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Monday, January 17, 2011
Celtics' shots falling at amazing clip

By Peter May
Special to ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- I know. I know. I know. The Boston Celtics think of themselves as a defensive team. They pride themselves on being a defensive power and understand that stopping the other guy is the best and surest way to add another banner to the franchise collection.

All of that is true. But oh my goodness, they are doing things at the other end of the floor that make you want to call the championship flag seamstress and tell her to start working. If these guys can continue to shoot the ball the way they have over the first 40 games and their defense, already pretty good, comes around when everyone is (hopefully) healthy, we have the makings of a hardwood leviathan.

Ray Allen
It seemed anything Ray Allen (26 points) and the rest of the Celtics put up Monday against Orlando would fall.

In defeating the Orlando Magic 109-106 on Monday night, the Celtics shot 60 percent from the field. There are teams that won't get close to that number over the course of 82 games. The Magic, with all their offensive firepower, have not. The Celtics did it for the third time this season, having recently done the same thing to the San Antonio Spurs. Neither of those teams is to be confused with the Golden State Warriors or Phoenix Suns in terms of defensive prowess. The Spurs and Magic like to think they can defend -- and they can.

But much like Gregg Popovich was aghast at allowing an opponent to shoot 61.3 percent against his Spurs -- which never happens -- Stan Van Gundy was stunned to see the final numbers against his Magic. Sixty percent? No Magic opponent had shot better than 56 percent until Monday.

The Celtics made 42 of 70 field goals. They scored 52 points in the paint. They shot well from beginning to end, with the ageless Ray Allen once again making the big shots, as he had against the Spurs on Jan. 3.

"We didn't get any stops," Van Gundy said. "They shot 60 percent in the first half. They shot 60 percent in the second half. There was never a point in the game when we stopped them."

Orlando opponents average 44.6 percent shooting, and in fact, the Magic held Boston to a season-low 34.6 percent shooting Christmas Day at the Amway Center. Only six teams had better defensive field goal percentage numbers than the Magic through Sunday's games and only seven times had Orlando allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent or better.

But the Celtics are No. 1 in shooting for a reason, and on Monday, they had Rajon Rondo running the show (he missed the Christmas game) and had Kevin Garnett for the first time in nearly three weeks.

Garnett looked in midseason form, both as a player (19 points, 8 rebounds) and as a nonstop yakker. But if his arrival was to signify a defensive lockdown, well, not on this night. Instead, his presence was a reminder of how smoothly things can flow offensively when he is on the floor. Only Allen (26) scored more points.

Rondo, meanwhile, registered his 16th double-double -- and third in the past three games -- with a 10-point, 13-assist submission. He would have had 14 had Shaquille O'Neal not bobbled an alley-oop feed.

"No question, he makes a difference," Van Gundy said of Rondo. "He makes all the plays and he makes them a lot better defensively. No question about it."

All of this crispness and Swiss watch precision was apparently lost on Doc Rivers, who went into the locker room after the game and promptly announced that he thought his team could execute better on offense. What game had he been watching? The remarks drew the predictable laughter -- the players knew they had shot the lights out -- and Rivers himself looked at the final numbers and came away impressed.

How could he not?

"It was great," he said. "The ball movement was good. The ball stuck in Orlando [on Christmas], and that's the only thing we showed them on the film. If it sticks, they are going to defend you. If you move it, you'll get good shots."

The Celtics had 25 assists Monday, roughly their season average. They lead the league in that category as well. That is the constant refrain from the coaches and players. Make the extra pass. Hit the open man. Give up a 15-footer for a 10-footer. Unselfishness rules.

Yes, they made some big defensive plays down the stretch (a KG steal topping the list), but the bigger plays came at the other end. Two big 3s by Allen, the second of which was called "phenomenal" and "unbelievable" by Van Gundy because it was launched off-balance in front of the Magic bench with Orlando defending the play as well as it conceivably could. Paul Pierce converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to snap the game's final tie with 38.7 seconds left. It was Pierce's only basket in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics will hit the halfway point of the season Wednesday with at least 31 victories (and, after what happened in Detroit recently, dare we say 32?). They have done all this without their preferred starting five and with key players (Rondo, Garnett, Shaq) missing big chunks of time. Delonte West has played in five games. Jermaine O'Neal's season might be over after just 17 games.

Rivers already is talking about how strong defensively his team will be when Kendrick Perkins returns. What he didn't say was that Perkins, while being a strong post defender and decent shot-blocker, also has one other attribute. He makes shots. The No. 1 Celtic in field goal percentage for 2009-10? Kendrick Perkins.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.