Celtics Old Guard outlast Nuggets in triple thriller

The Boston Celtics have capped off a fortnight of fearless basketball with a gutsy triple-overtime win over the Denver Nuggets at TD Garden today; with a winning streak now still alive at 7 games since that pivotal double OT win over Miami that got them out of a similar rut, of equal significance was the resetting of Denver’s own 9-game victory lane.

Jason Terry of the Boston Celtics takes flight.

The Denver Nuggets indeed proved to be every bit the handful they are out West, with a nifty young roster only skewed on average by 36-year old veteran, Andre Miller. Wherever the Celtics threatened to take an unassailable lead in regular game-time, they reeled them right back in.  To the neutral NBA fan, it was a terrific game of basketball and within such an electrified crowd; so much so you’d swear they’d spent the pre-game in one massive snowball fight, courtesy of the weekend dumping from Blizzard Nemo.

(I still don’t understand how the name ‘Nemo’ was allowed).

It is also hard to imagine how a sport with point score variations to go with many stoppages and turnovers can still foresee a certain game having overtime written all over it.  And so was the case here, where two teams relatively well-placed in the standings were just desperate to protect their winning momentum. Naturally, the referees had to have a hand in it per se, when Avery Bradley was ruled out to have touched the ball out last, despite replays likely showing to the contrary. Denver only needed the 0.8 seconds of regulation time from the sideline to tie up the game through eventual top-scorer, Ty Lawson (29pts).

The aforementioned youth of Denver changed the cat-and-mouse game in over-time and the concern was whether Boston had the legs to go with them.  However, in each challenge thrown, they did just that – with the older brigade of Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett and Captain Paul Pierce still getting involved.  Indeed it was fitting that Terry should have the last possession of the game with a steal off Miller and a lethargic dunk to finally seal it.  It is hard to know whether this was a break-out performance from Jason Terry, but his efforts were sensational as much as crucial.  His 3 point prowess returned at important stages.  The Celtics need him to frequently bring this to the fore in the big games going forward to go with the excellent defense of Avery Bradley, who can be counted on to toss in valuable points.

For the big games, they will keep coming no sooner than after backing-up the streak tomorrow down in Charlotte against the Bobcats. They host the Chicago Bulls in the last, right before the All-Star break.  Losing Rajon Rondo is the leveller to the match-up with the Bulls, who have had a whole season to get used to missing their star point-guard.  They look to be well settled too with their superior season-record to the Celtics.  There is then this small matter of a five game West Coast road trip which includes L.A and Denver once the season restarts.

After today though, there is no reason for that to be daunting. Two weeks ago, all the talk in the media was about Finals being too hard, who should the Celtics trade for, heck, even whether it was time for KG or Pierce to retire!  With one roster position still to be filled prior to trade deadline, arguably it should be now about who should join this Boston party.

At the Half: A-very Bradley Barometer

At your service….Avery Bradley has been Boston’s captain in defense.

THE Celtics reach the mid-way point of the season virtually as it began, back under a cloud and raising questions about whether it can make the post-season this year, let alone do some damage there.

The highlight reel in this first half is without doubt, in my opinion, dominated by Avery Bradley. Putting stats of his own aside, he was an instant spark to this C’s roster upon returning from his shoulder injury at the turn of the year.  He is foremost an excellent hustling defender so far in his short NBA career; a fact evident by the many clips of his in-your-face ‘D’ on YouTube.  When you also hear unkind jokes about Bradley’s face looking as if it’s gone some rounds in the ring, it only rams home this invaluable trait.  He is fearless among flailing arms.

The Streak

It’s no coincidence that Bradley’s return sent their up and down form on a 6-win streak.  Again, it wasn’t about stats.  Simply, the excitability of youth and some diversion of Rondo-obsessed opponents brought guys like KG, Lee and Jeff Green into their own.  The latter especially brought the entertainment, with some massive dunks on and after his heart-surgery anniversary.  Boston was up and about.

This inspired form gave them probably their best and grittiest win of the season so far – against the Knicks in their own Garden.  Garnett, who had the quotes on tap for journalists throughout the streak, was at his wily best getting under the skin of Carmelo Anthony and adding anything but ‘Honey-Nut Cheerios’ sweetness to their next meeting (an alleged comment Garnett made about Anthony’s wife).  Not to mention the All-Star game, when they’re expected to be team-mates in the East’s starting line-up.  If nothing else for the C’s this season, form will count for nothing when they next meet NY again in just a few days, as well as Miami!  (Remember them?)

The Slump

But that’s where the bubble burst.  A blow to the ribs against the Hornets forced him to the bench and then onto the casualty list.  The suspect defense returned.  In all 8 games he played, the opponents never reached a triple figure score.  Chicago came to town and duly eclipsed the Bradley-less Celtics with one; 100-99.  He will return very soon, but it is concerning how reliant they are on this mere rookie.

English: Display of Kendrick Perkins of the Bo...
English: Display of Kendrick Perkins of the Boston Celtics at NBA Media Day on September 28, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, this barometer of performance would be a non-issue if not for the fluid back-up guard and center positions.  In Jason Terry (JET), they should have a solid, experienced campaigner but too many a headline this season has been about the JET not leaving the run-way. Their starting center of late is a man called Jason Collins.  Who?  Precisely.  Sadly the only mentions he is getting are because he’s a registered player, thus in the NBA stats database.  The only thing sadder is that the guy who was moved on despite being apt in this role, Kendrick Perkins, is having a pretty miserable time of it at his new club.

In early January though, the Celtics cut two promising forwards Kris Joseph and Jarvis Varnado in a move that many deem a precursor to another super-deal from GM Danny Ainge.  That is yet to happen to this day.  But while many are hoping such a deal lands a big fish of the say, Josh Smith variety, this author worries about the cost.  Sure, you love being the envy of the NBA when you can add another superstar and gloat that another Banner is nigh.  However, when names like Bradley and Lee get thrown up as possible exchanges, the prospect leaves a sour taste.  A healthy Bradley needs to join Rondo as the face of the franchise over the next decade.  The roster must be built around them.  Instead, General Manager, Danny Ainge should be looking to recruit a simple, dependable Center (just like Perkins).  The cost is minimal and you’re more likely to have someone who will enjoy the Boston way of life.  JET (despite his form) and Green are good examples of guys who seem to be lapping up the camaraderie inside the Club.

Where to next?

So, 40 down, 42 to go.  The Celtics are starting over.  But it would take a brave pundit to predict where they finish with a healthy-again Bradley and the vacancy sign shining bright green over the roster. What do you see for the team?