|12.21.12 at 7:21 am ET|
The Celtics no longer are one of the toughest teams to play in the NBA, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge does not appear content with that reality. After watching his team play mediocre defense over a 25-game sampling, Ainge on Thursday criticized the players’ collective play on The Big Show.
“We’ve got to prevent those runs by other teams and those droughts that we have at the offensive end and giving up so many lay-ins on the defensive end,” Ainge said. “There’s just no excuse for the way we’re playing. Yeah, you need to take time to find out who we are, but there’s no excuse for giving up 32 points in the paint in a half against Chicago, and there’s no excuse for giving up a 17-0 run to Cleveland.”
Last year’s Celtics delivered the template for a veteran NBA team looking to flip the proverbial switch in season. A five-game losing streak just before the All-Star break put the team’s record at 15-17. The Celtics went 24-10 after the break and eventually made a run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
So why is Ainge sounding the alarm in December? From a distance, the Celtics’ 13-12 start to this season appears to follow the same trend — a veteran team going through the motions some nights, saving its collective legs for the second half and postseason.
A closer look proves that this year’s team is much different than last year’s team, and perhaps not due the same measure of patience from Ainge.
The most glaring difference between this year’s Celtics and last year’s is their inability to play strong team defense. Even when last year’s team slogged through the first half of the season, it ranked as one of the top two teams in the NBA defensively. Before the break, the 2011-12 C’s held opposing teams to 89.4 points per game and a field goal percentage of 41.9. Those numbers increased slightly after the break to 90.1 points per game and a field goal percentage of 42.1. Despite the slight increases, the Celtics still finished the season as the second-ranked team in the NBA in points allowed, behind only the Bulls, and they ranked first in opponents’ field goal percentage.
The Celtics’ most marked improvements last season took place on the offensive end. The C’s scoring average jumped from 89.4 before the break to 94.1 in the 34 games after. Their field goal percentage improved from 45.8 to 46.5.
|12.20.12 at 10:44 am ET|
Celtics coach Doc Rivers rolled out his sixth different lineup in 25 games when he again flip-flopped Jason Terry and Courtney Lee while inserting Jason Collins into the spot normally reserved for Brandon Bass alongside mainstays Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in Wednesday night’s victory against the Cavaliers.
While the C’s ended a three-game losing streak, Garnett didn’t exactly sound pleased with the constant change.
“It’s a process,” said KG. “Chemistry is something else. It’s not something that’s just going to happen. I think it’s just something that’s going to evolve. The quicker, the better, with this lineup thing, so we can establish who we are and what we’re going to be. Doc has a vision of what he wants, and until he has it this is what it’s gonna be.”
Here’s how those six lineups have performed this season (record-wise): plus-minus per 82games.com.
- Rondo, Terry, Pierce, Bass, Garnett (9-4): plus-35 in 197.0 minutes
- Rondo, Lee, Pierce, Bass, Garnett (0-5): minus-9 in 57.9 minutes
- Rondo, Lee, Pierce, Jared Sullinger, Garnett (2-1): plus-13 in 33.9 minutes
- Terry, Lee, Pierce, Bass, Garnett (1-1): plus-16 in 39.1 minutes
- Leandro Barbosa, Terry, Pierce, Bass, Garnett (0-1): sample size too small
- Rondo, Terry, Pierce, Bass, Collins (1-0): sample size too small
One thing we know for sure is that Lee shouldn’t be starting. The only reason Rivers inserted him back into the lineup in Chicago was to get Terry readjusted to playing off the bench, but the former Sixth Man of the Year attempted just two shots against the Bulls, so the Celtics should keep starting him until Avery Bradley‘s return.
|12.20.12 at 1:10 am ET|
Two months after his 35th birthday, Celtics captain Paul Pierce scored 40 points on 16 shots in Wednesday night’s 103-91 victory against the Cavaliers. It took a superhuman effort, as his three most veteran teammates can attest. Maybe that’s why Jason Terry called him Kryptonite in the locker room afterwards.
Pierce, Terry, Kevin Garnett and Jason Collins have a combined 55 years of NBA experience between them, but this was a first. The Celtics captain became the oldest player in franchise history to eclipse 40 points in a regulation game (at 35 and three months, Larry Bird scored 49 in double overtime in 1992).
“Not a lot of guys in this league stay in one franchise,” said Terry. “You can count them on your hand right now. It’s not many that are superstars, that have been in the league longer than 12-13 years, and he’s one of them.”
Terry played his last eight seasons alongside one of those other guys in Dirk Nowitzki, who has stayed in Dallas ever since being selected one spot ahead of Pierce in the 1998 NBA draft. There’s a certain respect among veterans around the league for loyalty like that, Terry said, especially after younger superstars like LeBron James and Dwight Howard jumped ship for the Heat and Lakers early in their careers over the past several years.
As Terry elaborated, Pierce has demonstrated a “willingness to stick through the tough times and not just jump off: ‘I’m outta here.’ ‘I’m going to go join forces with Kobe [Bryant].’ Or, ‘I’m going to go play with Dwyane Wade.’ That’s a shot right there. … I think that’s what guys look at, and they respect him.”
How’s this for respect? Pierce joined Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Clyde Drexler, Alex English, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and Walter Davis as the only players since 1985 to scored 40 points in regulation after turning 35 years old. None of the others accomplished that feat on 16 shots.
“Paul was on fire tonight, man,” added Garnett, who was traded to Boston after 12 up-and-down seasons for the Timberwolves. “Paul had a flashback to like ’03 or ’04 or something, man. It was good to see, though. As we walked in tonight, I could tell — just because it was a long day — that he felt kind of down in the dumps. After the game, I told him, ‘You need to feel more down in the dumps a little more often.’ But he had the rhythm going, and we were just trying to feed him. I thought he did a good job getting it out of the offense and letting it come to him.”
|12.19.12 at 11:39 pm ET|
At this point, Doc Rivers will take any victory, any way he can get them.
But even Wednesday night, what looked like a 20-point laugher late in the third quarter against a 5-21 team on the parquet turned into nail-biting time in a matter of six minutes.
The Celtics led 80-60 with just over three minutes left in the third. Then Rivers subbed his starters and turned to his bench. The unit that was very productive and active in the first half, fell apart, allowing the Cavs to start a 20-2 run that got them back in the game.
“Honestly, our bench came in and didn’t give us a lift,” Rivers said. “And they were fantastic in the first half. We still haven’t sustained a 48 minute game; we had that one stretch. We have to get better. We had a 20-point lead, you sub in, and I think guys think when you have that lead it’s scoring time now. And it’s really defensive time; you’ve got to continue to get stops. Then you can score. And I thought we short-cutted that part of it.”
The Celtics finished shooting 59.7 percent on the night and scored 103 points, thanks in large part to their captain Paul Pierce, who had 40. Did Pierce just get tired of losing?
“Well I don’t know. Whatever it was, it was great,” Rivers said. “It was efficient, though. A lot of open shots. A lot of ball movement down the stretch. He caught fire and created his own. For the most part, I just thought the ball movement was really good for our guys. We shoot 60 percent, basically; a lot of good things are happening. And then we hold a team to 40 or 41 percent, a lot of good things happen. I thought Jason Collins play with one point, two rebounds – I thought he had a main impact on the game for us. Especially for Kevin (Kevin Garnett). I thought Kevin enjoyed playing with him.”
A three-game losing streak ended Wednesday because the Celtics found some resiliency against a 5-21 team. Not pretty but Rivers will take it.
“I think [Pierce] and Kevin and (Rajon Rondo), they all took it to heart,” Rivers said. “They don’t like the way we’re playing, they believe we’re better than what we’re playing, but we haven’t done it. And at some point, you’ve got to stop talking about it. And Paul did that tonight.”
|12.19.12 at 10:53 pm ET|
Celtics captain Paul Pierce had heard the whispers all season.
He had lost a step or two, didn’t have the explosion at the basket and … was getting old.
So, his answer Wednesday was to go out and score a season-high 40 points, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range, as the Celtics outlasted the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-91 Wednesday night at TD Garden. Pierce, at 35 years of age, became the oldest Celtics player ever with a 40-point game in regulation.
Afterward, Pierce was reminded of that fact and reflected on his 14-year career.
“I think maybe I can play a little longer than anticipated,” Pierce said. “Who knows?”
Larry Bird scored 49 points in a game when he was 35 years, 99 days old but that game was in double-overtime.
“Oh wow. Another one for the records, I guess,” Pierce said. “I’ve been here long enough. Maybe I’ll go for 50 now.”
But to Pierce, who questioned the team’s identity just 24 hours earlier after a loss in Chicago, Wednesday night was much more about a badly-needed win than his 40 points.
“It’s a make or miss league. Who knew I was going to come in and shoot the ball the way I did, but the one thing I could control was how hard I was going to play today and the effort I was going to put out,” Pierce said.
The Celtics fed off Pierce all night, building a 20-point lead late in the third and staving off the young, hungry Cavs when they cut it to two points midway through the fourth.
“I think when you play like that it can be contagious,” he said. “Offensively, guys knocking down shots, and then other guys getting up in there and defending. Things can definitely be contagious. I know I think everybody definitely wanted to get off this slide that we’re on so it was a good win, it’s a start.
“I feel like the last few games I’ve been shooting the ball a lot better, three or four games now. So I feeling like I’m really coming along where I’m starting to get into a good groove offensively. The way my shot’s going, picking my spots. So even before tonight I felt good.” Read the rest of this entry »
|12.19.12 at 9:54 pm ET|
His Celtics in desperate need of a victory after a winless three-game road trip, Celtics captain Paul Pierce scored a season-high 40 points for the first time since 2010 to will the C’s over the Cavaliers, 103-91.
With help from veteran teammates Rajon Rondo (20 points, 8 assists), Jason Terry (15 points) and Kevin Garnett (12 points), Pierce also contributed eight rebounds and five assists to push the Celtics above .500 (13-12).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Raging Rondo: Add another strange stat line to Rondo’s resume. He finished the first quarter with 12 points, four rebounds and zero assists. More importantly, he attacked the basket, attempting all five of his field goals in the paint and making four of them. Rondo also set the tone early against Kyrie Irving on the other end, holding his Cavaliers counterpart to four points and no assists in the opening quarter as the C’s took a 27-25 lead.
Captain on course: Slowly, inevitably, Pierce is righting his ship. After shooting a respectable 13-of-23 (4-8 3P) in his last two games, Pierce started a perfect 6-for-6 from beyond the arc against Cleveland. He finished 13-of-16 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Pierce’s 10 first-quarter points staked the Celtics to an early lead, and his 17 third-quarter points kept the Cavaliers at bay. All in all, Pierce’s best night of the season.
JET grounded no more: A night after attempting just two shots against the Bulls, Terry returned to the starting lineup, scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and drilled a trio of treys, including a dagger with 2:48 remaining.
|12.19.12 at 7:37 pm ET|
After losing their third straight game Tuesday night in Chicago, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he would continue to search for answers to shake his team out of its early season funk. On Wednesday, he followed through, replacing Courtney Lee in the starting lineup with Jason Terry, who got only two shots in Tuesday’s 100-89 loss in Chicago.
“Nothing more, until Avery [Avery Bradley] comes back,” Rivers said of the decision. “Jet just doesn’t get involved unless [Rajon Rondo] is on the floor. It has nothing to do with anybody else, it’s more to do with getting Jet more involved.”
In a more drastic measure, Rivers said Jason Collins would take over the starting center role from Kevin Garnett in order to move Garnett back to his more natural spot of big forward. The move would mean Brandon Bass would come off the bench. Bass has started 21 of Boston’s 24 games this season, including the last 16 straight.
“Just because of his size,” Rivers said in explaining the move for the 7-foot, 255-pound big man. “[Coaching staff] has been talking about it a lot but just haven’t done it. We’ve just been trying to find ways of getting Kevin off the ’5′ spot all game. Right now, even when we put the other guys in, the same [opposing players] are guarding him and the only way you can force the action is with Jason.”
If Rivers sticks with the new starting lineup, Celtics fans can expect to see Rondo and Terry in the backcourt until Avery Bradley returns in early January, with Garnett and Paul Pierce at the forward spots and Collins at center.