Wrapped up early
Celtic starters catch breather in home rout
The Celtics needed nearly a third of this compacted season to start producing blowout victories.
A 100-64 decision over the Toronto Raptors last night was the Celtics’ largest winning margin of the season, accomplished nine days after a 31-point wipeout of Orlando. This was the Celtics’ sixth win in seven games and vaulted them over .500 for only the second time this season.
“Things are starting to come around,’’ said Paul Pierce. “We’ve really gained some confidence over the last three weeks. I think it’s going to continue to get better. It’s just about putting together some consistency with this team, because earlier in the year we were losing to a lot of the bad teams we shouldn’t lose to, especially on our home floor.
“So, I think we’re starting to play better and be more consistent in what we do. Hopefully, that continues and we get guys back from injury. I thought we kind of took a step back there in Cleveland [93-90 on Tuesday], but a win is a win, and hopefully we can learn from it. It was great to really go out there and put a team away that we’re supposed to.’’
The Celtics (11-10) accomplished this win thanks to a combination of defensive intensity and the inept play of the Raptors, who were missing leading scorer Andrea Bargnani.
A fast start, and a strong start to the second half, allowed the Celtic starters to take a break in preparation for tomorrow’s game against the Knicks. Pierce (17 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) totaled 26 minutes of playing time. Kevin Garnett went a season-low 17 minutes.
“Paul made a great point to me before he came out,’’ coach Doc Rivers said of the Celtics’ halftime preparation. “He said, ‘I’m going hard this first six minutes because I want to sit. We’re going to try to get this lead up so we can sit.’ And I told Kevin before the game that I wasn’t playing him much, regardless of what the score was. So, it kind of worked out good for us.’’
And the reason it did was because of defensive concentration, starting with Avery Bradley, starting for the eighth successive game in place of Rajon Rondo (right wrist sprain).
“We went into the game and just talked about our defensive energy and how that would control our offense,’’ Rivers said. “And so, I thought our guys did a great job. Toronto was so banged up, and without [Bargnani]. And that obviously helped us, as well.’’
The Celtics got off to a fast start, as they did in Cleveland on Tuesday, a 12-0 run over a 4:07 span contributing to a 29-16 first-quarter lead. And in contrast to recent contests, the Celtics continued to stretch the advantage.
In fact, the result was virtually decided just before halftime as Garnett converted his first 3-pointer of the season. Garnett’s three with 0.5 seconds remaining gave the Celtics a 57-35 halftime advantage. It took the Raptors until late in the fourth quarter to get to 57 points.
By then, the Celtic starters were lounging around in sweatpants, towels around their necks, ice packs around their joints.
And the younger Celtics were logging more valuable playing time, previously gained in force-fed situations dictated by injuries.
“It’s given the guys a lot of confidence,’’ Pierce said. “The guys who really haven’t been able to play as much, guys like Avery and E’Twaun [Moore], because of the injuries.
“So, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, because you never know down the road if anybody else gets hurt, we need guys to step in and play those roles. So, it’s really good to get guys experience they wouldn’t normally get in these type of circumstances.’’
The Celtic reserves struggled at the start of the fourth quarter, losing possession on successive 24-second violations before Mickael Pietrus’s 3-pointer made it 80-53 with 8:53 remaining.
But the second unit regrouped and rookie JaJuan Johnson scored a season-high 11 points in 10 minutes of playing time.
“About time,’’ Rivers said of the Celtics’ plus-.500 record. “We’ve gone through a lot. So has everyone else in the league. It’s not just us. To start out slow like we did and get over that number, it’s good for us. We’ve just got to keep doing it. We’ve just got to keep working on it.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.