With trade rumors swirling around a possible acquisition of Knicks guard Nate Robinson, the Celtics found themselves locked in an early offensive struggle against one of the fastest-paced teams in the league. It might have been OK to play the Sacramento Kings style earlier in the season, but the Celtics can’t afford to mess around with sub-.500 teams anymore.
Enter the bench. The very same bench that Danny Ainge seems determined to try to tweak between now and the trade deadline Thursday.
Playing one of its most inspired quarters, the second unit took a double-digit lead in the first half behind the hot shooting of Eddie House and the interior defense of Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis. The Celtics rode that effort, and survived a shaky fourth quarter, en route to a 95-92 win over the Kings Tuesday night.
It was an important win for the Celtics in that it eased the tension after two dreadful losses before the All-Star break and it was the first game on a rugged West Coast swing that will have them play the Lakers, Blazers and Nuggets next.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Doc Rivers noted that he wasn’t concerned about setting tones or sending messages Tuesday night. He just wanted the win, and then the C's will focus on the next game.
He also can focus on the play of the bench. Wallace, Davis, House and Marquis Daniels all played major roles in the victory and helped the Celtics overcome a lackluster performance from the starting five.
It’s only one game, of course, but if the reserves had played that well for the majority of the season (and been healthy enough to try) Ainge wouldn’t be attempting to perform a makeover at the deadline.
With that in mind, we’ll present an all-reserve 3-pointer:
THIS IS THE RASHEED WALLACE YOU’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR
Various reports have thrown Wallace’s name into complicated and convoluted trade scenarios. Assuming he doesn’t get traded, we may never know just how close Ainge comes to moving his prized free agent acquisition.
It’s no secret that Wallace has not performed well on the court in his 51 games with the Celtics. He has had his moments to be sure (he seems to be well wrapped inside the head of Dwight Howard, for instance), but Wallace has not delivered the expected return on his three-year deal for the full mid-level exception.
The reasons are the same now as when he arrived: He can be a dominant low-post player, but he shoots too many 3’s. He doesn’t rebound well, especially on the offensive glass, where he is a non-factor. The two things probably are linked since he winds up so often camped out behind the arc.
Whatever his issues on the court, Wallace has been nothing but a positive influence on the C's locker room, and he has maintained throughout the season that he, and the Celtics, will turn it on when the time is right.
If that time isn’t right now, it’s pretty close, and Wallace showed the requisite energy and attention to detail Tuesday night.
He posted up repeatedly, and effectively, in the first half when the Celtics opened up their lead. While he did find time to launch four 3’s, and make only one, most of those were in the flow of the offense and were, at least in theory, quality shots.
Along with his 17 points, Wallace was active and engaged on the defensive end and a big reason why the Kings shot only 38 percent after making 11-of-20 shots to open the game.
If something does go wrong with Kevin Garnett, we now know that Wallace can’t handle the burden of playing 30-35 minutes a night, but for 24 minutes he was exactly what the Celtics needed.
“I like where Rasheed is trending right now,” Rivers said to reporters after the game. “Rasheed is so important to our team.”
EDDIE HOUSE FINDS HIS STROKE
If the Celtics are able to swing a deal for Robinson, and the diminutive guard carries a tricky trade problem as a Base Year Compensation player, the first name that sprang to mind as potential bait was Eddie House.
A House-for-Robinson deal straight up wouldn’t work under the salary cap, but House once played for Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix and he is renowned throughout the league for his professionalism. That's something that has been in short supply in New York.
As a player, House has his minuses. He is not a point guard by any real stretch of the imagination and he has struggled containing quick guards. New Orleans rookie Darren Collison shredded him defensively just before the break.
But House can shoot. Or at least he could before this season. It has been lost in the continuing struggles of Ray Allen, but House came into the game shooting less than 40 percent from the floor.
The second unit lacks a go-to scorer and so it relies on his ability to generate instant offense with his long-range shooting. Against the Kings, House made three 3’s in the first half and finished 4-for-6 from long distance. It was the first time since a blowout loss against the Suns in late December that House has made four 3’s in a game.
If House stays past the deadline, he needs to recapture his shooting touch for the Celtics to be effective and justify his playing time.
CAN GLEN DAVIS BE THE ANSWER ON THE OFFENSIVE BOARDS?
Coming into the game, the Celtics ranked dead last in offensive rebounding. This is not as big a problem as it may seem.
Getting on the offensive glass has never been a huge priority for the Celtics in years past, and their defensive scheme calls for perimeter players to get back on defense.
But the Celtics' efforts in that regard have tailed off so dramatically this season that it has become part of a larger rebounding issue. Part of it can be attributed to the loss of Leon Powe, who was the Celtics' most effective offensive rebounder last season. Part of it can be attributed to Wallace’s low totals, and part of it ties to the loss of playing time for Shelden Williams.
But Glen Davis has shown signs that he can fill that void. Since his return from injury, Davis has displayed an almost reckless playing style, as if he is trying to make up for lost time.
That’s a better fit for him in the long run then the 36 minutes a night he was absorbing for Garnett during the playoffs. While Davis proved he can be effective in that role, he has the ability to be a game-changer off the bench with his energy and effort.
Against the Kings, Davis grabbed five offensive rebounds in just 17 minutes of action, and in his 23 games this season he has far and away been the best Celtic on the offensive glass.
Like everyone else associated with the second unit not named Marquis Daniels, Davis has had his name associated with various trade rumors. There is a clear pattern here.
If Ainge can’t pull off a megadeal for Ray Allen, and it looks like he won’t, he seems intent on shaking up the second unit. If the reserves were looking for a reason to give him pause, they may have delivered one last night.
It may be too little too late, but if they do stay intact, their play against the Kings is exactly what the Celtics need to get things turned in the right direction. Now they just need to do it consistently.