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Reserve Backcourt Chemistry a Thing of Beauty

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A Daily Babble Production

Comcast SportsNet couldn't have had better timing.

During the opening minutes of CSN New England's coverage of last night's Nets-Celtics game, the station aired a mini-feature of sound bites of Stephon Marbury and Eddie House talking about how much each enjoys playing with the other.  Highlights of the two making plays off the Celtics' bench accompanied the interview clips.  This was especially fun to watch because a) Marbury nicknamed Eddie House "the bumblebee" and b) any opportunity to see Eddie talking on screen is worth taking (he's right up there with Kendrick Perkins in that department on this team as there is just something particularly enjoyable about listening to those two guys).

Less than an hour later, the two diminutive guards returned to the New Garden floor to prove that they aren't just paying lip service to the idea of on-floor chemistry.  This is real.

On four occasions in the second quarter, Eddie House canned one of his hallmark quick-release jumpers.  In all four instances, Marbury delivered the ball to him.

Playing exclusively off the ball once again, House was free to do what he does best: drift to open spots on the perimeter, and cash in on deep looks when his penetrating teammates draw the defense's attention away from him.  Marbury played the latter role to a tee.  He used his still-quick first step to attack the lane and pressure the defense to react to him.  As the Nets' help leaned toward Marbury, he kept his head up and moved the rock to the open man, namely House.

The play that epitomized the combo's night came shortly after the midway point of the second quarter.  Marbury drove from the right block across the lane underneath the basket and began to elevate from the left side.  But as he did, he realized that he had drawn multiple defenders, including center Brook Lopez.  So Marbury changed course in midair and kicked the ball straight out to House waiting alone offset left of the top of the circle.  Threeeeeee!

When Marbury left the floor after his stint in the second quarter, the pair had played 8:52 together, and the Celtics had turned a 10-point deficit into a one-point lead.  House scored 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting (including 3-for-4 from beyond the arc) in that span, and Marbury had dished out four assists against just one turnover while knocking down a jumper and slicing through the Nets' defense for an easy lay-in.  House would hit two more shots to extend the lead in the second half.  Marbury would continue to play controlled team basketball at the point, which included another defense-dicing drive that led to an uncontested dunk for Kendrick Perkins.  In less than 16 minutes apiece, House tallied a plus-17 and Marbury a plus-13 in the Celtics' 106-104 win.

Stephon Marbury and Eddie House are far from flawless, and their size issues and defensive deficiencies leave the Celtics vulnerable when they play as a tandem.  But for two guys who supposedly weren't each other's biggest fans in years past, they sure do look more in sync offensively each time they take the floor together.

Musings from a win that wound up a bit too close for comfort in the final minutes:

  • Since we didn't feature him in the main section of today's Babble, it would be inexcusable not to start here with Rajon Rondo.  Just a superb evening: He knocked down a couple of jump shots early on when the Nets chose to go under screens against him, and he spent the rest of the night running Devin Harris and Keyon Dooling out of their shoes.  Rondo got to the rim with even more ease than usual, often finishing with that righty scoop move he likes from the left block.  Most impressive of all, however, might have been his 11-for-13 performance at the foul line.  That featured a set of three free throws earned when he flung the ball toward the rim as soon as he felt contact when Devin Harris tried to use the Nets' foul to give late in the first half.  He also made the perfect gamble late in the game, poking the ball away from Devin Harris and releasing down the floor to catch an outlet pass from Kendrick Perkins en route to the uncontested lay-up that finished the Celtics' scoring.  With the exception of his bad pass that Vince Carter stole for the basket that brought the Nets within two in the final minute, Rondo played superb basketball, and his 31-point, nine-rebound, five-assist stat line reflected it.
  • While the Marbury-House tandem provided the first-half fireworks, the bench earned plenty of credit across the board.  Mikki Moore had one of his best games as a Celtic.  He hit a jumper, converted a three-point play in the paint and collected offensive rebounds that he put back up and in on two other occasions.  While he still tends to lose his man defensively a bit too much for my liking, it's hard to quibble with nine points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes.  Mikki gave this team some great energy last night...
  • ...and so did Tony Allen, who stayed in control, didn't turn the ball over and finished a reverse alley-oop that nearly brought the house down.  Six rebounds in less than 17 minutes for a swingman (or anyone, really) isn't too bad either.  Not a single Celtics starter finished with a positive plus-minus, but TA, Mikki, Steph and Eddie finished plus-11, plus-6, plus-13 and plus-17 respectively.  Those four did a fine job together as a unit, and Moore played deep into the fourth quarter as well.
  • Surprise of the box score: The Infuriated Infant played nearly 32 minutes.  Felt like far less as he was a complete non-factor for much of the night.
  • Kendrick Perkins had eight points in the fourth quarter and looked better later in the game, but he did revert a bit in the direction of too much missing around the rim early on.
  • While the defense held the Nets to 45 percent shooting from the field, the Celts neither guarded the three-point line effectively nor consistently sealed off the paint.  The Nets shot a respectable 38.5 percent (10-for-26) from deep but helped the C's by missing several too-open looks.  Keyon Dooling led that brigade with his 1-for-5 effort with at least a couple of the shots coming unbothered.  Meanwhile, Vince Carter and Devin Harris both had an easier time penetrating at certain points than one would have expected against this Celts defense.
  • Credit Carter for playing a fine game: 33 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and just two turnovers on an efficient 11-for-18 shooting from the field.  He hit his threes (5-for-9), got in the lane and got to the foul line as he wished.  When VC wants to, he can be quite a problem.
  • While the Celts recovered well from a poor first quarter that went 31-21 in the other direction, they could never deliver the knockout punch to make the end of this game a bit more comfortable.  Each time the Celts got up by a couple of possessions, the Nets hung in and answered right back, and the Celts' sloppiness allowed the Nets to cut a seven-point deficit to two in a span of 31 seconds during the final minute and a half of the game.  Not good.
  • Paul Pierce didn't have a great night by any stretch, but he did do a fine job defending Carter on the game's final play.  He forced VC to take a contested deep two, exactly the sort of shot the Celtics had to like from the Nets there.  His and-one dunk on the fast break made for some excitement as well, although I wondered at the time if I were alone in thinking that Rondo would normally have been just as well served to take that ball straight up to the rim (as he was ahead of Carter on the play) for the sure two rather than dishing off.  That said, I can't say I didn't like the result.
  • Welcome back to the active list, Scal!  Even though he couldn't play, it felt nice to see the redhead back in uniform.

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