Commentary

Notes from Celtics' sweet 5-0 week

Updated: January 13, 2013, 3:36 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Running a layup line with leftover news and notes that have been pinned inside the reporter's notebook during Boston's five-game winning streak over the past seven days:

No one puts the Celtics in a corner: Earlier this month, our friend Tom Haberstroh detailed the importance of the corner 3-pointer for ESPN Insider. After Ray Allen's departure this summer, the Celtics have watched both their attempts and makes nose-dive from the corner. A Boston team that routinely ranked among the league leaders in corner 3-point percentage (see chart) ranked 25th in the league at 36.6 percent entering the new calendar year. But the past three games have offered encouragement that this team is (pun fully intended) turning the corner.

Boston has connected on 12 of its last 26 corner 3s (46.2 percent). That included a rock-solid 7-for-13 performance from the corners in Friday's win over the Houston Rockets. The catalyst? The savior, of course, as Avery Bradley seems to be finding that corner stroke again and is making teams that cheat off him pay. Heck, he's even got a little 3-point celebration now. But Boston's second unit, including Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry, seems to be finding success from the corner as well.

[+] EnlargeJason Terry
AP Photo/Michael DwyerThe best snapshot of the season so far?
A picture is worth way more than a thousand words: This might be my favorite snapshot of the 2012-13 season thus far. Just a blizzard of activity here. Terry is in his trademark JET celebration after hitting, appropriately, a corner 3; Rajon Rondo is screaming at him in celebration; and Leandro Barbosa risks suspension (kidding) with a playful squeeze on referee Bill Kennedy.

But the photo really captures maybe the most interesting sequence of Friday's win. With Boston in the midst of what would be a bench-fueled, game-changing run, Terry fought over a screen to force a turnover. He actually lost control of the ball trying to push it up the floor, but Green made a fantastic goaltender-like play, sliding to the floor in front of the Boston bench to prevent the ball from bouncing out of bounds. With both teams scrambling, Terry sneaked into the corner and drilled a 3-pointer off a pretty feed from Lee.

You've got Celtics players looking in every direction because of how many good things happened in the sequence: Green's hustle, Lee's pass and Terry's triple. The photo sort of crystalizes the scrappy efforts of this bench lately.

Barbosa in the bullpen: The return of Bradley has clearly bitten into Barbosa's floor time. The speedy backup guard has played a total of 19 minutes, 19 seconds over the past six games, logging three DNPs and an outing with a mere 13 seconds of action in that stretch. But don't discredit his value moving forward.

With Rondo suspended for Monday's showdown in New York, Barbosa played 13 quality minutes, chipping in eight points (making all three shots he took) and three assists.

"It is a crowded backcourt, but I still like him," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I like him as the great reliever coming in. He's a game-changer when he comes in. You know what he's going to do: He's going to try to score. That's what we want him to do.

"I don't know if it'll be every game, but I do like the fact that you feel like he can make a motion to your left arm and bring in Barbosa and it gives you a pretty good fastball."

Sullinger/Bass growing as grouping: At the start of the season, the Celtics realized quickly that a Jared Sullinger/Brandon Bass frontcourt produced rather disastrous results, as opposing offenses were feasting on the undersized duo. Over the first two months of the season, the Sullinger/Bass combo was minus-39 in plus/minus over 123 minutes together.

Somewhat improbably, with Boston forced to lean on the grouping again due to recent injuries to Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins, the duo has more than held its own. The combo is a serviceable plus-4 in 50 minutes together over the past six games. So what changed?

"I take full blame for that," Sullinger said of the duo's early struggles, "because early in the season I was trying to understand defensive schemes, and I really didn't understand it, which put Brandon into a bind because he always had to help me out. Now I'm learning this game and learning my opponents. Especially having Kevin [Garnett] always talking to me, I'm starting to learn a lot better. Obviously, that's helping that lineup."

Rivers admits he still doesn't love having to put the two on the floor together.

"I like it, but I don't love it, honestly," he said. "I think Jared is playing better and rebounding better, but it still depends on the group. ... I just think Jared knows how to play better now, and he's learning the league better, understanding that guys are going to attack him, and I think that's helped."

Kevin Garnett
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesKevin Garnett was unhappy after being ejected Jan. 4, but at least his flagrant foul on Tyler Hansbrough has been downgraded.

KG's flagrant downgraded: The NBA downgraded Garnett's flagrant foul against Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough. Originally deemed a flagrant-2 -- leading to Garnett's automatic ejection in a lopsided game -- the league downgraded it to a flagrant-1 upon video review. Garnett landed a solid right hand to Hansbrough's mug trying to strip the ball near the basket in the fourth quarter of Boston's win Jan. 4. With tempers flaring a bit, the refs seemed to diminish the chance of an incident by sending Garnett to the locker room early.

With the downgrade, four Celtics players each have one flagrant point on the season in Garnett, Rondo, Collins and Sullinger. Suspensions don't begin until five flagrant points are accrued during the regular season.

KG the leader: There was a lot of chatter this week about Garnett's leadership, particularly the nurturing role he's taken on with Sullinger. Rivers talked about the impact Garnett has in what fans don't see, such as morning shootarounds or team meetings, and how much he can lead his younger teammates by example.

"I hope [younger players] learn. You never know; you wonder if they are in their own little world and they don't see it. I think they do," Rivers said. "I don't know if they do it at the pace you want them to, each one. Everybody is an individual, but I do think that's part of the key to him, his pregame preparation, even in the morning, watching him go through the exact shots he think he'll take that night, and he won't stop until he makes them all.

"Then you look down at the other end [of the floor] and guys are throwing one-hand half-court shots up, and you look at the guy that's been in the league for 1,000 years really focused and he's already in game thought. You're looking down, and slowly, you see the other guys start to do it. He has an impact. Great players on most teams have an impact on the young players, and it's not usually with what they say, because they say it over and over. And just like the parents, the kids don't want to hear it, but it's what they do. And I think that's when most guys follow."

Basketball back in Seattle: The Celtics have some strong Seattle connections, particularly with Bradley and Terry being from the region. Green also spent his rookie season with the Sonics before the move to Oklahoma City. With news that the Kings might be relocated to Seattle as early as next season, Bradley gushed about the opportunity to play in front of his family.

"It's going to be nice to go back there and have the Celtics beat up on the Sonics," he said. "I feel like it's going to be good. My family is definitely going to be excited. It's going to help [natives] appreciate having a team there."

Rivers drops some one-liners: Reporters are admittedly spoiled by Rivers and his quick wit. Twice on Friday he put it on display.

Asked after Friday's win over Houston about talking to the Red Sox's prospects this week, Rivers quipped, "Well, the first thing I told them was that I didn't talk to them last year, so I wasn't responsible for any of that."

Rivers went on to explain how he tells players about being a professional athlete and adapting to their new surroundings in Boston. Asked how special it is for the Red Sox to call him back after making similar speeches in past seasons, Rivers cracked, "I don't know if they could get anyone else. I could have been the last guy in line."

Earlier in the evening, while discussing Kevin McHale's impact on old Celtics-Hawks rivalries, Rivers broke down the player-by-player matchups and deadpanned, "I knew I could lock down Danny [Ainge], so that wasn't a problem."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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