A Daily Babble Production
Don't worry; we promise not to do this to you on the heels of each of the season's 82 games. But after four months without Celtics basketball, please, just this once, you'll have to forgive me for itching to break out the bullet points to devote way too much thought to 48 minutes of hoopin' as we hit the midst of the 48-hour break between the season's first two contests.
Without further ado, let's babble:
- When all was said and done, the defensive box score numbers looked pretty good on Tuesday. The Celts held the Cavs to 85 points and less than 43 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent shooting from beyond the arc. At times, the Celtics did play that suffocating defense that was integral to making the champions a season ago. But it also seemed that they were the beneficiaries of some very poor shooting from the Cavs. Too many times, it seemed that slow or missed rotations led to open jumpers for the likes of Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak, Sasha Pavlovic, Mo Williams or Delonte West. The fact that those guys shot a combined 12-for-32 between them worked out for the Celtics, but they all took their share of nobody-near-them wide open shots, and these are guys who make their livings shooting the basketball. Undoubtedly, the issue of LeBron makes Cleveland a tough team to defend if they spread the floor well, and it's unfair to expect the green fellows to completely cut off all good looks for Cleveland, but there did seem to be far more open looks than one would have liked for Cleveland's perimeter shooters. Here's guessing the Celtics were fortunate that it was opening night and there were a lot of sloppy mechanics on display.
- One more defensive note: It appeared on at least a couple of occasions that the Celtics doubled off of LeBron, particularly on a couple of high screen roll sets for Cleveland. I remember Tony Allen being involved at least once, and I'm not sure who it was on the other occasions. While the Celtics love to jump out above the screener on pick-and-rolls, LeBron would seem to be the sort of player who would warrant the occasional change in philosophy. Since this happened in a couple of instances, here's wondering if it was a schematic decision by Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers or simply happenstance.
- I know there are plenty who have had it with him, but I can't help but marvel at LeBron. We've established that he is no saint and that he gets his share of help from the officials (like every other star in this league), but what he can do on a basketball court...wow. This time around, it was his strength in particular that astounded me anew. He made at least two or three plays that left me shaking my head in disbelief regarding his ability to force the ball into the basket by virtue of sheer will and power. That the guy still seems to have no shortage of free throw issues could be a cause of concern for Cavs fans - and relief for the rest of the league. The Celts were fairly effective against him last night, but label me among those eagerly awaiting the chance to see what this guy does to the rest of the league this year.
- It was a tale of two Rondos. For parts of the opener, the point guard looked at ease in beginning his second year as full-time floor general for this team. He went 4-of-5 from the field, absolutely flew past Mo Williams, pressured the ball well (three steals), ran the break and led the offense effectively throughout a good portion of the evening. But he also got into foul trouble, committed a silly charge early in the game and made quite possibly the team's two dumbest plays of the night: His behind-the-back ball-fake maneuver may have cost him a lay-up by throwing off his rhythm on a play when he could have beaten Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the basket on pure quickness in the first place. The foul on the rebound after Leon Powe's dunk in the final five seconds of the game was inexcusable. Just no reason to give Cleveland any life at all at that point. Ah, the trials and triumphs of having a wonderfully exciting third-year point guard who occasionally tries to do a bit too much.
- Not as much of a tale-of-two-sides deal in the pivot for the Celtics. Kendrick Perkins was bad. He gets credit for getting his hands on a few offensive boards early on (he had four for the game and eight rebounds total), but it sure seemed like there was a lot of silliness on his end. Wally Szczerbiak isn't considered all that much of a threat these days, but one way to make him one is by putting him on the foul line 93 feet from the basket, which Perk did with an ill-advised shove underneath the offensive glass. Similarly, he fouled out on a clearly illegal screen and consistently seemed to be playing defense with his arms rather than his legs, a symptom of being too slow getting to the right spot. It also seemed that he spent a significant portion of the program being concerned with mouthing off at the opponents rather than playing focused basketball. For a guy who had several nights down the stretch last season when he seemed to make great strides, Tuesday night was a disappointment.
- Anderson Varejao could play for me any day. The guy runs around like there's no tomorrow and consistently works as hard as anybody on the floor. He has become an integral part of the Cavs' defensive success on the interior, and he even poked the ball away from Pierce off the dribble once on Tuesday (though the Celtics got it back). That he had four offensive rebounds (nine total), including a putback to erase two James misses at the foul line didn't hurt his case either. It's frustrating to be on the other side from this guy.
- Mo Williams looked like a guy still getting acclimated to the concept of playing defense. He was caught flat-footed several times by Rondo and also had to resort to fouling to prevent easy baskets on several occasions. This might actually represent an improvement from the contribution that he made at that end in Milwaukee. How much he ends up buying in on defense will make a big difference in how far this Cleveland team goes.
- Great to see Delonte West on the court, particularly after the personal issues of his that came to light during the preseason. Does that guy have a potent afro-goatee combination or what? I lost count of the number of times I said, "We goin' play with a sock, we goin' play with a sock." What a fun dude. Wish him all the best.
- You didn't really think we would laud LeBron and leave you hanging on his counterpart at small forward, did you? Paul Pierce picked up right where he left off. Slicing to the rim, hitting outside shots, making shots with contact, earning his way to the line, playing defense: just a sterling season-opening performance from the reigning Finals MVP. Loved it.
- The Celtics' foul shooting was atrocious. No two ways about it. The team was lucky that the Cavs (24-of-33) weren't much better, but 61.8 percent (21-of-34) isn't going to come close to getting the job done in general. There are no easier ways for a team to beat itself than by picking up ticky-tack fouls and missing its opportunities at the stripe. Boogah.
- Leon! Powe was definitively not atrocious. Or even close. He's going to have my Posey-type love on this team, no two ways about it. Mike Fratello summed it up perfectly when he pointed out that looking at Powe simply calls the term "relentless" to mind.
My jones for some microanalysis to a game that is ultimately the first of 82 has officially completed its way through my system. That felt good. Any overreactions I forgot to commit?
Just 28 hours until the next one tips off. It's deliciously good to have meaningful Celtics hoops back in our lives.