As he prepared to ink a five-year, $55 million contract extension, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo promised on Monday that he wouldn't get complacent with his newfound job security. Philadelphia's Lou Williams ought to ensure that when Boston visits the Wachovia Center Tuesday night.
Williams paces a 76ers offense that is averaging an Eastern Conference-best 115.3 points per game this season. The fifth-year point guard is averaging 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, and on Saturday he registered 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists in a 141-127 overtime win over the Knicks.
Philadelphia (2-1) will lean on its athleticism and try to keep up the breakneck tempo Tuesday night against the undefeated Celtics (4-0).
"They're athletic, the most athletic team we've played this year," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "It's scary on film. I can tell you they had a huge lead the other night in New York, gave it up, and went to overtime. But it looked like a track team playing. No one could stay in front of them.
"For us, we have veterans. This will be good for us. Athletic teams in the past have bothered us."
Rivers noted before the start of the season that he wasn't thrilled with Boston's transition defense, though the Celtics lead the league in points allowed, have given up only 81.3 points per game (which is nearly 30 points less per game than Philadelphia is allowing). But the Celtics know Williams, who replaced departed Andre Miller in the starting lineup this season, is the key cog in that run-fueled offense.
"Williams is trying to score points on you," said Rivers. "That's the biggest thing [tonight]. We've got to get back -- get back quick and set. If we don't, it could be a long night. If we get back and make them play against a half-court defense, then I like our chances."
The 76ers have five players averaging double figures in points with guards Williams and Andre Iguodala (19.7) topping the list. But their depth in the frontcourt is also impressive with Thaddeus Young (15.3) and Elton Brand (13.7), along with backup big man Marreese Speights (16.7) providing a lift off the bench.
"They're quicker, more athletic, more mature," said Rivers. "Each year they get better and better. Thaddeus Young, people don't talk about him, but he's tough to cover. They play him at the four a lot and that's a tough cover for us."
Despite starting the season at 4-0 and winning two lopsided games at the Garden last week, Rivers wasn't thrilled with what he saw from his team in Sunday's victory over the New Orleans Hornets. The Celtics shot a blistering 54 percent from the floor, but Rivers didn't like the fact that his team didn't make the extra pass on offense and seemed complacent at times on defense.
And the message Rivers imparted to his team Monday will tell you all about his expectations this year.
"Winning is good, but winning can't be good enough for us," said Rivers. "We have to keep improving."
Call it the Fountain of Truth
Even after turning 32 last month, Celtics guard Paul Pierce continues to shoulder the offensive load for the Celtics and shows no signs of slowing down. Through four games, Pierce is averaging a team-best 21.8 points per game and has led the Celtics in scoring in three of their four contests (early foul trouble and a lopsided game limited him to 25 minutes Wednesday vs. the Bobcats, where he had 15 points, second on the team to Ray Allen's 18).
"I feel good. I think when you put in the work constantly and you focus night in and night out, I think that's one place where I really grow, focusing on every game, taking it one game at a time," said Pierce. "The older I'm getting, the wiser I'm getting, I believe, and figuring out different things that I can do on the court within the team's system."
Rivers, who joked Monday that Pierce could play in the NBA until he was 65 and still find a way to score, marvels at the captain's ability to maintain a high level of play.
"Oh, Paul's been amazing," said Rivers. "You can see it, just his whole demeanor, everything's been good. Paul's been -- he's been a pro's pro. I mean, he really has. Never in a hurry, let's the game come to him. So team-oriented with his defense. Even at the end, the last three minutes [against New Orleans] he switched off on [Peja] Stojakovic. He's just doing a lot of things. He's playing on a team with a lot of guys, and people overlook some of the little things that he's doing. He's been amazing. He's been absolutely amazing."