Go ahead and take the weekend off, you deserve it.
The Boston Celtics extended their season-high winning streak to five straight, and got to watch another chapter of their bench evolving into a force as they led the Celtics to a 103-91 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.
Almost as impressive as the five game streak is how the Celtics are able to balance out their minutes, Doc Rivers showing confidence in his bench to maintain the energy and intensity of the starters – and he has good reason.
Rookie Jared Sullinger and Courtney Lee scored 14 points each off the bench and Sullinger ripped down 11 boards for his second consecutive double double to help the resurgent Boston Celtics climb to 2 games above .500 and take another bite out of the New York Knicks lead in the Atlantic Division.
In winning their fifth straight – all to teams with winning records – the Celtics improved to 19-17 on the season and, coupled with New York losing at home to the Chicago Bulls, moved them to within 4 games of the Atlantic Division leaders, and to 2 1/2 games of the 2nd place Brooklyn Nets.
Paul Pierce scored a team high 23 and pulled down 6 rebounds while Kevin Garnett logged 17 and 8. Rajon Rondo chipped in with 12 points and 5 helpers. No Celtic player logged more than Rondo’s 33 minutes, providing the older veterans long breathers between sets and keeping everyone fresh.
Forward Jeff Green scored only nine points in his 19 minutes, but he made sure they were quality buckets, rife with violent athleticism.
With the teams locked in a close struggle in the second quarter, Green gave Boston the spark they need from the bench, keying a Patriots-like scoring spree with a ferocious dunk, then added another rim bender just a few seconds later as the Celtics took control with a 13 point lead.
Clearly the young bench players are having a growth spurt.
Houston was paced by James Harden’s 24 points and Chandler Parsons added 18 for the Rockets, who lost their second straight on this road trip dropping to 25-16 on the season. Harden’s 24 was hard fought and below his 4th leading scoring average, as Avery Bradley pestered him at every turn.
Center Omer Asik pulled down his season average of rebounds with 11 and scored seven points – but also missed seven freee throws as the Rockets missed an astounding 17 from the stripe.
Boston maintained a double digit lead through the third and led by 14 with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter when the Rockets broke out of their offensive funk, going on a 12-0 run, but ran out of gas as the Celtics went on a run of their own, pushing the lead back up to double digits and sending the Rockets off to tomorrow night’s game in Philadelphia in search of a consistent offensive effort.
Boston gets the weekend off before returning on Monday for what should amount to a couple of scrimmages, hosting the really bad 9-25 Charlotte Bobcats on Monday, then the just plain bad 10-25 New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday before a decent Chicago Bulls team invades TD Garden on Friday.
If what we’ve been seeing from the Celtics’ bench during this growth spurt is indicitive of what we’re going to see going forward, it’s becoming more clear each game that Jared Sullinger was a steal when he dropped to Boston at #21 in this past NBA Draft.
It is equally clear that Jeff Green is evolving into a physical nightmare at the power forward position, that Courtney Lee is a capable player in own right and that Avery Bradley is an absolute defensive demon.
Add that to a fresh Pierce and Garnett and you have a Boston Celtics team that is looking pretty scary these days.