We have been waiting a while for this Celtics team to come out in the second half and show some signs of life. Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, the TD Garden was extremely lively. Down one point entering the third quarter, the Celtics starters came out and scored six straight points, going up by as many as eight with just under two minutes to go in the third quarter. While they never pulled away by a huge margin, they held on to win, 95-89.
It was a defensive game for the most part- just the way the Celtics like it. They allowed only 59 points through the first three quarters before the Clippers started draining some threes down the stretch in the fourth quarter to scrape their way to 89 points. The Celtics came into tonight 18-3 when they hold opponents to .449% shooting or less, and the Clippers shot a measly 39% from the field tonight.
"We just did our defense better tonight," said Coach Doc Rivers. "I thought we had a better sense of urgency. I thought Rondo today, his whole job was to stay square... I thought Rondo did a terrific job just making them take shots over him, and allowing our bigs to help and get back."
The last time the Celtics played the Clippers earlier this season, Baron Davis scored 24 points, including the game winner, and dished out 13 assists. Chris Kaman scored 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Clippers beat the Celtics, 92-90.
"Perkins and I were laughing before, for some reason our two guys got off last game, and we knew that we had to step up and take the challenge," Rondo said. "At the end of the day we had to man up and try and get stops. Perk and I were talking and we pride ourselves on defense."
Tonight, Rondo kept Davis in check, as Davis only scored 16 points on 5-13 shooting and dished out seven assists. Kaman didn't have much success either, scoring 10 points on only 5-19 shooting and grabbing nine boards. Rondo scored 16 and dished out 12 assists while Perkins scored nine and grabbed 15 rebounds.
As to whether or not this team is getting back to a rhythm, Rondo said, "It is a little too early to say. We are definitely feeling a lot better about our defensive presences. It's a whole other ball game out there."
One thing is for sure, Kevin Garnett being out on the floor is certainly one reason for the Celtics current winning streak. The intensity that Garnett brought to the floor tonight was felt throughout the area. With just over :40 to go in the game and the Celtics up by six, Baron Davis came charging down the court after Paul Pierce's shot was blocked. As Davis drove to the rim he met Garnett who cut off his lane. Davis then went to dish the ball out from under the basket, but Garnett blocked it out of bounds and then proceeded to scream into the crowd and bring them to their feet. The ensuing inbounds led to a Clipper turnover as Rasual Butler stepped out of bounds when he received the ball.
"I'm trying to bring a certain amount of defense and a certain amount of energy to the defensive end."
Still, Garnett, who finished with 17 points and two rebounds, is not happy with where he is at just yet.
"Two rebounds is not enough for me. I know that I am a better rebounder than that. It's timing, I am not perfect. I will get better at that as the year goes on, but for the most part I am playing my lane and doing what I am supposed to do, which is get Rajon open, get Paul open, get Ray Allen open. Get guys like Perkins and Rasheed easy shots and at the same time be a post presence."
The Celtics now face a tough three game stretch in which they travel to Orlando, Atlanta, and then return home to play the Lakers. These next three games will say a lot about where this team is at at this point in the season.
"We have to be consistent with what we do," Garnett said. "We can't come out here and do it against the Clippers and then show up in Orlando and do something else. That is just focus. We have to be repetitive in what we are doing."
Caution: Slippery when wet
Rajon Rondo played over 40 minutes tonight, but it was the ball boys who may have gotten the most burn tonight. They were busy all night trying to keep the TD Garden's parquet floor dry, as unusually warm temperatures inside and outside the Garden left condensation on the floor. There was a delay in the first quarter, and at the time, an outside chance that the game was going to be postponed.
"I was nervous," said Rivers. "I really was. And you know Joey (referee Joey Crawford) was terrific. And (Clippers Coach) Mike (Dunleavy) and I came together. We, at that point, were very close- the next guy- if anybody slipped in the next two minutes, the game was over."
"We talked about it before the game," Dunleavy said, "our guys were complaining about it before we even played the game, and you know, guys were at risk and you hate for that to be the case."
It wasn't just the Clippers players who were complaining about the court. Rasheed Wallace, never at a loss for words, had some things to say about it as well.
"It was terrible, it was warm in the building with it still being winter, and the ice was just giving away just a little bit. So it made it a little slick out there. Had to play cautiously the whole game."
Asked whether it affected Wallace's play, he added, "Yeah, you know you can't put the brakes on when you want to because you didn't know if you're going to slip. You saw a couple guys slipping out there like Peggy Fleming (an American Olympic figure skater) tonight. It's part of it though when you play in arenas that have ice under it."
Both coaches agreed that the conditions improved in the second half somewhat and allowed them to finish the game, although with some caution.