Running Diary: Celtics don't bring 'A' game, still dispatch Hornets

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This was supposed to be Rajon Rondo's measuring stick against Chris Paul. It was supposed to be the night he proved his worth among the NBA's top five point guards. People thought Rondo would be gunning to attack Paul's throne, looking to establish himself firmly among the elite NBA point guards.

Instead, Rondo was willing to do just what he's done the rest of the season. He facilitated the offense and found his teammates in spots where they could do damage. He didn't take many shots (only 7 FGA), but he accumulated 10 assists and played completely selfless basketball yet again.

On the night Rondo was supposed to be the story, the Big Three reminded everyone why they are still the Big Three. Paul Pierce was more or less unstoppable, scoring 27 points on 10-14 shooting and making sure the world knew Julian Wright and Peja Stojakovic will never, ever be able to stop him from scoring. Ray Allen had a great third quarter, keeping the Celtics in the lead while they struggled to bring any energy on a night where they came out lethargic and stayed that way for the rest of the night. And Kevin Garnett was Kevin Garnett; his stats (14 points and 7 rebounds) might not look great, but he did everything the Celtics needed him to do and was a big facilitator of the offense as the Celtics held off Charlotte's fourth-quarter charge.

The Celtics didn't play their best, but they'll come away with a win. To be honest, they should be happy there won't be videotape of this one in the standings. Boston was lethargic, lackadaisical, and -- searching for another L-word (just for the alliteration) -- lame. They allowed Peja Stojakovic to return to the form he displayed back when White Chocolate was his point guard and Chris Webber his post man. Chris Paul didn't do much in the first half, but ran a little wild in the second half and finished with 22 points and 8 assists, to go along with 9-13 shooting. The Hornets' bench, which had been outscored 91-43 combined in the first two games, outscored the C's bench 40-21.

All-in-all, it was a win. Rondo didn't beat Paul statistically, but he kept his basketball intelligence and never tried to get into a one-on-one battle with the Hornets' point guard.

Paul outscored Rondo, 22-6. But I think Rondo will take one stat in which Paul had nothing.

And that's the W.

For those of you who need more analysis and maybe a few laughs, here's a running diary of my thoughts during the game.

First Quarter

  • Flipped on the channel just in time to see the NBATV Keys to the game, which say that Boston must: "Control the head of the snake". I guess that one needs an explanation.

  • Steve Smith says Eddie House should be looked at as a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate. I love House as much as anyone, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, Steve. That's like calling Leandro Barbosa a threat to win MVP.

  • Rondo blows right by CP3 for a bucket to make it 4-2, Celtics. I hope Rondo comes to play, I expect him to come to play, and I believe he'll come to play.

  • It's really early on, but the atmosphere seems incredibly dead at the Garden. The C's have not come out with the same intensity we've seen from them in the first three games, and the crowd seems to be mirroring the team's energy.

  • Six minutes in, five rebounds for Emeka Okafor. He's only on pace for 40 rebounds.

  • I love when Kevin Garnett blocks shots that come after the whistle. He just sprinted from the foul line to swat one. He does it for no other reason but to aggravate and intimidate the other team.

  • I also love when Garnett sprints the floor and catches a pretty assist from Rondo for an easy dunk. 11-10, bad guys.

  • The ticker on the bottom of the NBATV screen is now broken. It just told me that Al Harrington had 42 points in the Chicago-Miami game. Which, by the way, had a score of 21-18 at the time.

  • Paul Pierce has two and-ones and 10 points so far, with 3 minutes left in the quarter. With Julian Wright and Mo Peterson guarding him (and even Posey off the bench -- too slow), Pierce should be able to get more or less whatever he wants tonight. Look for him to have a big, big game.

  • Perk just looked like Kevin McHale in the post. And no, I'm not trying to say that he's white and gangly. He actually just had a terrific up-and-under post move that looked like McHale in his prime.

  • The "Sixth Man of the Year" candidate Eddie House just canned a two with his foot on the line. If Eddie House is voted Six Man of the Year I'll shave Rasheed's bald spot into the back of my head.

  • Eddie had a great hustle play, though. He and Posey both chased after a ball all the way into the backcourt, but Eddie beat him to it and positioned his body in a perfect spot to draw the Posey foul. It reminded me of the huge hustle play Eddie made in the Cleveland series during the title run. And yes, I am definitely living way too much in the past.

  • A sloppy and somewhat dull first quarter ends, 22-20 Celtics. The Celtics might pull away early in the second quarter; as long as the two benches are in, the C's have a distinct advantage.

    Second Quarter

  • Bobby Brown just made a three, and I swear I just heard "Kwame Brown for three" coming from the loudspeakers. It obviously wasn't really what I heard, but for a second I was very, very confused.

  • The Celtics are trying to abuse Chris Paul in the post. He's guarding Ray right now, as the Hornets are playing with a mini-backcourt of Bobby Brown and Paul. Ray, not especially known for his post game, scored an easy one the first possession and missed an easy turnaround the next time down. Look for the C's to go right down low as soon as the Hornets come with the small lineup.

  • The Hornets moved Peja onto Ray and Brown to the bench. Tommy Heinsohn, about Peja guarding Ray Allen: "Well, Peja's just going to run into screens and stay there." And later, "He'd be late for breakfast, lunch and dinner." Whatever the second quote means is beyond me. I think it's supposed to mean he's slow, but it could mean anything at all. After all, this is Tommy Heinsohn we're listening to.

  • Does Marquis Daniels ever show emotion? Does he even know how to smile or frown? I don't think I've ever seen him without a game face on.

  • Things getting a little chippy between Rondo and Paul. Just like we thought it might before the game, Rondo and Paul have begun to get into a little bit of a personal battle. Neither of them have done too much in the game, but a little bit of a shoving match that drew a double technical foul might light a fire under them both. I love Rondo for not backing down. He never backs down from anybody, no matter how big or how talented they are. You get the feeling he really feels he's the absolute best player in the NBA. Let's just hope he doesn't want to be paid like it.

  • Pierce stays on the bench for a long time, then comes right back and drills a three. He has 13 so far, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he ends up with 30. Pierce and Ray Allen have such big mismatches, every time down the floor. They must feel so great to be able to look at the man guarding them and see Wright or Peterson. As I'm typing this, Pierce hits another three, and now has 16. I feel great for saying Wright couldn't guard Pierce. But it's tough to take credit for that prediction; after all, my dog Montana knew Wright couldn't possibly stop Pierce from scoring.

  • Rondo throws an alley-oop pass to Kevin Garnett, who catches it, crams it through the hoop and then tells Rondo, "Nice f---ing pass." You could see it on the screen. Is anyone surprised Garnett swore? Not me. I'd be more surprised to hear that C.C Sabathia doesn't have a good diet than I am to hear Kevin Garnett swear.

  • I keep waiting for Chris Paul to do something. I thought he'd have a huge game after Rondo mouthed off a little bit. But he has yet to do anything. Please do not wake the sleeping 6'1" giant.

  • Pierce with the jab step to the left, drive to the right, and easy dunk after the baseline drive. Did I mention Julian Wright can't guard him?

  • A pullup Pierce jumper (on -- who else? -- Julian Wright) gives him 20 points and ends the first-half scoring and puts the Celtics ahead 47-38. The C's have yet to play their best basketball, or even close, but still have a nice little cushion. Look for them to open up the third quarter with a bit of a run to pull this game away. Also look for Chris Paul to improve upon a first half where you barely knew he was on the court. Rondo has a game-high 6 assists, Okafor has a game-high 7 assists, and Wright has a game-high for times leaked on by an opposing player.

    Third Quarter

  • NBATV switched the key from "Control the head of the snake" to "Control Chris Paul." Apparently, Chris Paul is the head of the snake. Whatever he is, the C's controlled him, holding him to only 5 points and 3 assists. Still, there's always the possibility he may completely take over this game.

  • On cue, Paul starts the second half with a jumper. Uh-oh.

  • Forget what I said about the C's coming out fired up in the third quarter. They came out with the same lack of effort they showed in the first. Just completely lackadaisical. Still, Boston is winning. I'm not sure whether that says more about Boston's talent or New Orleans' shortcomings.

  • Did anyone else love Perk giving up the ball on the fast break to Rondo, just so Rondo could pass it back to him and get an assist? 'Cause I did. Some might call it stat-stacking. I call it terrific.

  • Uh-oh. Paul starting to kill the C's. But it's good the C's haven't let him do much distributing. Even now, when he's starting to appear a little lively, almost everything he's gotten has been for himself. To me, he's far more dangerous making things happening for all his teammates.

  • The Hornets went small again, and immediately Ray went straight to the post and got another easy bucket. Ray's had a big third quarter. Unfortunately, the Celtics haven't. Another prediction for me that just didn't turn out well.

  • The Celtics lack of effort is finally catching up to them. The Hornets aren't playing well, either, but Chris Paul is quickly catching fire. He has risen from his slumber. And that is far from good for the Celtics. 72-69 Celtics at the end of the third.

    Fourth Quarter

  • Interesting matchup between James Posey and Marquis Daniels, Posey's replacement. Daniels is a more talented player, but Posey is such a great glue guy.

  • Peja's getting hot. Reminding me of the Kings days when he was as good a shooter and scorer as just about anybody in the league. Hopefully they'll leave him in for crunch time. Peja on the Kings never failed to miss clutch shots.

  • Bobby Brown is a gunner. I kept thinking he would stop shooting, but he just never has. It seems he fires up a jumper every time he catches the rock. And, thankfully, he is now 3-12 from the field.

  • Eddie House with a great pass to Shelden Williams to extend the C's lead to 80-74. Last season's bench was lucky to keep games close, or even to lose by a little. With this year's bench, you are surprised when they don't extend a lead.

  • Can the Celtics put a motherf---ing hand up on Peja? He can't put the ball on the floor. Not even a little. Somehow, he's been open every single play, and is straight up murdering the C's. Put a hand up and get in his mug. For the love of Red Auerbach.

  • Three minutes left. 88-83, Celtics. If Peja is scoring a lot, that means Peja must be defending somebody, right? Can we just go straight to the person who's defending him, call a clear out, and get an easy bucket every time?

  • Pierce scores a bucket on Peja with the stepback in the lane. Thanks, Doc. You only went to that about a quarter too late. I guess it's better late than never.

  • A great play by Garnett, driving the middle and dumping off a little pass to a cutting Rondo, who finished with a 5-foot floater.

  • Pierce puts in a three from the top of the key to go ahead by 9. Peja may have scored a lot, but he was no match for Pierce defensively. Then again, neither was anyone else. Pierce ended up with 27 points on 10-14 shooting. Celtics win, 97-87, but never brought their 'A' game tonight. 'A' game or not, they're 4-0. The world is good.

  • After the game, it looked like Rondo and Paul shared words. I have no idea what was said, and no idea what happened between the two, but it's something to think about.
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