The Boston Celtics returned home Friday night and managed to rebound from a tough loss to the Cavaliers with a 105-101 win over the Knicks. The Celtics are now 2-1 on the season, and managed to grab a victory over an Atlantic Division rival.
It wasn't easy, as New York, now led by former Phoenix Suns power forward Amar'e Stoudemire pushed the Knicks into the lead for a time in the for a time in the first half, and were within two points with less than a minute to go in the game.
However, Stoudemire's 27 points and Raymond Felton's bench-leading 16 points weren't enough to overcome the scoring of Paul Pierce (25 points), Kevin Garnett (24 points) and Glen Davis (a bench-leading 16 points) as the Celtics put away the game in the closing seconds on two Paul Pierce free throws.
I was in attendance this evening, watching from Row G in Loge 19 (corner seats near the Celtics locker room tunnel with a great view of the court). What did I notice? Let's take a look.
Sloppy Play Puts the Celts Behind Early
The first thing I saw tonight was absolutely play from the outset on both sides of the ball. On offense, there was far too many passes on each possession, often ending in a turnover under the basket and two, sometimes three points for New York.
On defense, the defense couldn't stop the fast-paced ball movements of the Knicks in the first quarter, allowing New York to get out to an 11-2 lead early.
Eventually, the offense began to roll, and adjustments were made at halftime that allowed the Celtics to limit turnovers and be more efficient on offense, but they need to find a way to streamline first half play to prevent digging a hole for themselves.
When the Big Three Are On, They Are ON!
After two sub-par games by Kevin Garnett, he returned to near-2008 form, grabbing 24 points and 10 rebound before fouling out with three minutes to go in the game. KG looked far more explosive and intense, fighting to get open at any turn, even if it meant pushing off of Amar'e Stoudemire.
Garnett varied his shot selection more than in the first two games, driving to the hoop and utilizing his mid-range jump shot. Just seeing the look on KG's face on every drive to the hoop show me (and lot of fans in my section) that the Big Ticket is ready for this season.
Rajon Rondo Amazes Again
Rajon Rondo grabbed a triple-double against the Knicks, nailing 10 points, 10 rebounds and a whopping 24 assists. He once again made it look easy, as he appeared able to pass and shoot at will, with stellar drives to the hoop, only to pass to the corners or the perimeter and set up nice jump shots for Pierce, Garnett and Allen.
With an aging Big Three (which is clearly going to be a recurring theme all year long), Rondo will need to continue to keep up this type of performance, especially in big games.
The Celtics need to be very careful in keeping Rondo healthy, as he IS this Celtic offense. Boston still has no true backup point guard, so Rondo has to stay on his A-game. If that can happen, it could be another great year.
Collapse Avoided...This Time
The Celtics offense was finally rolling in the second half, and the defense appeared solid down the stretch. Boston led by 11 points with 1:39 left in the fourth quarter.
Throughout the second half, the Celtics had been able to stifle any run the Knicks had. New York scores, Boston answers back, often with a little extra.
But as we have seen in the first two games, as well as much of last years, the defense has gotten soft late in the game, and often allowed their opponents to close the gap, and sometimes pull ahead and steal a victory.
This nearly came to fruition last night, as the Knicks closed to the gap to two points with less than a minute to go on the back of points by Raymond, Landry Fields and five late points by Amar'e Stoudemire.
The Knicks, despite the horrendous play of the last decade, have become very good scorers, and they showed both early and late in the game.
I, like many Celtics fans, began to worry about another collapse, another loss coming in a game that could have been one. The faithful of Loge 19 (and every other TD Garden seating section) became worried.
But it was not to be. Paul Pierce made two free throws to put the Celts up by four, and a defensive stopped at the other end (including a blocked three-pointer by Marquis Daniels) won the game for Boston. Phew, collapse averted.
In the end, the Celtics overcame early struggles to win the game in the second half. Despite shaky defense late, it showed up when it counted, and TD Garden went wild when the horn sounded. Gino would go on to dance once more.
GO GREEN 18!
P.S. I would have liked to have gotten this article up sooner, but I got home late from the Garden last night. I apologize for the late post, but I hope you enjoy the article anyway.