It’s been a thrill going around the league and scouting all of the franchises in the NBA—from the bottom-feeders to the upstarts, the underachievers to the powerhouses, and each and every flavor of basketball in between.
After writing about 29 teams, I thought I’d save the best for last.
With the best record in basketball, it only took the Boston Celtics a little over a quarter to thoroughly annihilate the dysfunctional Bulls in a 116-93 bloodbath far uglier than the final score indicated.
Obviously, the Bulls aren’t on Boston’s level so Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen were bound to impress. The trio combined to shoot 15-32 from the floor, 16-17 at the line, with 49 points, 16 rebounds, and eight assists.
However, the game did provide a perfect backdrop to showcase the rest of the squad: the reasons why the Celtics are championship material.
Rondo’s responsibilities included bringing the ball up, not making mistakes, placing his passes in positions where his teammates could score, and hitting whatever open shot he was presented with.
For the game, his numbers were certainly impressive (5-9 FG, 6-8 FT, 3 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 TO, 16 PTS), with three of his assists and zero turnovers coming in the first half.
Rondo rarely looked for his offense in the first half, because he didn’t need to. In fact, he only took a single shot attempt in the half. But when the Bulls left him alone for a 20-footer, the youngster calmly knocked it down.
Of the rest of his field goals, Rondo had two dunks in transition, scored another lay-up when defense failed to pick him up on a one-on-four break, and knocked down a tough runner late in the fourth.
Of his four misses, all came in the second half when the game was out of reach. Two were on jumpers leaving him only 1-3 from the outside, and two came on lay-ups (one blocked by Ben Gordon) leaving Rondo only 1-3 on contested shots in the paint.
Still, the fact that Rondo was willing to attack the hoop (he earned eight free throws and wasn’t shy about initiating contact) showed he’s fearless and that he won't back away from pressure situations.
On the other side of the court, Rondo locked Ben Gordon up on any isolation.
Twice Gordon attempted to break Rondo down and twice Rondo poked the dribble away and forced Gordon to go pick the ball back up. While neither play resulted in a turnover, Rondo threw off Gordon’s rhythm and disrupted his plan of attack.
Rondo also reached in and used his lightning quick hands to reach in on an Andres Nocioni drive and rip him of the ball.
Rondo is good enough defensively to lock up all but the strongest or quickest guards in the league.
K-Perk (4-7 FG, 6-6 FT, 11 REB, 3 BLK, 14 PTS) was an absolute beast right from the opening tip, letting the Bulls know that the backboards were off limits for the evening.
The majority of Perkins’ rebounds came in heavy traffic, and his defense under the basket intimidated all Bulls who ventured into the paint.
Perkins set man-sized screens, was astute finding holes in the defense whenever his teammates penetrated, and his own rumblings to the basket where akin to a rhinoceros attacking an unwary enemy.
Perkins is the enforcer who will stand up to Rasheed Wallace, Dwight Howard, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas come playoff time.
His jump shooting (2-7 FG, 1-6 3 FG, 4-4 FT, 6 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 9 PTS) never made its way to the arena and Posey committed a couple of silly fouls on defense. Still, Posey hustled and bustled the entire game and always looked to play defense right in an opponent's chest.
Posey is again playing like the championship-winning asset he was in 2006, instead of the lazy, unconditioned distraction he was last season.
House (3-8 FG, 1-3 3FG, 1-1 FT, 5 REB, 5 AST, 3 TO, 1 BLK, 8 PTS) is a streaky three-point specialist whose hot streaks can carry Boston to victory, while his cold streaks can be offset by his teammates’ production.
He’s making quick passes under Doc Rivers, and he’ll attack sloppy dribbles as well. But House is not a backup point guard on a championship team.
Allen (0-4 FG, 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 4 TO, 0 PTS) is a brick layer and a poor decision maker whose best assets are his above average defense and his ability to finish on the break. He’s too mistake-prone to be worthy of minutes in the playoffs.
Powe (3-6 FG, 4-4 FT, 3 REB, 2 BLK, 10 PTS) ran the court for a first half dunk and played with tremendous enthusiasm and hustle on defense. If he is raw defensively, his hustle and energy more than compensate.
Davis (2-2 FG, 1 AST, 1 BLK, 4 PTS) is surprisingly nimble for a man of his girth. He also plays with tremendous defensive energy, fronting his man, staying with him off the dribble, blocking his shots under the basket, and never giving up on plays.
The Celtics team as a whole played with an inspiring amount of energy and passion, blazing even brighter in comparison to a Bulls squad that packed it in late in the second quarter.
Every loose ball was chased after by the Celtics, every Bulls shot was met with a raised hand, and every rotation was flawless.
With the Celtics up by more than 20, midway through the fourth, there was Rondo diving headlong for a rebound. With the game winding down, Posey crashed headfirst into the press row, going after a loose ball.
Boston held Chicago to 43 first half points, 31.8 percent shooting for the game (a championship number), out-rebounded the Bulls 55-35 ( a championship number), blocked nine shots, recorded nine steals, took 43 free-throw attempts, and grabbed two offensive rebounds off of missed free throws.
Plus, the Celtics were completely, and totally unselfish. Late in the second quarter, Rondo brought the ball up the right sideline and made a nifty entry pass to a posted Garnett who made a terrific pass to a cutting Pierce along the baseline.
Even though Pierce had a very good shot at scoring over the rotating Chicago defense, he too made the extra pass, finding Ray Allen all alone on the left wing for an uncontested triple.
Credit Doc Rivers for getting his team to play completely unselfish basketball. Credit Rivers again for getting everyone on his ball club to play with a fevered passion, from his superstar trio to his bench warming backups.
Tom Thibodeau also deserves credit for coaching his squad to play exceptional defense.
Months ago, I wrote that Detroit was the class of the East while the Pistons were playing solid ball and the Celtics were an unknown commodity.
But at this point in the season, it is clear that the Celtics are not only the best team in the East, but are a legit championship contender as well.
And while Garnett, Pierce, and Allen certainly deserve credit for their explosive offensive firepower, the Celtics are excelling this year because of less sexy characteristics: the role players are performing their duties harmoniously, their team-wide commitment, and exceptional defense.