impressed in his new role. West was everything I always wished Nate Robinson could have been. Poised. Controlled. Electric. Balanced, between scoring and passing. Taller than 5 feet 9 inches. Unwilling to randomly pull up for contested three-pointers on the fast break. West ran the team, in a way Robinson never learned how, in a way that allowed the Celtics to excel while Rondo sat on the bench for extended periods of time.
Watching Blake Griffin was fun, in ways you don’t realize unless you watch him on a regular basis. The dunks are great, sure, but there have been prolific dunkers before and there will be many more prolific dunkers. It’s Griffin’s feel for the game — his ability to pass and notice things most don’t — that really sets him apart. Griffin’s bounce pass to Randy Foye — the one that precluded Foye’s “welcome to the Celtics” dunk in Green’s face — left me far more awed than any display of Griffin’s mutant athleticism did. He knows how to play like point guards know how to play, and, once his defense catches up (if his defense ever catches up?), Blake Griffin will go down as one of history’s greatest power forwards. And, if tonight’s any indication, Randy Foye will go down as one of history’s greatest combo guards.
The Celtics are supposed to beat the Los Angeles Clippers, and they did. Paul Pierce scored 24 efficient points, the Celtics shot one million free throws, and Kevin Garnett played his normal well-rounded game. This Boston outfit hasn’t completely meshed, and fully breaking Green and Krstic in could take a little while. But you could see what the Celtics saw in each of them. You could see why Danny Ainge made this trade. Even while you still wonder whether Ainge made the right decision.