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If there were any time for the Boston Celtics to make a statement, this past week was certainly a good one. Though Boston tackled only one team in the playoff picture during this four-game stretch, they had lost five straight before the break and were facing the three teams immediately surrounding them in the Eastern Conference playoff race – the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Knicks.
The Celtics gave themselves some breathing room with a couple of narrow victories to get back to .500, including holding Deron Williams in check to overcome a 28-point outburst by Brook Lopez and beat the New Jersey Nets Friday. Boston then capped an impressive week with an exhilarating overtime win over the New York Knickerbockers in a showdown for the seventh seed in the East and the right to lose to the Miami Heat instead of the East-leading Chicago Bulls.
The season appears resurrected … for the time being, anyway. So before the C’s
crash and burn fizzle of old age and stiffer competition (four of their next five are against playoff teams), let’s enjoy the four-game winning streak with some solid grades to start the second-term.
Yes, Rajon Rondo went scoreless against Cleveland, but he just posted one of the most impressive triple-doubles of this shortened season with 18 points, 17 rebounds, and 20 assists (in the face of Linsanity, no less!). According to Elias Sports Bureau, Rondo is one of seven NBA players to cross the 15-threshold in all three major offensive categories, joining Jason Kidd, Michael Ray Richardson, Walt Frazier, and a couple of guys named Wilt, Magic, and Larry (the Three Stooges, I believe). By the way, that was his second triple-double of the week (15-10-11 against the Bucks, ho-hum), bringing his season-total to four. The rest of the NBA has six. Soooo, how about those trade rumors, Danny Ainge?
Meanwhile, Ray Allen is quietly having the best three-point shooting season of his career, knocking down 48 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Of the three games he played in, Allen’s overall accuracy dipped below 50 percent when he had the flu against the Knicks. Even then he still shot 4-of-9, scoring five huge points in overtime and giving the Celtics a nice cushion en route to their big win. And that’s without even mentioning his good ol’-fashioned jawing with J.R. Smith.
Paul Pierce mixed in two mediocre performances against Cleveland and Milwaukee (just 22 total points) with two strong showings against the Tri-State Area (61 points against New Jersey and New York). That included a three-pointer with 4.9 seconds remaining on Sunday to send the Knicks game into overtime.
With Jermaine O’Neal sidelined, Brandon Bass returned as the Celtics’ starting power forward, with Kevin Garnett shifting over to center. As a starter, Bass averaged 13 points while shooting over 52 percent. It would be nice to see him get a few more than three rebounds a game, but I guess I shouldn’t be too picky.
Meanwhile, Garnett had three double-doubles, though his jump shot was inconsistent – 10-for-13 one day, 8-for-22 the next. I don’t know where I find the gumption to critique Garnett’s shooting touch when I can barely hit the broadside of a barn in a pick-up game, but there it is. Maybe instead Garnett could spend a little more time working in the post, as befits his newfound position? You’re right, I take it back. I would prefer not to be headbutted by KG.
Avery Bradley served competently, getting three assists in every game where he got significant playing time (13-16 minutes) even though his jump shot is still characterized by the guttural utterance “meh.”
His backcourt battery mate off the bench, however, would find that singular syllable to be a compliment. “Ugh” would be a better one-syllable way to describe Keyon Dooling’s contributions to the Celtics, considering he has the lowest shooting percentage of his career this season.
Chris Wilcox continues to provide good energy off the bench when he is healthy, rebounding at a decent clip (averaging over eight last week) and even chipping in some points down low (14 against the Nets).
Mickael Pietrus has been Doc Rivers’s go-to guy off the bench, filling in for Allen in spirit, if not in shooting (34.4 percent from downtown). More “swishes” and fewer “clunks” would be nice. He did provide some spirited defense against the Knicks, though, applying pressure and forcing a couple of turnovers in the backcourt.
I like how Doc has tightened up his rotations to include only nine players in important games, then turning to the end of the bench to save his starters in blowouts of teams like the Nets. I could end that last sentence with, “or vice versa,” but there’s just no need for negativity following a 4-0 week.
Other than in reference to the bench backcourt, of course.