BOSTON -- Celtics forward Kevin Garnett didn't feel like he was aggressive enough in the second half of Boston's 88-83 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. He was determined not to repeat that performance on Sunday and scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in a game-changing third quarter of Boston's 101-90 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Garnett made all six of his third-quarter field goal attempts, and even better for the Celtics, five of the six were scored in the paint. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has critiqued his team recently for taking too many jump shots during key stretches of games and made a point to re-emphasize the importance of Boston's post play -- Garnett's in particular -- at halftime of Sunday's victory.
"We did it the one stretch in the beginning of the game and then we got away from it again," Rivers said of pumping the ball inside. "I thought the last three minutes of the second quarter, it was all jump shots again, so there was a lot of post talk at halftime."
The Celtics heeded their coach's words. On their second possession of the second half, Rajon Rondo tossed Garnett a lob pass, which Garnett slammed home on the right side for a one-point Boston lead. Two plays later, after setting a screen for Ray Allen, Garnett rolled to the rim and converted an Allen pass for an easy layup. Less than two minutes later, Garnett was back on the attack down low, as he skied up and tipped in a missed Rondo layup between two Detroit defenders, drawing a foul in the process. He converted the ensuing free throw, giving Boston a three-point edge.
Minutes after converting a sweeping layup in the lane off a feed from Rondo, Garnett stepped outside for a 15-foot jump shot from the left wing as part of a decisive 13-0 run as the Celtics built an 80-64 lead.
The last basket of that run was scored in appropriate fashion: Reserve guard Delonte West had a wide-open look at a 3-pointer on the right wing, and, despite screams of "Shoot!" from the TD Garden crowd, West rifled a pass to Garnett along the right baseline, who turned and rose up for an easy two-handed slam.
The Celtics outscored the Pistons 33-18 in the third quarter, with 16 of those 33 points coming in the paint.
"Post play is always an issue, it's always a priority," Garnett said. "Tonight was no different. I thought I was a little more aggressive than usual, and I've [got to] continue to do that."
Rivers would certainly like to see his team's post play become a greater priority than it has been lately. In Friday's loss to the Hawks, the Celtics managed only 15 fourth-quarter points, but even more disturbing was the fact that of the 17 shots the Celtics took in that period, 11 came from outside of the paint.
"I thought we took quick, bad shots," Rivers said of his team's fourth-quarter offense on Friday. "I thought we took all jump shots, got away from the post."
The Celtics registered just 34 points in the paint Friday, but responded convincingly with 48 on Sunday, including 28 after halftime. Garnett proved to be the source of the renewed effort.
"[Garnett's] so good at knocking down shots inside and outside, and when he's aggressive like that, we're tough to beat," Paul Pierce said. "We probably have to go to him a little bit more on a consistent basis."
Boston might be lacking big men right now with Shaquille O'Neal (right Achilles/calf), Nenad Krstic (right knee) and Troy Murphy (right ankle) all nursing injuries, but Garnett can still serve as one of its main weapons down low, particularly against teams like the Pistons with weaker front lines. The Celtics obviously know what Garnett is capable of when they feed him the ball down low repeatedly, but Sunday's showing should go a long way in reinforcing just how effective the strategy can be.