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Well, that couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start. Although many expect the Celtics to play well even without Rajon Rondo, tonight’s game was encouraging in many ways, as the Celtics polished off the Sacramento Kings, 99-81.
After their All-Star point guard was ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, Boston took the court tonight with Courtney Lee getting the start in Rondo’s customary lineup spot. Playing without a true point guard, the Celtics took the attack right at Sacramento from the tip, running out to an early 8-0 lead. Lee and Avery Bradley ran a two-man fast break for a couple of baskets, and Kevin Garnett showed no signs of fatigue after logging big minutes in the Celtics’ Sunday win over Miami. Garnett scored 13 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and went 4-for-4 in the early going while battling DeMarcus Cousins down low.
The only negative from their quick start was the sight of Jared Sullinger limping off the court after only 4 minutes of play with what were later ruled back spasms. He did not return. This is particularly troubling because back issues were what allowed the Celtics to scoop up Sullinger in the first place, as the 20 teams ahead of them passed on him due to concerns that arose during pre-draft examinations. With his energy and rebounding skill, ‘Sully’ has become a vital cog on this Celtics team, and his loss for any period of time would be a big blow.
Despite injury woes, nothing could slow the Celtics down. The second quarter was the Celtics best of the year, as they poured in 37 points on 16-for-20 shooting. Jeff Green was aggressive in looking for his own shot, and was 5-for-5 in the period. Everyone got in on the action, with Jason Terry canning a couple of threes, Leandro Barbosa bringing energy and creativity, and Chris Wilcox running the floor for some easy buckets.
Coming out of halftime with a 59-38 lead, Boston looked totally in control after their dominant quarter, and they did not let off the gas during the third. After another quick runout by Bradley and Lee, Brandon Bass chipped in with a three-point play, giving Boston a 26 point lead at 64-38. The lead hovered in the twenties for the entire period, as the Celtics continued to get open shots and play aggressive defense, taking an 80-60 lead into the fourth quarter.
Despite seeming to lose their focus playing with such a big lead, the Celtics managed to prevent Sacramento from drawing any closer than 14, at 90-76, before Paul Pierce (16 points, 10 rebounds) hit some key late baskets to seal the deal for the men in green. Boston shot 53% on the night, recorded 22 assists, and forced the Kings into 19 turnovers. Tyreke Evans lead Sacramento with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
The aggressive defense of Lee and Bradley really keyed the Celtics all night long. With shooters making their outside shots, it allowed Lee and Bradley to lead the fast break, penetrate in transition, and create good opportunities for their team all night long. It will be interesting to see if Doc keeps this rotation together, but after one night, the early returns look promising.