1. Celtics Hold First With Help Of Newcomers
BOSTON -- Two-game losing streaks are generally not cause for alarm during the dog days of an NBA regular season.Yet as the Boston Celtics entered Sunday night's contest facing the prospect of their first three-game losing streak since April 2010, a sense of urgency was apparent for a squad that had been seemingly consistent all season long in the win column despite the injury turmoil.
Amid the new faces and endless injuries though, there were signs for the first time that Boston was treading water, while anxiously awaiting reinforcements in its quest to hold off the Chicago Bulls for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Those signs disappeared quickly, however.
"Tonight was a different focus," explained Kevin Garnett. "We don't like to lose around here. We definitely don't like multiple losses."
That mentality rang clear Sunday night as the Celtics bottled up the weary Milwaukee Bucks for an eye-opening 87-56 victory at the TD Garden to improve to 20-0 against Eastern Conference opponents at home.
Milwaukee's 56 points set a record for fewest points scored by a Boston opponent in the shot clock era, and tied for the fifth-lowest point total ever in an NBA game since the 24-second clock was introduced during the 1954-55 season.
Given that the team dealt one of its key defensive cogs in starting center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City last month, it came as a bit of relief to captain Paul Pierce to show such defensive tenacity with a roster that has brought in five new faces in the past month.
"It was encouraging just to put together a full four quarters of defense. I definitely thought we did that tonight. Especially when we are integrating a lot of new players, and coming off two losses, it was nice just to get back comfortable in our building and play the type of defense that we like to play," Pierce said.
The blowout win also proved crucial in giving the starters some needed rest (all members of the starting five played under 30 minutes) while giving the new additions a chance to mesh together for extended minutes.
The added pieces of Boston's roster shake-up shined brightly in the rout at their respective positions. Nenad Krstic highlighted the new-look crew with his second straight double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds, with the work on the glass coming as a welcome surprise to the Celtics' coaching staff since his arrival.
Former Heat starter Carlos Arroyo dished out six assists in 25 minutes in his third game in uniform, impressing in his quest to seize a role as a reliable backup point guard, even after Delonte West returns to the floor.
And the prize of the buyout market, Troy Murphy, finally showed his first signs of life five games into his Celtics career. The power forward had battled to find his stroke after missing 12 of his first 13 shot attempts in green, but appeared to find it Sunday with a season-high 12 points and 7 rebounds.
All of the positives were not lost on Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
"Troy [Murphy] just needs to see the ball go in the hoop once or twice, and that was good. And Carlos [Arroyo] is just starting to run our offense better and better. So that part of it was terrific."
Despite all the new additions, the bigger problem the Celtics have faced in the past month has been the endless array of injuries to key members of the team's rotation. One of the bigger pieces of the puzzle, Glen Davis, also saw his first action after missing four games with a sprained patella tendon.
Davis has been a part of the team's crunch-time lineup all season and his importance has reached an even higher level since the departure of Perkins, as the team struggled in his absence the past two weeks.
"It was good to have him," Pierce noted. "You get a guy back who understands what we are doing out there for the most part. He's really familiar. It's just another dimension that we add to the ballclub and it's good to keep getting pieces back."
The additional help won't stop this week as West hopes to return to the floor Wednesday night after sitting out the past three weeks with a sprained ankle. His arrival couldn't come at a better time as lurking just a half-game behind Boston for the top spot in the new-look East are the Bulls, a foe Rivers isn't zeroed in on at the moment.
"I'm not even focused on Chicago at all. I want home court, but we just have to keep getting healthy and keep getting better."
With just 18 games remaining, time is running short for Rivers to achieve both goals, but Garnett likes the way the forces are aligning.
"The storm is slowly starting to connect and come together," Garnett said. "We're working for something that's bigger than everyone in this locker room."
With that focus intact, and both Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal waiting in the wings, the rest of the Eastern Conference should be wary of a squad that could be deeper than ever in its quest to bring home Banner 18.
2. Billups' Return Not Enough For Knicks
NEW YORK -- Only once all night did the crowd break into a chant of "Dee-fense" without being prompted by an organist or a bass drum recording, and it was clear from what happened why the fans never took it upon themselves to try that again.
In the face of that "Dee-fense" chant, Indiana rookie Paul George drove the lane and met zero resistance just 1:04 into the game as he lofted in a short jumper, which he followed by driving around a lead-footed Landry Fields for an emphatic jam that made the score 8-1.
Just like that, the tone of the night had been set.
Allowing the Pacers to shoot a blistering 57 percent from the field in ending a six-game losing streak, the Knicks did not get a boost from the return of Chauncey Billups, did not get any kind of sustained offensive production from anybody, did not match Indiana's energy and did not give the 21st consecutive sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden anything to cheer about the rest of the night.
They even heard a few boos.
"They had it tonight, we didn't. Simple as that," said Carmelo Anthony, who scored 14 points in the first quarter but just 11 the rest of the way. "The foul trouble got to me tonight, the way they let [Dahntay Jones] play me tonight was kind of weird. They let him beat me up tonight, and it happens -- you have nights like that where they don't blow the whistle or the whistle doesn't go your way, and tonight was one of those nights."
But this night was bad for the Knicks on so many different levels, the most major of which was their inability to mount any kind of an interior defensive presence against a team stocked with power players along the front line.
3. Daily Dime Live
Zach Harper, TrueHoop bloggers, ESPN.com's NBA crew and DDL regulars hold forth and give their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Sunday's slate in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Tyler Hansbrough, Pacers: Posts a career-high 29 points in a 106-93 win in New York, helping keep the Pacers tied with the Bobcats for the eighth spot in the East standings. It was Psycho T's fourth straight game with over 20.
Bucks offense: When Earl Barron (10 points) is your leading offensive hope, that's trouble. Nobody who ever donned a Bucks uniform before was a part of this -- 56 points, a franchise low. John Salmons, who dropped 36 on the C's in a Game 6 two years ago, went scoreless, missing five shots in 21 minutes.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"That's about as humiliating a defeat as you'll ever see."
-- Bucks coach Scott Skiles, on posting 56 points in the loss to Boston.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. D-Will vs. Rondo
ESPN The Magazine
Point guard is the deepest position in the NBA. Never before have there been so many quality floor generals in both conferences, and never before has the debate raged this fiercely about who among them is the best.
Deron Williams' and Rajon Rondo's styles are at the opposite end of the lead guard spectrum. The once maligned Rondo has become the Boston Celtics' most valuable player, and Deron Williams toggles between potentially the best point guard in the league and the guy who never gets enough credit.
Now they occupy the same division, so there's no better time for them to square off in our weekly matchup. It's D-Will's power and speed against Rondo's cunning and unselfishness.
7. Superman II
Dwight Howard scored 26 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and blocked five shots in the Magic's 111-88 win at Phoenix. Since the start of the 2010 calendar year, Howard is the only NBA player to post a 25-15-5 game, but he has done it six times including twice this month.
It's not the first time that Howard has recorded a pair of 25-15-5 games in the same month, having previously done so in February 2010. Prior to that, no player had two such games in the same calendar month since Shaquille O'Neal did it in March 2004.
8. Selection Sunday King
9. The Clipboard Awards
A team's performance after a timeout may be the best way to judge a coach's X's and O's knowledge, and his ability to draw up plays. The Clipboard Awards is a competition where I choose the top three post-timeout plays each night, adding up the scores over the course of the season.