Celtics Show Signs of Regaining Form
By Steve Bulpett
BOSTON -- A wise basketball man was chatting before Sunday’s game, and,
inevitably, the subject of the Boston Celtics’ two team meetings -- one after Friday’s hideous loss to Milwaukee, the second on Saturday -- was raised.
“Those things usually work,” he said. “The question is for how long.”
Thus far, the sound and fury during timeouts Friday and the ensuing caucuses have signified Sunday’s 119-103 victory over Charlotte and at least some measure of hope that the Celts have managed to extricate their heads from their collective posterior.
Then again, weren’t we just here a little more than a week ago? There were eight straight victories and, even against somewhat lesser competition, there was the feeling in the Celtics’ dressing room that they’d come to their senses and were fully prepared to play together and play harder.
But there were cracks in the defensive wall, as the C’s figured they could just hit opponents over the head with offense.
Then the ball stopped moving, and that went away, too.
That brought us to the night before the night before Christmas and the sense of urgency that comes with knowing that anything less than dousing the Hornets with insecticide would beget more media questions and more meetings and maybe even Brad Stevens showing up as Bad Santa.
But after Kyrie Irving had spouted several syllables about his role as team leader, it was evident the All-Star guard wasn’t about to go through another interrogation like Friday’s.
He had talked about the need for more hoop harmony, for fewer solo flights.
“I get caught up in that as well,” he’d said. “For me it’s a hard challenge, because there’s a balance I have. I literally can do anything I want out there, but at the same time it’s what can I do for my teammates to be more successful. I have to be very conscious of that.”
Early in this one, Irving told his conscious to shut up for a moment. Perhaps not wanting any doubt to photobomb the Celtics, he assured they would get off to a proper start.
Five times in the first five minutes he shot from the outside. Five times he scored, the last three of them 3-pointers. Then, just to break up the monotony, he drove and scored. Less than a minute after that, Irving was fouled on a drive and made the two free throws. Seventeen points in 9:19.
“The first couple of minutes, it sure seemed like he was aggressive coming down the floor in transition and coming off screens looking for his shot,” said Stevens. “And I think that we need him to be that. We need him to do that.”
But while Kyrie can lead by example, he can’t necessarily make his teammates shoot straight. So, because the rest of the Celts made but three of 13 shots, his side was able to take just a 29-26 lead after one quarter.
At that point, it appeared the C’s decided to rear back and take out their frustrations on suddenly shell-shocked Charlotte.
The locals didn’t always take such smart shots, but they forgave themselves their trespasses by hustling harder than the Hornets.
Neat idea, eh?
And when Terry Rozier hit Gordon Hayward for an alley-oop jam two and a half minutes into the second period -- the same type of play to the same side of the rim on which Hayward’s 2017-18 season had ended -- the Celts had a 38-28 lead.
The snowball was rolling down the hill, and soon it would be a monstrous sphere that would bury the Hornets, who were, quite appropriately, dressed in their white “home” uniforms so the Celtics could wear their black alternate duds.
They outscored Charlotte by 18 points in the second quarter and by six in the third and would lead by as many as 33.
There would be no coal in the green stockings.
After getting outrebounded by 19 in both the Friday loss to the Bucks and the nasty fall to Phoenix last Wednesday, the Celtics wiped the Hornets off the glass, 47-37 (the discrepancy was greater before things got a little ragged in garbage time). And the 20 second-chance points were evidence that they weren’t going to shrink into the parquet floor after missed shots.
With 2:09 left in the third quarter and Robert Williams at the free throw line giving the C’s a 94-61 lead, Stevens subbed for Irving to give him the rest of the evening off.
His 29 minutes were filled with 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting, and the appreciation of his mates was clear as he approached the pine. There he was all but tackled by smiling Celtics. I’m pretty sure Jayson Tatum gave him a noogie, too.
It was just one night, one game. But under the circumstances, it was a needed respite from nagging questions both external and internal.