Celtics have some left in reserves
Trailing, 55-51, at halftime to the Nets, this year’s poster children for futility in the NBA, Celtics coach Doc Rivers kept his locker room message to a few short words.
“I don’t think I need to talk,’’ he told his team, which at that point had been more than adequate offensively, getting 14 assists on 19 field goals, but had been a downed stop sign on defense, letting the Nets shoot 63 percent from the floor.
“We’re a defensive team and tonight we want to outscore them.’’
Then, Rivers gave them his last words.
After starting the season with 18 straight losses and letting that spiral continue to the point were they find themselves with more than 40 defeats before next week’s All-Star Game, New Jersey was supposed to be to the Celtics what Jimmy Ellis was to Muhammad Ali, sparring partner to a one-time champion trying to regain his crown.
But in what ultimately ended as a predictable 96-87 Celtics win, New Jersey refused to be a punching bag. Chris Douglas-Roberts, a player the Celtics eyed in the 2008 draft before going a different direction, scored 9 straight points in the second quarter. Brook Lopez scored 19 points. The lead changed hands 27 times. The game was tied another 14 times.
“We pretty much got what we wanted on offense,’’ said Kevin Garnett, who scored 10 points to go with seven rebounds. “[But] when we started the game, we didn’t come out with the energy to get them out of here.’’
In a fight they were supposed to breeze through, the Celtics found themselves having to throw punches.
Those blows ultimately came from the bench, a unit that had struggled recently but provided the Celtics with a 32-point lift last night.
Rivers sat Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and spot starter Tony Allen for the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, letting Glen Davis, Eddie House, and Rasheed Wallace work with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.
Wallace and Davis wiped the glass clean. House, who had been struggling, knocked down threes and played tight defense, and a reserve unit that had been spotty sparked a 12-4 run. By the time Garnett and Perkins hit the floor with 2:40 left, the Celtics were up 4 and all they had to do was put on the finishing touches.
When Ray Allen (a game-high 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting) knocked down a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer in front of the Nets bench that made it 93-84 with 2:00 left, it was almost like the sky was blue and the grass was green again as the Celtics slammed the door and handed the Nets their 45th loss. Boston has won three straight with its final matchup against Orlando coming tomorrow.
So many Ls makes it easy to take a team lightly.
“It is,’’ said Perkins. “I think we came out a little relaxed. I think we came out knowing we were going to win the game for some reason. But they came out and they were playing. They looked like they were on a mission to beat us and we ended up putting ourselves in a position where we had to fight but we ended up getting out of it.’’
The defense Rivers was demanding showed up in the fourth quarter when the Nets went 5 for 20 from the field. The immediate result was offense. The Celtics made 9 of their 16 fourth-quarter shots, sparked by House, who scored all 10 of his points in the final frame.
Rondo, who had the assist on a House 3-pointer that made the score 82-75, said it was a case of “Feed the pig, whoever has it going.’’
In his 23d double-double of the season, Rondo (17 points) had five of his 11 assists in the last quarter, and Rivers said it had everything to do with the way the Celtics finally got stops.
“If we don’t get stops, it’s a slow-paced game,’’ Rivers said. “The reason we got to running and getting open shots is because we had multiple misses. That allows us to run. Our defense is so important to Rondo’s game. It’s amazing how it’s connected, because if we can get multiple stops it means Rondo’s in the open court.’’
It was the type of defensive energy that lacked for stretches where the Celtics seemed to simply trade baskets with the Nets, and those are the stretches they need to address.
“We’ve just got to put together 48 minutes,’’ Perkins said. “We have yet to put together a game where the starters and the bench are playing well. If the starters are playing well the bench is not. If the bench is playing well the starters are not.
“I just feel like we have to start putting games together with everybody playing well.’’