Game 17 of 82 (20.7%), Friday, December 5, 430 PST
Lakers @ Celtics
We all have strengths and weaknesses. A few obvious binaries to illustrate: some of us work better in groups, while others work best alone. Some of us are great improvisers, while others insist on the structure of a detailed plan. Some of us were afraid to raise our hands in school, hesitant to ask questions, while others made sounds with our arms stretched high, so eager to express our confusion or brilliant ideas. Different folks with their shooting strokes.
Tyler Zeller knows his strengths and weaknesses. He is not a high-flying dunker. Despite the fact that he is 7 feet tall, and weighs 250 pounds, he is not the most physically intimidating presence on an NBA court. He runs the floor better than most NBA centers. He knows how to defend with “verticality” (which Roy Hibbert and Tyson Chandler have made a common term), which keeps him out of foul trouble and makes him an obstacle in the paint. He can finish with either hand, and both hands are adept at catching passes, which proves specially useful because he has been inserted into the starting lineup and receives exquisite bounce passes in traffic from the wizard known as Rondo.
On Friday night, Zeller connected on 10 of his 11 field goal attempts. Seven of those baskets came via Rondo. Eight of those shots were made from the paint. The simple efficiency of Rondo to Zeller was beautiful to watch, and propelled the Celtics from the opening tip. At the 4:47 mark of the 1st Quarter, the Celtics had jumped out to a 23-9 lead. Zeller with 8 points and Rondo with 5 assists in those first 7 minutes of action. The Lakers big men currently consist of Jordan Hill (all offense), Carlos Boozer (1 of 6 with zero defense), Robert Sacre (1 of 10 including some of the ugliest hook shots the NBA has ever witnessed), and Ed Davis (at least he plays defense). Stevens and Rondo clearly realized this rotation was vulnerable.
The Celtics dominated the game in a completely satisfying way. All four quarters against the aimless Lakers. The energy at TD Garden was flowing. The Celtics have firmly placed their November disasters in the rearview, and two wins in a row qualifies as a winning streak, regardless of the level of their competition. Tyler Zeller’s career night had him smiling and laughing. With less than 3:00 remaining, Stevens let Rondo and Zeller enjoy the moment. On the cusp of his career-high, Rondo fed Zeller with one more pass. 24 points for Tyler. 16 dimes for Rajon. The Celtics will climb back up the frayed rope that is the Eastern Conference rope ladder.
Oh yes, and Rondo had breakfast with Kobe, which means that Rondo-to-the-Lakers rumors will be forthcoming. I think Kobe just wanted to kvetch about being on struggling teams. The difference is: these Celtics are pointed in the right direction.