Garnett's return would not seem to get a glowing endorsement from the overtime squeaker over a depleted 2nd tier team, and a rally and hold on victory over an out-of-the-playoffs who are a distant second in their home town of L.A. Yet there were signs aplenty that the trend has been reversed and is moving in the right direction. Best of all, the things that grabbed me prompted additional observations, which led to more revelations, each better than the last. Most impressive was the fact that all put together they yielded a sum greater than the parts--and that is the Celtics' way!
First came the grit. This was not a well-oiled machine plowing through the opposition. Nothing seemed to come easily. Yet there they were, grinding and clawing, fighting what seemed to be an uphill battle but making headway just the same. The shots weren't falling, the cogs slipped and turnovers spewed out the leaky fittings, and they were underpowered with cylinders misfiring, shots flat, and leaps rendered as mild hops. In spite of all this inefficient churning, they played with a grim determination--a welcome change from the petulant pique of the previous two weeks. Miscues led to a bunker mentality as they dug in rather than becoming distracted with an emotional rant. Somehow, someway, get 'er done.
Then came the occasional flash, or perhaps flashback, as on offense the ball moved, players moved, the floor opened, cutters were left open, shots were less contested. At the other end rotations were crisper, help more readily available, and the paint more hotly contested. The Celts weren't back, at least not all the way, but you could see that they remembered the way it was, and they wanted to regain that cutting edge. Occasionally it came together and the ball moved like a frantic pinball machine, and the opponents' defense fell further and further behind the flashing ball.
My favorite play Monday night was Garnett receiving a pass, the 6th or 8th of the possession, as he cut across the lane. He had the shot but never even faked. The ball only seemed to touch his hands before it was on its way to Rondo cutting along the baseline and the end of the chain of defensive rotations for which there was nothing left. Rajon completed his lay-up drill and the uncontested one-foot shot was an even higher percentage option than the mostly open 6-footer KG passed up. Everyone had touched the ball, some twice, resulting in an uncontested bunny--and that's the way you play Celtic ball.
As I reflected on that play it occurred to me that the beauty lay in, well in addition to the unselfish passes, the spacing that left defenders just a bit to far away to complete rotations and the speed with which the ball moved. Admittedly the Gang Green, as constructed, are often out-jumped, out-run, or out-athletic-ed; but when all are available and healthy they are seldom out-played. They will never be the darlings of the ESPN highlight reel. When was the last time you saw highlights of multiple passes or rebounds taken at chest level because opponents were boxed out of position? Nah the ESPN beer-fest fans don't have the attention span for clips taking more than three seconds, nor does the "rest of the story" leave enough camera time for the product in the commercial.
Now that I think about it, I want to put Tommy through telestrator school. Now that John Madden has put down the marker for MNF, we need a new denizen of the X's and O's--for the Celtics' broadcasts. I know he has the knowledge and I think that with help Celtics' fans are sophisticated enough to follow the machinations of Doc's one-play/10-options offense. Maybe he could raise the collective basketball knowledge base enough for them to recognize ESPN for the collage-shallow presentation that it is.