It seemed like old times…like last year, or even the Championship year.
Kevin Garnett played for the first time in 10 games and the Celtics walked off their home court with an overtime win over the Portland Trailblazers, 98-95.
Cold Ray Heats Up.
Ray is off…until he is on. Ray Allen was back to his fearsome clutch shooting as he drained the game winning three pointer after going just 2 for 13 until that shot. How many times has he done just that? Shot terribly all night, but hit the big one to win the game?
Ray finished with just 9 points, and was out of sync all game with his shot. He even missed two fouls, clanging a technical free throw badly earlier in the OT. It didn’t look like Ray out there, until he shot the ball with 40 seconds left and the Celtics down 95-93.
Ray circled all the way around the court to take a pass at the top right side from Rajon Rondo, and squared up the winner. He got wide open by losing Rudy Fernandez underneath the rim and then Garnett picked Rudy off as he tried to recover. Ray couldn’t throw it in the ocean until that shot. He missed some lay-ups, wide open mid range jumpers and 4 previous three pointers in the contest.
Paul Pierce led the team with 24 points on 9 of 13 shooting, but had already fouled out with 1 second left in regulation on a charge against Andre Miller, while attempting to drive for the winning shot. That is a big strength of this team. The Celtics have two or three guys who can make that kind of shot under pressure. Pierce goes out, chalk up clutch shooter number two.
It ended happily and the Celtics played better over the entire game than they have in most of the previous 12 games, where they went 4-8, including 3 straight home losses. This game wasn’t easy by any stretch, but they broke the home court slide. They hadn’t lost 3 straight at home since 2007.
Work to Do
When all is said and done though, I felt like I was watching a team that has a lot of work to do to get back to top form. They opened up an 11 point lead in the first half at 42-31 on Ray Allen drive with 7:54 left and still led 47-36 on another Ray Allen lay up.
At that point, the Blazers went on an 11-2 run to close within 48-50 with 1:17 left in the half. Paul Pierce responded with a driving lay up, and then made a great play.
Heads Up Plays by Ray and Paul
Ray Allen tied up Rudy Fernandez in the key for a jump ball. Ray won the jump sending the ball to Pierce. Paul immediately threw it down court to a streaking Rondo for a lay up ‘and one’… thank you very much.
LeMarcus Aldridge made a hook shot to reduce the Celtics lead to 55-50 at half time. Aldridge finished with 19 points and ten boards.
Fighting Foul Trouble
Kendrick Perkins got into early foul with Perkins having to sit down with just over 4 minutes gone with his second foul. He came back for only a few minutes in the second quarter before picking up his 3rd foul and sitting back down.
Kevin Garnett also had 3 fouls in the first half, all of them in the last 3 minutes of the half. KG finished with 13 points on 4 of 9 shooting with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocked shots in 30 plus minutes.
Not a Title Contending Team Right Now
The team clearly played a more consistent game with him there, but still were just barely able to eke out a win. I got the feeling that they are still figuring things out. I saw a team not playing with anywhere near the sharpness nor killer instinct of the last two years.
Portland – The Most Injured NBA Team
The Portland squad is playing with far more of their team on the shelf. They are down their best player in Brandon Roy, are missing their two best big men in Greg Oden and Joel Pyrzbilla (both out for year with injuries). Sharp shooting Travis Outlaw is out with foot surgery. Solid defender Nicholas Batum is out after shoulder surgery.
The Blazers lost Jerryd Bayless after 20 minutes to a turned ankle. Still they gave the Celtics everything they could handle. The Celtics look far from a title contending team right now.
Andre Miller Steps Up
Andre Miller had his best game of the season, scoring at will it seemed. No one could contain his drives and he was hitting his short jumper at times. Andre came close to a triple double as he led Portland with 28 points, and had 8 rebounds and 8 assists. He also two steals and 6 turnovers.
There was a time, pre Kevin Garnett, that the Celtics almost traded for Miller from the Denver Nuggets a few years ago, but changed their mind at the last minute, leaving the Nuggets with Earl Watson, who they just acquired and really didn’t need once the trade fell through.
Miller was also instrumental in the 76ers success of the past few years. Yet, he has only won the starting point guard job from Steve Blake in Portland just recently. He was clearly Portland’s best player on the court in this game.
Rondo, Rondo, Rondo
Rajon Rondo had another strong game with 19 points on 9 of 14 shooting, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. Rajon also had another game with too many turnovers, which is generally unlike him. He finished with 6, including a few more where he leads the interior cutter too much. He did that with Perkins and Pierce on two straight plays. Overall, he has an excellent assists-to-turnover ratio (3.7-1).
Rondo/KG Chemistry Still There
Rondo lost no time in rediscovering chemistry with Kevin Garnett. Rondo kept feeding a running Kevin Garnett with some picture perfect passes for dunks in transition. KG returned the favor after getting a pass from Pierce on the left side of the paint. He spun to the middle, drawing a double team from Rondo’s defender and laid it off to a cutting Rondo for an easy two, making the score 89-81 at the time.
Rondo also had a sensational steal on a tipped back rebound that he immediately had to go behind the back as he split two Blazers and continued up court for a fast break lay up to go up 91-86.
He almost had the rebound of the night after chasing the ball down after Pierce missed a jumper with 18 seconds left in regulation. Unfortunately, the Celtics were unable to convert when Pierce had the offensive foul with one second left.
Wait. There’s more. Overtime Thrills
Both teams were missing shots to start the OT. Rajon hit the first points on overtime with a little jumper making the score 93-91 with two minutes gone.
Then 36 year old Juwan Howard, now the Blazers starting center, tipped in a Miller miss to tie, and Miller made a lay up to give Portland their last lead at 95-93 setting up Ray Allen’s dramatic three pointer.
The Celtics closed things out when Tony Allen harassed Aldridge into saving a loose ball to Ray Allen who passed it ahead to a motoring Tony Allen for a dunk to end the scoring.
Deju Vu….Perkins says….Not.
The Blazers were facing a similar situation to the Celtics when they alley ooped the ball to Rondo with .6 seconds left for a miraculous Celtic win previously.
In Blazer attempt to run the same play, Kendrick Perkins was alert and made a great play to stop the pass to LeMarcus Aldridge at the rim sending the game to over time.
Kendrick was his usual grimacing self with 5 fouls overall, but had 11 rebounds, 4 points on only two shots in 28 minutes, with two blocked shots, a steal, and managed to keep it down to one turnover.
Celtics Bench Outscores Blazers 29-11
With all the foul trouble in big man land, Rasheed Wallace played 29 plus minutes, scoring 14 points on 6 of 13 shooting, but just 2 of 7 from the three point line. He added 6 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot while playing solid defense on the Portland big men.
Tony Allen was solid off the bench with 8 points on 4 of 5 shooting and some good defense against Miller. Glen Davis took one shot in 18 minutes for 2 points, played good defense, and grabbed 2 rebounds. Eddie House scored 5 points in 18 minutes on 2 of 7 shooting, while adding 3 assists, a rebound and a steal.
Celtic Defense Solid Except for Rebounding
They held the Blazers to a Celtic-like .382 shooting percentage, 91 points in regulation and 95 overall. They gave up only 32 points in the paint and 10 fast break points, but Portland had 16 offensive boards, keeping them in the game by scoring 22 second chance points to the Celtics 8 on 6 offensive boards.
Portland also had 22 points off turnovers to the Celtics 14.
Boston pounded it inside for 56 points in the paint and shot .487 on the night.
So, it wasn’t impressive. But it was a start in the right direction. But the road to a tight team that could contend for another title is just beginning…I hope.
There is something uninspiring about the over confident attitudes and lack of urgency that has been displayed this season, especially since they started losing.
Let’s see if KG’s return signals a turnaround.
Next up: Los Angeles Clippers come to Boston on Monday for a 7:30 game