A Daily Babble Production
In the edited-for-general-audiences words of Shaquille O’Neal, Paul Pierce is indeed the Truth. Most definitely.
What the Celtics’ captain has been able to do over his last two times out has been simply astounding: a 22-point fourth quarter effort followed by a 34 points on 8-of-14 field-goal shooting to go with 15-of-16 foul shooting, and oh by the way, that includes banging the game-winner (over one-time chatterbox Al Horford, to boot!) with half a second to play. This guy has reached a level of play right now that makes him even more of a pleasure to watch than ever before. He simply seems capable of anything with the game in the balance, and it is a special feeling to be a fan of a team that has that sort of player.
But for as otherworldly as the reigning NBA Finals MVP has been at the wire as of late, we would be remiss to let the aftermath of Wednesday night’s thriller pass us by without paying homage to the other two components of the Celtics’ starting front line, neither of whom was a slouch by any means last night.
For as much as I ride him at times, there isn’t much to complain about regarding Kendrick Perkins’ performance in the pivot last night. The guy wasn’t spectacular by any means, but as is usually the case for him on this team, he didn’t have to be. He was on the floor, and he was a factor at both ends.
Offensively, credit Perk for not trying to do too much. This is a guy who occasionally gets wrapped up in doing a bit more dribbling and looking to create his own shot (particularly further from the basket) than is necessary, and he avoided that last night. Perk crashed the glass (pulling down three offensive boards of his eight total rebounds) and picked up the trash around the basket. He shot 3-for-4 for the game on a putback, a dunk off of a beautiful feed from Rajon Rondo and a bucket-plus-foul around the rim after being set up by Kevin Garnett. Perk made his way to the foul line five times (hitting three), didn’t compulsively bring the ball down when he caught it inside and did move the basketball wisely rather than burning the shot clock when he saw that he didn’t have a favorable look right away. His nine points were the result of solid effort and getting to the right spots inside, and he made sure he wasn’t a liability at that end of the floor.
On the defensive side, Perk had no problems inside as the Hawks did very little damage in the paint. Unlike counterpart Al Horford, Perk effectively avoided his long-time kryptonite of foul trouble, picking up just three personal fouls and giving himself a chance to stay on the court for 30 minutes, his third highest total of the young season and nearly four minutes better than his average. His work on the glass contributed to the Celtics’ plus-11 differential on the boards. While the Celtics as a unit didn’t do a great job of getting out on three-point shooters (especially power forward Marvin Williams), those troubles are far from falling on Perk’s head alone, and his effort did help prevent the Hawks from getting anything going on the interior.
Right there next to Perk, of course, was the man who has now likely managed to evade plenty of positive press (not that he needs any) by turning in his two best performances of the young season to date in games when Paul Pierce was on a planet all unto his own. But this team wouldn’t have come close to pulling out these last two games without the play of one Kevin Garnett.
As usual, Garnett’s pit bull intensity made him a terror on defense, joining with Perk in discouraging the Hawks from going inside at all and occasionally coming up to pressure ball-handlers in the backourt as he is known to do from time to time (hello, Mr. Calderon!). He was a major contributor on the glass as well, going for 12 boards (three offensive) and constantly tipping loose balls out of the Hawks’ reach and in the direction of his teammates on both ends of the floor.
But it was at the offensive end that Garnett was dominant on Wednesday. Playing against a smallish Hawks front line that spent much of the night going even smaller than usual thanks to foul trouble, Garnett showed off his full repertoire of post moves to abuse a group of bigs that didn’t have an answer for him. He was even better than usual on his bread-and-butter mid-range jumpers from the elbows, wings and baseline, and he knocked down a couple of turn-around fades from the wings.
But it was Garnett’s work on the low block that makes this effort of his stand out. He knew these Hawks (especially without Josh Smith) didn’t have a player with the physique or the defensive prowess to keep him at bay, and he pounded the Atlanta frontcourt inside. Often (fairly) given some grief for not attacking the paint as much as he could at his size, KG broke out a series of spins and power moves in the paint to constantly allow himself easy looks at baby jumpers and bunny hooks in the lane. He did an effective job of getting position down low and consistently putting himself in spots where he would have an easy time scoring once the ball was in his hands.
It didn’t hurt that the Big Ticket punctuated his offensive night with a big-time play and some theatrics with less than four minutes to play and the Celtics leading by two. After Paul Pierce missed a three, Garnett rose above the Atlanta defenders, just high enough to make an effective back tap out to Rondo at the top of the key. In the next few seconds, he managed to implore the crowd to increase its noise level and then to spin off his man with the perfect timing catch and lay in a beautiful lob pass from Rondo to extend the Celtics’ lead to four at 92-88, their biggest of the game. When all was said and done, the man who came to town a year ago and was instrumental in changing the culture had posted 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-5 from the foul line. Not shabby by any means.
It was undoubtedly the Truth’s night once more at the TD Banknorth Garden on Wednesday, and it remains a joy to keep reveling in his glorious play. But we need not forget that this is a true team, and Paul Pierce’s cohorts on the front line in particular did not let him down last night. Here’s to a trio of fine performances from the Celtics’ starting forwards and center.