No, that wasn’t a typo. Brandon Bass = Brandon Boss. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds yesterday while shooting 9-13. But the stats alone don’t tell the story. I’m confident when Boss shoots jumpers. I’m happy when he gets aggressive (which is almost all the time). I’m thrilled that he has the athleticism to finish in traffic and not get his shot blocked 95% of the time. And I’m shocked that some backup power forwards have the hops (and slim physique) required to leap over opponents for rebounds. (Note: In case you didn’t notice, I was staring directly at Glen Davis while writing those last four sentences.)
I promise I won’t compare Boss to Davis all season. But Boss already matched Davis’ 2010-11 season high for rebounds, and his 20 points would have been Davis’ second-highest output all of last season. And if you listen to Kevin Garnett’s quote about Boss, Doc Rivers wasn’t the only one impatiently waiting for Davis’ contract to expire.
“Brandon’s going to give us, obviously, a more mature or more consistent scorer coming off the bench,’’ said Garnett, who called him an X factor. “I honestly like our bench, how we look, not just on paper, but on practice and in games.
“Chemistry is still a question mark, how well they jell. How quickly they jell is another question mark.’’
Otis Smith, I still don’t know what you were thinking.
Before I heap piles of praise on Rajon Rondo’s performance (and his production was certainly worthy of such praise), let’s just note that Rondo’s aggression disappeared almost entirely in the fourth quarter. Here’s his fourth quarter shot chart:
That’s it. Two shots, both of them jumpers, one make, no free throws, no layups. And that was after three quarters of complete domination during which he treated Toney Douglas like a red carpet directed straight to the hoop, causing me to jokingly tweet that Rondo will win the scoring title this season. The Celtics won’t realize their potential until Rondo realizes he needs to finish games with the same aggression that he starts them. Boston’s fourth quarter offense was a problem all last season and it reemerged as a problem yesterday. Until Rondo learns how to maintain his aggression into the fourth quarter, the Celtics will struggle to find their late-game identity.
Okay, enough griping about the fourth quarter. Rondo was fantastic. He put Boston on his shoulders. He was more aggressive than ever driving to the hoop, created contact with defenders to draw fouls like never before and even took some jump shots in perfect rhythm, as if he gained confidence over the offseason (which is actually a reasonably reasonable possibility, considering that Rondo had more time than ever during the NBA lockout to work on his jump shot). And oh yeah, he had 13 assists too.
There were surely extenuating circumstances surrounding Rondo’s great play. The Knicks defense (albeit slightly improved) normally resembles a pasta strainer with holes big enough to fit New York’s opponents. Toney Douglas isn’t exactly a Rondo stopper. Boston’s offense was stagnant and Rondo had no choice but to be aggressive. All those factors helped lead to Keyser Soze Rondo.
But Rondo attacked more consistently yesterday than ever. Until the fourth quarter.
How big is the burden on Rondo? Until Pierce returns, the Celtics don’t have any other reliable shot creators. Not a single one. Brandon Boss can occasionally find his own shot, but he’s also reliant on teammates to find him open for spot-up jump shots. Kevin Garnett was never particularly aggressive and now doesn’t have his old athleticism. Ray Allen used to be a true threat in the pick-and-roll but now he’s not nearly as independent scoring the rock. And the next time Sasha Pavlovic, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Mickael Pietrus or Avery Bradley create a play by themselves might be the very first. Even Pierce isn’t as capable as he used to be in the one-on-one game. The Celtics will need to rely on running their offense for a large percentage of their buckets — and they’ll need to rely on Rondo for almost everything else.
If you like players who occasionally dribble the ball out of bounds for no reason at all, couldn’t hit a jumper if it stuck its tongue out in their faces and generally look lost on the basketball court, Bradley’s for you. I know I’m being harsh. It was just one game. He’ll get better. He’s a hell of a defender, one who can pick up full-court and harass an opposing guard for 94 feet. He’s a second-year player with oodles of athleticism whose raw ability needs to be harnessed and worked on, yada yada yada.
But Bradley also is not productive enough offensively, at least at this point in his career, to warrant playing time. So thank you, Mickael Pietrus, for choosing Boston. The Celtics need you.
An oddly weak impact
Jermaine O’Neal didn’t have the best season last year. With a month left in the season, I was ready to declare O’Neal the world’s softest player and hire two henchmen to kidnap him and force him into retirement. But then something funny happened. He returned and played through loads of pain, played through a broken wrist and was phenomenal in the playoffs, at least defensively. He proved what he was made of, and he definitely wasn’t made of cotton candy like we suspected for most of the season.
I will always fear that O’Neal’s going to get hurt on his next possession. But when he’s out there, I thought he would protect the rim admirably and maybe score a few buckets accidentally.
Instead, he scored six points, snagged only two rebounds and managed to pick up five fouls. He did block two shots, but he also looked late on a lot of rotations. I thought Doc Rivers described O’Neal’s performance best:
Rivers said, “I thought he was a little slow, late on a lot of stuff. But in the third quarter, he played terrific.”
The Celtics need more from O’Neal. After all, he’s their only center.
Kevin Garnett’s minutes
Maybe this whole “let’s play Garnett more at center” experiment isn’t the best idea after all. The Celtics played reasonably well with Garnett in the middle (some lineups did better than others), but it’s the playing time I’m concerned about. The Big Ticket played 21 minutes in the first half and 37 for the game. I understand the Celtics have no natural centers once O’Neal gets into foul trouble. But playing Garnett almost 40 minutes — especially in a lockout-shortened season that should increase the wear and tear all by itself — is not cool.
Last season, the Celtics had the NBA’s highest field goal percentage but finished tied for 17th in offensive efficiency. On Christmas, the Celtics outshot the Knicks from the field, 51.3-47.3%, took two more shots than the Knicks and outrebounded the Knicks, 41-31.
So how’d Boston lose? Three aspects of the game that might haunt Doc Rivers’ team all season: The C’s made seven fewer three-pointers, drilled two fewer free throws and turned the ball two more times than the Knicks did.
The Heat later tonight. Hopefully the Celtics can avoid an 0-2 start.