--GARNETT: LACK OF ASSISTS IS 'LIKE A GREEN SQUIRREL'--
The Celtics always have a few key stats scrawled on a dry erase board inside their locker room at halftime of each game. And trailing by 14 at the intermission of Monday's tilt with the New York Knicks, it was Boston's puny assist total that stood out like a green thumb.
Or, well, something green, according to Kevin Garnett.
"We had four assists at halftime, that’s not us," said Garnett. "That’s like a green squirrel; Like, 'What’s going on?' Second half, I thought the ball moved more, we started sharing the ball, started setting solid picks, caught fire."
Bizarre analogies aside, Garnett had reason to be concerned by Boston's low assist output. Take away Rondo's three first-half dimes and Garnett had the only other feeder (assisting to Paul Pierce on an 11-foot fadeaway jumper with 4:33 to go in the first half).
If the 14-point lead didn't wake Boston up, the assist total sure did.
"We realized, we looked at the score, and we said, 'This is not the Boston Celtics," said Pierce. "We didn't move the ball, we had like four assists. That was very uncharacteristic of a team like us, who moves the ball, makes the extra pass, makes the defense work. So, we tried doing a better job of that in the second half, run our offense, set the screens that are supposed to be set, make the extra pass, and our offense flowed a lot better in the second half."
Boston finished with 17 assists, still low for its lofty standards, but not bad considering 13 of those helpers came after the break. Maybe more importantly, Rondo dished out 12 of those dimes overall, putting together his most Rondo-like effort in weeks as he also finished with 13 points, four rebounds, and two steals over 42:29.
“What you’ve got to understand is no one’s perfect in this league and we’re all going to have some bad games here and there," said Garnett. "Lord knows, I know. You just have some difficult games. This is not an easy game to perfect. Every night it’s hit or miss. [Monday], he was really well, he was really good, he was patient, he knew to attack seams. After Doc got our attention at halftime I think we all settled into who we are and went from there.”
--DIVISION CHAMPS? THAT'S NEWS TO DOC--
For a team that's focus is clearly on a world title, does donning a fourth consecutive Atlantic Division crown mean anything to the Celtics?
"Not the Atlantic title; I don't even know if we won it or not yet," Rivers said before Boston's morning shootaround Monday. Informed Boston clinched it with the Knicks' loss Sunday to Milwaukee, he laughed and added, "Well, there you go. There's your answer. I had no idea."
Even in Rivers' early years in Boston, the division crown was never the goal, just a check mark along the way.
"I can tell you, even in my first year, we won the Atlantic, and a lot of people don't know that," Rivers said of his 2004-05 Atlantic Division title team which earned the third seed in the East before being unceremoniously bounced in seven games by the sixth-seeded Indiana Pacers in the opening round of the playoffs.
"I didn't even know [this year's clinch]. That's the kind of stuff, and maybe it's my fault, but that's something I've never paid much attention to. I guess it's a gift along your way. A gift to get to the big curtain."
Sticking with Rivers' analogy: The Celtics are happy to win a pricing game, but they're ultimately hoping to get to the Showcase Showdown. And anything less than the grand prize isn't enough.
--LAYUP LINE: FORGING CHEMISTRY; BENCH DIP; GETTING PHYSICAL--
* With the Knicks limping to a 7-9 record over their first 16 games with Carmelo Anthony, much was made in these parts about how Boston managed to put it all together so quickly when it united its own Big Three in 2007. Asked how long it might take the Knicks to gel, Rivers quipped: "Hopefully two to three years. No, I have no idea. I don’t know how long; There’s no number to it. Who knows? But they'll figure it out."
* After three consecutive 39-point efforts, the Boston bench came back to Earth a bit in combining for 16 points Monday. Rivers expressed disappointment in having to lean on a playoff-like rotation of just Glen Davis, Jeff Green, and Delonte West for the second straight night. Carlos Arroyo and Troy Murphy combined for little more than five first-half minutes and Rivers pledged to ease the workload on his top eight -- when able -- moving forward.
* Pierce on handling physical and emotional games: "I mean, we've been in a lot of big games. We've been in these type of atmospheres, we've been in those types of wars, so we know how to handle ourselves. Sometimes we don't lose our composure, but we've been in every game you can imagine, big games, so we don't really get rattled. We know how to respond when games get testy or physical. Sometimes we keep our poise, sometimes we don't, but [Monday] we did."