Considering that both the Celtics and the host Utah Jazz parted with cornerstone pieces last week in shocking deadline trades, the two teams put together quite the quality product on Monday night at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.
The C's were without Kendrick Perkins, and the Jazz without Deron Williams. But rather than mope about it, the two teams gave a riveting, athletic, back-and-forth performance that thrilled and entertained for 48 minutes.
The Celtics eventually came away with an impressive win that showed no signs of a team still hurting over their departed center.
"You get over it," coach Doc Rivers said after the Celtics' 107-102 victory. "I thought our guys did. They've really moved forward. We're just trying to fit the two new guys in now, and we're playing pretty good."
That's understating it. The Celtics may have lost a starter from their two-time East title winner, and they may be integrating two new pieces on the fly, but their execution down the stretch was huge as they closed out the Jazz. In a fourth quarter that included eight lead changes and a handful of big clutch shots on both sides, the Celtics maintained their composure in the final minutes and earned a victory.
This was a big one. This one proved that today's Celtics may look different, but they still have the same winning formula when it matters.
Their ball movement in the fourth quarter was spot-on. Their knack for the big shot was still there — just ask Ray Allen, who made five of his eight attempts from long distance on Monday night. They did the little things, like make free throws — Paul Pierce was a perfect 11-for-11.
The Jazz also looked solid without Williams, as Devin Harris turned in a dazzling performance that included a few coast-to-coast dashes for buckets. Harris and Rajon Rondo turned Monday's contest into an up-and-down track meet.
But the Celtics knew when to slow the game down and win it at their own tempo. And eventually, that's what they did. It was a solid team win for a C's team that really needed one.
Perk is gone, but Pierce, Allen, Rondo and Kevin Garnett are the heart and soul of this team now, and they persevere.
As for the two new guys, they're still just getting started.
"It's too early," Rivers said when asked about their progress. "They're just playing basketball right now. They don't know half the stuff — their heads are spinning. I don't even look for growth from them yet."
Of the 15 players who signed on with the Celtics to play this season, eight were absent this week for one reason or another. Five were traded on Thursday, and three — Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and now Delonte West — have missed time with injuries.
And yet the remaining guys keep winning.
"With everything we've been through — with all the injuries, trades — I just appreciate this team," Rivers said. "They just tend to find a way to win games. That has to bode well for us later when we get everyone together."
Does it ever.
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