- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- He had just watched his team get dismantled by the Celtics and that's never fun for the losing coach. But there's still enough C-O-A-C-H in Denver's George Karl for him to appreciate how the Celtics had taken his team to the proverbial woodshed.
"You watch them and the one thing that stands out is that they're so committed to each other," Karl said of the Celtics, not long after Boston had beaten the Melo-less Nuggets 105-89. "You just don't see any selfish guys out there. Someone has an open 15-footer, but he will pass it to the guy who has an open 10-footer. You have to sacrifice to get your team to that point.
"Every coach in the league wants that," Karl said. "Maybe five or six are lucky enough to have that."
And Doc Rivers is one of that lucky group. He's actually at the top.
The Celtics shot 55.9 percent against Denver in winning their eighth straight game, improving their NBA-leading field goal percentage mark from 50.8 percent to 51.1 percent. This is rarefied air for any Celtics team; the last Boston team to shoot better than 50 percent in any season was the 1990-91 team, which led the loop with a 51.2 percentage.
The great Celtics teams of the 1980s routinely shot 50 percent or better, but in that era, so did a few other teams. Seven teams shot 50 percent or better in the 1984-85 season alone. But if the Celtics finish this season at 50 percent or better, they will be only the eighth team in the last 20 years to do it. Two teams, Phoenix and Utah, have done it twice in that stretch. Orlando, Golden State and Chicago are the others. From 1997-98 through 2006-07, no one did it. No one did it last year, either.
No other team in the NBA is shooting as high as 49 percent. The Suns were No. 2 heading into play Wednesday night, shooting 48 percent. (But they also allow their opponents to shoot 49 percent. Celtics" foes are shooting 43.6 percent.) The league average through 314 games (not including Wednesday's games) was 45.6 percent.
"It's really all about trust and great ball movement," Rivers said. "They just trust each other and it makes it very easy to play with each other. Of course, it helps that the shots are dropping. And, right now, they are."
Yes, they are. Wednesday night's victory represented the 12th time (in 21 games) that the Celtics have shot 50 percent or better this season. They are 12-0 in those games.
Six Celtics are shooting better than 50 percent -- none of them, strangely, named Ray Allen -- topped by Shaquille O'Neal's otherworldly 68.7 percent. Shaq already holds the NBA record for leading the league in field goal shooting, having done it 10 times, most recently with the Suns in 2008-09, when he shot 60.9 percent. But he would need to make at least 300 baskets to qualify for an 11th title and he is on pace to fall short of that, having made 68 baskets in 21 games.
Paul Pierce is shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He's a career 44.5 percent shooter and, last season, shot 47.2 percent, a career best. Kevin Garnett took nine shots in the game Wednesday He made eight of them. He"s shooting 54 percent from the field. Now, KG is pretty much a career 50 percent shooter, but his career best is 53.9 percent, in his first year in Boston.
The other eagle-eyed marksmen are Rajon Rondo (51.9 percent, a career high if maintained), Delonte West (56 percent) and Semih Erden (54.8 percent.) Allen is shooting 48.1 percent after his 9-of-14 submission against the Nuggets. His career best is 48 percent. For a guy whose shot is so sweet, and so seemingly automatic, it's somewhat revealing that he is a career 45 percent shooter.
And the Celtics still haven't played a game yet with Kendrick Perkins, who was their most accurate shooter last season, connecting on 60.2 percent of his shots.
"We're playing together," offered Nate Robinson, who is shooting 46.2 percent, which, while low for this team, is well above his career average of 42.8 percent. "It's kinda cool being on this side of the fence for a change. I"ve been on the other side where guys only care about themselves."
The Celtics started the night Wednesday by making their first seven shots and Denver, having played the night before and without the valuable Carmelo Anthony, never really recovered. (An aside: somehow, Shelden Williams has managed to land another NBA job, something that frankly looked inconceivable after his spectacularly humdrum Celtics" stint. He actually starts for the Nuggets now that Kenyon Martin is out. He was guarding, sort of, KG, out of the blocks.)
While Rivers rightly points to the team's unselfishness and trust as keys to their good shooting, he also rightly points to the defense. You make stops, you get out and run, and you get easy baskets because the other guys can't set up their defense. That's not exactly a trade secret, either.
"Our offense is getting a lot of light because of what we"re shooting every night, but we're getting stops," Rivers said. "We're able to run. I mean, the formula, it's not hard. But it's hard to do it every night. Lately, we've done it every night."
They have indeed. The Denver game marked the sixth straight game the Celtics have shot 50 percent or better. The last time they didn't was in their hold-your-nose-and-swallow, 89-83 victory over the Nets on Nov. 24. They shot 50 percent or better in six of their first 15 games -- and haven't been below 50 percent since.
It won't stay that way forever, but, as Karl points out, it's a lot of fun to watch it while it is happening. Even if you're the coach trying to stop it -- and unable to do anything about it.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
The Celtics continued their hot-shooting ways against the Nuggets.