Boston's 124-105 demolition over the New York Knicks was further proof the Celtics are the best the NBA has to offer.No, it's not the fact they beat the Knicks by 19 points. The Knicks play with passion and enthusiasm, but their lack of defense leaves them significantly flawed. No, it's more the fact that the Celtics always dominate bad teams, and always have the right mentality to best good teams.
The Celtics win because they've made winning a habit. They practice to win. They play to win. They decimate teams that either don't have the talent to match up, or choose not to. That's how you win an absurd 18 games in a row -- the streak the Celtics currently are on.
Boston knew the Knicks play up-tempo basketball and sacrifice defensive discipline to gamble for steals, to leak out on the break, and to wreak disorder on what their opponent wants to do. Instead of slowing the game down though, the Celtics turned the Knicks gameplan against them by blitzing them for easy layup after easy layup in halfcourt sets and early offense. When the first quarter was wrapped up, the Celtics had put 40 on the board and held a 40-21 lead.
While the Knicks made a few runs to cut the lead to single digits, the Celtics controlled every aspect of the game, shooting 66 percent, grabbing twice as many rebounds as the Knicks did (47-23), and forcing key Knicks into awful shooting nights (Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler combined to shoot 3-of-22).
But those details are just the products of a championship mentality. Every screen the Celtics set was rock solid, they always cut and curled along the weak side, even when they weren't expecting the ball, and they always rotated precisely on defense. Always.
All this while Phil Jackson's Lakers still answer questions about a defense that takes nights off, of players abandoning the triangle, and of playing down to the competition. Whether or not the Lakers ever do turn it on, the Celtics are already playing championship-caliber basketball, and will give the Lakers a firsthand sample on Thursday.
Despite another double-digit road win, this time 102-91 over the Thunder, its still impossible to tell how good the Cavs are until they start playing stretches against elite opponents.
They beat Denver on the road on Friday, but the Nuggets aren't an elite team. Their other best wins were over a Jazz team that played without Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, a Hawks team without Josh Smith, and a mediocre Mavs team that doesn't play big-time defense.
None of this is Cleveland's fault. You can only play who's on your schedule, and the Cavs have mopped up on the weaklings they've been scheduled against. But nobody's really going to know how good Cleveland is until they play Boston on Jan. 9, and then play a five-game stretch against New Orleans, at the Lakers, at Portland, at Golden State, and at Utah at the end of January. After their 97-86 home loss to the Mavericks, the Wizards are now 3-11 after firing Eddie Jordan. They're still going nowhere with a too young, too soft, too fragile lineup, only this time, they don't have a quality head coach calling the plays.
Meanwhile, Mike James is trying to adapt to his new role of being Gilbert Arenas. He shot the ball 15 times (one less than Caron Butler), notched five assists, and picked up five turnovers. Jason Kidd didn't score a single point, but also didn't commit a single turnover while dishing off 11 assists and making nothing but good decisions with the ball. Way to be a point guard Mike. There's absolutely no logical reason as to why the Pistons are now 0-4 on Sundays after their 85-78 loss to the Hawks. Maybe it's because the games start too early? After all, the Pistons did fall into an 18-point deficit before crawling back. A better reason might be their backcourt defense. Allen Iverson repeatedly lost track of Mike Bibby and allowed him to go 6-for-6 on 3-pointers and 10-for-17 overall, for 27 points.
Even head coach Michael Curry noted that, saying "It was just mental lapses ... You can't ball-watch and Allen struggles ball-watching sometimes. Bibby made him pay."
Everything Iverson's given the Pistons offensively (which hasn't been much), he's given away defensively. And the bad habits Iverson has defensively don't simply get coached away in a few weeks or months. Detroit needs Iverson to play defense for the first time in his life. If he can't, the Pistons will be one-and-done, and in all likelihood, will have a radically different roster at this point next year.
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