When an NBA team earns a 23-point deficit (and the Celtics did earn theirs), even the most invigorated comeback attempt needs the perfect storm to succeed — timely baskets, key forced turnovers, missed shots from the opponent. That’s not me calling the Celtics attempted comeback tonight “most invigorated,” though they played hard in the second half. Just pointing out how they would have needed near-perfection to overcome such a putrid start.
And it was certainly putrid; the first half was far more Gerald Green era than Bill Russell era. DeAndre Jordan had 2,583,342 dunks, every shot the Clippers took (or, at least, so it seemed) was uncontested, and the Clippers manhandled the Celtics in every way possible. Blake Griffin did not put any Celtics on a poster in that first half, but his teammates more than made up for him — 67.6% shooting isn’t very bad.
The Celtics did come back, though it proved futile. The comeback, as most comebacks do, started with defense. One stop at a time, the Celtics scratched their way back into the game. There were offensive heroics, of course, but you don’t get Ray Allen transition three-pointers without stops. You don’t get Rajon Rondo reverse layups without stops. You don’t cut a 23-point lead down to four points without stops, and consistent stops.
When the Celtics played their best basketball, a shocking five took to the parquet floor. Carlos Arroyo played shooting guard, Jeff Green manned power forward, and Nenad Krstic held down the fort at center. Not a lineup I ever expected would play so well for the Boston Celtics, but, well, I didn’t expect the Celtics to trail the Clips by 23 points on this night, either. Nor did I expect DeAndre Jordan to don his cape.
Arroyo, in his Celtics’ debut, looked freed. Like Miami had been his jail, and getting cut from the Heat was the best thing ever to happen to him. In ways we didn’t see in Miami, Arroyo played point guard. He didn’t just dribble the ball up the floor, pass to an infinitely more talented teammate, then spot up in the corner — no, he actually played a true point guard. He made a beautiful bounce pass to Krstic. Drained a jumper in the lane. Looked 2,400% more comfortable running Boston’s offense than Avery Bradley did, even though it was his first game, even though he was playing with a new offensive system and new teammates.
At fear of gushing too much about Arroyo’s four-point, two-assist debut, but stats did not do him justice and even the smallest pleasures left me grinning. At one point, Arroyo pushed the ball in transition without dribbling the ball, pitching the ball forward to Sasha Pavlovic, who had a wide open jumper. Pavlovic bricked the jumper, but still: the Celtics have a backup point guard who looks to know what he’s doing. Doc Rivers was so excited with Arroyo’s play, he even kept Arroyo in the game to play shooting guard alongside Rajon Rondo. And the strange combo worked, beautifully. If this is the Arroyo the Celtics get every night, I can handle it. In fact, I’ll really start to dig the Carlos Arroyo era.
On the other end of the “early returns from buyout additions” spectrum, there’s Troy Murphy. I’m still not willing to completely shut the door on Murphy’s potential. But — well, how do I put this nicely? — he hasn’t exactly shown us anything to get excited about. There’s the whole “he still hasn’t made a shot as a Celtic” stat, which isn’t at all terrific but doesn’t even tell the whole story. His legs look shot. His shots lack lift. Quite frankly, Troy Murphy looks washed up, in ways 30-year old shooting power forwards don’t normally look washed up. Maybe that’s because he’s still working himself into shape. Or maybe his game has fallen off a proverbial cliff, to the point of no return.
Kevin Garnett shot like Ben Wallace, which is to say he did not shoot very well. Mo Williams shot like Dave Hopla, which is to say he rarely missed. And the Celtics learned a valuable lesson today, one which they’ve learned too many times in the past two seasons:
Sleep-walking, against any NBA team (even the Clippers), will not earn a win.