I've pretty much reserved Celtics Notes for news-related items, but I think I'm going to start including some smaller storylines from games that might go unnoticed otherwise. So, without further ado...
Marquis Daniels Sparks Celtics
The Celtics were on the verge of blowing last night's game open when they started the second quarter on a 22-3 run that saw them take a 41-26 lead. Marquis Daniels was finally more assertive on offense, scoring nine of his season-high 13 points during this stretch. Thus far, Daniels hasn't been as consistently aggressive on offense as he was during the majority of the preseason, but we did see flashes of what we expect out of him in the victories over Miami on opening night and Detroit last Tuesday.
Daniels is often at his best for the Celtics when he's driving to the rim and cutting to the hoop without the ball, and he did both last night. Four of his six shots came within less than 10 feet of the rim, according to Hoopdata. With 8:38 left in the second frame he slashed to the hoop and put in a layup, and followed that up three minutes later by cutting to the hoop without the ball and receiving a Rajon Rondo pass which he converted into another layup.
Daniels also took four free throws last night (making three of them), but he doesn't always seek out contact with opposing players. With 8:34 left in the fourth quarter, Daniels drove along the left baseline into the paint, right at a slew of Bulls defenders. But rather than leap right into them like some players do, he skied up and faded backwards, and shot one of his customary "tweener" shots (essentially a mini-jump shot two to five feet from the hoop). He's usually pretty effective when he tries to score in this manner. The key for Daniels, though, (and the Celtics, for that matter), is consistency. He needs to keep slashing into the lane the way he did last night on a game-by-game basis.
Did Anyone Else Notice This Play?
The Celtics have run a somewhat unique play a few times this season, that's essentially a pick-and-roll play for Rajon Rondo and a power forward, but involves specific movements from the other three players on the floor as well, which gives Rondo five options once the play gets going. I wish I had video of it (working on that), but a description will have to do for now. We first saw this play against the Miami Heat on opening night, but we saw it again last night with 6:06 remaining in the third quarter (for those of you who taped or DVRed the game).
Here's how it unfolded last night: Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis were stationed on the left side of the court, while Paul Pierce, Jermaine O'Neal, and Ray Allen were stationed above the three-point line on the right wing, side-by-side-by-side. Rondo was above the three-point line on the left side, and Davis was outside of the paint, just below the free throw line. Davis moved up to set a screen for Rondo just to the left of the free throw line, and when the pick was set and Rondo began to move around it, driving to his right, the other three players moved to specific spots on the floor. Allen dived down to the right corner behind the three-point line, Pierce rotated to the top of the key behind the three-point line, and Jermaine O'Neal dove right to the hoop. The sudden movement of the three players on the right wing appears to aim to throw the defense off, since the movements are simultaneous, but Rondo now basically has five options, depending on what the defense gives him: He can hit Davis who's popping out to the left wing for a jump shot, he can hit a cutting O'Neal diving to the rim, he can flip the ball back to a (presumably) open Pierce at the top of the three-point arc, he can drive right and hit a (presumably) open Allen in the right corner for a three-pointer, or he can drive into the lane and look to score himself in some manner.
Unfortunately, when the Celtics ran this last night, O'Neal didn't appear to dive down fast enough and he and Rondo basically collided, forcing a turnover. A whistle blew a few seconds later and Rondo said something to O'Neal. My immediate thought was that it had to do something with his movement on that specific play, but that's just a guess on my part, based on what I saw happen. I'm working on getting some video of this play, but for now, hopefully that description of it will suffice. I only mention it because it's a very noticeable offensive set, largely due to how the three players along the right wing are stationed so closely together before the play takes shape.
Garnett Looking Great
I'll be honest, I'll probably never treat a very athletic play by Kevin Garnett with any type of subtlety this season. It's been so exciting watching him throw down dunks again, battle for baskets in the paint, and consistently rebound the ball. His dunk over Andrew Bogut on Wednesday was one of those "OHHHH!" moments, as was his dunk in traffic against the Bulls with 4:28 left in the second quarter. Perhaps even more impressive was Rondo's steal that led to that dunk, as he skied up into the air and batted the ball down before controlling it and starting the fast break.
The point is, through six games, Garnett's already looked much more Garnett-ish than he did for the majority of last season. The explosiveness is undoubtedly back (the dunks and the rebounding are prime evidence of that), he's not hesitant to bang against other bigs inside, and we've seen a steady collection of very emotional responses (or classic KG moments) following a number of these plays, which always means Garnett's feeling good.
The rebounding is very encouraging, mainly because the Celtics simply have to be a better rebounding team this season than they were last season, and Garnett plays as much of a role in that area of improvement as anyone. Through six games, he's averaged 9.83 rebounds per game, which is his highest average since the 2007-2008 championship season. He's notched double-doubles in three of the six games. Sure, you could argue that the Celtics haven't played great rebounding teams, or teams with considerable front lines (Detroit, Cleveland, New York, and even Miami to an extent), but at least Garnett's helping to expose the teams on the glass that should be exposed. If nothing else, it has to give us some measure of hope that he can still hang with the league's best rebounders, if only to a degree.
I suppose I keep bringing up the state of Kevin Garnett because he's that vital to this team. It goes without saying, but what we've seen so far is just too encouraging not to make note of. On a somewhat related note, Garnett referred to Charlie Villanueva as a "nobody" and stressed that he's done paying attention to "nobodies". Let's close the book on this one now.