Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Celtics find balance on the court
By Peter May ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- There may yet come a time when we see an O'Neal, or maybe even two of them. Pending such a grand occasion, when yet another lineup tweak will have to be made, Doc Rivers figures he has finally, finally got his Boston Celtics bench in order.
And he likes it. A lot.
"They're more talented now,'' Rivers said after watching his reserves close out the Indiana Pacers 92-80 at the TD Garden, keeping the Celtics unbeaten at home against Eastern Conference teams (21-0). "That's number one. You've got Jeff Green in your second unit, Delonte West in your second unit, Glen Davis. Pretty good second unit."
Then, as if to state the obvious, "It's nice to see them all on the floor."
Indeed. With West's return to duty Wednesday night, we saw a bench that, for the first time this season, is one that Rivers could actually envision, never mind utilize. He never got that opportunity with the first bench -- Nate Robinson, West, Marquis Daniels, Davis and Pick An O'Neal. Someone was always hurt or suspended.
Delonte West had three assists, two rebounds and one very big block in his return Wednesday.
But this is Bench 2.0 and, barring further calamity, it will be at Doc's beck and call as the team heads into a potentially torturous stretch with road games in Houston, New Orleans (both of which won in Boston) and New York (with the Celtics' first look at the Melo/Chauncey Knicks.)
The bench pretty much chalked up the 'W' against Indiana. Green was a force with 17 of his 19 points in the first half, including 13 in the game-turning second quarter. For a while there, Green was the Boston offense. Ray Allen didn't even attempt a field goal until there was less than 5 minutes remaining in the first half. Rajon Rondo didn't attempt one in the second and third quarters (he sat out the fourth).
West, meanwhile, playing for the first time since Feb. 26, looked terrific. He had a ridiculous block on Paul George. He hit a tough fadeaway jumper for his only basket. He had two rebounds and three assists in 16-plus active minutes. Rivers said he thought West must have been playing on the side while he was out "cause his rhythm was too good. I was amazed at how well he handled the ball."
West said he felt a little winded, but quickly added, "Oh man, I have fresh legs still from summertime. I've just been sitting around, waiting for my opportunity to get out there."
Here's an added bonus going forward for the new bench: Three of the guys have played sparingly this season, including Troy Murphy, whose only activity before the Celtics' signed him was walking to the bank to deposit his check.
Murphy is predictably rusty, but he is fresh. He will get better. (He'd better get better.) West, too, should be frisky. He has played fewer minutes this season than either Green or Nenad Krstic has played since the trade. And Carlos Arroyo played 23 minutes -- total -- in the month of February for Miami, so he still has plenty to offer.
Throw in Baby and the outrageously athletic Green and you have, as Rivers said, a very talented group. They will need time together, something they may find hard given the lack of practices. But Green and the rest of the subs have been working out on off days at the Celtics' practice facility.
"That's what it takes,'' Green said. "That's how you get used to playing with each other. You gotta do it. You gotta put in the work."
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They needed those guys against Indiana because the starters somehow came out and played under water. Rivers said he thought they were "pressing in some ways, for whatever reason." How those guys could be "pressing" in Game No. 66, at home, against Indiana, is mystifying.
But they were. They fell behind by seven before Davis came in. They eventually fell behind by eight and trailed 20-15 after one quarter. The only thing that saved them was their defense.
The second unit managed to get the game tied and created the sense of energy and urgency that eventually passed on back to the starters, as if by osmosis. It was a different group that came back in over the final six minutes of the second quarter. The lead was seven at the half, 14 after three and reached 18 in the fourth.
When the final quarter began, Rivers told his assistant, Lawrence Frank, that he was hoping to be able to rest Paul Pierce, Rondo and Kevin Garnett for the fourth quarter. The coach's plan was to keep the reserves out there unless the Pacers cut the deficit to 10.
Indiana got to within 12 on four occasions, but each time, the Celtics quickly responded.
Murphy hit a pair of free throws. West hit his fallaway. Murphy somehow managed to do a reverse dunk ("It was a slow-motion reverse dunk,'' Rivers said) and Nenad Krstic, in for Baby, converted a layup off a pretty West feed.
Garnett, Pierce and Rondo didn't play a minute in the fourth. That's good for them. That's also good for the guys who are out there because it means they are doing the job.
For one night, anyway, the bench was intact and it managed to do what Rivers had been hoping to see in the first 65 games. Better late than never, as they say. Now he can cross his fingers and hope it continues without any further drama.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.