The Celtics have struggled to beat weaker teams this season (think: the Cavs, Bobcats and Hornets) but Sunday’s game was different. This team is banged up, and, while some might say are limping to the finish, they chalked up another ‘W’ and continue to avoid slipping to eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
With the return of both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce — who took home the Red Auerbach award for the second time last night — the lineup was as complete as possible for the first time in a long time. Despite missing eight games, Garnett wasn’t rusty at all and played pretty well, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. After the game Garnett said, “I felt okay. I felt strong enough to play.” Even with a sore ankle, Pierce added 15 points, five assists and four rebounds in 30 minutes.
But the other story is how the rest of the team is pulling together and playing starting to with confidence. After the game, Pierce said “It’s good to be playing the best basketball at the right time, and right now is the right time going into the playoffs for some guys to get their confidence going and start having some big games.”
Last night’s “big game” came from Brandon Bass, who put in a game-high 20 points, just two short of his season-high. There were also some solid contributions off the bench, with the unit pouring in 42 points, led by Chris Wilcox’ 13 (Sunday was the first time he’s been in double digits since Feb. 22). Also off the pine, Jason Terry racked up nine and Shavlik Randolph had eight points to go with his seven rebounds.
After the game, Pierce also acknowledged that “…when we play the right way, when we defend, we score 107 points. Score in the paint and we can limit the other team.” Boston did just that on Sunday, separating themselves from Washington at the beginning of the third quarter with a 16-3 run, building a double-digit lead they never gave up (thankfully). In their 31 point third quarter, they shot 75-percent (12-for-16) from the field.
With only a handful of games left in the regular season, and the playoffs in sight, the team is finally passing the chemistry test. Sunday night’s new-look starting lineup of KG, Pierce, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, and Bass seemed to play with more of a familiarity of one another for a lineup that had played just 13 minutes together prior to Sunday.
Teams often start “resting” their stars ahead of the playoffs (ahem, Miami) and try to build chemistry from the bench, but thanks to all the injuries this year the C’s don’t have to do that. In fact, injuries have forced the bench to come together already, and with all of the pieces now together, Garnett feels better about heading into the playoffs.
Read: More Of Tracy’s Take
“I know what I have in here. I know who’s willing to fight, who’s not going to lay down. I’d take a bunch of fighters over some skill people any day,” he said after Sunday’s win.
And with a tough schedule and postseason ahead of them, that’s exactly what these Celtics are going to need to do: fight.
Tracy Clements is a weekend producer on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow her on twitter at @clementine_12.