Rajon Rondo vs. Deron Williams. Shaq vs. “Big” Al Jefferson. It was supposed to be a big and obviously competitive game at TD Garden last night between the Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics, in the former (Western Conference) club’s only appearance in Boston this season. Jefferson was the big draw in particular, since he was once Boston’s next great hope before being traded to Minnesota (along with other players and draft picks) for Kevin Garnett almost four years ago. And we all know how well that trade worked out for Boston.
Quietly, Jefferson got traded again (to Utah) before this season started. Now healthy enough to play everyday, he and Williams are the faces of the franchise that once trotted out John Stockton and Karl Malone on a daily basis.
The snowy Boston weather Friday morning had no effect on the Celtics by nightfall, as Rondo’s 12 assists, KG’s game-high 21 points and three steals, C’s captain Paul Pierce’s 20 points and 52 points from a deep bench were too much for the Jazz, defeating them 110-86 for their fifth win in a row and Utah’s third straight loss.
The Celtics shot the lights out for much of the first half, scoring 59 points. But more importantly, the home team drew two quick fouls on Williams in the first quarter (which limited his first half minutes) and held him to a season-low five points overall. Jefferson, meanwhile, had a bad shooting night, going 1-for-11 and scored only seven to go with five rebounds. Backup point guard Earl Watson had 12 points to lead the Jazz.
If there was any question that the Celtics have the deepest team in the NBA, consider that Shaq played just six minutes in this game, leaving with what coach Doc Rivers called a “locked up” hip, but that backup rookie Turkish center Semih Erden scored a season and career-high 14 points, seven rebounds and three steals in his absence. Also off the bench, Glen Davis had 15 points and Marquis Daniels had as many assists (six) as Williams did for the Jazz. In all, the C’s had an astounding 31 assists on 37 made baskets.
The Celtics have a double-digit lead over the Knicks to lead the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic division, a three-and-a-half game lead over the Miami Heat to lead the East overall, and the second-best record in the NBA behind the San Antonio Spurs. And they’ve accomplished all that without the services of Kendrick Perkins, and for much of the year, Delonte West, and others in and out of the lineup with various injuries (Rondo, KG, Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal).
If they are THIS good now, NBA teams should be scared of how much better they can be if and when they get fully healthy.