Danny Ainge made his trade deadline move and, all things considered, it was a relatively minor one. He effectively traded Eddie House for Nate Robinson, and while it will give the second unit a different look, it doesn't do a lot to alter the makeup of this team.
The Celtics' hopes will still rise and fall primarily upon the health and effectiveness of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. As it has since this team has been assembled. Yes, Rajon Rondo is emerging as a star and yes, Kendrick Perkins has become something much more than a fifth wheel.
But the rest of this season, and possibly beyond, is about the three future Hall of Famers. Against the Lakers Thursday night, Allen looked positively rejuvenated as he rediscovered his old shooting form and Garnett looked more like the 2007-08 version of himself than the one that’s been dragging up and down the floor.
In an 87-86 victory over the Lakers it was the Big Three, particularly Allen with 24 points, who brought it home. It was the Celtics' first win over a team with a winning record since beating a Brandon Roy-less Portland team in overtime back in mid-January, and while the Lakers were without Kobe Bryant, they are still the Lakers right down to their massive front line.
The Big Three will get at least one more chance to see if they can win a championship together. That's what they have been asking for the last few weeks, and now that the final decision has been made, there can be no more excuses. No more rationalizing about focus issues or being bored with the process.
They have been granted a reprieve that many people frankly, don’t believe they’ve earned. It's on them to turn it around in the final 30 games and through the playoffs.
Fitting then, that we start our three things with the man who has been under the trade microscope:
NO NEED TO TRADE THAT RAY ALLEN
It's dangerous to read too much into the mind of a player based on one game, especially one with the tunnel vision of Ray Allen.
Still, there’s no denying that Allen resembled the dangerous outside shooter that he's been known for being throughout his career. He looked relaxed. He looked confident and in rhythm.
If it was the easing of the trade burden he’s carried around the last few weeks that allowed him to go off, then so be it. But if this is the Allen the Celtics can get night in and night out for the rest of the season, it will go a long way toward making them a serious contender again.
Allen made his first four shots and was positively scorching hot in the third quarter as he finished with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting.
We may never know how close Ainge actually came to trading Allen, if at all.
The Herald reported that the Celtics talked to various teams about players like Amar’e Stoudemire, Andre Iguodala and Carlos Boozer. Kevin Martin and Monta Ellis have been thrown out there in rumor mill as well, and it’s a safe bet those talks didn’t involve Brian Scalabrine as a principal trade piece.
Talking and doing are two completely different things as we’ve all learned yet again during another frantic trade deadline process, but Allen has acknowledged that he has been aware of the rumors and the ongoing trade discussions.
Regardless of whether it played with his psyche, the Celtics need Allen to regain his touch if they are going to challenge for a title again. They have too many other problems—turnovers and rebounding in particular—that need to be covered by their ability to shoot well from the perimeter.
Now that House is officially gone, the burden falls even more on Allen’s shoulders. That’s a burden, however, that he has proven time and again he can carry.
PERK AND KG AND THE IMPORTANCE OF ATTITUDE
It’s not a big secret throughout the NBA that opposing teams don’t care much for the Celtics.
Since Garnett has come aboard, the Celtics have become one of the league’s biggest trash talking outfits (not that Pierce needed much prodding). In their heyday, when they were beating people up inside and stifling them on defense, that talk was a part of who they were. It was their identity and they relished in it.
The Celtics still talk. A lot. But something lately has been missing. Call it swagger. Call it attitude. Call it arrogance if you’re so inclined, but the Celtics have allowed some of that personality trait to recede into the background.
A big part of that can be traced back to Garnett’s health problems. Before his latest bout with knee injuries, Garnett was just beginning to resemble his old self. So much so that his Rated R for language act on the court became talking head fodder for a few days.
Since his return, however, Garnett has rarely been that player to his detriment. He has always fed off emotion, be it his own or the crowd. Doc Rivers once said that Garnett is able to work himself up into such a lather before games that he takes the court with the honest belief that everyone and everything is out to get him.
It was interesting then, that when he became tangled up with Lamar Odom late in the game on a jump ball situation and Odom got in his face, Garnett simply lowered his shoulder into Odom and kept moving as if he couldn’t be bothered to respond.
There were just under six minutes left at that point and the Lakers led by one, 84-83. Over the next 5:53, Los Angeles scored just two points and every defensive rebound seemed to find itself in the possession of Garnett or Perkins.
It was Perkins who wound up scoring the two points that put the Celtics ahead and it was Perkins who wound up grabbing a team-high 14 rebounds with the likes of Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and Odom crashing all around him.
Despite the oft-repeated, and often wrong, characterization of the Lakers as west coast wusses, this was no game for the timid and Garnett countered that by taking the ball to the basket more aggressively then he has in weeks.
This is what has been missing from the Celtics. Toughness and intimidation bears out itself out in many forms, but it is often revealed best on defense, in the paint on offense and on the boards.
When they talk about the lack of an identity this is what they mean. If it’s not obvious to them now, it should be: This is who they are and this is what they must be every night. Like it, or not.
DOC’S COACHING STRATEGY
The Robinson trade went down so late that the Celtics played this game with just 11 players, not that it mattered too much to Rivers who wasn’t going to take any chances.
Lacking a backup point guard Rajon Rondo played 44 minutes. With Marquis Daniels handling those minutes and Tony Allen injuring his ankle, Paul Pierce had to log 41.
The only reserve who checked in with more than 20 minutes of action was Rasheed Wallace and that had more to do with Garnett picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter then Wallace’s play, which was lacking, to put it kindly.
Rivers coached this game like it was important and it certainly was. Not just because it was the Lakers and not even because the Celtics haven’t won many games against the elite of the NBA.
It was important because the Celtics have to begin to build momentum somewhere and to some extent the time for experimenting is also over.
When the Celtics suffered through a rash of turnovers, Daniels came out and Rondo came back in. When Artest was ready to check back in, so was Pierce. When the Celtics began to wilt early in the fourth quarter, Rivers resisted calling a timeout and ordered them to play through it.
If this was a change, it was a welcome one. No, Rivers can’t overplay his veterans, and besides Pierce he did well in keeping Garnett and Allen’s minutes on a regular rotation despite the foul trouble and the short bench.
But if they’re going to get back on course the sense of urgency and attention to detail has to be addressed and for one night at least, Rivers helped set the tone.