The Celtics don’t need to care about style points right now, which is good because there weren’t many to be had Tuesday night in Detroit.
For three quarters they couldn’t shake the Pistons — who, at 21-39, are the definition of lackluster. That the Celtics came away with a 105-100 victory (click here for the full recap) is really the only thing that matters. The big picture is still cloudy for this team, and it will take much better efforts than this to compete with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps a win like this will finally convince the Celtics that this is their reality now, and that their margin for error is slimmer than former Celtic Patrick O’Bryant. Perhaps not. We’ll simply have to wait and see if they are ready to move beyond their professed “boredom” and get to work.
In the meantime they will surely take a win, no matter how unsightly or ugly it was. If they are looking for positive signs, their bench was the difference-maker, particularly Nate Robinson, who came to the rescue in the fourth quarter. Rajon Rondo, who had one of the worst 15-point, 11-assist games you will ever see, did manage to make all four of his free throws in the final minute.
But the most important thing was the victory. Now they have to do it again Wednesday night in Boston against the Bobcats.
Here’s our three things:
NATE TO THE RESCUE
The Celtics spent a decent part of practice Monday working on a set ripped from Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks playbook in an effort to get Nate Robinson more comfortable on the court.
That effort paid off Tuesday as Robinson jump-started a sleepy Celtics attack with nine points in nine minutes of the fourth quarter, while running that version of the Knick offense. With the second unit in the game the Celtics turned a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead thanks to a 17-6 run to open the fourth quarter.
Robinson made 5-of-7 shots and hit four of his five 3-pointers en route to a 14-point evening and the Celtics needed all the offense the 5-foot-9 point guard could muster.
In many ways Robinson is like a new toy for Doc Rivers to play with, as he seeks to find a way to best utilize his talents. The Celtics have tried to employ scoring-minded point guards in the past like Sam Cassell and Stephon Marbury with the second unit with mixed results. Cassell made his share of big shots, but often dominated the ball, while Marbury was exactly the opposite and was deferential to a fault.
Rivers has tested playing Robinson in tandem with Rondo, but he said Monday that he was leery of playing them together because of their small size.
However Rivers winds up using Robinson he needs him to be an instant-offense energizer whenever his number is called. It’s rare when a player with Robinson’s limited role is able to affect the outcome of a game with so much certainty, but for one night at least, he was able to do so.
SHELDEN WILLIAMS REDUX
Shelden Williams began the season as an after-thought. At best, he was an affordable insurance policy in case something happened to one of the four big men ahead of him in the rotation. Then something happened.
Glen Davis broke his hand and sat out the first 27 games of the season and Williams stepped into his spot and was something of a revelation. Freed from the responsibilities of being a high lottery pick, Williams was asked to rebound and play defense. He did both fairly well, albeit in limited minutes.
But the more Williams played the more his limitations became obvious. His shooting range is best measured in inches rather than feet and his hands are not exactly soft.
When Davis returned that was essentially the end of the Shelden Williams Experiment. Even when Kevin Garnett battled through his various leg injuries Williams still found himself on the wrong side of the rotation. Asked if he had a role with everyone healthy, Rivers noted in January that Williams had to practice hard and keep himself ready.
Before Tuesday night’s game, Williams had played a grand total of seven minutes since a Jan. 14 game against the Bulls … in which he played a grand total of seven minutes in mop-up duty.
But Williams can rebound and against the Pistons he responded with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes of action. The Celtics are hopeful that Kendrick Perkins will return Wednesday against the Bobcats and if he does, that will probably send Williams back to the end of the bench.
It’s to his credit that he was able to give the Celtics a solid contribution Tuesday and they, in turn, may do well to give him more of an opportunity.
By Rebound Rate, which measures a player’s effectiveness in grabbing available rebounds while he’s on the court, Williams grades out as the Celtics second-best offensive rebounder behind Davis and second-best overall behind Perkins. Again, the caveat for Williams is that is in limited minutes.
But, it’s not a big secret that rebounding has been the Celtics biggest problem this season. It may be difficult to find a place for Williams with everyone healthy, but it may be worth the effort in the long run.
THE VETERAN FREE AGENT MARKET
Once the Celtics released Lester Hudson and created a roster spot they have had one eye on the available veteran player market. Since the trade with the Knicks they now have two and it seems likely that the Celtics will add at least one player for the stretch run.
The deadline for veteran players to be waived or bought out and be eligible for the playoffs with a new team was March 1 and now that it’s set the obvious thing to note is that it is not deep.
Zydrunus Ilgauskas is by far the most accomplished of the available veterans, but it seen as a formality that he will return to Cleveland once the 30-day waiting period is over for a player to a team that traded him.
That leaves a list of players that includes the likes of ex-Celtics Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and Wally Szczebiak. Of the three, the erstwhile Ricky Buckets is the most accomplished, and that’s not saying a whole lot.
The most intriguing name, by far, is Michael Finley who asked for his release from the Spurs. It goes without saying that veteran free agents who want a chance at a ring often try to make it to San Antonio, and not the other way around, but Finley had fallen way off the Spurs radar this season.
As recently as last season Finley was still a solid member of the Spurs, averaging almost 10 points a game and shooting better than 41 percent from 3-point range while starting 77 games.
But Finley’s production has dropped dramatically in his 15th season, playing only 395 minutes in 25 games this season. Finley’s reputation as a locker-room leader and consummate professional is beyond reproach and he is certainly worth taking a flyer on to see if he still has it.
The Celtics have had a need for a viable backup small forward ever since James Posey left for New Orleans, and while Marquis Daniels has been everything they could have hoped for, he is needed at more than one position.
If Finley can still play, he could help the Celtics, but they may have competition for his services. Almost every contender has been named as a possible suitor for Finley who will clear waivers at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
If not Finley, other possible names include shoot-first point guard Mike James who counts Boston as one of his many previous stops and Kenny Thomas.
It would be wishful thinking to expect a P.J. Brown-type of performance from any of the above players, but any help for this team would be sorely appreciated.