There was a surreal quality to the Celtics' 110-106 win (click here for recap) over the Knicks Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Part of it was the return of Eddie House, Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens — who never even had time to leave in the first place. Part of it was the arrival of Nate Robinson, who had all of his New York baggage to deal with right up front along with introduction to Boston.
Then there was the game, which featured 159 shots and 44 3-pointers, but the most important play came with less than a minute remaining when Ray Allen appeared from out of nowhere to block Wilson Chandler’s wide open path to the basket with a sensational blocked shot.
“That’s unexpected,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said without irony. “But it was great.”
Allen described the play thusly: “I was in a very precarious situation, because when David Lee drove the hole I knew there were two guys behind me and I was the last line of defense. I was either going to have to foul him or get out to the 3-point line. I saw Chandler cut to the basket and I was about to foul him and then when I saw him go up I said, 'Just try and get to the ball.' "
Allen’s block capped off a defensive effort that didn’t come together until the fourth quarter. By that point the Celtics already had 94 points on the board and all five starters were in double figures.
While allowing for the fact that it was the Knicks playing defense, the Celtics played one of their most efficient offensive games in recent memory. Allen’s 14 shots (and 24 points) were the most of any Celtic, and the team racked up 34 assists on 44 field goals.
So, for once, chalk up a Celtics win to the offense and allow for the fact that Allen made the defensive play of the game. Strange days.
On the subject of Allen, let’s get into our three things:
RAY ALLEN’S COINCIDENTAL HOT STREAK
Since the passing of the trade deadline, Allen has taken 57 shots and made 46 of them. He has attempted 23 3-pointers and sank 10, and for good measure he’s gone 10-for-11 from the free throw line.
The question was posed for probably the umpteenth time whether Allen’s hot streak was a byproduct of knowing that he would be a member of the Celtics for the rest of the season. Coincidence?
“I think it coincides with the trade deadline,” Allen said steadfastly. “Honestly, I thought the trade deadline was the 20th. It didn’t matter to me. I don’t look at the schedule two or three days in advance. I knew when we came out of the All-Star break [that] we played Sacramento and that was my only concern. I packed my bag and it was on the plane going to Sacramento, so I never really worried about it, because I couldn’t. Doc said numerous times that this is the team he loves and this is the team we’re going to go forward with to try to win a championship. I believe it was the break.”
For the record, Allen spent his All-Star break in the Bahamas, where he didn’t work out at all, which was no small sacrifice. “The treadmill was calling my name,” he joked, but Allen decided to give his body, and his mind, a break.
“I drive my body pretty hard,” he said. “Let my mind just go somewhere else. We all need that.”
Whatever the reason, Rivers is just happy with the results.
“I don’t know,” the coach said. “He said he’s not, but he’s playing awful well. His demeanor hasn’t changed with any of us, I can tell you that. He’s just playing well. So maybe he is, or maybe he isn’t, whatever it is, let’s keep it going. You’re free to speculate about [it].”
THE ARRIVAL OF NATE
On a night of strange sights, perhaps none was more out of place than a small scene that took place in the Celtics locker room before tip-off.
Typically, before games, Kevin Garnett is an apparition. If he does appear in view of the media, he has a certain tunnel vision, more commonly known as the KG death stare, and such appearances are as rare as snowstorms in Boston this winter.
But there was Garnett going over last-minute defensive strategy with Nate Robinson. The basic message Garnett conveyed was: You’ll know where I am at all times because I’ll tell you, and that’s how we do things here.
Robinson is getting a crash course in how the Celtics do things. Rivers has kept his offensive instructions limited to basic pick-and-roll basketball for now.
“I don’t know what he can grasp,” Rivers said. “That’s something we’ll find out as the year goes along. It’s very difficult to integrate a guard into your system on the fly like this.”
As for the defense, well, the defense will take some time. All Rivers essentially wants from Robinson right now is to apply ball pressure, and the rest, “We’ll just wait and see.”
Robinson certainly said all the right things in his introductory press conference about just wanting to win and playing the way the Celtics want him to play. But there also was a definite tension regarding his breakup with the Knicks.
“I honestly don’t know,” Robinson said about his problems with Mike D’Antoni. “I did everything coach asked, and I guess it just wasn’t good enough.”
Asked about his former player possibly getting hot in his first game against his old team, D’Antoni responded by listing all the Celtics he worried about but avoided naming Robinson. Out of sight, out of mind.
Rivers didn’t shy away from the questions. “You absolutely look at a guy’s past history,” he said. “We’ve taken chances on guys. Some have paid off, some haven’t.”
But there’s also a balance. The Celtics remember the last time they took a chance on a disgruntled New York guard, and while Stephon Marbury checked his ego at the door, he also seemed to leave his basketball personality behind, as well. They don’t want to repeat that with Robinson.
“I want him to be him,” Rivers said. “As far as all the other stuff, we’ll have to wait and see.”
So, Robinson in free to assert himself, but he also is on notice.
True to his word, Rivers wasted little time deploying him and Rondo together in the backcourt to apply more pressure and try to take advantage of a matchup with Eddie House and Sergio Rodriguez.
“The combination will be terrific once we get it right,” Rivers said. “We had that one little stretch, but they don’t know how to take advantage of it. They almost ran into each other twice trying to get to the basket.”
Robinson got up seven shots in 16 minutes and made just two of them. There will be an adjustment period where both team and player feel each other out. How it plays out is anybody’s guess at this point, but it can only get smoother from here.
THE GLUE GUY
One benefit of having Robinson on the roster has already manifested itself and that is that it frees Marquis Daniels to play his game. The question is, what exactly is his game?
He has been a backup point guard, a backup wing and a defensive specialist.
“He’s a defensive guy who can score,” is how Garnett put it. “This is our first time getting to play a lot of minutes with him. I don’t think y’all have seen the best of Marquis.”
Daniels got the start for Paul Pierce, who was home with the flu and resting his injured thumb, and he was a revelation as a small forward, scoring 14 points and registering a plus-13 in the raw plus/minus stats.
Basically, the Celtics were 13 points better than the Knicks when Daniels was on the court. It’s a rough stat and not a great indicator all the time, but it does reveal something about Daniels’ impact that sometimes goes unnoticed in the box score.
“He’s a great guy to have on our team,” Allen said. “He’s a guy who’s going to do his job, he’s going to fill in the holes, fill in the gaps. He’s not one of those guys who has a huge ego.”
He’s also a bit of a chameleon, apparently. Since arriving in Boston, he has carried himself in a low-key, almost laconic manner in the locker room. But that’s not entirely accurate either. “He’s not quiet at all,” Rajon Rondo and Garnett said almost simultaneously.
“He’s probably the best cutter in the game,” Rondo said. “He moves very well without the ball. Of course it’s obvious that he’s a great defensive player. He’s probably our best defensive player on the ball, him and [Tony Allen]. He doesn’t complain about anything. He just does the little things.”
For now that stands as the definitive, but not totally complete portrait of Daniels as a player. Whatever he is, the Celtics are very happy to have him.