CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Boston Celtics are a team that prides itself on being able to execute down the stretch in close games, which was exactly what they did in defeating the Charlotte Bobcats, 94-82. Beating the Bobcats is nothing to brag about. Teams have been doing it - a lot - all season. But for Boston, known for playing down to the level of their competition, to get the win without Ray Allen (ankle), Paul Pierce (toe) and Kevin Garnett (rest), speaks volumes to how deep the C's are this season.
"They have so many good players," said Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson. "Toward the end of the game, we just couldn't come up with the plays and the stops to make a run."
Charlotte cut Boston's lead down to just four points with 6:55 to play following a dunk by Derrick Brown. The C's responded with a 10-2 run that put them up by double-digits, a position of control they were able to maintain for the rest of the game.
For Boston, making all the right plays in a close game isn't anything new.
But doing so without Allen, Pierce and Garnett, well that's a little different.
"It builds their confidence, and for some guys it just lets you know, be ready," said C's forward Brandon Bass. "To constantly work on your game throughout the year and on a night like tonight, your number might be called."
Indeed, the C's collectively being ready to play was a factor in Saturday's victory. Here we'll re-examine some keys to the game identified earlier, and how they actually played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: When facing a team like the Bobcats, it's important for Boston to establish control of the game from the outset. That shouldn't be a problem against a Charlotte team that is next-to-last in the NBA in first-quarter points, with 21.7 per game. Meanwhile, the C's boost a defense that gives up 22.6 points in the first quarter - only five teams in the league give up fewer points in the first quarter.
WHAT WE SAW: After a fairly close first quarter, Boston closed the first out with an 11-2 run to take a comfortable 34-23 lead going into the second quarter which sent a clear message that despite being without their Big Three, the C's meant business. "You could see before the game, they really wanted this game; they really did," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "They assume when you sit guys, you're just going to show up and play. And our guys, you could see in their demeanor in the locker room I didn't know if we were going to win or not, but I knew we were going to play hard and right."
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Byron Mullens: Bass' ability to defend and rebound at a high level, have been huge factors in Boston's success of late. In Mullens, he faces a player with the size of a true center, but with great range - even past the 3-point line - on his shot. It'll be important for Bass to use his quickness at both ends of the floor for the C's to win this matchup.
WHAT WE SAW: Mullens only played about 22 minutes off the bench, and was a non-factor with just six points and three rebounds. Bass delivered another strong game for the Celtics with 22 points along with nine rebounds. He also was a factor defensively by blocking three shots and contesting a number of other Charlotte misses. "Brandon is the unknown guy," Rivers said. "He's been doing the exact same thing, rebounding and making shots."
PLAYER TO WATCH: If Kevin Garnett does not play, that will most likely mean Greg Stiemsma will start and Ryan Hollins will become the first (and only) big man off the bench. We have all seen what Stiemsma has done when given an opportunity to play a more meaningful role. It'll be interesting to see how Hollins handles this chance to play decent minutes.
WHAT WE SAW: Arguably the one Celtic who has maximized his opportunity to play, Stiemsma was solid in the middle for Boston. Filling in for Garnett at center, Stiemsma had eight points while making all four of his shot attempts, along with grabbing five rebounds and of course, blocking a few - OK, quite a few - shots along the way. Stiemsma was credited with six blocked shots - that was one more than the entire Bobcats team. "Greg, defensively, is a force," Rivers said. "He's a great shot-blocker. I don't think the officials even know that yet because the way he goes after them."
STAT TO TRACK: Charlotte has been a team where a sizable chunk of their scoring comes from their bench. So for Boston, it'll be important to not allow the Charlotte starters to catch fire. This season, the Bobcats starters average 54.2 points which ranks 29th in the NBA. Conversely, the C's first group has averaged 68.5 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.
WHAT WE SAW: Charlotte got 61 points from its starters, although one of them - Derrick Brown - had 15 points and usually did most of his damage against Boston off the bench. The Celtics' patchwork starting lineup did a good job defensively in addition to finding various ways of generating their own scoring. Boston's starting five on Sunday tallied 83 of the team's 94 points which included the C's Big Three - on this night anyway - of Rajon Rondo (20 points), Avery Bradley (22 points) and Brandon Bass (22 points) combining for 64 points. "Those were the three guys we said we had to get points from and they did it," Rivers said. "So that was nice."