Following the Celtics’ 95-89 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, a reporter asked Garnett if the upcoming slate of tough games (at Orlando, at Atlanta, vs. Los Angeles Lakers) provides a chance for the team to reclaim a spot among the NBA elites.
Before Garnett could get going, Rondo interjected.
“I don’t think we ever weren’t,” said Rondo, wiping a puzzled look from his face.
To Rondo, the elite status was always there. It was simply a matter of getting everyone healthy, a theory which gained further support against the Clippers. Of note was the play of Rondo, Garnett and their three fellow starters, a unit which has struggled to stay together of late due to injuries.
The quintet combined for 79 points on 52 percent shooting and turned the game into Boston’s favor during a dominant stretch that conjured up memories of November and December, before creaky knees began to give way.
“It’s coming,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re not there but it’s coming. … The game the other night we didn’t play great, we won. Tonight, we didn’t play great the entire game but we played in stretches. So it’s definitely coming. You can feel it.”
That feeling emerged late in the second quarter Monday when Boston turned a nine-point deficit into a one-point lead after Rivers inserted his starters one by one. During a 14-4 burst, four of the five starters scored and the one who did not, Ray Allen, chipped in with an assist and a steal that led to a Garnett dunk.
The lead was up to eight points in the third quarter before either team made a substitution, with the C’s starting five showing off some of its best passing of the season, leading to easy basket after easy basket. Five straight came on either layups or dunks.
Rondo said it was a matter of exhausting every option. Rivers hinted that there was a conscious effort to make the extra pass. And Garnett was able, for the first time in a month, to boast a bit.
“When we are doing that, we are pretty hard to stop,” said Garnett, who finished with 17 points.
Of course, befitting the grinding 2009-10 season, Mother Nature nearly threw a wrench in the Celtics’ plans.
From the outset Monday, there were issues of wetness on the TD Garden floor, a scenario caused by the warm temperatures messing with the ice surface below. There was a brief stoppage of play late in the first quarter and real talk of suspending the game.
“The first seven, eight minutes I didn’t really think we were going to finish the game,” Rivers said. “I was nervous, I really was. [Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy] and I came together. We, at that point, were very close. … If anybody slipped in the next two minutes, the game was over.”
At the time of the stoppage, the C’s trailed by a point and had just one basket in the previous six minutes. With the air turned up and Garden staff wiping the floor throughout, the conditions improved. So did the Celtics, enough to remind some of us how good they can be.
Rajon Rondo didn’t need such a reminder.