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The Celtics dropped a tough one to the Nets in Brooklyn last night, 102-97. Paul Pierce, despite an efficient 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting, clanked two free-throws late in the fourth quarter that basically sealed the game for the Nets.
Without Rondo harassing him, Deron Williams torched the Celtics for 24 points and 8 assists. Thursday’s loss was one the Celtics were in a position to win even with their star, Rondo, sidelined. What did Thursday’s loss tell us about the Celtics?
After a strong showing on Wednesday against Utah, Jeff Green was back to his passive self for most of Thursday’s contest in Brooklyn and took just six shots while turning the ball over four times.
With the Celtics down four with under two minutes to play, Green forced Joe Johnson into committing a turnover and then raced down the court to knock down a three with a hand in his face. If Pierce hadn’t missed two free throws seconds later, the story of this game would probably have been about Green’s heroics instead of about the Celtics choking under pressure.
While Green’s play has been up and down this season, this game was a good sign that he isn’t afraid to step up in ‘the moment’ if that’s what the Celtics need him to do.
Courtney Lee came into Thursday’s game as essentially a non-factor for the Celtics thus far this season. Lee finished with 13 points and a career-high 9 rebounds against the Nets. With Rondo out and the Celtics struggling to pull down rebounds, Lee saw a chance to prove his worth on the court and did just that. If Jason Terry continues to struggle shooting the ball, Doc Rivers will have no choice but to reinsert Lee into the starting lineup.
Brook Lopez absolutely dominated the Celtics interior defense and scored 24 points on just 14 shot attempts. Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, and Jared Sullinger all had trouble keeping Lopez from simply shooting over them. After the first quarter Rivers chose to insert Chris Wilcox or Jason Collins anytime Lopez was on the court.
When the Celtics go back and look at the film from this game they’ll notice that no one under 6’11” should ever be defending Lopez. While the Celtics and a good portion of the NBA have decided that small ball is the way to go, players like Lopez, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Dwight Howard are the reason you stock the end of your bench with bigs like Wilcox, Collins and Darko Milicic.
I’ll never forgive Brandon Bass for going cold from the field in the last two games of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Cold Bass showed up Thursday and shot just 4-for-14 from the field.
Bass had multiple open looks on Thursday that could have helped the Celtics put away the Nets but instead- clang, clank, clunk- Bass missed badly on nearly all of them.
If Bass is having a poor shooting night in the future, the Celtics might have to elect to go with Wilcox or Sullinger instead of trying to let Bass shoot himself (and the team) out of it.
The Celtics have started 0-2 against the Atlantic division losing Thursday to the Nets and a week ago to the Sixers. The Knicks overcame the Spurs last night to remain undefeated at 6-0. The Celtics now find themselves third in the division and 2.5 games behind the Knicks.
The Celtics have won the Atlantic division for the last five seasons without a lot of competition. This season the Celtics are going to have to win close division games, like Thursday’s, to have a shot at extending their title streak to a sixth season.