Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Celtics Win Fourth Straight

Things are looking up since the last time I posted, though I haven't seen much of the team lately.

It didn't start that way. Tuesday night, we apparently played a terrible defensive game and gave up 127 points to Chicago. (I missed this one, as I was enjoying sublime food and company at Delmonico steakhouse in the Venetian -- highly recommended, and if you don't get the banana cream pie for dessert, you are cheating yourself.)

On Wednesday, we needed overtime to beat the Heat without Dwyane Wade - but we were still missing Kevin Garnett, as well as Ray Allen (who missed only that game with a hyperextended elbow suffered the previous night against Chicago) and Leon Powe (who will miss a couple of weeks due to a knee injury also suffered against the Bulls), as well as Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine (out indefinitely with a thumb injury and post-concussion syndrom, respectively). I caught only the fourth quarter and overtime of this one, at a bar at Treasure Island.

On Friday, we stole one from San Antonio, the second-best team in the Western Conference at the time, when the Spurs choked from the free throw line down the stretch. I didn't see this one, as it was on NBATV.

Saturday night, we beat the hapless Memphis Grizzlies behind a career-high 24 points from Glen Davis, standing in for Powe. Ironically, it was just a couple of weeks ago that Powe, his minutes increased due to injuries to Garnett and Davis, notched a career-high 30 points against the same Memphis squad. This one was also on NBATV.

And Monday night, we avenged an embarassing loss last month by pasting the Los Angeles Clippers. I caught this one on TV. The Clippers are terrible, and so are their announcers.

The four-game winning streak is important, as it has kept the Celtics a game ahead of the Orlando Magic for the second spot in the East, with an all-important showdown between the two teams coming up on Wednesday night in Florida (VIEWING ALERT: 8 p.m. Eastern on ESPN). Thanks to our injuries, which begat our losing at the beginning of the month, and Cleveland's strong play, we're four games out of first in the East and the race for home court advantage is for all practical purposes over.

What's important is that we're getting healthy. Garnett has been back for three games and has, by design, averaged about 17 minutes per night in those outings. He says he's ready to play more, but Doc is (rightfully) being careful with him. That Garnett has missed a month isn't really a bad thing; he has plenty of time to round back into playing shape before the playoffs and he should be comparatively well-rested for the post-season.

Having Garnett back is very reassuring, however, particularly on the defensive end, where we'd struggled in his absence. Despite his limited minutes, Boston's opponents in the three games he's been back have averaged 80 points per game. Granted, no one is going to confuse the Spurs, Grizzlies, and Clippers with, say, the New York Knicks or Golden State Warriors, but it's nice to see that the C's still have it on that end.

One concern I do have, however, is the wear on Paul Pierce's tires. In the 13 games Garnett missed, Pierce averaged right around 40 minutes per game, two minutes more than his season average and four minutes more than he averaged last year. Injuries are to blame and you can't fault Doc for it, but it would be nice to find a way to rest him a little bit down the stretch.

A win on Wednesday would go a long way toward making that happen. Beating the Magic would effectively put us three games up on them; two in the standings, and another because we'd have the tiebreaker by virtue of a 3-1 head-to-head record. That'd probably be enough of a cushion, given our relatively favorable remaining schedule, to rest the big guns at times over the last few weeks of the regular season.

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