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Move Ball, Score Baskets

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Sometimes, it's this simple: When point guards penetrate with their heads up, big men screen and roll and shooters drift to open spaces, good looks start coming with regularity.  When they do, it's no shock that baskets tend to follow.

While Eddie House stole the show with his 31 points on red-hot 11-for-14 shooting, the Celtics' 60 percent true shooting as a team in last night's 112-94 Game 2 rout of the Magic came courtesy of cohesive offensive play from the Celtics as a unit throughout the evening.

As has been proven time and again to be the case with this team, it began with Rajon Rondo, who asserted himself from the start.  Rondo took advantage of his speed edge over Rafer Alston and Anthony Johnson and went to the paint with abandon, forcing help from Orlando's interior defenders.  While I could do without some of the floater business in traffic and a couple of earlier-in-the-shot-clock-than-necessary jumpers from him, Raj for the most struck the balance between attacking and maintaining patience.  He took the ball to the lane aggressively but also let the floor open up for him, waiting for the second defender to get just close enough to him to be fully committed before dumping the ball off inside or swinging it back out for a three.

The bigs, Kendrick Perkins and the Infuriated Infant in particular, did exactly what was needed to both help the outside shooters and make themselves available for easy looks inside.  Perk and Large Baby screened hard and for the most part legally enough (the Celts totaled just two offensive fouls for the night) both on the ball and off, and they rolled off those picks into beelines for the bucket.  On several occasions in the first half, Dwight Howard or a Magic forward stepped up to stop penetration only to watch as Perk or Davis cruised in to make a catch for an uncontested lay-up or dunk.

On the perimeter, the shooters found the holes.  As much deserved credit as Eddie House gets for his quick release shot, I can't help but reiterate that he is one of the best around at drifting.  He moves fluidly off the ball into pockets in the defense along the wings and in the corners, and he is especially good at fading off screens to catch a cross-court pass for a three.  On the rare occasion that Eddie wasn't knocking down yet another shot, Brian Scalabrine found his own spots around the perimeter for two threes and a foot-on-the-line two on four field-goal attempts.

Meanwhile, Ray Allen holds an annual battle with Rip Hamilton for what should be called the Reggie Miller Memorial Award, given to the guard who does the best job of moving without the ball.  On one play in the second quarter, Allen sprinted from the right corner to the right wing, only to find that he hadn't shaken J.J. Redick.  The rest of the play seemed to develop in slow motion on my television set.  Allen casually jogged back down toward the corner as Perk headed over to set his large frame just below the wing.  Without warning, Allen put on a burst and raced back toward the top, running right off Perk's hip and leaving Redick in for what I would imagine was some unpleasant contact.  As Ray curled, Rondo's chest pass arrived in his hands for a three-pointer in rhythm, just the type of look the Celtics will happily take any time.  Count it.

The patience remained throughout, as the Celtics constantly seemed willing to make the extra pass.  When the Magic pressured Allen off the three-point line, he left his feet for an elbow jumper but realized he had an open Rondo opposite him on the right wing as he did.  He dished the ball, cut through the lane, got the rock back and laid it in.  When Reggie Miller criticized Stephon Marbury for not taking a relatively open three-pointer on another set in the second quarter, I found it hard to hammer Steph, since he passed the ball off to Ray for an even more open look.  Allen missed, but again, the Celts will live with that shot.

Not every shot was perfect (nor is it fair to expect that to be the case), and it didn't hurt the scoring cause that Kendrick Perkins had a couple of no-no-yes "operator" shots fall as well.  But particularly on a night when they played without go-to guy Paul Pierce through much of the first three quarters thanks to foul trouble, the Celtics' crisp ball movement played an integral role in preventing any doubts about Game 2's outcome.

More thoughts from a pleasant win:

  • I came away from the Chicago series harboring an increased respect for each of the Bulls who played substantial minutes (with the polarizing Joakim Noah certainly included).  We're already heading in a different direction this time around thanks to Rafer Alston.  I've mentioned in the past that I'm not the biggest proponent of his game (he doesn't do any one thing at an especially high level at the offensive end and is quite inefficient shooting the ball), and the slap to Eddie House's head was utter nonsense.  After watching him notch his second consecutive 3-for-11 shooting performance, I'm not sure how hard I'll be rooting for a suspension anyway (yes, Rafer fans, that's partly tongue-in-cheek).
  • If I've learned anything in this postseason so far, it's that trying to figure out what the league should or will do with regard to flagrants, technicals and suspensions is a futile task that winds up with me sustaining a gargantuan headache.  Staying out of this discussion completely.  Whatever the league does, so be it.
  • All that said about Rafer, why won't (or could it possibly be "can't"?) Rajon Rondo keep the man in front of him on defense?  While it was kind of Alston to miss a bunch around the rim, it makes sense to me to encourage the guy to shoot from the outside, not to take an easy path to the lane.
  • It's going to be tough to watch years from now when whoever plays point guard for the Celtics rebounds the way most sub-6-foot-3 guys are expected to rebound.  We're being wonderfully spoiled by Raj in this department.
  • Echoing Jeff: I'm thrlled with the job Perk is doing defensively against Dwight Howard thus far.
  • Credit Howard for one great play underneath on which he began on the left side of the basket and suddenly finished a thunderous two-hand dunk on the right.
  • Eddie Hosue's first two baskets: a righty floater off the glass in transition followed by a lefty lay-in.  Atypical, to say the least.
  • Speaking of that lefty lay-in for House, hats off to the Pugnacious Papoose for taking the ball away from Rashard Lewis on the baseline to set up Eddie.  Additional thanks to the officials for not noticing that Big Baby's feet were in Row F when he made the steal.
  • Kudos to Davis for picking the ball away from Lewis off the dribble later in the game.  That's not the first time we've seen him separate a dribbling offensive player from the basketball this postseason.  Love his hands.
  • TNT's David Aldridge recounted a chat with Paul Pierce that occurred between games in which Pierce reportedly took the blame for Monday's loss due to his foul trouble and discussed the need to avoid getting hit with fouls for having his hands in the cookie jar.  That's exactly the type of foul that sent PP to the bench for the last 6:20 of the first half - reaching in for a help-side steal attempt on Dwight Howard.  He got part of the ball, and perhaps that reflects well on his defensive instincts.  But as the Celtics' biggest scoring threat playing with two fouls already, he needs to know better than to offer the officials any impetus to call him for a foul of that nature in that situation.  Just not worth making the reach on that play.
  • Aldridge also had the pleasure of being involved with the most entertaining on-court interview of the playoffs: Eddie House explaining the possible rationale behind the Alston slap.
  • In addition to the fact that Stephon Marbury did not shoot well, I found myself nonplussed with his defense.
  • J.J. Redick receives his wages because of his ability to shoot the basketball.  Good on him for knocking down five of eight attempts and four of six from the three-point line last night.  Several of these were not particularly well contested.  The Celtics need to maintain better awareness of where Redick is on the floor, or he will continue to pose a problem.
  • Scal came off the bench for 35 minutes of more strong play at both ends.  I appreciate the redhead more and more each day.
  • I love Stan Van Gundy.  Not a popular sentiment among Celtics fans, no doubt, but I love how much this guy cares, how he addresses his team, how he amuses me in interviews and how he wins nearly 64 percent of the games he coaches. 
  • On one play in the first half, a screen forced Glen Davis to switch off Howard to Rashard Lewis and thus Scalabrine to switch onto Howard, two less preferable match-ups for the C's.  As Howard went to the top of the key to screen for a shooter, Lewis drifted back out to the right wing.  After Scal jumped out to help contest the three-point shot, Howard moved toward the basket to make an attempt at offensive rebound.  While this happened, Scal sprinted out to the wing to pick up Lewis, and Davis slid down to close out Howard - and in the process reset the match-ups the Celtics wanted in the event of the Orlando possession continuing on a rebound.  It won't show up in the box score, but I liked the communication and fluidity of the rotation.
  • Ray Allen hit just two of seven threes but slipped inside for a few mid-range jumpers and a couple of takes to the basket, and he earned six trips to the foul line along the way.  Good recovery game for him.

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