When they hit shots, they nearly bounced back down the court — hopping, yelling, smiling. It was almost like they were kids playing a game, which is exactly what they were.
Kelly Olynyk and Phil Pressey were a breath of fresh air in this stuffy season for the Boston Celtics on Monday. In a dominating fourth quarter, when their team was in the process of running away from the lowly Milwaukee Bucks, the two rookies played with just the sort of emotion a team should exhibit in a game like this.
Wins have been few and far between for the Celtics. They might as well enjoy one when it happens.
Boston’s 102-86 win in Milwaukee was made possible by Jeff Green, who bounced back from a forgettable first quarter to drop 29 points. All but two of Green’s points came in the final 36 minutes as he helped turn a two-point nailbiter into a 17-point laugher with 11 points in the fourth quarter. He scored on step-backs, spot-ups, dribble drives and finger rolls. He was the player Celtics fans wish he could be every night and the player he has been for the last four road games, in which he has averaged 29.5 points per contest.
“These weekday road games are the time he’s played his absolute best, right?” Celtics coach Brad Stevens cracked. “He got shots [Monday] that were really good shots that he hit, and then he made the tough ones late. But he got himself going first by going to the basket, by shooting off screens. He passed one up in the first half that I was mad at him about. … It was kind of the gist of our halftime talk, that we can’t pass up open looks because that’s what they’re giving us. He didn’t really pass any others up and that was great.”
But Green only got the Celtics the win; Olynyk and Pressey made it fun to watch. Olynyk finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, his first career double-double, by erupting for 10 and five in the fourth. Pressey, who began the final frame cheering on his fellow rookie from the bench, tallied five points and four assists in the decisive quarter. He ended up with 13 and six.
With every dime he dropped, Pressey got a bit more strut in his step. With every scoop shot he flipped in around the basket, Olynyk moved a little more confidently. They brought joy to the court, which tends to happen when you’re improving. And improvement has been hard to find on the Celtics this season. Leave it to the young guys to be a welcome exception.
Kevin Garnett was never fond of Zaza Pachulia. When Garnett was with the Celtics and Pachulia was with the Atlanta Hawks, the two would often tussle underneath, around and away from the hoop. No corner of the court was safe from their chippy back-and-forth.
Garnett is no longer in green, but the spirit of his battles remains. Jared Sullinger appears to have picked up where Garnett left off, resuming the old one-on-one with Pachulia, who now mans the middle for the injury-ravaged Bucks.
Sullinger clearly had trouble with Pachulia early Monday, missing five of his first six shots and entering halftime with just three points and two boards. In the second half, Sullinger adjusted to Pachulia’s style. Sully shrugged off the excessive contact to finish with 13 points and 10 rebounds, recording his sixth straight double-double. Eventually, Pachulia was left to poke at people’s eyes in vain.
Garnett would have been proud.
Speaking of Pachulia, he did claim one casualty. On a scrum under the hoop in the third quarter, Brandon Bass caught one of Pachulia’s fingers in his eye and had to leave the game. Bass was diagnosed with a corneal abrasion, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday. Reports indicated Bass was still experiencing blurry vision after the game.
Tuesday will be a busy day for the Celtics at the hospital. Avery Bradley is due to have an MRI on his right ankle after missing Monday’s game. Regardless of the result of the test, the Celtics might be best off holding Bradley out of Wednesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. With the All-Star break coming up, that would give Bradley nine days off between games to let his sprained ankle heel.
Monday’s game marked the 11th time this season Gerald Wallace and Green have started together at small forward and shooting guard. Neither one actually fills either role exclusively, as they switch back and forth from possession to possession, both offensively and defensively. It’s a combination that should work better than it does, given their length and versatility.
Yet the win over the Bucks improved the Celtics’ record to just 3-8 when Wallace and Green start as a 2/3 hybrid. It also improved the Celtics to 3-1 in games Rondo has rested since his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Those numbers aren’t meant to mean anything. Interpret them however you would like. Some people, like myself, are into that sort of thing. Other people have lives.