The normally happy-go-lucky Celtics guard has taken his share of hits, but he usually reacts by making a goofy face or silly gesture before going along as though nothing happened.
But Pietrus was in no position for jokes in the second quarter on Friday, when he drove to the hoop and got tangled up with Sixers guard Lou Williams. Pietrus landed hard on his back and immediately grabbed the back of his head, rolling over in the middle of the lane and staying there until he was wheeled off on a stretcher.
Pietrus underwent tests but was not expected to be admitted to a hospital, according to the Celtics, although he was to stay the night in Philadelphia while the team returned home Saturday.
As scary as Pietrus’ fall was, there were encouraging aspects. His head never struck the ground, though it did get jostled violently when he hit the deck. Everyone was also able to breathe a sigh of relief when Pietrus reached for his head — decades of watching hard NFL hits have trained sports fans to watch for movement in the extremities whenever a player suffers a head or neck injury.
With any luck, Pietrus will not experience any lingering effects and will be back on the floor soon. The Celtics will need him, as Friday’s third quarter made clear.
Ray Allen was scratched before Friday’s game with a sore right ankle, pushing Pietrus into the starting lineup. The move did not hinder the Celtics all that much. Although Pietrus shoots more than 10 percentage points worse than Allen on 3-pointers, Pietrus is still a shooter defenses have to respect.
Pietrus is also a much better defender than Allen. In the early going in Philadelphia, Pietrus broke out of his tendency to set up outside for 3’s and made several hard drives to the hoop. One of those drives ended with a posterization of Sixers center Spencer Hawes.
After Pietrus was carted off, the Celtics went flat. The easy explanation was that they were troubled by watching their teammate’s unsettling injury, and that possibility cannot be completely written off. As Hawes noted after the game, any time a fellow athlete is involved in a freak accident of that nature, other players pause and think, “That could be any of us.”
The memory of Marquis Daniels‘ spine injury only added to the uncomfortable air while Pietrus lay on the ground.
There was an actual basketball-related explanation for the Celtics getting outscored 37-17 in that third quarter, though.
The Sixers love to double-team. It is one of their hallmarks, like the Celtics’ aggressive over-helping on defense. The Sixers have used their double-teams to stifle Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, among others, in various stretches.
The Celtics do not have to deal with double-teams very often for a number of reasons. Their three best players — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo — are exceptional passers and very good ball-handlers at their positions, and they have typically had dangerous shooters like Allen, Pietrus or Eddie House that defenses had to respect. Pietrus only shot 1-for-5 on Friday, but the threat of him hitting three or four shots in a row limited Evan Turner from being able to fully commit to doubling down.
With neither Allen nor Pietrus in the game, the Sixers looked at a backcourt that included Rondo, Avery Bradley and Keyon Dooling, who are 22-for-88 collectively from beyond the arc this season, and licked their lips. The absence of outside shooting, combined with a lack of a post presence when Garnett left the game, left the Celtics limited to isolation plays by Pierce or pick-and-pops to Brandon Bass. The results were missed shots and turnovers leading to lots of easy transition baskets for the Sixers.
If Pietrus is out for any extended period of time (and his health should be the priority, not the team’s need for a deep threat) or Allen’s ankle continues to bother him, the Celtics’ already sluggish offense could be hampered even more. Only 19 games remain for the Celtics to strengthen their playoff seed, so this is not an opportune time to have to tinker with the offense.
Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.
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