- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Neither Pierce nor Ray Allen is remotely a playmaker; the former's an inveterate gunner when given too much control of the ball, and the latter needs screens and kick-outs to get his work done from the perimeter. House and Tony Allen are too valuable in their current shoot-first, shoot-second, pass-third roles off the bench. And most important. Rondo is not that bad. Yes, his jump shot, kind of a one-handed launch, is terribly unreliable (he'd attempted only six three-pointers at week's end, making two), and he has taken to "hoping" the ball in, bouncing up and down on his toes after the release. But he will be a terrific point guard with another year's experience, and, in fact, is a major part of the offense now, most effective as a slasher or coming off screens and getting it back from a post man. In the Boston offense a Garnett-to-Rondo field goal is almost as likely as a Rondo-to-Garnett field goal; Rondo is so good at finishing around the rim that he was shooting 49.6% at week's end despite his horrific J.
Still, Rondo will have his off nights, as he did on Saturday, making one of seven shots and playing only 26 minutes against the Pistons. "That's what's going to happen when you have a young point guard," says Pierce, "even if he's a good one like Rajon." But the Celtics hardly missed a beat, at various times using both Aliens, House and Pierce to initiate the offense.
That might be the best news for Boston: It was able to beat a tough home team, which had won 11 straight games overall by an average of 16.7 points, despite so-so play from its starters. In addition to Rondo's struggles, GPA was average or worse, particularly A, who had nine points after scoring just two in the Celtics' unimpressive 100--96 home win over the Memphis Grizzlies an evening earlier. "Your attention, please," Tony Allen said as he emerged from the shower in the cramped visitors' locker room in Auburn Hills after the game, "all the Ray Allen questions will be directed to Tony Allen." Ray smiled and slapped Tony on the back as he went by.
As it has all season, the Celtics' bench proved capable of handling the load. Lo and behold, the best finishing option in the fourth quarter turned out to be Davis, who was more effective at center than Perkins against the physical Pistons. Big Baby scored a game-high 20 points, 16 in the final frame (all six of his field goals coming on assists) as Boston overcame a four-point deficit to pull away.
Indeed, GPA seemingly has adapted to the team and, by all appearances, to one another. Pierce said it began in their first pickup game back in August, when their eagerness to pass up shots and share the ball became laughable, "You have guys with these kinds of résumés," says Pierce, "of course you're going to give it up to them." At week's end each member of GPA was attempting fewer field goals per game than his career average, a reflection of their collective willingness to sacrifice points for W's.
ON THE first day of camp in October, Rivers told his team about an African word—ubuntu (oo-BOON-too)—that he had learned during a meeting at his alma mater, Marquette, where he is a trustee. It has various meanings, all of them relating to unity. ("My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in at is yours," is how Desmond Tutu describes it.) "I used it to talk about teamwork," says Rivers. "Make the point that none of us can succeed without the others." How much pro athletes really buy into that stuff is hard to say, but snatches of Rivers's talk are still heard around the locker room. Last week, for example, Ray Allen mentioned the "chain of trust" that has developed on the team.
But it is early. A Western swing looms after the All-Star break, as well as visits to San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans over six days in March. Losses are sure to come, and the Celtics' collective adoption of ubuntu will be tested, particularly for GPA. As the third option, Allen must now search for the looks that used to come readily for him as a Sonic, and he's no longer the focus of the media attention; after almost every home game Allen stays at his locker while Garnett and Pierce are escorted into the interview room.
A 10-year Celtics vet, Pierce remains the team's captain and still gets his fail share of shots—fearless going to the basket, he's Boston's most assertive one-on-one player—but he must accept a different kind of diminished role. Make no mistake about it: Garnett has become Beantown's most beloved sports figure in these early days of winter (after Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Raid Moss, et al.). At home games, it is Garnett's elaborate pregame preparation (clapping his hands, adjusting his shorts, peeking out from behind the basket support to the delight of the fans, spraying powder at the scorer's table) that draws attention; Garnett's primal scream, on the scoreboard each night, that juices the crowd before the game, and his chest-pounding, jersey-grabbing, hip-shimmying theatrics after a key basket that keep it that way; and Garnett's playfulness that makes the postgame press conferences with Pierce so entertaining.
After the Houston game Garnett had just finished saying that his intense play was because "my gas was high" when a loud grumble interrupted the proceedings.
"Damn, P, is that your stomach?" Garnett asked Pierce.