For the first time this season, the Celtics finally played all 48 minutes of a game and blew out the Pacers last night at the TD Garden. Boston returned to the starting lineup that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and it was successful. There was better ball movement, and the Celtics pushed the tempo throughout the game, which we haven’t seen much of this season. While the win last night should make fans optimistic, it was how Boston played that will make the difference later on in the season.
Throughout the Big 3 era, the Celtics had always pushed the tempo and ran the fast break up until very recently. It was effective and lead to many blowouts, sometimes on a nightly basis, especially in 2008. Last night we saw what the fast break can do, and when Rajon Rondo chooses to push the tempo the Celtics play very well on both ends of the court. I’m still baffled at how Boston hasn’t gone to this style of offense often this season because they have the players who can run on the fast break with Rondo.
Maybe the return of Avery Bradley will get the Celtics back on track. His defensive intensity is contagious and the Celtics team defense was at its best last night. On offense, Bradley runs the floor very well with Rondo, and there is a better chance of fast break opportunities when both players are on the court at the same time. It also seems like Bradley’s return helped Courtney Lee find his place on the roster. Lee had one of his best performances for the Celtics last night, and he seems to be more comfortable coming off the bench than starting. Boston has struggled to find consistency from the guard positions, but maybe last night was an indicator that things are turning around.
If there is one negative that I can take away from last night, it would be the lack of contributions off the bench. Jeff Green and Jason Terry combined for 8 points with an abysmal 3-12 shooting from the field. As a team, the Celtics got 29 bench points, but other than the production from Jared Sullinger and Courtney Lee, the bench was relatively quiet. Moving forward this will have to be addressed. The starters are capable of carrying the team alone, but in the playoffs Boston will need a team effort if they want to win against the Knicks or Heat. The lack of bench production has been a problem for the Celtics since 2009, but with the Big 3 aging, it is crucial for the bench to start putting up points.
The next few games for the Celtics will be important. They take on Atlanta tonight, and New York Monday. If Boston can come out and establish themselves early, they can win in the same fashion they did last night. I’m still not convinced that this team has what it takes to make it deep into the playoffs, but if they can go on a 7-10 game win streak, my hope might be renewed. No matter what happens in the upcoming days, fans should feel slightly optimistic after last night’s blowout. It will be interesting to see if it was just a good game, or the Celtics have actually been cured from their two month hibernation