Five games, Seven days, time zone juggling, depleted roster, one-10-day-signed and active (Terrence Williams), another waiting on the translated Chinese paperwork (D.J. White), and the arrival of the caffeinated Jordan Crawford, who in brief flurries of play has shown the willingness to be a literal spark off the bench with his aggressiveness.
Despite the All-Star break rest, the Celtics were in survival mode once again this week, and they came out of it okay. Avoiding a 1-4 trip and flying home from Salt Lake City with a gutsy (10th OT game of the year!) road win in their luggage has to provide a psychological boost for these battered men in Green, who finished 2-3. Once again, it was the reliable Pierce who ignited the offense when it mattered most, in the 4th quarter and overtime. Pierce’s pick-and-roll elbow jumper was flowing and the Jazz put their instruments away and conceded. It was just the 7th home loss of the year for Utah (21-7 at home; 10-19 on the road).
Nuggets 97, Celtics 90 – The Denver loss was a tough one to stomach. Denver’s 24-3 home record is evidence of how well they play the up-tempo game and how the altitude wears down opponents in the second half. Denver’s 29-20 third quarter did the Celtics in, though the game was still up for grabs with 3:30 remaining. Jeff Green and Courtney Lee both excelled in this one, while Pierce came out of the gate rusty and dusty, in part because of Igoudala’s great defense. Brutal loss, but showed this team is coming out hungry over the stretch run.
Lakers 113, Celtics 99 – Horrible, barely watchable effort. Dr. Jerry Buss was honored before the game and the Lakers played with the kind of intensity D’Antoni has been praying for all year. Kobe wasn’t going to let them lose this one, and the need to beat the Celtics for the pride of the franchise and Buss’ legacy became a clear factor early on. Tough situation.
Celtics 113, Suns 88 – Garnett had the night off against the lowly Suns (now 18-39 after starting the year 7-8). Jeff Green got the start and torched Phoenix from the tip, finishing with a ridiculously efficient 31 points on 14 shots, to go with 5 blocks and 2 steals. Remember that Phoenix can’t play defense. Not even a hint of it.
Blazers 92, Celtics 86 – Tough game. Portland is currently fighting for the 8th spot in the West, holding an 18-9 record at the Rose Garden. In a game that went back and forth, the Celtics couldn’t get a break from the refs. We are beginning to see how the league officiates teams that are out of that top tier of NBA dominance. After years of getting serious respect from the officials, road wins like these are harder to come by. The Blazers, who came in on a miserable 7-game losing streak (6 on the road), played their physical brand of ball and were led by a limping Wesley Mathews who managed to hit 5 of his 8 threes and take the game over in the 4th. The Celtics went 2 of 13 from distance, and just couldn’t find the points to pull it out.
Celtics 110, Jazz 107 (OT) – Great, gutsy win. Bradley’s jumper went down early, his defense was giving Earl Watson nightmares, and the balanced attack (Terry found his three-point stroke, Lee stayed aggressive) gave way to Pierce’s late heroics. The C’s were clearly exhausted by this stretch. Jeff Green’s stamina is not yet fully there (5th in 7 nights), and the C’s had just enough left to overcome a gritty Jazz team. Survival, and now back home to integrate Crawford and Williams into the schemes.
From the Mouth of the Rivers
Rivers’ explanation of how the importance of salvaging the fifth and final game of the road trip, from Greg Payne’s ESPN write-up of last night’s win:
“Whatever that is, it was the best win, for me, of the year,” Rivers told reporters. “Five games, seven nights, five different cities, three time zones, just changing time zones. To gut it out, go into overtime and still have enough to win — it’s funny, at the start of the overtime I told Brandon [Bass], ‘Go in for Kevin [Garnett].’ Kevin wouldn’t let me. He said, ‘No, no, I’m good.’ I didn’t believe that, but I kept him in and he was terrific. Paul down the stretch just carried us. We found something we liked in the pick-and-roll with the spacing, and if they helped out, Kevin got the elbow shot. If they didn’t help, Paul turned the corner.”
Rivers fully admitted that Monday’s win won’t go down as a glamorous one. The Celtics had to sink their heels in and force the issue defensively, often resorting to a zone defense that featured a trapping scheme that not even Rivers could fully explain.
“I thought we junked the game up,” Rivers said. “You know I’m not a fan of that, but we did it. We went zone, we started trapping all around the floor. And I just thought our trap was so bad it was good, you know? We didn’t know what we were doing and they didn’t know what we were doing, and I thought it created confusion, and it worked. But I tell you, the trap that we were doing, we had no clue what we were doing. It literally caused confusion for both teams, and it was good for us.”
Rivers was also quick to praise guard Avery Bradley, who carried the Celtics early with some hot shooting and some aggressive defense on Utah point guard Earl Watson. Bradley scored 10 of Boston’s first 15 points, added two steals in the opening frame, and finished the game with a season-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
“I mean, Avery’s had a great five games and forget whatever scoring. First of all, I thought to start the game, he gave us life with his scoring,” Rivers said. “But I thought his defense as such a big factor. It took them so long to get into the set — I mean, they were killing us in the beginning of the game on the post. So what we just said was, ‘Guys, we’re going to deny every catch, we’re going to pressure the ball, and see how long before it takes for them to get to the post.’ And it really helped us because we took so much clock off, they didn’t have enough time to post us and that was good.”