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Encouraging Signs From The Show

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The play of Leon Powe rightfully took a position near the top of the not-so-long list of frustrations during the Celtics' recent 12-game winning streak.  That was not the case during the recent back-to-back against the Lakers and Knicks.

The last few weeks haven't been Leon's finest.  Normally the Celtics' top post scoring threat off the bench, Powe looked uncomfortable with the ball in his hands through much of his last several appearances prior to Thursday night's game against Los Angeles.  He stopped squaring himself to the basket and started forcing rushed shots in traffic, which led to a disastrous 38.3 percent mark from the field for the month of January. 

His suspect play continued at the other end of the floor, and his hallmark relentlessness didn't seem to be there quite as often as it had through his first two and a half years as a Celtic.  Combine Powe's struggles with Brian Scalabrine's role expanding and Large Baby going through the best stretch of his career, and it wasn't a surprise when his minutes dipped, including a three-game streak in January when he didn't crack nine minutes.

But perhaps there is something about the Lakers that brings out the best in Leon.  After all, this is the guy who blew up for 21 points in Game 2 of last year's NBA Finals.  He didn't do quite that on Thursday night, but he did return with a bang.  Powe put up just his third double-digit scoring effort of 2009 on with a 5-for-7 effort in 16 minutes.  He attacked the basket with confidence underneath, using ball and foot-fakes to his advantage and burrowing his way in deep down low in order to earn himself lay-ups.

The success putting the ball in the basket seemed to raise his energy level across the board.  Powe was a terror on the glass, grabbing eight rebounds while playing less than a third of the game.  He got the Celtics five second chances on the offensive glass and generally forced the Lakers to get a body on him at all times as soon as the ball went up.  That's what being a pest on the glass is all about.

[Disclaimer: This praise is not, repeat not, to say that Powe should have been on the floor after Kevin Garnett fouled out on Thursdaay night.  In fact, as we'll detail tomorrow, I was happy with a lot of what went on that night with regard to Large Baby.  The above is merely observation of what we did see from Powe on Thursday, and it is meant as nothing more than that.]

It was more of the same last night at Madison Square Garden, although perhaps Powe's teammates (namely Kevin Garnett) deserve a good deal of credit for Powe's scoring this time around.  He remained aggressive inside, going up strong to the rim at every opportunity and getting earning himself seven trips to the foul line, knocking down five of his free throws. 

Powe was also the beneficiary of the Knicks' defensive deficiencies and Kevin Garnett's unselfishness.  Twice late in the fourth quarter, the Knicks double-teamed KG just outside the left block and were either late or altogether absent in rotating down to Powe in the paint.  The first time,Garnett palmed the ball with his right hand and held it out away from two New York defenders.  As they converged on him, KG saw that no one was dropping down to fill the lane, and he sailed the ball over the two Knicks' heads to Powe for an easy slam.  The next time, David Lee got there just in time to foul Leon as he was finishing a lay-up.

Powe also had another dunk and just enough touch to get a six-footer to find its way in off the glass earlier in the evening.  He finished 4-of-7 from the field en route to 13 points.  The tenacity on the boards was there once more, and Leon collected seven rebounds, including two at the offensive end.  Playing his second solid game in as many nights, Powe earned himself some confidence from the coaching staff.  That manifested itself in the form of extra minutes, as he played 27 for the game and stayed on the floor for the duration of the fourth quarter.

Leon Powe still has a ways to go at the defensive end, and his offensive performance needs to become more consistent (and perhaps occasionally more passing-oriented).  But after a couple of weeks of less than his best work, it's good to see The Show looking sure of himself while playing his game inside once more.  Comfortable enough to take his shot without rushing and uncomfortable enough to keep scrapping for every inch, that is. Just the right balance.