Paul Pierce scored 23 points, Jeff Green and Leandro Barbosa added 16 each off the bench, and the Boston Celtics ground out a tough win over the Utah Jazz 98-93 Wednesday night at the TD Garden. Paul Millsap scored 20 to lead Utah while old friend Al Jefferson knocked in 13 to go with 14 rebounds, but Mo Williams' running layup bounce out and, after Kevin Garnett secured the rebound he put the game away at the line with two clutch free throws. The Celtics were without Rajon Rondo for much of the second half after he turned his ankle midway through the third quarter, and also had to overcome a rough night for back court mate Jason Terry, who managed just three points on 0-1 shooting. But Boston's bench poured in a season high 47 points to come up with a strong team win.
Thanks to a strong effort from their bench, Green and Barbosa in particular, the C's seemed to be well in control for much of the second half. Yet every time they seemed to be pulling away one of the Jazz would come up with a big answer bucket. Gordon Heyward knocked down two huge third quarter threes to halt a Celtics run and Randy Foye did the same thing midway through the fourth quarter. The Celtics seemed on the verge of breaking it open for much of the second half but they couldn't keep the Jazz off the offensive boards, and all the extra shot attempts eventually added up. Al Jefferson's jumper tied it at 93 with 1:56 to go. However the Jazz would not score again. They had been doing most of their damage on second shot opportunities but the Celtics forced two Mo Williams misses and Garnett came up with two huge defensive rebounds. He hadn't been doing a good job on the boards to that point, but those two rebounds were probably the biggest plays of the game.
Much was made during the offseason of Boston's retooled bench. Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green were expected to give Boston excellent depth and this added scoring punch would take the load off of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Celtics101 shared this opinion, but things haven't worked out that way early in the year. The bench has really struggled to find it's way, with Green and Lee notably searching for roles. Tonight the bench came up huge. Green and Barbosa each threw in 16 points, but it didn't stop there. Chris Wilcox also came through with some big minutes in the first half. His finishing lobs from Rondo and coming up with rebounds allowed Doc Rivers to keep Kevin Garnett on the bench for the entire second quarter, enabling him to finish the game strong. Meanwhile Green played so well that he was on the floor instead of Brandon Bass in the final moments, and actually came up with a huge defensive rebound over Paul Millsap before being whistled for a questionable traveling call. The Celtics have been waiting for a game like this from their bench. It has been a long time coming but the pieces are falling in to place.
Normally this would be a "bold play of the game" segment, but in truth there were rather a lot of these from the Celtics tonight. Wilcox put in six points at the rim, finishing two lobs from Rondo and throwing a Barbosa miss back down with authority. Garnett also hit the highlight reel, finishing a lob from Rondo in style and chucking a beautiful behind the back feed to Barbosa in the third quarter. However the play that is going to be all over SportsCenter for the next month came from Green. Midway through the fourth quarter Garnett was doubled in the post and thew the ball out to the left corner where Green was camped out. But instead of settling for a contested three Green drove around Marvin Williams and went right over the top of Al Jefferson, finishing with a Earth shaking dunk. He was whistled for taunting right after, but it was worth it. KG called Green out a week ago, saying that he needed to be meaner. There was a season's worth of mean in that dunk.
Somebody Box Out
Garnett came up with the two crucial rebounds late in the fourth quarter, but the only reason that was news worthy was because the Celtics were so horrible on the glass for much of the night. Garnett finished with eight rebounds. After him no other Celtics had more than five. Boston was out rebounded 48 to 33 and gave up 18 offensive rebounds. Knowing that stat it's really incredible that they won. For a while it really looked like Utah was just content with throwing the ball at the rim because they knew the Celtics weren't going to box out. The lack of fundamentals on the boards is really disturbing. It has been a problem for years but it just doesn't seem to be getting any better.
What it Means
Despair was in the air a week ago when the Celtics were taken to task on their home court by the Philadelphia 76ers. Now they have suddenly won three in a row and five of their last six. The wins have all been close, grind it out affairs. But the Celtics sure seem like they found something in that second half against Milwaukee. The whole team is just playing more freely. The ball is moving easier and everyone seems more confident. There is still a long way to go, but it's a lot easier to watch this team right now than it was a week ago.
No rest for the wicked. The Celtics face their first back to back of the season when they take on the Brooklyn Nets at 8 p.m. Thursday night at the Barclays Center.
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