After managing a number of close wins to open the year the Boston Celtics breezed by the Toronto Raptors Saturday afternoon with a 107-89 victory. Jason Terry led the Boston attack with 20 points including 4-7 from beyond the arc while Rajon Rondo added six points and a season high 20 assists. Rookie Jared Sullinger also got in on the act, recording his first career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. The Raptors meanwhile had six players score in double figures but shot just 43 percent from the field, no match for Boston's 57 percent. The Celtics, who had struggled to put away inferior teams this year, notably needing overtime to beat the Washington Wizards, finally beat a bad team convincingly allowing them to rest their stars (Kevin Garnett played just 17 minutes) who will have play again on Sunday Night when the Celtics travel to Detroit.
With a 16 point second quarter lead all but gone and the Boston offense sputtering Terry stepped into a three pointer from the left wing and put it right down the middle. The Celtics had been struggling to break down Toronto's zone defense, a look that limited them to just 17 points in the second quarter after running up 30 in the first. Enter Terry, the self proclaimed "zone breaker." Toronto had been doing a nice job a shutting off Boston drivers and keeping them away from the hoop. However an elite shooter like Terry can lay waste to even the best laid plans, and he started launching threes and drilling them over the top of the zone. The JET's antics spurred a 16-3 Boston run that blew the game back open again after Toronto had gotten as close as two. Terry was brought to Boston to help diminish the scoring droughts that plagued Boston last season and provide game changing offense. He did that on Saturday as the three triples he put in during that run all but iced the game.
Last year with Ray Allen hobbled and no bench scoring to speak of the Celtics were forced to lean heavily on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for offense. This weighed on the Celtics and fans knew that if Pierce or KG had a tough night then offense was going to be tough to come by for Boston. Things are different this year as it seems every game a new face emerges from the bench to give Boston an offensive boost. Against the Jazz it was Jeff Green and Leandro Barbosa coming up with strong efforts off the pine. In Brooklyn Courtney Lee and Chris Wilcox showed up big. On Saturday it was Sullinger's turn as the rookie chipped in a bench high 12 points on 5-8 shooting to go with 11 rebounds. He is still clearly adjusting to the pro game as some of his post moves that served him well in college don't work as well against the longer more athletic big men in the NBA. However he has shown the ability to play pick and pop, score with contact, and rebound at a high rate. Boston's version of depth last year consisted of Mickael Pietrus on one good knee and Greg Stiemsma on a broken foot. This year the Celtics have a veritable stable of assets sitting on that bench just waiting to Doc Rivers to give them the word.
Wilcox a Plus Again
In the very early stages of the season Chris Wilcox wasn't getting a lot of minutes. He wasn't all the way back from heart surgery and Rivers was opting to go with an undersized front court of Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger when Kevin Garnett had to come out. This look wasn't working out as opposing teams were abusing the Celtics due to their lack of an interior presence. Thus Rivers was forced to find someone else to be Boston's first big off the bench and Wilcox has become that guy, replacing Garnett at the five minute mark of the first quarter every game. The move has worked out perfectly as Wilcox currently leads the team in plus/minus at +33. Plus/minus may be an imperfect stat, but it does seem to indicate that good things happen for the Celtics when Wilcox is on the floor. Anyone who has watched a game this year would agree. While not fully in game shape yet Wilcox still runs the floor and finishes in transition as well as any big in the league and attacks the boards at both ends with gusto. Add in that he makes at least one excellent hustle play every game and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and C's fans just have to love Chris Wilcox. He finished Saturday's game +17.
What It Means
This was a game that made fans nervous in the middle quarters, but watching the Celtics bury Toronto at the end of the third was exhilarating. The C's have a couple of quality wins (Chicago, Milwaukee) to their name through ten games but not too many that really inspired confidence. This was one such game. The Celtics took an inferior team and made them feel inferior. Additionally they did it without over taxing their veterans, meaning that KG and Pierce should still be pretty fresh on Sunday.
The Celtics travel to Detroit to face the floundering Pistons on Sunday with tip-off set for 7:30 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
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