During last year’s postseason, the Chicago Bulls kept it close with the Boston Celtics for seven full games. This time around, with Garnett healthy, they kept it close for, oh, about a quarter. By the time Shelden Williams hit an early second-quarter layup, the Celtics were ahead 29-19 and well on their way to a 118-90 massacre.
There wasn’t much else the Celtics could have done. They moved the ball beautifully, they hit shots and, as has been the early-season trend, were extremely difficult to score on.
For the Celtics, Paul Pierce did the scoring and Rajon Rondo the distributing. It’s almost impossible to control an NBA game while scoring only two points, but Rondo did it. He pushed the tempo when he needed to, facilitated the offense, and found the open shooter. There was one sequence in particular that demonstrated how far Rondo has come in his development. He pushed the ball upcourt in a 1-on-1 scenario with Brad Miller in front of him. Rondo could have and, in the past, likely would have, forced the action and attempted to make a tightly-contested layup.
Instead, he circled the ball out, waited for his teammates to join him, and hit a streaking Kevin Garnett with the lob. The play didn’t result in one of Rondo’s 16 assists -- Garnett was fouled on the attempt -- but it displayed a level of patience and intelligence that Rondo only showed at times last season.
While Rondo was racking up the assists, Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and company were scorching the nets. Pierce shot 8-12 from the field, Allen 7-9, Garnett 7-13, and the Celtics shot 58% from the floor and hit 12 of 24 three-point attempts. The shooting display was impressive, especially in the third quarter, when Pierce hit all seven of his field goal attempts and all five of his three-pointers.
It’s a sign of how well the Celtics have been playing that I was actually disappointed by their defensive effort. I know, I know, they only gave up 90 points and held the Bulls to 41.3% shooting and only 13.3% from the arc. But the Bulls had a lot of easy buckets, especially in the third quarter, when Chicago shot 12-22 (even though Pierce’s long-range barrage made sure that A) the defensive lapses didn’t matter and B) most people didn’t notice the wide open dunks and layups the Bulls kept getting.)
Either way, I’ve seen this team enough to realize that they are a hungry, hungry bunch. Last season, the Celtics won a lot of games but there was always the feeling that they lacked a killer instinct to kick teams while they were down and put them away.
Even as the Celtics got off to a 27-2 start that was the best in NBA history, they worried me and seemed not to be completely clicking. This year, the C’s are firing on all cylinders right out of the gate, leaving no doubt in any of their three games which team was better. Scratch that -- way better.
About Pierce’s third quarter outburst, Garnett said, “That was beautiful to watch.”
I’ll take you one more, Kevin. So was the whole game.