Mike DiNovo/US Presswire
The Celtics are heading in the right direction with Monday's win in Chicago.Fresh off Friday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce suggested that maybe it was a good thing that this slow-out-of-the-gates squad was heading out on a two-game road trip. Pierce figured it might be good to get away from all the noise after a 2-3 start and hoped the road would be a place where the Celtics could get their act together.
With back-to-back wins in Milwaukee and Chicago, Boston certainly appears to be moving in the right direction, not only in the win column but with the brand of basketball displayed on the court.
"Well, Paul's right. He's a wise man," Celtics coach Doc Rivers, informed of Pierce's pre-trip prediction, told reporters after Boston's 101-95 win against the Chicago Bulls on Monday. "I definitely think any adversity any time on the road is good. I don't know if you count early-season struggles as adversity or not, but it's a competitive group. They want to find their way and they're starting to do that."
While there's an obvious danger in putting too much stock in the first five games of any season, the Celtics had legitimate concerns before this trip. There were jarring defensive problems, particularly in transition; an inconsistent offense that looked out of sync while integrating new faces; and Boston's biggest offseason additions -- guys such as Courtney Lee, Jeff Green and Jason Terry -- were struggling to produce.
Boston's confidence grew with a solid second half in Milwaukee, but it jumped to a whole new level after Monday's best-win-of-the-young-season in Chicago.
"Our team is starting to find their way," Rivers said. "We thought coming in with this group that we could score. But it just takes time, and tonight, I thought, by far was our best rhythm offensively."
Added Rivers: "I thought it was a good team win. I thought every single guy did something, from [Jared Sullinger's 3-pointer] to Chris Wilcox's 3-point play. Jason Terry comes off the bench while they're making a run and he settles everybody down by making a shot. You know, there were just a lot of great efforts tonight."
With that in mind, we spotlight three of the key contributors in Monday's win:
* RONDO FLIRTS WITH TRIPLE-DOUBLE: With Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich out, Rajon Rondo was left to feast on old friend Nate Robinson, who started at the point for Chicago. Rondo responded by making 10 of 16 shots for 20 points, while adding 10 assists (barely keeping his 31-game double-digit streak alive), 9 rebounds and 5 steals over a dazzling 37:21. Rondo delivered two key alley-oop lobs to Kevin Garnett late in the game to help fend off a final Chicago rally. But Rondo did so much more than his stat line shows, pushing the ball hard in transition, keying Boston's ball movement, and simply quarterbacking an all-around effort that saw Boston shoot 50.6 percent and put up triple digits against one of the league's best defenses. Said Rivers: "I think [Rondo is] starting to really get comfortable with the players on the floor, what he can call, and you can see that coming on as well."
* JET FINDS THE RUNWAY: Terry seems to have found his cruising altitude the past two games. It's not just that his scoring is back to double-digit output, it's that he's starting to hit the sort of clutch shots that the Celtics envisioned he would when they inked Terry to a three-year deal during the offseason. With Boston enduring a five-minute scoreless streak, Terry buried a long jumper after the Bulls had rallied within three. He added another clutch 20-footer soon after to prevent Chicago from coming all the way back from a double-digit deficit. Terry has run with the starters the past two games, but he's simply picking his spots better as he settles into this offense. Terry finished Monday's game a team-best plus-19 in plus/minus.
* WILCOX PROVIDING NEEDED BOOST: The player with the most minutes off the bench on Monday? Wilcox, who continues to deliver a shot in the arm for a Boston team that has needed more bench contributions. As usual, Wilcox's line wasn't overwhelming: He finished with seven points (on 2-of-2 shooting) with two rebounds. One of those buckets was an emphatic one-handed slam that put Chicago's Taj Gibson on a poster. Wilcox is providing size and steady defense regardless of whom he's paired with and, serving as the first big man off the bench, his play has allowed Rivers to move away from an undersized combo of Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger that had been abused through the early part of the schedule.
That doesn't even touch on what Bass did (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal over 34:18); how Courtney Lee showed signs of emerging from his shooting funk (4 points on 2-of-3 shooting); and how Leandro Barbosa ate up point guard minutes and made good things happen with his speed (6 points on 3-of-7 shooting).
Heck, Boston put up 101 points despite cringe-worthy 3-of-16 shooting (18.8 percent) beyond the 3-point arc. Sprinkle in just 16 free throw attempts (Boston did make them all) and you've got a team that unexpectedly forayed into triple digits against Chicago. Now the Celtics will pack a couple of extra suitcases filled with confidence as they travel back to Boston.