The Celtics were out to avenge their one road loss of the season against the Indiana Pacers. What gave them even more motivation to get the job done was that the previous night the Pacers beat the Lakers 118-117 at the last second in LA. Since they also had the opportunity to unseat the Lakers as the consensus "best team in the NBA", win their 10th straight game and run their league leading record to 18-2. All they had to do was stay aggressive and play their game. They were missing the injured Tony Allen, the leading scorer off the bench (8.8 ppg) so they'd all need to step up tonight. No problem.
The game started out and it was pretty competitive at the beginning and Rajon Rondo was sent to the bench early by an accidental headbutt from T.J. Ford. Indiana started out the game hot thanks to the shooting of Danny Granger and they even took the lead for a fair amount of the second quarter. Boston charged back fueled by Rajon Rondo's aggressiveness and the hot shooting of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics also controlled the boards thanks to the duo of Garnett and Kendrick "The Hulk" Perkins.
Paul Pierce was having a frustrating night shooting the ball and the bench was largely effective without it's catalyst (Tony Allen) so they struggled to score unless it was from the free throw line for much of the contest. Hulk took it upon himself to become a scoring threat and he grabbed offensive boards and established himself as an option on the low block early. Since Kevin Garnett was scorching the nets (and the Pacers defenders) all night, that left him unchecked as KG often drew a double team. Big mistake. When the Pacers went to box out Hulk, Rondo just jetted past them and cut to the hole or hit Garnett with an alley oop.
The Pacers had no one that could guard Ray "Jesus Shuttlesworth" Allen. He ended up going 11-18 from the field including 6-9 from deep to finish with 31 points in 27 minutes. Paul Pierce had trouble finding his range as he spent considerable time trying to hold down Danny Granger and keep him from exploding. Since Granger averages 26 points a game (and close to 32 in his last 3), Pierce did a great job holding him to 20 while scoring 16 himself and grabbing 5 rebounds.
Kevin Garnett (26 pts 14 rebs 4 blks) and The Hulk (16 pts 10 rebs (5 off)) completely dominated the paint that night and the Pacers couldn't establish a presence and get any second chance points. The game in which they beat the Celtics, the green shot less than 35% from the field and scored less than 80 points. It was clearly their worst game of the year and since then the Celtics have settled in and now they're back to blowing out squads and watching Geno on the Jumbotron in the 4th quarter.
The game was completely dominated by Rajon Rondo, who damn near had a triple double at halftime. He defended his position, pushed the tempo and found the open man time and time again. When the Indiana Pacers went on their eventual run and brought the lead all the way down from 24 to 9 in the fourth quarter, all the Celtics did was get back to having Rondo push the tempo and find the open man. After about a minute on the court the lead went right back up to 16. Rondo found Kevin Garnett for four thunderous alley oops that completely embarassed the Pacer defenders.
When it was all said and done, Rajon Rondo finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds, 17 assists and 3 steals to make the case for an All Star berth and serious consideration as one of the elite point guards in the NBA (no "young" qualifier necessary). The Celtics physicality and toughness prevented the Pacers from coming back the same way that they did against the Lakers as the Celtics outrebounded the Pacers 54-31 to win 114-96 @ TD Banknorth Garden, the only Garden in the NBA that matters.
The Boston Celtics are now 18-2, the possessors of the best record in the NBA, owners of a 10 game win streak and the undisputed best team in the NBA. Friday night, they host the Portland Trailblazers at home and the player they coveted in the 2007 NBA Draft in Greg Oden. They'll have quite a task on their hands trying to beat this young, loaded squad, hopefully they'll be up to the challenge and Tony Allen will be back to active duty. We the best!