Can resurgent Big Three get their swing back from Jazz?
The Celtics are in third place once again after beating Dallas Saturday night in a great game. They’re feeling good, looking good, and starting to believe in themselves anew. Their aging trio of superstars has been playing better of late, and shouldering a bigger load. They currently own the type of momentum that can lead to bigger things: a long winning streak, a secure three seed or better, an additional round away from LeBron, and a chance at advancing past the second round in the playoffs.
But, whether that will happen may depend on tonight’s outcome against the equally hot Utah Jazz, who have won seven out of their last 10 games. According to Accuscore, a projection program ESPN.com utilizes to determine the favorite of each game, the Jazz have a 64 percent chance of winning tonight. Utah sports a stellar 28-8 home record, and Boston counters with an equally impressive 24-12 road record. Both teams need the win. Boston is tied with Atlanta for the three seed, and must finish strong in order to choose the lesser of two evils in Orlando for a round two matchup rather than Cleveland. Furthermore, the four seed will be stuck with the unpleasant Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, so both Atlanta and Boston know what’s at stake. The Jazz face no shortage of contenders breathing down their necks out west, and also have plenty of impetus to put in their best effort.
The playoffs have started.
The Celtics appear to have finally woken up after they were dismissed against Cleveland on national TV a couple Sundays ago. Since then the Big Three has gotten its act together, with Paul Pierce once again putting up points in large quantities (a whopping 37.7 points per 40 to go with 5.7 boards and 3.4 assists over the past four games), Ray Allen lighting it up from the field (13 of 25 from deep, 23 of 40 overall, and perfect from the line in five attempts over the last four), and KG putting up very good per-40 numbers with his leg beginning to look more like a functioning body part than a carcass attached to his torso (21.3 points, 10.45 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per 40 over the last four games).
I’ve been especially impressed with Big Baby Davis. His per-40 numbers since the Cleveland game are phenomenal. He’s putting up a solid 14.4 points per 40, but really making an impact with his offensive rebounding. He’s averaged 6.9 offensive boards per 40 minutes during the last four games, and 11.2 total rebounds per 40. His tenacity has anchored a second unit trying to round itself into form with Nate Robinson and Michael Finley providing inconsistent scoring and shooting, Marquis Daniels adding his dribble-drive element, and Rasheed Wallace adding, well, laziness and not much else. Here’s hoping Doc holds Wallace accountable in the playoffs, because his performance has been so horrendous that he could be the difference between winning and losing when it truly counts.
Accuscore has its reasons for giving the Celtics only a 36 percent chance of victory tonight. I’ve had plenty of reasons to doubt this group since its initial firebrand start faded to nothing more than just a scarring reminder of what was. The doubt is reasonable, and based on reality. But, at least tonight, I say Boston has a 50/50 chance at getting its swing back.
Over the past three seasons nothing, save health, has determined Boston’s chance at winning better than Ray Allen’s three-point percentages. Quite simply, when he’s been able to space the floor and hit open threes, the team has a great offense. When he doesn’t, Rajon Rondo must take on too big a role, having to slash toward the basket with the shot clock winding down. Rondo still doesn’t hit free throws, which lowers the value of his driving when points are a necessity, not a help. So why do I bring this up? Mr. Shuttlesworth is shooting 46 percent from deep in March. I like those odds.