Well, they did it. For better or worse, the Celtics have clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, thereby avoiding a first-round matchup with the Miami Heat. Instead, Boston will face the New York Knicks, a team which has had considerable success against the C’s throughout the season.
But all of that comes later. Tonight, the Celtics did something unfamiliar and kind of fun: They ran out to a big lead early and never surrendered that lead on the road against an inferior team. We also saw Doc’s projected playoff lineup get some more successful time on the court together, and perhaps we can make a more educated judgment on how well they will perform against good teams.
But for now, let’s get to the bullet points about tonight:
- Courtney Lee broke out of his (season-long?) shooting slump and dropped 20 points on 7-10 shooting, including 3-3 from behind the 3-point line. What was more encouraging was the variety of ways in which Lee scored. He beat the Magic on a series of backdoor cuts, pick-and-roll jumpers, spot-up 3-pointers and transition layups. It should be noted that 13 of Lee’s points came in the fourth quarter when the game was already well in hand, but who wants to be a killjoy?
- We don’t have a big enough sample size to make any kind of sweeping declarations, but Jeff Green certainly seems to be more comfortable offensively when he is playing a stretch-4 role. I’m not really sure why, but he seems more likely to pull up for a long two-pointer than drive to the basket or spot-up for a 3-pointer when he is the shooting guard or small forward. Tonight, he was 6-17 and just didn’t look like himself. He would pull up awkwardly for weird floaters and jumpers where normally he would simply beat his man to the basket. Green’s performance is a big part of the reason why I don’t like Boston’s new big lineup. But again, we don’t have much of a sample size to draw conclusions from. So to be continued.
- Brandon Bass is coming around. I’m knocking furiously on wood at the moment, but after yet another efficient shooting night (6-7 from the field), I think we can safely say that Bass seems far and away the most comfortable we have seen him this season. Good timing.
- Kevin Garnett was 7-8 from the field, 6-7 on his jumpers, and he grabbed nine rebounds. More importantly: There is an obvious uptick in Boston’s defensive schemes whenever Garnett is on the floor. It was great to see him back.
- Whenever Jordan Crawford crashes into the middle of the lane, I get ready to roll my eyes, but he often manages to get close enough to the hoop that his turnaround fadeaway is actually a decent shot. Tonight he got a little bit too pumped up after a layup, screaming “AND ONE!” at the ref who clearly had told him to cut the crap. He got a technical for his efforts, but the Celtics will take a 7-10 shooting performance with three assists, no turnovers and one technical from Crawford in any game.
- Paul Pierce showed some rust, shooting 4-12 from the floor and 1-5 from 3-point range, but he contributed to perhaps the highlight of the night: A sweet alley-oop pass in transition to Jeff Green who slammed it through with one hand.
- Here’s something interesting to overthink: With 29 minutes available at center (Garnett only played 19 tonight), Doc gave Chris Wilcox 19 and Shavlik Randolph just 3. In his last two games, Randolph has grabbed just one rebound in 13 minutes combined. Has Doc decided Shavvy doesn’t have a spot in the playoff rotation? It’s hard to tell, since the entire rotation has been in flux for months due to injuries, but Randolph’s minutes have taken a noticeable dip in the past two games.
That will have to do it for tonight. With just two games remaining and the seventh seed secured (and the sixth seed out of reach), it will be interesting to see if Doc decides to play Pierce and Garnett to keep them in game shape or let them rest. My guess: Both get playing time, but neither gets more than 20 minutes per game. But we will see. Next up, the Celtics play some incarnation of the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday at home.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.