Before a game against Indiana in late February, Celtics rookies Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens joked that they were going to charge newcomer Mikki Moore for helping him move to Boston.
After more than a month and more than a few bad games, Moore looked like he could have used their help on the court as well. But the veteran big man finally looked comfortable in his new surroundings in a 103-84 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night. In 27 minutes, Moore put up better numbers than he has in any of his previous 16 games in a Celtics uniform, recording 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“He’s improving each and every game,” said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. “He’s learning where to be defensively and getting to the spots offensively. You saw it tonight.”
Moore carried a struggling Celtics offense early against the Thunder, scoring 10 points in his first 11 minutes on the court. He had four dunks in the first half, including one on a behind-the-back-pass from Rajon Rondo at the 4:12 mark in the second quarter that got the crowd on its feet.
“We needed some points,” said Celtics forward Glen Davis. “That’s what it’s all about. That’s the reason why he’s on this team.”
Besides the dunks, Moore also looked for his perimeter shot on a couple of occasions. The inside-outside combination helped Moore match his season high in points, which he scored on two occasions when he was with the Sacramento Kings. Moore’s previous high with the Celtics was 9 points against Milwaukee March 15.
“Mikki’s starting to understand that when he’s open he should shoot the ball,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “Because he can really shoot the ball. Honestly, I thought he didn’t think he was worthy. It’s an adjustment when you’re on the floor next to Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen], Kevin [Garnett], you’re open and you think, ‘There’s no way I should shoot the ball.’ And what we’re trying to get him to do — that’s what you do, shoot the ball.”
While his offense has been a concern, defense is where Moore had really struggled since coming to the Celtics. Prone to foul trouble all season, Moore didn’t collect his first foul Sunday night until the 8:51 mark in the second quarter. Moore’s self-restraint did not last all game, however. He picked up his fifth foul at the 6:45 mark in the fourth quarter and made his way to the bench in exchange for Kendrick Perkins.
Moore has fouled out twice with the Celtics and picked up five fouls on four other occasions.
“Thank God he hasn’t fouled out in a couple games,” Pierce said laughingly after the game.
The Celtics added Moore hoping for the same impact that veteran forward P.J. Brown gave them by joining the team late last season. Brown would have been their first choice this season, but he stayed retired. A couple of other big men were on Boston’s radar as well, but the Celtics decided to pass on Dikembe Mutumbo in December to see if anyone else became available. They also had their sights on Joe Smith, but he was under contract with Oklahoma City at the time they signed Moore. Smith, who became available March 5, is now averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds after signing as a free agent with the Cavaliers.
The deficiencies in Moore’s play have also been magnified since he signed with the Celtics as a free agent Feb. 25 in large part because of injuries to Garnett, Brian Scalabrine, and Leon Powe. Those injuries have forced the Celtics to use Moore 18.1 minutes per game despite his lack of experience with the team’s system. The rust has shown, with Moore averaging 3.7 points and 4.1 rebounds since coming to Boston.
“Me getting my timing back, learning where to be on the floor … since I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to do it in games,” said Moore. “I don’t have time to do it in practice.”
Moore said the hardest adjustment has been trusting his teammates to make the proper rotations on the defensive end. His hesitation often makes him late and causes him to pick up quick fouls. The 11-year veteran showed improvements in that area last night, beating speedy guard Russell Westbrook to the spot to draw a charge at the 11:42 mark in the fourth quarter.
“I’m still making mistakes, but they’re minor mistakes,” said Moore. “I’m not giving up points when I do it. But my teammates have been great. They’ve been very supportive. Tonight I made it a point to just go out there and play ball … It felt pretty good to get that gorilla off my back.”