The Celtics lost their first game after the All-Star break, falling to a feisty Denver Nuggets team by seven. The game was close because Jeff Green, setting aside one short stretch in the third quarter, played extremely well. He defended with energy and shot 8-12 from the field for 20 points.
But Denver absolutely demolished Boston at the free throw line, shooting 36 free throws to Boston’s 16, which looks fishy at first (and there WERE a couple of questionable calls), yet Denver attacked the basket consistently. Boston, true to form, didn’t. There were other problems (the Celtics’ inability to block out Kenneth Faried, 2-14 shooting from Pierce, seven points in 27 minutes from Jason Terry), but were it not for the free throw disparity, the Celtics absolutely could have won this game.
One other thing haunted the Celtics tonight, and it’s something perhaps more worrying — more insidious — than giving up 20 free throws: The Celtics had trouble advancing the ball.
It’s striking, really. Opposing teams have been allowing Terry, Bradley and Pierce to bring the ball up mostly unmolested. You would think that opposing coaches would see Rondo go down and immediately start salivating at the full court pressure they could apply, but George Karl was one of the first ones to do it consistently, and it was (obviously) successful. To their credit, the C’s stopgap point guards didn’t turn the ball over very much, but Boston’s sets started much too late. This must be how it feels to play against Bradley.
We knew this was coming eventually. It was too much to ask that Boston could continue to play point guard by committee with a series of stop-gaps. Tonight, aggressive defenders like Brewer and Lawson plagued the C’s backcourt. If other teams are smart, they will learn from Denver’s example and do the same thing.
There’s no reason to panic quite yet (at least, no reason to panic for any reason other than Rondo). Pierce told reporters that he hadn’t picked up a basketball since before the All-Star break, and he looked very rusty tonight. He will work himself back into shape, because that’s what he does. Garnett looked a little bit rusty as well.
But we can safely assume that this is why Danny Ainge has been hesitant to say that the Celtics are going to do nothing at the trade deadline. They need a point guard, desperately. Tonight was proof of that. They also need defensive rebounders, perhaps not quite as desperately, but certainly if they want to make any kind of unlikely, deep run into the playoffs.
If you were looking for reasons for Ainge to keep this current squad completely intact, tonight probably did little to help your case.
Bullet points seem somewhat unnecessary for this game, so here are the super abridged versions.
- Jeff Green was great. Moar plz.
- After an excellent first quarter, Bradley’s confidence went completely down-hill, save for one late fourth quarter 3-pointer.
- Boston and Denver shot identical percentages from 3-point range: Each team finished 7-20.
- Kenneth Faried is a serious contender to join Joakim Noah in the list of players you hate if playing against your favorite team/players you love if playing for your favorite team. In fact, I’d say there’s a solid chance he replaces Garnett on the list when KG retires. He was infuriating tonight, flying around getting rebounds and screaming in Celtics’ faces. Good for him for hustling, but he’s not exactly endearing. You know, unless you cheer for the Nuggets.
That will have to do for tonight. Tomorrow, the Celtics face the Lakers once again, after blowing out Kobe and Co. in TD Banknorth. I leave you with that memory. Happy thoughts, everybody.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.