Celtics’ win easy as 1-2-3
Depleted roster offset by simple game plan
The plan was to turn algebra into ordinary arithmetic. There were too many new players in too many new roles.
J.R. Giddens, who was making his first NBA start, was swinging between shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, who returned to the lineup in mid-December, suddenly had to man the point guard and small forward spots. Ray Allen, the lone member of the Big Three who was injury-free, had to learn the small forward spots and take over some of the duties of bringing the ball up the court.
In order to make everything run smoothly and snap a three-game losing streak, Celtics coach Doc Rivers came up with one mantra: Simplify everything. And in every timeout during the Celtics’ 103-96 win over the Raptors at TD Garden last night, everyone from Rivers down to each of his assistants repeated the refrain.
“We kept it simple,’’ Rivers said. “We had a theme going into the game. Fortunately it was the right theme, because sometimes you just don’t know. But every single guy, you could hear the whole time repeating it over and over again.’’
The blueprint was the same - defense first, unselfishness second. The steps were just easier to follow.
“We didn’t do anything different really,’’ Rivers said. “We just ran our stuff. We simplified it because we thought we had to.’’
The Celtics shot 51.4 percent from the floor, they won the rebound battle, 36-28, and with 26 assists on 36 field goals, they kept the ball moving on offense. For Rivers, figuring out a way to win, was like piecing together a puzzle, but the key was making sure each player knew which piece it was.
Rivers didn’t expect Tony Allen to be Rajon Rondo (hamstring strain). He knew that with just weeks on the floor, Allen only knew a handful of plays. So, in Thursday’s practice, Rivers only put in four plays, and emphasized more passing and less dribbling. And when the situation called for more plays, then so did Rivers.
“In some ways, I never called more plays probably in my life,’’ Rivers said. “But we knew that coming in.’’
Allen finished with 14 points and seven assists. He was one of four players in the Celtics piece-meal starting five to finish in double figures. Ray Allen, playing with a bull’s-eye as the Celtics’ primary scoring option, put up a team-high 23 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Kendrick Perkins finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Rasheed Wallace scored 16, buoyed by a 12-point first half.
Giddens was 1 for 3 in his first career start, but Rivers never expected him to transform into Paul Pierce (knee infection). He wanted him to be effective.
“All we tried to do was keep them in positions where they couldn’t fail,’’ Rivers said. “We tried to get them out of harm’s way I guess.’’
The success spread to the bench, which contributed 34 points - the lion’s share provided by Glen Davis (15 points) and Eddie House (12).
After winning on Christmas Day without Pierce, the Celtics struggled against the Clippers, Warriors, and Suns. Ray Allen said that without Kevin Garnett (hyperextended knee) and Pierce, the Celtics got away from the elements that had made them the best team in the East.
“On the road trip, it was like we were trying to reinvent who we were,’’ Allen said. “Paul went down and we were trying to figure out who was going to step up and how we were going to play the game. Tonight we didn’t think about that. We just filled in the gaps, whoever was open took the shot, whatever plays we ran we executed them, defensively everybody knew the game plan. That’s just what we always have to remember regardless of who’s in the game.’’
With the quick stop at home before heading back on the road, Rivers told his team this was a “must win.’’
In ending their own slide, the Celtics snapped the Raptors’ five-game winning streak. The Celtics improved to 24-8 (11-4 at home) and Ray Allen said finding ways to win even when they’re shorthanded was important.
“We talked about it for all day yesterday and all day today. We’re at home, going out on a road trip and we have to come into the game with the attitude that you expect to win. I didn’t think we had that attitude in Phoenix. I thought we showed up and said, ‘What’s going to happen.’ I thought tonight we showed up with an attitude that we’re going to find a way to win. We didn’t know how but we were going to find it.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.