What looked like what was going to be a Christmas catastrophe nearly turned into a Christmas miracle today as the Celtics fell to the New York Knicks 106-104. Although the loss certainly put a damper on my Christmas spirit initially, we are Boston Celtics fans, we are intelligent fans, and we should understand that this was the first game of the season. We should also understand that Sasha Pavlovic was playing instead of Paul Pierce, if The Truth was on the floor this game could’ve easily been a blowout, but that’s simply hypothetical. The bottom line of the game was that the Knicks came out with more fire and intensity and the Celtics laid an egg coming out of the gate in the first half, and ended up playing catch up ball. If it weren’t for the brilliant play of Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass, we probably would’ve looked like the Dallas Mavericks today against the Heat. However, with the play of those two, and the coaching of Doc Rivers, the Celtics found their groove in the 2nd half and really made it their game to lose. Barring some questionable technical fouls and a couple miscues on the offensive and defensive side of the ball down the stretch, the Celtics would’ve left the Garden with a win today (and if Pierce was playing it would’ve been a different story).
So as a result I am not worried, yet. I thought the Celtics looked great in the 2nd half. Apart from Rondo, the starters minus Pierce looked to be in ordinary form and were setting the tone. The bench is completely new this year, and with a shortened training camp, it was obvious it would take some time for them to get comfortable in the system today. Once they got comfortable, I thought the bench looked pretty damn good, primarily because of Brandon Bass. Marquis Daniels looked fine (he just can’t shoot) and Kenyon Dooling was doing his job. Chris Wilcox was sloppy at times, but give it about a month practicing with KG and his play should significantly improve. And once Mickael Pietrus is thrown into the rotation I think this bench will be a lot better than last year’s. Yes we are definitely thin at the center position, but that probably can still be solved by a front office move down the road. However today, we went up against one of the best centers in the league in Tyson Chandler and he had only 3 rebounds in 37 minutes. The Celtics also thumped the Knicks on the glass 41-31. Those are two great signs that they can hopefully build on moving forward.
The main two players (and the main reason I wrote this article) I wanted to examine from the opening game were the one’s that were the most surprising. Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass. Yes, Pierce was out so Rondo had more pressure to score, but I thought he looked fantastic. His final stat line was 31 points (11-19), 13 assists, 5 rebounds, and 5 steals. His performance was definitely one of the best of his professional career. The most positive aspect of his performance was his willingness to try and get to the free-throw line, where he shot 9-12. He was also taking jump shots with confidence, unlike last year when he would only shoot them when there was more than 5 feet of separation around him. Hopefully those two occurrences aren’t flukes and they become trends for the season. If his performance today resembles what his output will look like for the long haul, Rondo will HAVE to be in the MVP conversation, and more importantly the Celtics will make a strong push to give Miami and Chicago a run for their money.
Brandon Bass, on the other hand, simply gave me a sigh of relief today. I admired what he did in Orlando, and was very excited when we traded Big Baby for him. How much better did he look than Big Baby out there today?! Bass’ numbers off the bench were 20 points (9-13) and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes, and 5 of those boards were on the offensive glass. I still can’t believe the Magic gave Bass up for Baby. Bass is much more consistent, much more physical, and much more athletic. Bass can and hopefully will be that spark on the bench that the Celtics can rely on throughout the whole season. Not only will that translate into wins, but it will also preserve KG for the playoffs that much more. Even with all this praise, I will miss having a “nickname” guy like Glen Davis. I think Brandon Bass needs a nickname, any suggestions? Apparently its been “The Animal” and “B-Bass” but I think Celtics nation can be much more creative than that.
All in all, even with the loss today I thought the Celtics looked pretty good and definitely have a lot to build on going into Miami. Rondo looked like an MVP candidate and Brandon “Insert Nickname” Bass was incredible. I for one will definitely take the Miami game much more seriously because not only is Miami the better opponent, but also our team will be much more complete with Pierce and Pietrus in the lineup. This season is all about the Celtics staying healthy, and if our bench can ease the minutes of the starters, that risk is reduced, and our chance for a deep postseason run is increased. Of course this is all based off of one game, which took place after a lockout and shortened training camp, but despite the loss I liked what I saw today and am excited to see where this Celtics team is in a couple weeks.