Sometimes it looks like Rajon Rondo tearing his ACL and ending his season was the best thing that could have happened to the Boston Celtics, and especially Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who look rejuvenated and focused as a duo instead of a trio, making the big plays in a triple-overtime win against the formerly hottest team in the NBA.
The Denver Nuggets, not juggernauts when playing outside of Colorado, were carrying a nine game win-streak when they traveled to play the Boston Celtics, but a Paul Pierce triple double (27 points, 14 rebounds, 14 assists), a great game from Kevin Garnett (20 points, 18 rebounds) and some clutch shooting from Jeff Green (17 points) kept the win in Boston after 63 minutes of basketball, the Celtics winning 118-114.
It did take Paul Pierce 54 minutes to get that special triple double, but still, it’s been over six years (last time in the 2006-2007 season) since a player last had this kind of triple double. The last player to do it without overtime is LeBron James in 2005. Pierce isn’t exactly LeBron James anymore (or ever was), but he has been playing pretty close to that level since Rondo went down, averaging 19.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists in February, helping the Celtics extend their winning streak to 7 games, the longest in the NBA currently.
But it’s not only been about Pierce and Garnett. For the Celtics to overcome the injury to their only point guard, it was going to take more than just the same old again stars to play like All-Stars. It was about the bench, especially Jason Terry and Jeff Green, making the big plays as well. Green hit a game-tying three point shot to send the game into the second overtime with 23 seconds left. Paul Pierce hit a game-tying three pointer with 5 seconds left in the second overtime. Entering the game, the Celtics were only 3-22 on shots with a chance to tie or win the game with under 24 second left.
The Nuggets, playing without Andre Iguodala since the third quarter (pretty much half the game) were knocked out with that second clutch shot by Pierce. Ty Lawson had a big game with 29 points, hardly leaving the floor. Danilo Gallinari finished with an 18-10 double double, but the Celtics enjoyed a huge day from their bench. Green with the clutch shooting and 17 points; Jason Terry added 26, looking like the guy who won the NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks less than two years ago, going 10-22 from the field. It was Terry’s season high, and only second 20+ point game of the season.
How far can this go? As long as the Celtics keep up this kind of focus and intensity, there’s no reason it should stop. They’re not going to win forever, but the team currently looks a little better than a 7th seed in the East. The question is how are they going to hold up on a road trip, and who’s going to fill in for Pierce and Garnett when they aren’t at their best; when the legs and body grow tired. At home, for now, the energy, passion and ability are there. A bit later down the road, it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to keep this kind of intensity and focus against the best teams in the NBA.