Boston’s starters subbed out of the game before the third quarter ended, and I envisioned plenty of rest for each of them. The Celtics had led by as many as 29 points, and Phoenix had shown no signs of life (two loud and uncharacteristic technical fouls — by Grant Hill and Steve Nash! — notwithstanding). But an 18-0 run will change things, I suppose, and Kevin Garnett and his fellow starters were forced off their keisters to apply the finishing touches of a 115-103 win.
Not every win can be perfect, even if the Celtics’ first two and a half quarters were pretty close. The C’s passed the ball splendidly, finding the open teammate every time. Rajon Rondo penetrated fearlessly, and the Suns could do nothing to stop him coming off the pick and roll. Kevin Garnett asserted his dominance over Channing Frye, and showed he did not have to ball-tap anybody to do so. Paul Pierce looked as young as ever, taking flight to put Frye on a home-made poster. Ray Allen hit a quick-trigger three in transition, as Ray Allen tends to do. Nenad Krstic continued to look like an upgrade over Kendrick Perkins, at least offensively, and hustled on the boards for the third straight game. Von Wafer threw two gorgeous passes that had me jokingly referring to him as “Cousy.” And if it seems like I’m listing everybody, I am. I could even list more. The Celtics played nearly flawless team basketball and everybody chipped in. For two and a half quarters.
Everything fell apart, of course, as Aaron Brooks began looking like an MVP candidate. But for those first 34 minutes (or so), Danny Ainge beamed at his team — beamed at the beautiful symphony he’d put together through a combination of trades, draft picks, and free agent signings — and everything was right in Celtics nation. At one point, Boston’s lead was 86-57 and they looked unbeatable. I imagined Red Auerbach somewhere up above, readying himself to smoke a cigar.
If Red (God bless his soul) did smoke a victory cigar that early, he fretted just slightly when the Suns cut the lead to single digits. But the game was never truly in doubt, and the C’s overcame Phoenix’s “Hack-a-Rondo” technique (and Brooks’ shooting onslaught) to hold on for their win.
As he had been in his first two games, Jeff Green showed the potential to help everything, but also a slight hesitancy to play his own game. There was a scoop-de-loop in transition, which showed off Green’s agility. There was a one-dribble pull-up in the corner, which showed his ability to make shots. There was a bounce pass to Troy Murphy (who was subsequently blocked), which showed off his passing vision. Green can do a lot of things on a basketball court, indeed, and he showed off an array of skills tonight that few players (and, especially, few subs) have. But he still doesn’t seem comfortable in his new role. Not entirely, at least. Though I mention so many impressive plays he made, Green contributed only six points and one rebound.
For better or worse, Avery Bradley looks far more comfortable shooting the basketball than he ever used to. That tendency hasn’t worked out perfectly for the Celtics yet, as Bradley continues to miss more than he makes (and, on this night, airball as many as he made). But he looks confident while preparing to shoot, and he seems to have lost most of (all of?) his early-season hesitancy. When the shots fall, as one sideline pull-up did, Bradley’s rather good form can fool you into thinking he’s actually a deadly shooter. Which, for whatever reason, gives me confidence that he’ll one day develop into a deadly (or at least competent) shooter. I know, not the best reasoning ever. Sue me.
But Bradley’s best contribution, and the piece of evidence I will use to prove his (admittedly very-far-from-finished) development, led to an airball. Bradley, who normally walks the ball up the floor, pushed the pace with fury. Rarely this season has Bradley looked comfortable making a basketball play, but he did not hesitate at all. His basketball instincts, which I have questioned all season, kicked into play. He drove hard at the right elbow, knowing exactly what he was about to do. He drew the defense, kicked out to Von Wafer… and Wafer airballed by approximately three feet. But the results hardly mattered. My little brother said, “That was a Rondo play,” and it was. It was also Bradley’s first true indication of learning the point guard position. Even if he showed a half-dozen other reasons why he still has miles to go.
Troy Murphy made his Celtics debut, and he looked a lot more like “New Jersey Nets Troy Murphy” than “Indiana Pacers Troy Murphy” or “Golden St. Warriors Troy Murphy.” At least three times, Murphy was blocked directly underneath the hoop. He had no rise whatsoever, which could be due to this being his first game back after a long layoff (which includes an impressive run of DNP-CDs). Or, it could be due to a far more sinister cause — the quick and sudden downfall of the artist formerly known as Troy Murphy.
With 49.3 seconds remaining in a ten-point game, Glen Davis injured himself with an akward landing. The injuries never end, and Troy Murphy’s role may just have gotten larger.