A Daily Babble Production
Down five rotation players. Going up against the hottest scorer in the league of late. Visiting a team fighting for separation in the middle of the playoff picture and coming off three wins in its last four games.
The Celtics had a tough task ahead of them last night in Miami and didn't stand all the way up to meet the challenge. It happens. With the ever-worsening injury situation and the team's recent inefficacy on defense scrambling my brain, let's go straight to the bullet points and get on out of here and into the right state of mind for Memphis on Friday:
- Hard not to start with Dwyane Wade: He didn't kill the Celtics from the field overall (9-for-20 for the night), but he nailed a difficult right-wing bank shot, a lay-up plus the foul and a game-clinching three in the fourth quarter. While the 32 points were pedestrian for him lately (seriously, that's his second-lowest total in six March games), he continued to get to the foul line with regularity and forced the Celtics to send multiple defenders at him on several occasions, which opened up the lane for cutting teammates. Wade's March numbers: 37.2 points, 10.7 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game, 57.2 percent from the field, 53.6 percent on threes. Jaw-dropping.
- One more Wade-relevant note: The Miami backcourt is quite pesky defensively. Flash and Mario Chalmers both do solid jobs as individual defenders, and they have great hands as well. Each recorded four steals last night. For Wade, that marked his third consecutive four-theft performance. The nine steals the Heat recorded as a team led to several fast breaks, a couple of which ended in dunks and easy finishes.
- Leon Powe continues to dazzle. He's cleaning up the glass defensively, fighting for second and third chances at the other end, finishing down low and hitting his foul shots at a more regular clip than ever before. He is 23-for-27 (85.2 percent) from the line in five March games, and he looks more comfortable in the post than he has all year. Beyond staying out of foul trouble, it's hard to ask much more of Powe after a 23-point, 13-rebound performance.
- Out-of-this-world first half for Ray Allen. Second half disappearance. I'll still take 27 points on 71 percent true shooting any night without blinking.
- While he has his flaws, I'm always impressed with how active Jamario Moon is. He never seems to stop moving at either end of the floor. While it occasionally hurts him on defense because he doesn't stay in enough control when closing out on a shooter (as expertly pointed out by Tony Fiorentino on a play that allowed Ray Allen an offensive rebound), he still did a good job at that end last night, keeping Paul Pierce from ever really establishing a rhythm. Offensively, he banged three treys and finished two fast breaks with dunks. Credit Moon for providing a key energy spark for the Heat.
- Eddie Money arrived again with nine key points in the fourth quarter. Even more impressive than his trademark shooting was that he actually looked like a point guard on one particular play. House drove the lane, drew a help defender and dished swiftly to Leon Powe for a dunk. Well done.
- At no point last night did I even give a second thought to who was officiating. That's a good sign.
- Given my preexisting bias against Stephon Marbury, I'm doing my best to stay the course and not get mega-reactionary after any one performance. But he hasn't been good for the most part, and it bears noting that last night was another mess. That said, I'm still for Steph starting until Rajon Rondo returns. He was brought in to be the primary back-up at the point, and he will be expected to work with the starters and the top guys off the bench come playoff time if all goes according to plan. With the Celtics depleted in the first place, this is as good a team as any to help try to speed up the re-acclimation process. Giving Marbury his shot as a starter each night and then playing Eddie down the stretch if Steph stumbles works fine by me. A bit more Gabe Pruitt than we've seen recently wouldn't hurt, but other than that, no complaints here about Doc's handling of this particular issue so far. It's up to Steph to get his rear in gear as quickly as possible. We'll see if that can be done.
- Udonis Haslem went a quiet 4-for-5 before hitting an open 13-footer to push the Miami lead from four to six with just outside of a minute to play. Nice night for him.
- Mikki Moore submitted an epic four-foul first quarter off the bench. I imagined the worst-case scenario was that his signing would have a net result of zero for the Celtics but expected him to make the team marginally better. Thus far - and again, it's way too early for anything to be definitive - his presence has been a clear negative (though that goes well beyond the first-quarter fouls). Why doesn't he guard anyone?
- Paul Pierce's shooting numbers weren't terrible, but he had another sluggish night in which he wasn't a major factor offensively. Missing two of three freebies after Mario Chalmers committed an idiotic foul in a six-point game wasn't so good.
- Kendrick Perkins earns credit for battling hard on the offensive glass once more.
- Jermaine O'Neal is a bit of a dope sometimes. Shoving a player out of bounds underneath his own basket while his team was in the penalty was silly enough. Sending a guy to the foul line 94 feet from his basket isn't such a great idea. Standing over that player to the point of earning a technical foul makes no sense.
- The game log says the Celtics' 16-2 run to cut Miami's 15-point lead to one in the fourth took 3:57, but it felt a lot quicker than that. Very cool experience.
- All aboard the Bill Walker train! Walker did just what we could have hoped for on Wednesday. He got after it and gave the team an energy spark while he was on the floor, attacked the basket when it was there for him and limited his turnovers to one illegal screen. That he ran into foul trouble is to be expected as a young player with a lot of energy who hasn't been given the consistent opportunities to get accustomed to being on the floor at this level. He needs to improve that, and his defense has a ways to go. But Walker gave the star swingmen a few extra minutes of rest, drew several fouls, snagged a couple of steals and didn't kill this team while he was on the floor. He was fun to watch, and he logged a team-high plus-12 for the night. More, please.