Game Notes: Hawks at Celtics
Boston’s Big Three aren’t ready to let go.
The Boston Celtics’ body count continues to climb, like this is The Wire and Snoop and Chris are filling vacant houses with victims.
Nine healthy Celtics remained by the end of Thursday night’s game, and three of them were rookies. One of those rookies, Semih Erden, started. He is nearly seven feet tall but didn’t have a single rebound in 24 minutes. Joining the Rebound-less Turk in the starting lineup was Nate Robinson. Robinson registered more field goal attempts than points, and more turnovers than assists. “Some of the passes,” he said, “eh.”
Oh, yeah, this was the second night of a back-to-back for the C’s. They won a mentally exhausting (and thrilling) contest in New York on Wednesday.
So how in hell did Boston beat the Atlanta Hawks, 102-90? How did the Celtics add a 12th straight win to their streak, even while missing current MVP Rajon Rondo and their top three centers? How do they continue to defy logic, age, and common sense, one win at a time?
On the backs of a Big Three who refuse to slow down.
The Big Three weren’t supposed to remain dominant. They were supposed to tail off, with the ends of their careers in sight and far too many miles on their wounded legs. They were supposed to coast through the regular season, and limp their way into the playoffs, before (maybe) making one last valiant attempt at an NBA championship. They were supposed to struggle against younger teams, against more athletic players. They were supposed to age like normal human beings.
Instead, they’re a trio of Benjamin Buttons. None of them look a day older than they did last season. If anything, they look more youthful.
“Even with guys injured, we feel we have an advantage,” said Paul Pierce.
On this night, the three Ageless Assassins continued to look like All-Stars. Nights like this were supposed to be distant memories, but there was Kevin Garnett, hounding Atlanta’s athletic frontcourt and chasing down 14 rebounds. There was Ray Allen, who used a variety of pin-downs and spot-up jumpers to score 17 second-half points. There was Pierce, fresh off 32 points and a game winner in New York, assuming Rondo’s role as a distributor and finishing with 10 assists.
With last year on the mind, these Hawks were a good measuring stick. These Hawks, the same Hawks that Boston has now dispatched twice with ease, owned the Celtics last season. They swept the Celtics 4-0 for the year, making the C’s look bad (and old) in the process. Boston can’t beat teams with quick frontcourts was the chorus at the time. Al Horford and Josh Smith were considered far too bouncy for the C’s to handle. They made Kevin Garnett look like he needed an asthma inhaler – well, either that, or retirement.
A year later, everything is different. Though Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford missed tonight’s game, Josh Smith and Al Horford – the ones who were supposed to cause Boston matchup fits — still played. Actually, I think they played but I can’t be sure. Forgive me if I couldn’t really tell. Horford failed to reach double figures in either scoring (8 points) or rebounding (7 points), and Smith shot eight times on his way to one measly point.
These were the two players who caused Boston headaches last season, who led Atlanta to that impressive four-game sweep a year ago. Today, they were non-existent even against a depleted Boston frontcourt.
So what changed?
That’s an easy answer for Doc Rivers.
The Celtics’ head coach paused, as if waiting for a reporter to fire another question, before continuing, “And Paul’s healthy.”
And while we’re at it, Ray Allen is healthy, too.
“[Pierce] basically became the point forward in the second half,” Rivers noted. “And it really worked out for us.”
Pierce said he didn’t focus more on passing just because Rondo was out.
“I just tried to feel the game out,” he said, “and, you know, give it what it needs.”
His attitude mirrored his team’s. These Celtics don’t know who will suit up from one night to the next. They don’t always come to the gym knowing what role they’ll fill. Anyone who steps on the court wearing Green simply strives to make the best of whatever circumstances arise.
“We just have to continue to grind,” Rivers said before the game. “I told our guys today, ‘We just have to keep moving forward. We can’t look at anything else.’ Guys go down, we just move forward. I told our guys that today. We’ve got what we’ve got.”
After the game, Garnett echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“Everybody’s playing, giving everything they have. And in order for us to win these games, we’re going to have to grind it out. You know, until we get the guys back. We just got the news about Rondo; Shaq wasn’t available today.”
“So what are you going to do? You either quit, you put your clothes on and go home, but that ain’t the way we do things around here. We work. So that, pretty much,” he said, searching for the right words to describe his team’s win. “Gutsy is an understatement.”
Last year, gutsy wasn’t a term often used to describe Boston’s play.
“We looked like an old team last year,” said Paul Pierce.
“We were,” responded Kevin Garnett, to laughter. And they still are.
They just don’t play like it anymore.
After the game, having just concluded his latest successful battle against Father Time, Ray Allen stood in front of his locker. His black turtleneck screamed everything his game has represented for years – smoothness, class, and understated elegance. Yet the sharpshooter spoke about a competitor with a far more rugged reputation than his own: Charles Oakley.
Allen shared a glowing review of Oakley, saying there should still be a spot for Oak in this league. If not as a player, then as an advisor, or a coach, or a… something. As Allen explained, the league has too many young players who don’t understand how to play the game. These youngsters experienced advisors to teach them the ropes, to show them the value of hard work, to explain why shooting jumpers three hours before every game is worthwhile.
There isn’t enough veteran presence in the NBA, Allen concluded.
But what about his Celtics?
“Me, Paul and Kevin,” Allen said. “It’s not about the prestige in the game.
“It’s about the game itself.”
It’s about wins, and championships, and schooling these youngsters who don’t know the right way to hoop. It’s about redemption, legacies, and a band of brothers formed in the summer of 2007. It’s about pride, sweat, tears, and banners.
It’s about three men hanging onto the tail ends of their careers.
Three men who won’t let go without a desperate fight.