It goes without saying that Jordan Crawford has been the steadying hand for the Celtics this season. Partly, it goes without saying because it just sounds weird. But it also goes without saying because it’s so true.
Except the Celtics actually go better when Crawford went to the bench on Monday, and not because Crawford was playing particularly poorly, either. Although backup point guard Phil Pressey came nowhere close to Crawford’s point total, the undrafted rookie out of Missouri was even better than Crawford spearheading Boston’s offense in a 96-86 win over the Bobcats.
Pressey finished with two points, eight assists and no turnovers, but the statistics do not begin to describe how well he played. Traditionalists will love to hear how the 5-foot-8 waterbug controlled the tempo and kept the Celtics from falling into one of their lulls in ways that did not show up in the box score. New-schoolers will be more interested to see that Pressey was plus-14 on the court.
The point is, he was really good, no matter the measure, and he played a big role in the Celtics’ reserves outscoring Charlotte’s bench 39-15.
“The bench changed the game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Phil Pressey’s pressure might have been one of the key factors in changing the game. I thought Gerald [Wallace] and Phil really kickstarted us. I thought [Kris Humphries] did really well. Courtney Lee banked in a shot and made a couple others. I thought we were pretty good off the bench. I did think it changed the game.”
Even before Monday’s game, there was evidence that Pressey makes good things happen for the Celtics when he plays. The Celtics scored 4.5 more points per 100 possessions and held opponents to 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions when Pressey was on the court entering the game, lending evidence that Pressey has a positive impact on both ends of the court.
It’s no secret Wallace hasn’t been lighting it up lately. The 13-year veteran entered Monday averaging 4.7 points per game, his lowest average in eight years, and was averaging 2.6 points per game in his last five games. So far, he is having a season to forget.
Wallace once had a season to remember, though, and it came in Charlotte. As a 27-year-old in 2009-10, Wallace averaged 18.2 points per game, earned an All-Star game nod and helped a motley yet exciting group of Bobcats reach the playoffs. If Wallace was going to have a breakout game, Stevens had a feeling it would come in the city where he enjoyed the best years of his career.
“He’s such a competitive guy,” Stevens said of Wallace. “I really enjoy having him on our team.”
The player affectionately known as “Crash” didn’t exactly discover the fountain of youth on Monday, but he did have his best game, arguably, of the season. Wallace tallied 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals, plus a blocked shot in 34 minutes of action. Teamed with Pressey, Lee and Humphries, Wallace helped turn the flow in Boston’s favor in the second quarter, when the Celtics outscored the Bobcats 33-17.
Jared Sullinger put it simply after the Celtics’ loss to Indiana last week. In order to cut down on their turnover troubles, the Celtics need to “value the ball like gold.”
For most of the game against the Bobcats, the Celtics valued the ball like a candy wrapper or a piece of junk mail. They just threw it away. Going into the fourth quarter, the Celtics had committed 10 turnovers — not the worst total, but they came in bunches, with seven of those turnovers coming in the first half.
I’m not saying the Celtics are gold diggers, but they suddenly realized the value of the ball in the final 12 minutes. The Celtics committed just one turnover in the fourth quarter. Their care with the ball made it possible to hold off the Bobcats, who were attacking the basket and forced seven fouls by the Celtics in the final frame.