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Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo returned to the court Sunday after a seven-game absence.A handful of thoughts and analysis after the Boston Celtics defeated the Toronto Raptors 93-79 Sunday evening at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto:
--THE TICKET STUB ARRIVES--
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Glen Davis flirted with a triple-double, including a team-high eight assists.On a night Rajon Rondo returned from a seven-game absence to hand out a team-high eight assists, allow us to be mesmerized by the playmaking talents of one of his teammates who matched that total.
Starting his second game in place of the injured Kevin Garnett, Celtics forward/center Glen Davis quietly flirted with a triple-double, posting 15 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists over 39 minutes of action. The fact that he was even in striking distance of a triple-double that included assists is astounding.
Consider this: In 231 career regular-season games, Davis' high for assists was four, something he's only done twice. In fact, he's only registered three assists or more in five games for his career (add in the playoffs and he doubles that total). His previous career high for assists was six in a playoff win over the Bulls in 2009.
Or look at it this way: Entering Sunday's game, Davis had 166 career assists in three-plus NBA seasons. Rondo picked up his 166th assist of the 2010-11 campaign in Game 12 on Nov. 19 against Oklahoma City. What's more, Marquis Daniels had logged nearly 300 fewer minutes than Davis this season and entered Sunday's game with one more assist (35).
Now, Davis isn't paid to be a distributor and he's never met a shot he hasn't liked. He's averaging 10.3 shots per game, nearly twice as many as last season (5.2 per game). That sometimes gets him in trouble, as in Friday's loss to the New Orleans Hornets, when he hoisted an ill-advised 3-pointer trying to tie the game in the final minutes.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers voiced his displeasure on (and again off) the court with Davis' decision, this after warning his troops before the game to play within themselves. Davis didn't hang around the Boston locker room to talk with reporters Friday, but seemed to have learned his lesson.
Sure, Davis still put up 14 shots Sunday in Toronto, but he was clearly looking for the extra pass. That aided him in handing out the eight assists as Boston generated 30 assists on 38 field goals.
"He kind of forced shots last game," Rivers told reporters in a mild understatement. "Tonight, he kept the game simple."
The Celtics don't need Davis to be Garnett. And they don't need eight assists per night from him. But, one day after his 25th birthday, Davis showed great maturity by bouncing back strong. That's a mental toughness that might not have existed in seasons past. Davis could have felt sorry for himself and let it linger. Instead, he produced one of his best all-around efforts, picking up charge No. 30 of the season along the way.
It's all the more impressive because his shot wasn't falling early -- Davis missed six of his seven attempts in the first half. Unfazed, he made four of five shots in the third quarter, scoring nine of his points in that period.
Still, that assist total is the best part of Davis' box score. Garnett is regarded as one of the finer passing big men in the league, dishing out eight assists or more a whopping 101 times in his career. With his assist total Sunday, Davis truly was The Ticket Stub.
--THE RONDO EFFECT--
After some truly gruesome offensive efforts in his absence (from shooting 34.6 percent on Christmas Day vs. Orlando to turning the ball over a whopping 39 times combined in losses to Detroit and New Orleans), Boston celebrated the return of Rondo by getting back to what's made it successful all season.
Its field goal percentage in danger of dipping below 50 percent, Boston connected on 38-of-70 attempts (54.3 percent) Sunday while generating assists on 78.9 percent of its field goals.
On a night Boston did all it could to keep Toronto in the game, it was Rondo and an efficient offense that made a 14-point triumph and a breezy finish possible.
"We were back running stuff, basically stuff that we had put in hibernation [without Rondo]," Rivers joked to reporters in Toronto.
Rondo finished with four points (only attempting three shots), eight assists and a steal over 33:44. He also had five of Boston's 16 turnovers, showing some rust from a 17-day, seven-game absence due to a sprained left ankle suffered in a mid-December win over the Knicks.
As Rivers noted, it was the ease at which Paul Pierce and Ray Allen operated that might have showed just how valuable Rondo is (though the plus-22 in the plus/minus didn't hurt, either). Pierce and Allen, both of whom struggled at times without Rondo, finished a combined 20-of-33 shooting, including 6-of-8 beyond the arc, for 53 points (57 percent of Boston's total output).
It will be interesting to see how Rondo's ankle responds to the renewed activity, especially with a back-to-back looming Monday night against the visiting Timberwolves as part of a grueling week that features six games in eight days.
--OVERCOMING THEIR OWN FLAWS--
The Raptors have dominated the Celtics on the glass in three meetings this season and Sunday's matchup might have been the most lopsided yet. Toronto finished with a 49-37 rebounding edge overall, but it was the 19 offensive caroms, 13 of which came in the second half, that helped the Raptors hang around all evening. To Boston's credit, it limited the damage, allowing only 19 second-chance points off those 19 offensive boards, but that wasn't the only area in which Toronto thrived.
The Celtics also gave up 29 fast-break points, the most they've allowed all season (previous high was 23 vs. Oklahoma City on Nov. 9). That shows the slippage in transition defense that Rivers has expressed so much concern about in recent weeks.
Boston absolutely cannot expect to give up that many points on the glass and in transition and win many games. The fact that the Celtics prevailed by a double-digit spread shows how good their defense was in the half-court set (the Raptors shooting a mere 37.8 percent while finishing 34-of-90).
--LOOSE BALLS: NUMBERS DON'T TELL STORY; PIERCE'S ANKLE--
* The Celtics utilized a five-man bench, but generated only 14 points from their reserves, highlighted by six points from Jermaine O'Neal over 23:21. The low scoring output masks some solid efforts from the likes of rookie (and 23rd birthday boy) Luke Harangody and Von Wafer, who again made the most of their time on the floor. Harangody, who logged nine minutes, had some defensive woes toward the end of a first-half shift (including one poor and-1 foul), but he made the only shot he took, while adding two assists, a rebound and a block.
* Shaquille O'Neal quietly put together a nice night, making all three shots he took for seven points, while adding six rebounds and four blocked shots over 24:20. Typically the bulk of his contributions come in the first half, but O'Neal generated four points, five rebounds and three blocks after intermission. Shaq also spent the final 6:27 on the court as the crunch-time center.
* According to Rivers, Pierce sprained his ankle in the final moments, landing awkwardly after a fast-break slam. Hop HERE to read more.