On Tuesday, I felt the name of the game was "pride." On Wednesday, it seemed to be "chemistry." Both the starters and the bench (minus a resting Sheed) seemed to be in sync on both ends of the court. On offense, 67% of the field goals were generated by assists, and the Celts had only 11 turnovers (both preseason bests by comfortable margins). The team defense seemed one step ahead of Toronto all night...ball-hawking; deflecting passes; disrupting plays (especially down low); getting in the passing lanes; switching smartly; even defending the pick-and-roll well (not the strongest Celtics attribute). The net result was the largest margin of Celtics victory of the exhibition season (16 points). Some observations:
• The minutes have inched up for the starters. When all five regular starters have played in a given game, the average minutes per starter have progressed from 16 to 22 to 25 and then 25 again.
• KG submitted a preseason high of 23 minutes in this game, and he was definitely most like the "old" KG in this one...moving well on defense, out in front of the pack on several fast breaks, and successful on three alley-oop plays on his way to 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. One can tell he's still aware of his knee, especially when he lands after leaping (he tends to put a little more weight on the other leg in cushioning the landing process). But, in general, he's playing with relative abandon. To put his point total in perspective:
In the 2007-08 championship season, he averaged .57 points per minute
In 2008-09, he averaged .51 points per minute
In his career, he has averaged .54 points per minute
Last night, his 16 points amounted to .71 points per minute.
KG's points per minute have improved over the preseason:
Game 1 .45 points per minute
Game 2 .47 points per minute
Game 3 .57 points per minute
Game 4: Did not play
Game 5 .71 points per minute
Obviously, points are not the only indicator of readiness; but KG's offensive efficiency is a pretty good indication of his ability to play effectively in whatever physical shape he's in...and his conditioning seems to be improving with every game.
• KG seems well on the road to recovery. Kudos to both him and Doc for not over-rushing things. For Kevin to progress gradually, the way he has, AND for the team to be looking quite good at the same time is a very good sign. One would have a right to expect the team to sputter somewhat in trying to adjust to having him at less than full strength.
• KG still shows signs of being a bit careful with the leg. I've noticed that, on those occasions when he does go up, he cushions the blow of the landing, ever so slightly, with the uninjured leg. I doubt that it's because he's hurting but probably just Kevin picking his spots and knowing enough to be careful when he does.
• Glen Davis was my MVP for this game. I don't know who won the award from the tv guys, but Baby won their Tommy Point Award for his energy and scrappiness (as well as his 13 points and 5 boards in 20 minutes). He has obviously dedicated himself to playing a Leon-like role on offense by bulling his way to the hoop; although he outdoes Leon by occasionally hitting a jumper too. True, his lack of height and lift mean he doesn't score a lot of field goals. But he's getting blocked less than earlier in his career, and he's getting fouled a lot and is making his free throws. He's rapidly learning how to use his body to keep opponents away from their offensive baskets because he knows he's usually at a disadvantage if they get down low.
• Eddie House was just fair from the perimeter in this one. But his passing—especially interior passing—sometimes bordered on the spectacular. He has become quite good at threading the ball down low. (I just wish Rondo had the same ability.) I'm personally very happy with Eddie sharing backup point duties with 'Quis and Hudson and alternately being freed to bomb away.
• "Quis did practically nothing in 16 minutes. (I suspect he had residual problems from his intestinal bug the night before.) But Hudson continues to grow on me. In 13 minutes, he scored 12 points in 5-7 shooting (including a three-pointer) and 2-2 from the line. He also had two assists (and two turnovers) and was a true pest on defense. Once, he made a beautiful interception in a passing lane for a breakaway. Although he does not yet possess true PG abilities, he continues to demonstrate a passing mentality, which is half the battle. I'd say he has not only made the team but is also challenging mightily for that 12th slot.
• Giddens continued his scrappy play. Like Scal, he's not a stat sheet-filler, but he plays very tough defense. He's a natural rebounder (four in 13 minutes) and loves to surprise the opposition defense by slashing in for occasional jams. Since the occasional jams represented Walker's main attribute, I'd put Giddens well ahead of Walker (even if he weren't injured) on the depth chart at this juncture.
• Perk still needs more consistency, as he's been up-and-down and sometimes hampered by fouls. But, on a 30-minute basis, his exhibition stats would project to 12.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
• In about 26 minutes apiece, Pierce scored 17 and Ray tallied 8 points. Doc reiterated, after the game, that he hasn't yet put in any plays for either of them and that it would be a priority in the remaining seven practices and three games prior to the start of the season.
• The team is looking more cohesive, self-assured and potent with every game. And Doc has done a masterful job of simulating "real game" conditions by pushing each of them with extended minutes at one point or another. One after another, we've seen virtually every likely member of the rotation (and a couple of less likely ones) fise to the challenge Doc has presented. And, with the possible exception of Sheed's tweaked ankle (which doesn't seem serious), they've responded to the extra pressure without getting injured (or, in KG's case, without exacerbating the injury). This sort of gathering momentum, without much of a hitch, is rare indeed. So much so that one almost hesitates to post about it for fear of incurring the wrath of the gods.
• Even Williams had his moments last night. He a couple of nice jumpers and was fairly active in the offensive end. I'd take 3-6 shooting and four rebounds in 16 minutes from him any time (although I don't expect him to get nearly that number of minutes under normal circumstances).
• Tony may be the only one who has played (for just a few minutes) who hasn't shown some pretty positive signs that he's capable of being a solid contributor in one way or another.
• Perhaps what pleased me most, in addition to the Celtics' game-long alertness and relatively smooth play, was the sheer joy they continued to display. Lots of smiles and happy exchanges on the floor and the bench. Rondo and KG seem to sit together a lot. Kevin and his intensity obviously crack Rajon up from time to time.
Another nice outing, neatly put into perspective by Doc in his comments to the press: "These are not really games. They're serious practices."