Celtics 107, Wizards 96
Kevin Garnett’s return to the Celtics lineup resulted in some immediate, and predictably positive changes for a team that had lost eight of their last 11 games. For the first time during that stretch, the C’s won the battle inside, with a 50-36 advantage in points in the paint, and they also out-rebounded the Wizards (29-48) by a small margin (38-36). Most importantly, getting Garnett back after an eight-game absence, along with a rejuvenated Paul Pierce (missed two of three games this week), allowed the rest of the Celts to slide back into roles that they seemed more comfortable in.
Brandon Bass has been playing extremely well lately, but his 20-points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field this Sunday night marks his most efficient offensive performance of the season. Even though Garnett only played 23 minutes, the fact that he started at center allowed Bass to move to his more natural position (power forward), and the 6-foot-8-inch, 7th year pro responded well to the change.
Boston found their groove offensively as they took control of this game in the third quarter. During that frame, they shot an incredible 12-of-16 from the field, and built an 18-point lead that they never relinquished.
While the offense got back on track, Garnett also made an impact on the defensive end. Despite laboring through his first NBA action in nearly two weeks, K.G.’s passion and communication on that end of the floor seemed to inspire the rest of the C’s players. He is that anchor down low, and that allows the rest of the team to be more aggressive on the perimeter.
Avery Bradley did not miss a game after bruising his collarbone in Friday night’s loss to Cleveland, and he did an excellent job by holding a red-hot John Wall to 16 points on 20 field goal attempts. Without an increased presence in the defensive paint, Bradley and (fellow ball-hawking guard) Courtney Lee were not able to gamble on opposing guards, but now that the Celtics bigs are back in their ‘normal’ rotation, these guards should be able to continue to cause havoc.
The C’s now need either four wins, or four losses from the Milwaukee Bucks, in order to clinch the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference and avoid a first round matchup with the Heat. Although avoiding the number one seed in the opening round is important, Doc Rivers and the Celtics’ main priority is to enter the playoffs with his players healthy and in-sync. Now that Garnett and Pierce are getting back into game shape, that goal seems to be within reach.