After surviving an ugly first half of offensive basketball, the Celtics buckled down and got back to the type of ball movement that has become a staple of the team this year, crusing to a 22 point win over the Nets. The C's were undoubtedly a little drained from their win in Indiana -- a game that was intense and competitive despite the seemingly comfortable margin of victory. Boston would be less backup PG and 4th leading scorer "Steady" Eddie House, while the Nets did without the services of Mr. Half-Man/Half-Season, Vince Carter. Tired legs made this game begin an ugly duckling, but boy, did it ever turn into a beautiful swan...
New Jersey started things off with a defense tester -- a pick and roll with Jason Kidd engineered completely to see how the Celtics would play it. Garnett blitzed Kidd immediately and forced him to give it up. This was an important theme in the quarter, as whenever Garnett's man was involved with Kidd in a pick and roll, KG would trap. However, when Kidd set up without Garnett's man in the play, the Celtic defender generally played underneath the screen and dared Ason to shoot the ball. Kidd adapted well to this strategy and was making the correct decision time and again, getting to the rim for a layup past Rondo, hitting a couple long 2 pointers, and hitting a wide-open 3 pointer when left alone staring dead center at the rim. He finished the quarter with 10 points and got his teammates to the free throw line; pretty typical stuff from the perennial All-Star.
Perkins was the story for the Celtics in the first quarter, bouncing back hard from a subpar game in Indiana. The highlights: he stuffed Nenad Kristic's stand-up jumper one on one in the low block, threw a nice fastball to Garnett for a layup, and gathered his customary collection of rebounds. His presence was needed as the Big Three looked sluggish and were clearly not firing on all cylinders. Rondo also had a solid quarter, with his best play coming on an offensive rebound / semi no-look pass to KG for a thunderous dunk. Still, without their three best players in sync, the Celtics were overmatched by Kidd and inspired Sean Williams (who played an excellent game) and ended the quarter in the hole 23-17. The C's turned it over 5 times and were not moving the ball well at all. Kevin Garnett also finished the quarter with an inexplicable stat: no rebounds. It appeared that this was a game they could actually lose.
Doc trotted out a small lineup of Scalabrine, Davis, Posey, and the Allen twins to open the second. With Ray Allen misfiring and Tony Allen out of his comfort zone at the PG spot, this unit didn't look good at all. Big Baby got whistled for his third foul on a very questionable possession battle and got sent to the pine in favor of Perkins. Moments later, Ray Allen got his first rest in favor of Pierce, and Garnett checked back in for Posey. Perkins made his presence felt immediately and put back a Garnett miss shortly after checking in. Allen ran the point with the rest of the starters for a good long stretch as Rondo was saddled with 2 fouls, but the results were just not there. He turned it over on consecutive plays and looked uncomfortable in the role. When Rondo checked back in at the mid-point of the quarter, he displayed his improved shooting touch a couple of times, cashing in when Kidd left him to double someone else. The Celtics were still playing catch up most of the time, as the Nets were constantly getting to the foul line off of Kidd's penetration.
The momentum shift appeared to occur with about 7 to play in the half when Nachbar attempted to isolate Scalabrine on the perimeter with a series of dribble moves, only to have Garnett switch out on him as time was winding down. KG, displaying his usual intensity, locked Nachbar up completely, shadowing his every move until he finally poked the ball loose: 24 second violation on the Nets. The C's immediately got the ball to Garnett after the TV timeout, and he responded with a long jumper off of Rondo's penetration. He then faked Jamaal Magloire and bailed the team out with another elbow J on the next possession with the shot clock at 2. The Celtics were sloooowly creeping back into the game, down 30-27. Good defensive possessions were exchanged between both teams for the next few minutes. The C's broke through and tied the game 30 all when Pierce stepped into the passing lane and went coast to coast for a layup. Kidd immediately responded with an 18 footer. A couple of turnovers and consecutive trips to the line by Tony Allen made it 34-34 on the final possession. What do we do in this situation, Celtic fans?
Isolate Paul Pierce, of course!
Pierce did his usual thing and drove into the lane, avoiding a late double by Jason Kidd and rolled one over the front of the rim to put the Celtics up 36-34 at the half. They would not trail again in the game.
Bill Simmons talks frequently about the Juvenation Machine -- I believed Doc might actually have one of these devices in the locker room, as the team came out on a mission. They put on a passing clinic, beginning with Garnett's left elbow jumper on the first play. Pierce then stole the ball three seconds later and got to the line for a free throw. Jefferson made a jump shot, but Pierce attacked him back on defense, driving the lane and handing off to Perkins at the last second. The Nets had no choice but to foul, and Perk hit both of his attempts. Jefferson hit another jumpshot, but the difference in philosophies was clear: The C's were attacking the basket and moving the defense while the Nets were settling for outside shots. On the next possession, Perkins again showed off his above-average passing touch when Kidd came to double him on the block. He immediately recognized that Rondo would be open and Rajon nailed the open look calmly. Naturally, this angered Kidd and he raced back up the court and got an easy layup. The momentum was clearly in favor of the green as Perk sealed his man hard underneath the rim and laid it in. New Jersey misfired up the other end and Garnett swished another one from the elbow to make it 50-41. Lawrence Frank cried mea culpa and had to call a timeout to stop the onslaught from the suddenly red-hot Celtic squad.
Later on in the quarter, Kidd apparently decided to test Rondo's outside shooting again, doubling Garnett on the block. Rajon made Kidd pay once more, knocking down another 15 footer with confidence. Perkins had a crazy sequence where he made two perfect laser outlet passes off of NJ misses, but Rondo got absolutely swallowed up by Sean Williams on one of them and I believe Ray Allen turned the other one over. Ray Ray had a tough night at this point in the game (1-10 FG), but that would not last. Most of the New Jersey points this quarter came at stripe by Richard Jefferson, but the Nets were merely keeping pace after the Boston spurt to begin the half. As an aside, the Tony Allen Point Guard Project had largely ended; he returned to his normal slashing self, getting to the line several times and finishing the frame with a nice floater with 2.4 seconds on the clock. Boston took an 8 point lead into the 4th quarter, 62-54.
Tony continued his relentless assault of the basket to begin the 4th, taking it to the cup and drawing the foul again, releasing after a monster block by Big Baby Davis. On the very next possession, Allen went for an encore, creating contact with just 4 left on the shot clock and heading to the line. Posey then took a charge on Kidd -- JP was generally all over the place as Doc went with a defensive oriented lineup for the early portion of the 4th: Davis, Posey, Rondo, and the Allens. The next big play really buried the Nets, as Ray Allen stripped Antoine Wright, Rondo picked up the loose ball and fired it to a trailing James Posey who ripped the net with a big triple. The good guys were up 14 points when Doc put Pierce back into the game with 8:39 to play. Ray Ray finally woke up from his slumber and contributed in the quarter with a three point dagger, a layup, and a couple of nice passes. Lawrence Frank finally threw up the white flag with about 5 minutes to go and removed Jason Kidd from the contest for good. The remaining clock was good old-fashioned gar-bahge time, with Garnett putting the exclamation point on the game with an old-school KG post backdown and throwdown. What was once a close game turned into yet another laugher as Boston held New Jersey to 33% FG shooting and eased their way into a 91-69 victory.
Stud of the game:
The Celtics team defense
I'll throw out an old cliche: defense wins championships. Well, this team has championship-caliber defense. I still cannot believe that I am saying this. The Celtics scrambled and locked the Nets down -- they really got nothing on the interior and probably would have lost by 30 if not for Sean Williams' efforts on the offensive glass.
Dud of the game:
This game was dudless. Six guys were in double figures and not a single player who saw action didn't contribute something to the victory. A total team victory such as this doesn't deserve a dud.
Another day, another W. Let's go out and pound Miami, shall we?