New England was enamored with dreams of Dallas for the Patriots over the past few months, but the Celtics’ emphatic 109-96 win over the Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles reminded everyone that the focus should be on Banner 18.
The game against the Lakers was classic Boston basketball. While Kobe Bryant was chucking up 11 fourth-quarter shots on his way to 41 points (16-of-29 shooting), Paul Pierce elected to continue to play team-first basketball and shoot just eight shots total in the second half — two in the fourth quarter after shooting at a scorching 5-of-6 clip in the third — on his way to a 32-point performance.
Rajon Rondo dished out 16 assists, with 15 coming in the second half, Ray Allen shot 8-of-12 from the floor, Nate Robinson was dynamite off the bench after disappearing for the last few weeks, and Kevin Garnett put together a complete game in every possible way.
When Garnett is at his best, so are the Celtics. The man gets “it” as well as any other great Celtic, and you can bet that when the final horn sounded, No. 5 in green had no idea what his numbers were and that has nothing to do with the fact that he split his head open fighting for a loose ball with Pau Gasol. Fact is, Garnett just doesn’t care about stats — just winning.
And just winning is what the Celtics have done all season, with the occasional lapses that come over the course of an 82-game NBA schedule — look no further than losses at Cleveland, Washington and Phoenix, among a few others.
Over the next couple of months, expect the Celtics to continue to play hard, passionate, team basketball. After ending the 2009-10 season with a 27-27 record down the stretch, Boston fell behind in the Eastern Conference standings and had to head back to Los Angeles for Games 6 and 7 in the NBA Finals last year because of it.
As we know, the Celtics dropped both games and the series — a cruel fate that has motivated Boston to seemingly spit in the face of Father Time. Ray Allen looks as good as he has ever looked in a Celtics uniform and, at age 35, is making it difficult for 20-somethings to keep pace with him on the offensive end of the floor.
At 33, Paul Pierce is shooting the best he has ever shot in his career at 51.2 percent (7.5 percent higher than his career average), while Kevin Garnett, 34, looks fresh and as intense as ever to disprove all the prognosticationd that he was “finished.”
Against current playoff teams, the Celtics are 20-5, including wins against the top two teams out West in the San Antonio Spurs and Lakers, as well as a 4-1 combined record against the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, who sit at two and three in the East, respectively.
With the aging nucleus of Pierce, Garnett and Allen, Celtics fans need to soak in every last second for however long this run can sustain itself.
Game in and game out, Celtics fans are able to witness greatness. Allen could be the purest shooter of all time. Garnett, who slam balls off his head and relentlessly swats away opponents’ shots after the whistle to prevent any satisfaction of getting an extra feel for the basket, could be the fiercest competitor. And Pierce, a loyal servant to the green throughout his entire career, could go down in history as the most underrated professional athlete in the history of Boston sports.
Lest we forget, Rondo’s emergence into the top tier of NBA point guards has allowed Boston to shoot a league-high 50.1 percent, and that percentage went up after the Celtics shot 60.3 percent in Los Angeles.
Rondo is a master of deception and has court vision and ballhandling skills that rival those of all-time Celtics great Bob Cousy. By all accounts, Rondo has matured from the mistakes of his early days and seems capable of shouldering the load when the clock inevitably strikes midnight on Boston’s aging “Big Three.”
The clock continues to tick, and there is nothing Celtics fans can do but watch each hand count down with a sweet elegance and excellence that has helped restore basketball prominence in Boston.
Every game the Celtics play, fans are guaranteed a chance at beholding greatness. If not from the players wearing green jerseys, the opposing team must produce a great effort to beat the C’s.
So don’t wait for the playoffs to check out what this Celtics team is all about. Enjoy the ride now, and see some of the finest team basketball ever played in NBA history.
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