The Boston Celtics' convincing 113-88 win over the abysmal Phoenix Suns Friday night may not seem overly impressive on the ticker, but it still unveiled huge positives for “Team Green.”
Despite Kevin Garnett being given his first game off this season, the Celtics still started with a swarming defensive presence, sparking fast-break opportunities and a relentless 16-3 opening run. Avery Bradley swiped four steals (to go with his 13 points), leading the on-ball onslaught.
Boston held Phoenix to 41 first-half points, and a lowly 41 percent field goal shooting for the game.
In addition to his team's stifling defense, coach Doc Rivers must have been glad to see the constant plethora of white and green jerseys under the basket. Even the small but gritty Courtney Lee, who finished with five rebounds, could be seen clashing down low on box-outs.
The C's out-rebounded the Suns 45-40, a remarkable stat against any opponent given the absence of big men Garnett, injured rookie Jared Sullinger and freshly-traded Jason Collins.
Boston also initiated tremendous ball movement. Despite introducing recently-signed guard/forward Terrence Williams and trade-inherited former Washington Wizard guard Jordan Crawford, this squad constantly worked together to maintain the flow and look for the open shot.
Of course, there were times when one too many extra passes led to forced shots, partially due to Garnett's absence. In moments when KG would have taken open shots without hesitation, the struggling Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee lacked confidence with their jumpers.
But Boston thrived without Garnett, and largely without Paul Pierce. The Truth enjoyed the role of distributor early on, especially in transition offense. He even found Chris Wilcox on a nice alley-oop at one point in the first quarter. Williams also hit Wilcox with a beautiful slicing dime through two defenders for a nice dunk.
Perhaps the fact that Wilcox refused to be traded to Washington (forcing Ainge to deal Collins) was a blessing in disguise. Collins lacks Wilcox's veteran instincts, ability to assert himself aggressively and downright knack for being in the right place at the right time. Just expect more tip-ins than jumpers from the 10-year man (who finished with a season-high 14 points, shooting 7-of-9 in the paint while grabbing eight total rebounds).
But really, Jeff Green was the most dominant factor from the get-go, scoring six quick points in the first six minutes, and 13 total in the first quarter on 5-of-6 shooting. He showed an inside-outside ability, likening him to a young Paul Pierce.
The only flaw in an otherwise remarkable first half for Green was an off-target hook pass to an open Wilcox under the basket. Still, it's good to see one of the faces of Boston's future trying to open up all facets of his game.
Jordan Crawford provided C's fans with an exciting first bucket as a Celtic after he spaced himself on the corner perfectly on an open three. Rivers must have loved Williams pushing the ball in stride, and Crawford teeing up shots without hesitation.
In only 17 minutes, Crawford finished with 10 points on 4-of-9 from the field (2-of-5 from three), with three rebounds and two assists. Williams played about 25 minutes, logging nine points, hitting an impressive 4-of-8 from the field and adding four rebounds and four assists.
Giving Garnett the night off and resting Pierce most of the game (while not recommended against most NBA teams) seemed to really pay off chemistry-wise for the C's. Boston's new pickups will undoubtedly be comfortable with the entirety of Rivers' offense in no time.
Pierce registered one of the quietest nights of effective play of his career, finishing with eight points, five rebounds and three assists. But he was a pace-setter, overseeing the Celtics on both sides of the floor and orienting the new-bloods. Even in a 25-minute, single-digit night, the Truth gave his squad a plus-16 point differential.
Perhaps even more encouragingly, Jason Terry played superb team basketball Friday evening. In less than 20 minutes, the Jet logged 13 points off 2-of-3 from three and a perfect 5-of-5 from the free-throw stripe. He only dished two assists, but very importantly avoided taking contested shots in order to keep the ball moving. Like Pierce, Terry also registered a plus-16 advantage.
But the biggest advantage, as previously noted, came from Green. In terms of plus-minus, the 26-point advantage No. 8 provided is hard to beat. Green led Boston in points with 31, his career-high in a Celtics uniform. He tied the team-lead with four assists, and pulled in seven rebounds, second only to Wilcox. He blocked a game-leading five shots. He shot a staggering 11-of-14 from the field, including 3-of-5 from three and 6-of-7 at the line.
Green maintained absolute control and efficiency almost the entire 38 minutes and 44 seconds he played. He created off the dribble, slashed to the rim and made open pull-ups as well as fall-aways.
He also found open shooters, many of whom missed shots they normally make, affecting his pedestrian-looking assist total. Maybe his allies were surprised at how comfortably he was taking over the game, and how crisply he delivered passes to them.
Soon, no one in the nation will be surprised. Jeff Green is here to stay, folks. It has been apparent for a little over a month to die-hard Celtics fans, but never was it quite as clear to the nation as Friday night.
Celtics fans can discontinue the debate over whether GM Danny Ainge should have found a way to trade Pierce, Rondo or Garnett. They have a run at the playoffs to look forward to, led by the Captain, the Big Ticket and a budding star in Mean Jeff Green.