It's amazing what a little defense, rebounding and toughness will do to a basketball team, isn't it?
Headed into Friday night's home game against the previously red-hot Indiana Pacers, the Celtics looked more than a little lost and pretty helpless. Eight losses in 10 games (including four in a row all by double digits) will do that to a team.
But the C's woke up at the sight of the Pacers and played one of those vintage, Big Three-era games that fans have become accustomed to over the past five-plus seasons, blowing out Indiana 94-75 in a game that wasn't even that close.
The Celts overcame a cold shooting first quarter thanks to finally playing good, team defense, kept that pace up on that end of the floor when their shots started to fall and subsequently ran away with the win. There were certainly still some issues that won't go away even in the blissful haze of victory. Jeff Green is still absolutely nowhere. Brandon Bass still can't shoot open 10-footers anymore. Jason Terry is still strangely ineffective on offense.
But for a team that looked like it needed a major shake up just 24 hours ago, with some people even complaining about head coach Doc Rivers, those kinds of speed bumps can be put on the back burner while the main focus is set on figuring out how to make what went down at TD Garden on Friday night a more regular occurrence.
The move back to last season's playoff run starting five was a good start. Bass moved back into the starting lineup and even though his continued shooting woes remain troublesome, him at the 4 with Kevin Garnett sliding back to the 5 and Avery Bradley back at the starting 2 is a tested, proven commodity.
Bradley, who was rusty in his first game back against Memphis on Wednesday, still has a ways to go offensively. But his speed, quickness and aggression on defense were all palpable against the Pacers, setting the tone for the entire team. No wonder Doc went out of his way to praise him despite a poor shooting night.
Bradley's return also seems to have created a more defined role for Courtney Lee, who was joined at the hip with Green at the bottom of the barrel for the better part of the season before Friday night. Lee was more confident and active on both ends of the floor than at any other point this year, posting a stellar line (13 points, 6-of-9 from the floor, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in 23 minutes) while, perhaps most impressively, finishing a tidy +13 for the game. Lee finally looked like the player we were told he was when the Celts heisted him from Houston over the summer then lavished upon him a four-year deal. The kind of energy with which he played off the bench on Friday night will be crucial going forward, especially if the Celts continue to get nothing out of the $40 million Green.
Just about everything went right for the Celts on Friday night, from the defense and rebounding, to the continued development and impressive play of Jared Sullinger to the fact that they barely missed a beat after KG was ejected for smacking Pacers' punching bag Tyler Hansbrough in the face. It was about time.
The question is, now that they've proven that they can do what is necessary to win, can they keep it going? We'll find out starting tonight in Atlanta.