Celtics Journal: Game 18 of 82, Wizards @ Celtics (Thornton’s Way)


Game 18 of 82 (22.0%), Sunday, December 7, 10am, PST

Wizards @ Celtics

Paul Pierce in a Wizards uniform just doesn’t make sense. It was hard enough to see him in the black and gray jersey of the Brooklyn Nets, but at least next to Garnett, there was some kind of logic. Now, at age 37, Pierce is a member of the Washington Wizards. Signed on for two years, Pierce hopes to be the guiding veteran force on a rising Wizards squad, buoyed by two of the better young guards in the Association: the blindingly fast John Wall and the creatively efficient Bradley Beal. The early returns have been positive for Washington, though their early schedule has been rather soft. Watching Pierce make his way around the court carries with it a grim subtext: the NBA is a business and Danny Ainge decided the best way to operate was to cut ties with our hero. Until Pierce retires, that fact won’t sit well with me. Pierce conjures up too many memories and has too much of an emotional tug on my fandom to accept his suiting up in a non-green uniform.

But the game goes on…even when it’s played in the early afternoon and the speed and crispness that the Wizards usually bring to the court aren’t evident.

And apparently, so does a winning streak. Three games in a row and the formerly bitter taste has turned to something salty and slightly sweet. An 82-game season is long. Too long to journal every game, probably. Having made it 22% of the way is something of an accomplishment for me. We’ll see how long it continues. Chronicling a decent team, with dramatic ups and downs, is easier than, say chronicling the regular season slog of the Spurs. There are only so many synonyms for the word, “consistency.” Only so many games in which the Spurs allow for opponents to actually push them. Not so with the teams in the middle. With the teams stuck in the murky waters of the swamp’s bottom, there are only so many synonyms for “hope.”

Thornton’s Way

One nice development for the Celtics over the last week has been the shaping of roles. Teams that build consistency and make progress over the course of a season need two things: 1) health  and 2) definition. Coaches have very little influence on the former, but a great deal of influence on the latter. Roles take shape and rotations are adjusted.

In the first two weeks of the season, Kelly Olynyk showed glimpses of legitimate potential (shooting and passing) on the offensive end, but his defensive shortcomings were beyond glaring. Unlike last year, this year is not a foregone conclusion…at least not yet. Playing Olynyk at center was an issue. By inserting Zeller into the starting unit, the roles become more obvious. Olynyk plays the role of 6th man / offensive weapon (once his confidence returns), while Zeller’s role involves a steady diet of pick-and-rolls, playing closer to the rim on offense. Zeller understands the basics of interior defense and rotating, which makes life easier for the other four Celtics.

It may take Olynyk a little while to regain the assertiveness he had early on in the season, as he adjusts to playing with Evan Turner and Marcus Smart more than Rondo, but the long-term benefits are well worth it.

Marcus Thornton is finding his niche with the second unit. When Thornton hits the court, he comes ready to score. Against Washington, he poured in 21 points on 12 attempts, including 3 of 4 from deep and 4 of 4 at the line. Thornton filled it up in only 17 minutes. The Celtics have lost big leads early in the season in large part because of their leaky defense and the fact that they faced high-level competition. Everything fell apart at once. When players like Thornton, Turner, and the gradually-recovering Marcus Smart are contributing, this is a well-balanced roster. Then bench scoring is critical to avoiding the lulls, and Thornton’s confidence is rising, as he’s drained 8 of his last 13 three-point attempts.

Upcoming

Monday: @ Washington (13-6)

Very tough to beat a team twice on a home-and-home, especially a good team. Expect a physical game.

Wednesday: @ Charlotte (5-15)

The Hornets recently snapped a 10-game losing streak. Capital “D” Disappointing so far.

Friday: vs. New York (4-18)

If they can squeeze out a win in DC, the Celtics have a chance to keep the streak alive a little while longer.

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