Go West

By Stephen Alford
Updated: November 8, 2005

BOSTON, MA.—In the first three games of the 05-06 season, Delonte West has been quietly doing the damn thing. And if he keeps at it he’ll not only be the hometown fan favorite before too long, but he’ll also have former Celtic great Tommy Heinsohn, now a color commentator for FOX Sports New England, screaming, “I – love – Delonte!” Heinsohn has been looking for a replacement for his affections since Walter McCarty’s departure to Phoenix. But most important of all, he’ll end Celtics coach Doc Rivers’ and executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s quest for a legitimate point guard to insert into the starting lineup.

It’s still early in the season, but Delonte has been making plays that are quickly getting the notice of CelticNation. In the middle of the first quarter of opening night against the Knicks, West surprised center Eddie Curry when he snuck up behind Curry, and swallowed his shot from underneath the basket causing an ovation from the spectators who got there early.

Boston may have defeated New York in overtime 114-100, but, after Delonte’s block on Curry earlier in the game, fans were sitting on their hands at the TD Bank North Garden until 4:36 left in the third when Delonte stole an errant pass from Jamal Crawford at half court, dribbled just beyond the foul line, and dished a one-handed shovel pass to a racing Ricky Davis for a tomahawk slam to put Boston up by five (70-65).

In the crucial fourth frame, Delonte scored back to back field goals (a runner in the lane and another from 22 feet out) bringing Boston to within two points both times, the latter of the two coming with 6:35 remaining in regulation (82-80). A second over a minute later West set up Mark Blount’s 18-footer to put Boston up three (93-90).

But the play that really got the attention of the 18,624 live witnesses came in the overtime.

With 2:57 remaining, and the Celtics with possession, a looseball was headed out of bounds. While all of the Knicks on the floor, with the exception of Starbury, were frozen in their kicks, Delonte hopped to it, saved the ball before Marbury could get to it (possession would’ve been to the Cs), and spotted Ricky Davis nearby. The gutsy Davis rained down a 23-footer from the right side to put Boston up seven (103-96). Credit Ricky D for nailing the shot from way downtown, but West got the Tommy Point for the heads-up, hustle play. And that’s what going to make Delonte West a special player and a fan favorite: Doing the right thing at the right time. Yes, he’s not what one would call “a true point guard”, but back in the days they had a term for someone of his skill level.

A playmaker.

He continued to make plays in crucial moments against the Knicks when he came up with another Crawford turnover, which led to an alley-oop lay up by Ricky Davis. And it didn’t stop there! A Starbury pass was also picked off by Delonte. This time captain Paul Pierce was on the finishing end of his assist and received the “and one” call, which Pierce converted putting Boston up 108-96 and essentially sealing the deal.

West called the game the best of his young career, and came close to posting a triple-double against the rotation of Knicks guards (Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, and Knick phenom Nate Robinson) by ending the night with 14 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, only one turnover, and four block shots.

Four block shots from the point guard position! If that’s not making plays then you send me an email and tell me what is.

“Is he a pure point guard?” coach Doc Rivers rhetorically asked the media following the win on opening night. “No, but he’s a guard. He does make a lot of little plays: the block shots, the loose balls, getting the deflections. That’s what makes him a good player. When he doesn’t do that he’s not a good player. When he does do that he’s a really good player.”

He continued to do the little things last Friday, with 6:33 remaining in the game and Boston trailing the defending champion Detroit Pistons by two points. West exhibited a high basketball IQ when he tried to take former Celtic pick Chauncey Billups to the rack rather than opt for a lower percentage shot from the outside. Delonte was rewarded with a trip to the foul line converting both shots from the charity stripe to even the score at 66. A little more than a minute later he assisted on a Paul Pierce dunk that put Boston up by two (68-66) with 5:31 left.

When the Celtics were searching for offense to come from someone other than The Truth, who just scored six straight Celtic points, West answered the call with a layup with 2:17 remaining that gave Boston a one-point lead 77-76. Unfortunately, thanks to Rip Hamilton snapping the twine from 17-feet as time expired, the Celtics were not able to close out the game in the final two minutes and fell to the Pistons 82-81 at the TD Garden, but West once again showed that he can play with the elite guards of the League by finishing with 10 points (4-for-9 from the field), six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and only two turnovers in 35 minutes. In addition, he recorded multiple blocks for the second straight game by posting two against Detroit.

Simply put: Delonte is that type of player you can trust to make a nice play when the ball is in his hands, and this was evident on Saturday against Charlotte when Boston had not scored a field goal in over six minutes, a span that went from 4:56 left in the fourth quarter to 3:28 left in the overtime. Delonte hit a runner with 3:38 to go in overtime to knot up the score at 105. Those were the last points Boston would score as it fell to the Bobcats 107-105, but West shot an efficient 50% from the field (3-for-6 from the field and 1-for-3 from the deep end) and would’ve had better stats if he had played more minutes. He finished with nine points, three assists, a block, and two turnovers in only 22 minutes as Doc Rivers also worked point guards Dan Dickau and Orien Greene into the game.

I understand Doc’s decision to give Dickau and Greene more time when the Cs played Charlotte. The only way for Doc to see what he can expect from Dickau and Greene is to put them in the game. Now add Marcus Banks to the mix. When Banks is healthy, there will be a log jam at the point guard spot, and there just aren’t enough minutes in the basketball game to rotate all four players. But if Delonte keeps doing what he’s doing, he’ll be the Celtics #1 point guard and either Greene or Dickau will be stuck with bench duty. Banks will most likely get the nod to backup West, but if Orien Greene continues to impress then Banks may find himself in another uniform by midseason.

But I’ll save that for another story.