Victory over Knicks Hints at Possible Second-Half Surge for Boston Celtics

Sebastian LenaAnalyst IJanuary 8, 2013

Pierce put on a show for the Madison Square Garden audience.
Pierce put on a show for the Madison Square Garden audience.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Friday’s win was all about domination, and a smothering defense. Saturday’s win displayed heart, rallying from a large deficit. Monday’s win featured overcoming a loss, only to persevere through it.

One can only imagine what comes next on the Boston Celtics’ “50 Ways to Win a Game” tour.

After impressive back-to-back victories over the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics were faced with a much tougher challenge Monday night—going up against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

It was a task that only grew in difficulty when the NBA announced that it would suspend Rajon Rondo for the game for bumping into an official on Saturday.

With their backs now up against the wall, nobody would have blamed the team if they chose to fold.

Instead, Boston put together arguably its best performance of the season, beating the Knicks 102-96.

The team shot 52.7 percent from the field, collected 26 assists and only committed 10 turnovers. Paul Pierce led the team with 23 points and six assists, while Kevin Garnett chipped in with 19 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. 

I think it is safe to say that the Celtics have finally regained their swagger.

And they could not have picked a better stretch to do so.

No One Man Should Have All That Power

Avery Bradley has had a monumental impact on Boston’s defense.

After allowing opponents to score 100 points or more in eight of 10 games, the Celtics have held the opposition under the century mark in all four games since Bradley’s return.

The results have been even more resounding during their winning streak.

During the last three games, Boston has held opponents to 84.1 points per game on 37.5 percent shooting from the field. Furthermore, the team has forced an average of 16.3 turnovers per game. 

But the most significant impact has been the Celtics’ ability to shut down the opposing team’s top scorer.

After holding the top threats from both the Pacers and the Hawks to a combined shooting of 14-of-62 (22.5 percent) over the last two games, Boston continued that dominance against New York’s Carmelo Anthony.

Although he finished with 20 points—well below his 29.3 points per game average—Anthony shot 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) from the field to get there.

In fact, the closer he got to the rim, the worse off he fared.

Anthony shot 1-of-9 from within 15 feet on Monday. Coming into the game, he had averaged 16.1 points per game, while shooting 51.0 percent from that range. He also failed to make a bucket from inside five feet for the first time this season.

The Celtics will take that any night.

While the recent defensive resurgence has been an all-around team effort, you can’t help but think that Bradley’s aggressive play has certainly proven to be the catalyst.

A Deadly Alliance

While it’s easy to highlight Bradley’s return as the turning point to the season, many seem to forget that Boston’s winning streak was preceded by yet another significant lineup change.

It was the change that saw head coach Doc Rivers replace the struggling Jason Collins with Brandon Bass in the starting lineup.

Bass’ numbers may never be enough to quiet the critics—8.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 0.7 BPG—but his impact goes well beyond that.

Just look at his contributions last season when he was on the floor:

Bass ranked fourth on the squad in team net points per 48 minutes of playing time, while leading the Celtics in win percentage in games he played in.

However, this season has not been as productive for the 27-year-old.

Bass currently ranks last on the team in net points per 48 minutes, while placing near the bottom in win percentage.

Interestingly enough, Bass’ early season struggles could be connected with the absence of Avery Bradley.

The MetroWest Daily News’ Scott Souza had this fact to share: