With regard to Stephon Marbury, the important thing to remember is that he has yet to play a game with Kevin Garnett. Even so, we are now seeing flashes of what Marbury can bring a Celtics team that suddenly needs all the help it can get.
Marbury had six assists in the Celtics' 112-108 overtime victory against the Miami Heat last night at the TD Banknorth Garden, five of them coming in the first quarter. All six of Marbury's assists came in the first 16 minutes of play. The man with a reputation for selfishness is distributing the ball as if passing out Halloween candy, and Marbury's inconsistencies partly may be the result of him simply trying a little too hard.
"He's definitely looking pass first, there's no doubt about that," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I think he's just trying to make plays for everybody so bad instead of just making a play.
"You can see it slowly coming," Rivers added of Marbury's development. "I keep telling him the shot is going to be the last thing [to come back]."
In the interim . . .
- . . . the Celtics and Marbury anxiously await the return of Garnett, whose importance cannot possibly be overstated on either end of the floor. The Celtics often remind us that their offense begins with their defense, and their defense right now stinks. That is not hyperbole. In 13 games without Garnett, the Celtics have allowed 99.4 points per game, permitting the Heat to shoot a comfortable 47.8 percent from the field -- and 42.1 percent from 3-point distance -- without Dwyane Wade.
"We miss [Garnett's] leadership out on the floor, his verbal leadership," Rivers said. "I think he's the one who holds everyone accountable defensively. We've won games [without him], but they've been offensive games -- all of 'em, basically."
In Garnett's absence, the Celtics are now 7-6. In the seven victories, the Celtics have scored 128, 114, 104, 115, 105, 102, and 112 points, an average of 111.4 points per game. In the six losses, the Celtics have averaged a mere 93.6 with outputs of 91, 95, 79, 99, 77, and 121, the last coming in Tuesday's loss to the Chicago Bulls. Take away that game - clearly an aberration -- and the Celtics have averaged 88.2 points per game in Garnett-free losses.
Is it possible that one man can have this much of an impact, particularly on defense?
"That's why he was the Defensive Player of the Year," Rivers said. "And I think now he's showing why he was the Defensive Player of the Year."
Which brings us to . . .
- . . . the Celtics' long-term plan, which has been debated here via both chats and e-mail. So here is the definitive truth:
According to two NBA sources, the Celtics currently project to be under the salary cap following the 2010 season, when Ray Allen's contract is set to expire. That means they will have a max contract to offer in what is a very deep free agent class. The contracts of Paul Pierce ('11) and Garnett ('12) will come up in the years immediately thereafter, meaning the Celtics again will have max contracts to offer if they are still under the cap.
Ultimately, what this means is that Danny Ainge did more than open just a short-term window when he acquired Garnett and Ray Allen during the summer prior to last season. He set up the Celtics to replace each member of his Big Three with impact free agents if and when the time comes. Of course, the Celtics also will have the choice of retaining those players if they so choose.
Meanwhile . . .
- . . . Ainge will continue to draft people like Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who started and played 41 minutes in his first game since spraining an ankle against the Orlando Magic March 8. Davis had eight points and seven rebounds before fouling out, and -- get this -- the Celtics outscored the Heat by a whopping 27 points when he was on the floor.
More than anything, the fact that Davis played 41 minutes speaks to the Celtics' injury situation, something Rivers joked about before last night's game.
"We haven't seen him play [since the injury], so I'm going to start him," Rivers cracked.
And after the game?
"I think Baby's ankle is OK judging by the 41 minutes he played," Rivers mused.
As for Rajon Rondo, he played 47 minutes after leaving Tuesday's game upon aggravating an ankle injury he suffered in the March 6 win over Cleveland. Rondo took a career-high 20 shots and scored 27 points, picking up much of the scoring slack in the absence of, among others . . .
- . . . Ray Allen, who sat on the bench wearing a suit. Which leads us to a question: Whose decision is it as to whether a player sits on the bench during a game? Why does someone like Allen sit on the bench while someone like Garnett does not?
"I don't determine that. . . . That's something I could care less about," chuckled Rivers, who said that Allen's disposition made him a far more welcome presence on the bench than, say, Garnett.
Added the coach: "If Sam Cassell can get a technical from the bench, I'm sure Kevin can get a technical from the bench."
So Garnett stayed in the locker room and Allen sat on the bench . . .
- . . . which must have made Paul Pierce feel like this was March 2007 instead of March 2009. With neither of his trusty sidekicks, Pierce followed up Tuesday's 37-point performance against the Bulls with a 36-point performance against the Heat, scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter and seven in the final 2:27 of regulation.
"It almost came down to we had Paul and they didn't have Wade at the end," noted Rivers.
In retrospect, maybe it really was that simple.
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