For the first time since the infamous Kendrick Perkins trade last February, the Boston Celtics matched up with the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic Monday night at the TD Garden–and they played without Rajon Rondo (“sore” right wrist) and Ray Allen (jammed left ankle).
The Celtics missed Perkins’ lauded post-defense about as much as they missed Rondo and Allen. Not so much. Led by an impressive effort from Jermaine O’Neal, the Boston frontcourt forced Howard into 4-15 shooting, while Avery Bradley disrupted Jameer Nelson and the Magic half-court offense in a much-needed 87-56 win.
The oft-criticized Bradley and the much-maligned Sasha Pavlovic started in place of Rondo and Allen, outscoring their Orlando counterparts (Nelson and Jason Richardon), while playing praise-worthy defense. Bradley’s defense was so good, he’s in danger of being sued by Nelson and his cohorts for harassment.
In addition to three steals, Bradley’s ball-pressure pushed Nelson to start the offense from well beyond the three-point arc after wasting pressure time on the shot clock. Pavlovic, meanwhile, was credited with two monster blocks (though I could have sworn I counted three) and two steals. Bradley and Pavlovic were a major part of a defense that held Orlando to 24.6% from the field and 25% on three-point field goals, while forcing 23 turnovers.
While the defense was a team effort (O’Neal and Kevin Garnett each added two blocks, while Garnett swiped five steals as well), the offense was led by Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass. Despite garnering most of the attention of the Magic defense, Pierce mustered 19 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. He scored six quick points early in the third quarter to get the blowout ball rolling.
After weeks of watching Pierce plod into the lane and front-rim countless shots, it was encouraging to see him sinking a turnaround, baseline fadeaway and a couple of his patented step-back elbow jumpers. Pierce finally appears to be rounding into form–and it couldn’t come at a better time for a banged up Boston.
For his part, Bass made Orlando GM Otis Smith rethink swapping him for Glen Davis (if Glen Davis hadn’t already done that when he dropped trow in protest of a foul call). He made 8-14 shots, scoring 19 points to go along with eight rebounds.
Bass’ boyhood buddy Davis scored six points and hauled in 11 rebounds in his emotional return to Boston. Davis was nearly brought to tears during a 35-second tribute video on the Jumbotron in which he received a standing ovation.