After a messy debacle of a game in Houston on Friday night, a double-digit loss for the overextended, underinspired Celtics on the first night of a three-game road trip, the C’s were determined to correct bad habits in game two.
That meant no settling for mediocre effort, on either end of the floor. It meant no giving up when they found themselves saddled with an early deficit. Basically, it just meant no messing around. The C’s had to get down to business and earn one.
"After last night, you've got to come in here and lay it all out," Kevin Garnett said. "Bar none."
The Celtics found themselves buried from the very beginning. A flurry of Marco Belinelli jump shots put them down by a couple of touchdowns, 28-14, after the first quarter. They lagged behind by as much as 14 in the second quarter, and 15 early in the third. A Belinelli 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the second half made it 56-41.
Rather than roll over, as they'd done Friday one state over, they came charging back against the Hornets. And it didn’t require a full team effort. Rather, it took just eight guys.
"It meant a lot to the guys to come back," coach Doc Rivers said of the Celtics’ comeback 89-85 victory at New Orleans Arena. "They wanted this win. They liked it because a lot of guys pitched in. It wasn't just the starters, it was everybody. I thought Jeff Green, Delonte West and Glen Davis were just off the charts in this one. They were phenomenal.”
Forget about the old Big Three. On Saturday night, there was a younger, hungrier triumvirate of Celtic stars fueling a big victory. Davis led the Celtics’ bench with 20 points, West ran the point markedly better than the slumping Rajon Rondo, and Green gave the C’s a much-needed jolt of energy to get them over the top.
The Celtics managed a massive advantage in bench scoring — 39 points to the Hornets’ six –- despite only playing three reserves.
"I've been stubborn, really, trying to force rest with our guys,” Rivers said. "But I told them tonight, we're not going to go with a full rotation tonight. We're going to shorten the rotation, and we're going to make sure that the bench isn't in there alone with five bench guys. There's got to be one or two starters in there together. I thought that helped them."
Doc had two or more starters on the floor for every millisecond Saturday. And it worked — Rondo was slowed by injury and Paul Pierce gave the Celtics nothing until the late minutes, but the C’s still benefited with a tighter, more cohesive rotation.
When Rondo left the game and began icing his hand on the sidelines, West came in and ran the offense with poise. When Pierce couldn’t hit a shot to save his life (he started 0-for-6), Green had his back. And late in the game, when the Celtics needed a clutch performer, it wasn’t one of the five starters who hit the clutch free throws to ice the victory. It was Davis.
There’s been a lot of speculation in Boston about how the Celtics will build a playoff rotation out of their deep roster. Well, that speculation can end now. We’ve seen what their best eight guys can do. Take the eight guys the C’s have healthy right now, mix in an O’Neal or two, and there you are. There’s your playoff team.
It takes more than five guys to win a championship. But if you have an eight-man unit that really clicks? That’s when you’re really getting somewhere. Doc Rivers found something that works on Saturday night, and chances are, he’ll stick with it.