Celtics Update: What We’ve Learned This Week

@ Chicago, Monday, 11/12
Boston 101, Chicago 95

On Monday night, in Chicago, Rajon Rondo single-handedly destroyed the Chicago Bulls. With his torrid shooting (10 of 16 for 20 points), distribution (10 assists), rebounding (9), and thievery (5 steals), Rondo’s consistent excellence is undeniable. Thibodeau’s game-plan, which would have been effective two years ago, or last night with Kirk Hinrich available, forced Rondo to take jump-shots. What has changed in the last two years, is that Rondo has improved his range and built up the confidence to take those jumpers without hesitation. Against Luol Deng’s uncanny defense, Pierce struggled to get loose. Coming to Rondo’s aid was Brandon Bass (5-6 FG, 5-5 FT) with 16 points, 5 boards, 2 steals and a block. Despite dislocating a finger early in the game, Bass returned and helped seal the win, finishing with a +18 in 34 minutes. The Bulls size demanded Bass step up, and step up he did. Thank Nate Robinson for providing less-than-stellar defense on Rondo throughout the night.

vs Utah, Wednesday, 11/14
Boston 98, Utah 93

Al Jefferson returned to Boston on Wednesday, reminding Celtics fans of the non-glory years of 2005-2006, when Big Al was finding his way. Hard to wrap the brain around the fact that he is now 27, and playing in his ninth season. Utah, a talented young team featuring Big Al, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams, is attempting to make the playoffs and rebuild at the same time. It’s likely either Jefferson or Millsap is traded at some point this season, as Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, two much cheaper alternatives for the small-market team from SLC, are relagated to the bench. Millsap is one of the truly hard-working and under-appreciated big men in the game, much like Carl Landry and Anderson Varejao.

In this game, Rajon rolled his ankle on a drive to the hoop early in the 3rd quarter. Fortunately, he kept the 10-assist streak alive by collecting 10 dimes in 25 minutes. Without a true backup point guard, the Celtics used Pierce as the distributor and Leandro Barbosa, whose last torrid stretch came in the 4th quarter of the season-opener with Miami, provided the Celtics with a significant lift off the bench. Both Barbosa and Jeff Green finished with 16 points, combining to shoot 11 of 17 from the field and attack the rim, getting to the line a combined 13 times. The win kept the Celtics momentum alive, despite Rondo’s injury. Offensively, this Celtics group is beginning to show it’s depth and versatility. Great to see them win without number 9.

@ Brooklyn, Thursday, 11/15
Brooklyn 102, Boston 97

The Brooklyn Nets have talent (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, who missed Thursday’s game). The Nets have size (Brook Lopez, Andray Blatche, Kris Humphries, Reggie Evans). What they don’t have…at least yet…is unity. The excitement of opening a new Arena, a turnover in their fan-base, and several new additions, has everyone in Brooklyn optimistic. The Knicks, afraid of losing the New York hoops love, even seem to be re-energized by the Nets move. Avery Johnson has the pieces to build a solid playoff team, but defense and cohesiveness will take time. Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson have never been known as great defenders.

With Rondo on the sideline, Leandro Barbosa got the start and played a solid first half, using his blazing speed to penetrate and making several of his patented scooping, soft-carom layups. In a memory-bank game, Courtney Lee took advantage of extra minutes and contributed a solid all-around performance (13 points, 9 reb, 3 ast, 3 stl). After several sub-par games, it was good to see Lee get off the schneid. On the flip side, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green, were unable to deal with the interior length of the Nets. Bass finished just 4 of 14 from the field, with a ghastly +/- of -23. In addition, neither Bass, nor Garnett or Jeff Green, could seem to find any Nets to box out. The Nets finished with eighteen offensive rebounds, which must have offended Doc Rivers. In the second half, the C’s dug in on defense and the boards, which helped them get back in front, outscoring the Nets 29-15 in the 3rd quarter. Sadly, the toll of this busy stretch of games–this was Boston’s sixth game in nine days–was evident. In the 4th, the Celtics lost steam. Joe Johnson, who’d performed miserably in the first three frames, dropped in a few of his silky wing jumpers. Pierce and Terry responded with determined drives and great court vision, Terry setting up Green, in his only bright moment, a corner three which had Rivers pumping his fist. In the end, the C’s had a chance to tie the game. Pierce was isolated at the top of the key, and drove past Reggie Evans, absorbing the foul, but his left-handed lay-up rimmed out. At the free-throw line, with a chance to cut the lead to 1, Pierce missed both. Hard to believe. The Pierce of 2003-2005 would sometimes miss crucial 4th quarter free-throws, but it’s been a while since I can remember Pierce missing two big ones. In his defense, there was a moronic Nets fan directly under the hoop, who was tossing his brown leather jacket up and down, like it was a bed sheet or a rug, in an irritating rhythm. At it’s peak, the jacket was actually level with the glass backboard. Perhaps someone can send a tape to the league office and have this reviewed (half-joking). In all honesty, though, it’s one thing to block out those balloon-tubes that they hand out behind the backboard. It’s another thing to block out a flying leather jacket. In any event, the C’s dropped a tough one in Brooklyn, and will have to wait and see how Rondo’s ankle responds to treatment.

Darko Watch

In Darko-related news, there isn’t much in the way of basketball-related info to pass on.
Doc Rivers saw five minutes of embarrassing play from Darko in the second game of the season, and has
understandably given Chris Wilcox the back-up center minutes. Unlike Darko, Wilcox can run the floor, and he seems in better shape, both physically and mentally. Facing the interior size of the Nets, it seemed likely Darko would get another chance. Maybe next time. He will play again this season. I am convinced of it.

On the mighty Twitter, it has been reported that a Celtics locker room attendant warned the players to be careful driving home in the storm (on November 8th). Darko responded: “I’m doing 90 tonight.” Perhaps the lack of playing time is having an effect on Darko’s penchant for danger.

From CSNNE.com: Darko, on traffic in Boston:
“It took me two hours to get here from where I come from. There was traffic. I don’t know where these people are going. New York is ten times bigger than Boston. It’s worse here and this city is ten times smaller than New York. I don’t understand where these people are coming from. It’s wasted time. I hate traffic. I left an hour-and-a-half early and I thought I’d be here in a half (hour). It sure wasn’t enough because it took me two hours.”

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