Here’s the frightening thing for the rest of the NBA: The Celtics played one of their worst offensive games of the season, without their top three centers and still won by 31 points on the road.
In addition, Paul Pierce shot 1-for-9 and the Celtics turned it over 18 times … and they still won by 93-62. (Click here for a full recap).
The Charlotte Bobcats are no one’s idea of a juggernaut, and they were playing the second night of a back-to-back and were also without dynamic forward Tyrus Thomas, but the Celtics defense reduced them to rubble.
They allowed just 16 points in the first quarter, 16 in the second and 15 points in each of the third and fourth quarters. They held the Bobcats to 34 percent shooting and forced 21 turnovers in what was their most dominating defensive performance of the season.
What made Doc Rivers happiest, however, was that the Celtics did all that while they were firing rocks at the rim. “We didn’t get frustrated because we weren’t scoring,” Rivers told reporters in Charlotte. “We kept getting stops and stops are the key.”
The Celtics have always been good defensively, but in the last 10 games (all wins) they have allowed just two teams to go over 100 points, held two more in the 70s and now kept someone in the 60s. For all their gaudy shooting statistics, this is the Celtics calling card and that’s bad news for the rest of the league.
Here are three other things to take from the win:
GLEN DAVIS ADDS TO HIS RESUME
Glen Davis is averaging about 12 points and six rebounds a game, which are nice numbers, but not particularly overwhelming. There are more productive bench players in the league, but few are having the impact, or are as important to their team as Davis.
With Jermaine O’Neal out for an indefinite amount of time, and Shaquille O’Neal missing his second straight game, the onus has been on Davis even more to provide stability to the Celtics frontcourt. Rivers has resisted starting Davis and there’s a very good reason for that: He is more valuable coming off the bench.
Davis played the four and the five against Charlotte and he even guarded Gerald Wallace for a stretch and did it well. A lot of attention is being paid to his ability to take charges, and for a team that lacks a true shot-blocking presence, it’s an important skill, but Davis’ ability to guard multiple positions is even more crucial.
He has also added nice wrinkles to his game, such as his newfound ability to finish at the rim by using his body and the basket to shield taller defenders from attacking the ball.
“We tell him to make the big do his job,” Rivers said last week. “If they’re going to block your shot, make them block the shot. Just try to make the basket. Last year, the double pumps and falling backwards and trying to draw fouls, no ref was going to call. This year he’s going in hard, through people and trying to make the layup.”
Ultimately, Davis may not wind up winning the Sixth Man of the Year because other players will put up better numbers, but his candidacy, and legitimacy as a player is based on so many other factors. It’s taken four years but Davis has developed into something special for the Celtics.
SEMIH ANSWERS THE CALL
There are a lot of things to like about Semih Erden. He has a nice touch around the basket and a handful of polished low-post moves. He’s not afraid to mix it up inside, which has drawn praise from Kevin Garnett, among others.
He’s also willing to play through pain, as the warp on his shoulder makes abundantly clear. With Shaq out, Erden had to play Saturday night and he established career highs in points (10), rebounds (seven) and minutes (41).
“Semih was great,” Rivers said. “He’s probably passed out back there. He’s starting to get more comfortable. Obviously playing with the starters helps.”
Erden has easily been the biggest surprise of the season for the Celtics. There were no expectations on him when he arrived because no one really knew what to expect. But he wasted little time ingratiating himself to his teammates with his work ethic and when the opportunity to play presented itself, he has performed well.
All that said, he does have a lot to learn, especially on pick and roll defense where Nazr Mohammed burned him for 12 points in the first half. He also commits fouls at the rate of 7.3 per 36 minutes.
But Erden has not just been an unlikely contributor for the Celtics, he’s been a savior of sorts. Without the O’Neals and Kendrick Perkins, Erden has allowed Davis to stay in his role and Garnett to stay within his minutes range.
Not bad for the last pick of the 2008 draft.
SHOWDOWN IN NEW YORK
The Celtics are now off for three days before they head to Madison Square Garden to play the Knicks. Big deal, you say? Check out what the Knicks have done since losing to the Nuggets on Nov. 16 to fall to 3-8. Since that loss, they ripped off 12 wins in their next 13 and have won seven straight heading into Sunday’s rematch with Denver.
Amar’e Stoudemire has averaged over 34 points a game during their winning streak and has gone over the 30-point mark in all seven games. Point guard Ray Felton, after a disastrous start, has started to run Mike D’Antoni’s system more efficiently and successfully.
Suddenly, the Knicks look like a playoff team and Wednesday’s matchup has become very intriguing.
The Celtics have never been challenged in the Atlantic Division during their run, and while it would be premature to be label the Knicks contenders, you can believe that they will have something to prove.