Shaquille O'Neal didn't play tonight, which means we got our first extended look at two Celtics newcomers in the post: veteran Jermaine O'Neal and rookie Semih Erden.
Offensively, Jermaine is a known quantity. He got a couple dunks rolling to the basket -- a good sign the Celtics offense was clicking -- but at this point in his career, he's a jump shooter. His shot wasn't falling at first, but came around in the second half. His line, 5-for-8 for 12 points, is probably around what we can hope for from him.
It was at the defensive end where I noticed Jermaine the most, probably because he's such an improvement over Shaq at that end. Twice in the first quarter, JON helped as Austin Daye blew past Kevin Garnett. On the first, Daye crashed into Jermaine, getting away with the charge while scoring, but on the second, JON registered the block.
I still think that Jermaine should (and will) start at center even when Shaq is healthy. His help defense is a much better fit with what the starting unit is used to playing alongside Kendrick Perkins. Even if he doesn't start, however, I'd expect to see him on the floor in crunch time a fair amount -- mostly because of his defense, but also because he's not a liability at the free throw line. He needs to rebound better than he did against the Pistons, but that's my only real criticism.
The defensive end is also where I most noticed Erden. The Turkish rookie wasn't always in the right spot, but often recovered in time to challenge the shot. The best example came at the end of the first quarter, just a few minutes after Erden entered the game and blocked a Jason Maxiell shot on his very first defensive possession. On this trip, the Pistons ran a pick-and-roll with Rodney Stuckey dribbling left over the screen at the top of the key. Erden jumped out to hedge, but jumped too far, giving Stuckey the daylight he needed to cross over and drive to the basket. But Erden stuck out his long left arm and jarred the ball loose momentarily. Stuckey recovered and continued his drive, but Erden recovered and blocked the shot out of bounds.
Offensively, Erden showed flashes of his ability. His lone basket -- his lone attempt -- came on a breakaway dunk after a Von Wafer steal (the first positive thing Wafer has done as a Celtic, by the way). Erden took off down the court as soon as Wafer had the ball, corralled a long pass, took one dribble, and dunked relatively smoothly. Then, late in the game, Erden was in the left corner when an offense rebound came to him. He turned to back his man down, but saw Marquis Daniels cutting toward the basket. Erden fired a quick pass over his right shoulder that hit Daniels in the perfect spot, a spot where only he could catch the ball. Layup.
On the whole, I thought Erden acquitted himself well. He certainly looked less lost than you'd expect from a foreign rookie center playing his first NBA game. All he needs to do is get rid of those white sneakers he was wearing, and he'll be on his way.
- Not only did Wafer assist on the first basket of Erden's career, he also assisted on the first basket of Luke Harangody's career, a fast break layup that came after Daniels stripped Daye on the other end. Wafer also assisted on Harangody's other basket, a 17-foot jumper.
- Seventeen more assists for Rajon Rondo, and a much smarter floor game this time out: He had zero turnovers. As a team, Boston coughed it up only eight times, and assisted on 33 of its 42 field goals.
- Boston had the ball at the end of the second and third quarters, and I don't have too much of a problem with either play, though neither was spectacular. At the end of the first half, Rondo fed Pierce posting up at the foul line. Pierce drew the double and kicked to Rondo for the three at the horn. That's not necessarily the shot we're looking for, but Rondo nailed it. At the end of the third quarter, Pierce took a three. Not the best shot in the world, but we didn't have a lot of time to develop anything and I think the Captain was feeling it a little bit.
- Speaking of Rondo and shooting, on one first-half possession, he dribbled upcourt, casually went around a screen on the wing, and buried a soft 17-footer that looked oh-so-comfortable. There's a decent shot hiding in that kid somewhere, I know it.
- The one downside about this game was that Doc Rivers had to play the starters a bit more than could have been necessary had the second team taken care of business to start the fourth quarter. Boston was ahead by 20 after three, but a quick 8-2 Piston run brought Ray Allen and Garnett off the bench. (Pierce and Rondo followed shortly thereafter.) The minutes weren't out of control -- 36 for Rondo, 34 for Allen, 33 for Garnett, 32 for Pierce -- but the Celtics play again Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday and the fourth quarter added 3-5 minutes on the starters' odometers.
- Part of the reason Doc had to re-insert the starters was because the second team lacked organization on offense. When Nate Robinson tries to take on that role, he subordinates his offense too much, and the bench mob needs Nate's scoring ability. Marquis Daniels tried to do it against Detroit, but he forced a bunch of shots. Hopefully, when Delonte West gets back, we'll see the second unit really gel.