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The Three-Pointer: Backup Bigs Boost C’s

11.02.10 at 10:43 pm ET
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With Kendrick Perkins sidelined until at least January with a knee injury and Shaquille O’Neal sitting with his own knee issues, all eyes were on Jermaine O’Neal and Semih Erden.

And they responded.

Getting his first start of the season, Jermaine O’Neal totaled 12 points in 21 minutes during last night’s 109-86 win over the Detroit Pistons, despite dealing with a few nagging injuries that kept him out of Friday night’s game against the New York Knicks.

From the start, J.O. set an early tone with aggressive defense — blocking two first-quarter shots while also picking up a pair of fouls that kept him from completely getting into a rhythm.

As a result, O’Neal started slow offensively, but kept finding open spots. Eventually, his knack to find the right place was rewarded by Rajon Rondo at the right times — leading to a 5-of-8 shooting night.

In O’Neal’s absence, Erden also blocked a pair of Pistons attempts, picked up three rebounds and ran the floor for a wide-open dunk. The latter was a shining example of the energy the Turk played with throughout his 15 minutes on the floor.

Most importantly, Erden looked as though he belonged on an NBA floor.

The first-half play of Erden could be the best sign for the Celtics future, as he showed that the potential to spell both O’Neals — who, as we know, will need their share of spelling. That leaves Glen Davis to continue giving Kevin Garnett his rest, limiting minutes for all three veteran big men over the course of the 82-game season.

Of course, any excitement over the play of J.O. and Semih last night can be tempered by the fact that they played the Pistons, who by the looks of things should be one of the worst five teams in the league.

It’s important to note, too, that both bigs faded as the game went on. Erden did all of his damage in the first half, and O’Neal grabbed only two rebounds in his time on the floor. It’s no coincidence that Shaq’s absence led to the Celtics getting out-rebounded for the first time all season.

But it was a start — literally, a start in place of Perkins and Shaq. And any time the C’s can win without those two, it’s a good sign. After all, that’s what they’re here for.

WHAT IS RONDO’S CEILING?

In the last 28 seasons, only nine players have led the NBA in assists: John Stockton (9 seasons), Jason Kidd (5 seasons), Steve Nash (4 seasons), Magic Johnson (4 seasons), Chris Paul (2 seasons) Isaiah Thomas (once), Mark Jackson (once), Rod Strickland (once) and Andre Miller (once).

Of those nine players, only Stockton managed to average 12 assists or more. Through the first four games, Rondo has totaled 67 assists, and nobody in the history of the league has done that. He totaled 17 assists last night, and his average only moved from 16.5 to 16.8 per game.

Currently, only one other player in the NBA is averaging more than 10 assists, and that’s Kidd at 11.7. There’s no doubt that Rondo’s departure from the USA team and all the talk about who’s the best point guard in the league –Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose – lit a fire under the Celtics point guard.

And did anybody else notice Rondo’s pull-up, knock-down, 17-foot jumper in the first half? If he ever gets that going, there’s no telling how good he’ll be this season. I’m talking MVP consideration. Even without the scoring — just 10.8 points per game — he’s already the story of this NBA season (unless you count the off-the-court hype of the Miami Heat).

WANTED: DELONTE WEST

The Celtics got little to nothing from their backup guards behind Rondo and Ray Allen. The starting duo combined for 25 points and 20 assists. Von Wafer and Nate Robinson? They combined for a whopping four points in 27 minutes between them.

Marquis Daniels has really been the lone bright spot at guard from the bench. He totaled nine points and four rebounds, but Doc has used him mainly at the 3 in smaller lineups this season.

Simply based on their play, we should’ve known better than to think Danny Ainge might cut Delonte West after his reported scuffle with Wafer late last week. I’m sure Doc is counting the games until West can return to the lineup. He’s now served four games of the 10-game suspension.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Jermaine O'Neal, Rajon Rondo

Fast Break: Rondo, C’s pound Pistons

11.02.10 at 10:04 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo became the only player in NBA history to record 67 assists through four games, leading the Celtics to a 109-86, wire-to-wire victory over the winless Detroit Pistons. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce scored 22 and 21 points for the C’s (3-1), respectively, as five Boston players reached double figures.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

1. Taking care of the ball: After averaging 19 turnovers in their first three games, the Celtics committed just two turnovers in the first half and eight for the entire game.

Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett had been the C’s biggest culprits, averaging nine giveaways between them through three contests. Last night, though, neither committed a turnover in a total of 69 minutes on the floor.

2. Spread the wealth: The Celtics totaled 33 assists on 42 field goals in the victory. Rondo, of course, led the way with 17 dishes, while Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson each chipped in three dimes.

By contrast, the Pistons managed just 11 assists on 35 field goals for the game. Detroit’s starting point guard, Rodney Stuckey, had just two assists in 38 minutes on the floor.

3. They played the Pistons: Facing little to nothing in the way of defense, the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field, scoring 67 of their 109 points in the paint. KG and Pierce combined to shoot 17-of-25 from the floor (68 percent), getting open look after open look around the basket. Of course, it also helped that the Celtics made all 18 of their free throws on the night.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

1. Technical difficulty: While Glen Davis played well – totaling 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes – he picked up a technical midway through the first quarter. Doc Rivers was noticeably upset, as the C’s are attempting to make a concerted effort not to pick up cheap techs as a result of the new rules.

2. Getting out-rebounded: Rivers has made rebounding a focus for the Celtics early in the season, and they had owned a plus-six margin entering last night’s game. However, the Pistons out-rebounded the Celtics, 38-36. No Celtics reached double digits in rebounds, as KG led the team with six.

3. Bench depth: Big contributions from Big Baby off the bench have become an expectation, and he delivered again. But other than a few bright spots from Semih Erden, the C’s got very little from the rest of their reserves – as Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, Luke Harangody and Erden combined for 19 points in 61 total minutes.

The lack of contribution from the bench led to the Pistons nearly bringing a 20-point lead to single digits – forcing Rivers to bring the starters back in for the majority of the fourth quarter.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Kevin Garnett, NBA

Irish Coffee: Celtics lack killer instinct

11.02.10 at 11:05 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

 

We know they love Halloween, but does this Celtics team have a killer instinct?

I raised this concern when the C’s let a pair of double-digit leads vaporize at both second-half quarters in the opening-night win over the Miami Heat.

And Dime Magazine’s Austin Burton raised it again just three games into the 2010-11 NBA season — suggesting Boston has played to its competition through the first three games.

 The Celtics did it last season, when they were just average down the stretch before bouncing back to find their rhythm in the playoffs and get with a few possessions of winning another NBA championship. But for a veteran team – led by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and the playoff-experienced Rajon Rondo– that has been through the wars and knows the importance of staying focused and consistent, it’s a red flag.

The Celtics had the killer instinct in 2007-08, when they won 66 regular-season games and the NBA title. A whopping 21 of those victories came by margins of 20 points or more.

They simply didn’t let many games slip away, as they did in Game 2 against Cleveland — dissolving a double-digit lead in the second half against one of the worst teams in the league.

The 2007-08 C’s started 20-2, winning by an average of 16 points and losing only to a pair of teams that reached the second round of the playoffs that season (the Orlando Magic and the LeBron James-led Cavaliers).

Meanwhile, this year’s edition of the Celtics has led all three of its games by double digits late in the third quarter, only to be playing meaningful minutes down to the buzzer.

Against the Heat, an 83-70 lead with four minutes to play dwindled to an 83-80 advantage in the final minute. Against the Cavs, the C’s turned a 66-55 third-quarter advantage into a 95-87 loss. And against the Knicks, Boston owned a 101-90 lead with two minutes left, only to be clinging to a 103-101 advantage in the final minute.

To further the issue, Burton points to tonight’s game as a potential defining moment for this season’s Celtics, especially considering they haven’t played since Friday night.

The Celtics will get another test of their focus on Tuesday, when they visit the Pistons on the road. A fierce playoff rival for the C’€™s as recently as 2008, Detroit was in the Lottery last year and aren’€™t expected to do much this year. Ben Gordon‘€™s and Co. are 0-3 right now, but two of those losses were down-to-the-wire games against playoff teams in Oklahoma City and Chicago. If the Celtics overlook Detroit — perhaps eyeing an upcoming stretch that has them home for the Bucks and Bulls before playing at OKC, Dallas and Miami — Gordon and Rodney Stuckey and the Pistons’€™ talented scorers will hand Doc Rivers another unexpected L.

Losses piling up are certainly a concern, but as the Celtics showed last year: For this team, what happens in the regular season stays in the regular season. The more concerning number — other than a potentially lower playoff seed — could be the mounting meaningful minutes.

The more games the Celtics are able to demonstrate a killer instinct — turning second-half, double-digit leads into certifiable blowouts down the stretch — the fewer minutes Rivers has to trot out his aged starters.

“I love sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter when you’ve got a blowout,” Ray Allen said in the preseason. “That means everybody as a team gets the opportunity to play. Everybody works hard throughout the week, so when you know guys get a chance to play that’s when you know you’ve got it.”

Which only stresses the killer instinct question: Do this season’s Celtics have IT?

MAGIC DON’T MATCH UP

What the Celtics do have — according to Orlando Sentinel‘s George Diaz — is a considerable matchup advantage against the Magic. In fact, the columnist essentially threw in the towel against the C’s and Heat just a few games into the season. Here’s a glimpse:

The Magic don’t have any players who can break down a defense by going one-on-one, unless Vince Carter steps into a Hot Tub Time Machine and it’s 1997 all over again.

Without one, they won’t have a prayer of beating the Celtics or the Heat in a playoff series.

It may sound like one man’s opinion, but it’s not. Even Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy owned up to that discrepancy after getting blown out by the Heat on Friday.

“Against a good defensive team we have trouble a little bit,” Van Gundy told the Sentinel. “We don’t have — and this isn’t to put down anybody in our locker room — but we don’t have the great one-on-one players. We don’t have Dwyane Wade and James and Pierce and Kobe Bryant.”

That’s got to be fairly eye-opening for any Orlando fan. I had my doubts about the Magic from the start, relaying recently a conversation I overheard at the Garden:

“How come you don’t believe in the Magic?” one guy said to another.

To which the other guy replied, “They still have Vince Carter, don’t they?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jimmer Fredette, Mike D'Antoni

Preview: Celtics at Pistons

11.02.10 at 12:53 am ET
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Strange things happened to the Celtics when they went into Detroit last year.

Desperately needing a win on March 2, the Celtics relied on Nate Robinson in the fourth quarter to pull it out instead of Rajon Rondo. The Fast Break posted that night had Rasheed Wallace as the Player of the Game for his defensive effort.

In a 92-86 loss on Jan. 20, Glen Davis swore at a heckler in a very quiet arena and was later fined $25,000.

What awaits the Celtics this season? From the looks of things a mediocre and slightly disjointed basketball team. Rondey Stuckey remains the point guard, although the Pistons just let the deadline pass to sign him to a extension. Rip Hamilton still starts at the other guard, while the younger and more talented Ben Gordon comes off the bench. Tayshaun Prince is an expiring contract and Tracy McGrady is getting minutes.

Still, the Pistons have some interesting young players such as Austin Daye who is now starting and rookie center Greg Monroe, who has yet to crack the rotation. Detroit is a team in transition, with enough proven veterans to make a run at one of the final playoff spots, but also a team with several young players to develop.

The Pistons have dropped their first three games of the season by a total of 14 points and would love to get a win. For the Celtics, this game has trap written all over it.

It’s the first night of a five games in seven days stretch with a back-to-back coming Wednesday against the Bucks at the Garden. They are not expecting to have Shaquille O’Neal and will likely insert Jermaine O’Neal into the starting center spot with rookie Semih Erden backing him up. They also struggled to close out the Cavaliers in their first road game, another also-ran Central Division team that is somewhere between rebuilding and competing.

CELTICS (2-1)

Offensive Rating: 99.6 (23rd)

Defensive Rating: 98.1 (5th)

Pace: 93.7 (21st)

Probable Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal

Injuries: Avery Bradley (ankle, out), Kendrick Perkins (ankle, out), Delonte West (suspension), Shaquille O’Neal (shin, doubtful)

PISTONS (0-3)

Offensive Rating: 103.3 (15th)

Defensive Rating: 108.3 (21st)

Pace: 94.5 (17th)

Probable Starters: Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, Ben Wallace

Injuries: Will Bynum (hamstring, questionable), Chris Wilcox (hamstring, questionable), Terico White (foot, out), Jonas Jerkobo (Achilles, out).

KEY MATCHUP: Pierce vs. Prince

In 2008-09, Prince held Pierce to 15.5 points over four games. That was the lowest per-game average Pierce had against any team other than the Clippers and Grizzlies.

The year before, Pierce again scored just 15 points a night in three games against the Pistons while shooting just 37 percent. Pierce has the same effect on Prince who shot below 40 percent against him those two seasons. Their matchup cooled a bit last season while Pierce was battling injuries and Prince missed one of the games entirely, but it’s still one of the better small forward battles in the East.

Prince’s length has been a problem for Pierce over the years, but he is off to a quietly efficient start to this season, averaging 19 points a game and making 8-of-12 from 3-point range. The focus has been on Pierce’s rebounding after he grabbed 14 boards against the Knicks, but the Celtics need his shooting more while Ray Allen works out his shot (6-for-18 from 3) and Nate Robinson tries to get untracked (1-for-9).

It’s not exactly the most enjoyable matchup to watch, but it should be a good one.

KEY NUMBER: 3-point shooting

The Pistons have bee defensively-challenged in their first three games, giving up over 100 points in all three games, but they have defended the arc well, allowing only 28 percent shooting.

The Celtics, with the notable exception of Pierce, have struggled from beyond the arc and need to start making some shots to take the pressure off the inside game. Take Pierce out of the equation and they have made just 25 percent of their 3’s (8-for-32).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Detroit is desperate for win and the Celtics would like to get through a road game and get Jermaine O’Neal on track.

These two teams never quite renewed their rivalry for the modern era. They battled throughout the Celtics championship year of 2007-08, but the Pistons fell of quickly once they traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson.

Still, these two teams have history and you never know, maybe Sheed will show up.

Read More: Celtics, Pistons, Preview, Rasheed Wallace

Red Claws select Magnum Rolle in draft

11.01.10 at 11:06 pm ET
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The Maine Red Claws selected Magnum Rolle in the first round of the D-League draft Monday. A 6-foot-11 center from Louisiana Tech, Rolle was drafted by Oklahoma City in the second round of the 2010 NBA draft and then traded to the Pacers.

Rolle was cut by the Pacers after Indiana found itself in a roster crunch. Rather than waive backup center Solomon Jones, who had a guaranteed contract, the Pacers elected to part ways with Rolle, despite a strong showing in summer league. Fanhouse’s Matt Moore called Rolle the “steal of the D-League draft.”

The Red Claws are affiliated with the Celtics and Bobcats but players on their roster are free agents who can sign with any NBA team at any time. Still, Rolle is a nice piece for coach Austin Ainge, son of Danny.

Here’s the rest of the Red Claws draft list:

1. Magnum Rolle C 6-11 225 Louisiana Tech

2. Kenny Hayes G 6-2 183 Miami (Ohio)

2. Champ Oguchi G 6-6 195 Illinois State

3. Lawrence Westbrook G 6-00 185 Minnesota

4. Tajuan Porter G 5-06 150 Oregon

5. James Lewis G 6-4 200 Fresno Pacific

6. JaJuan Smith G 6-3 195 Tennessee

7. Eugene Spates F 6-8 220 Northeastern

8. Armon Bassett G 6-2 180 Ohio

Read More: D-League, Magnum Rolle, Red Claws,

Jermaine O’Neal, Rajon Rondo and Tiger Woods

11.01.10 at 4:46 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Jermaine O’€™Neal admitted following practice on Monday that he’€™s been a disappointment so far, in part because of injuries that have affected his conditioning.

‘€œIt’€™s been challenging,” O’Neal said of his slew of injuries. “Obviously, the hamstring, the back a little bit, the wrist, now the knee so it’€™s been extremely disappointing for me so far. But obviously, trials and tribulations will make you stronger and you have to take that as you never can be successful if you don’€™t fail. So far, I haven’€™t been able do things out there that I want to do out there.”

The 31-year-old O’Neal, who practiced with the first team and will play on Tuesday in Detroit, was signed in early July to a two-year, $12 million deal. He played in the first two games, scoring just three points, before swelling in his left knee sidelined him for the game against the Knicks last Friday.

‘€œI know the people that are happy about me aren’€™t happy quite yet with what they’€™ve seen but I can guarantee that before the year is over with, they’€™ll be really happy with my play and it’€™s just about finding ways of getting yourself going.’€

Rajon Rondo, the Eastern Conference player of the Week for Week 1 after dishing 50 assists in three games, dressed up as Tiger Woods to win the team’€™s award for best Halloween costume on Sunday. ‘€œWe did a little vote on it Rondo won for being Tiger Woods,” captain Paul Pierce said. As for the video of Shaquille O’€™Neal as Shaqeeta, his drag costume for Halloween that is making the rounds on the internet and local TV, ‘€œNo, I haven’€™t seen it,” Pierce added. “I’€™ll have to check it out.’€

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal, NBA, PGA Tour

Semih Erden is ready for his closeup

11.01.10 at 4:36 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Semih Erden was working in the post against Jermaine O’Neal during practice Monday. Erden started to his left, faked like he was going right and then finished back on the left side. It’s the kind of move he’s been pulling off with regularity since he joined the Celtics, but not the only one.

“He gave me a move in that open scrimmage the other day,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “Real nice move. That just tells me he has the potential to go at me whenever he wants to. With him, he’€™s going to have to get a rhythm out there with the guys. He’€™s young and he’€™s going to get his shot.”

Erden’s shot may be getting closer to becoming a reality because, as expected, the Celtics are about to go into a stretch of games without at least one of the O’Neals.

Shaq made the trip to Detroit and hasn’t been officially ruled out of Tuesday’s game, but after he missed practice for the second straight day with a shin injury, it’s not likely that he’ll play.

Jermaine O’Neal, on the other hand, looks like he will be able to go against the Pistons. That helps, but the Celtics need at least two big men against the Pistons large frontline and that means Erden will finally get a chance to show what he can do in a game situation.

“Yeah I’€™m ready,” Erden said responding to a question in English without the help of his translator. “I feel good. Every day I learn something. It’€™s good for me. I’€™m lucky.”

That tiny interaction is a major step forward for Erden who has the added pressure of not only being a rookie, but a rookie from Turkey who is being asked to assimilate the NBA game as well as a new language.

“He knows how to play,” Doc Rivers said. “He’€™s just trying to learn how to play our way. The language barrier is a problem, there’€™s no doubt about that. You just got to keep working on him. He’€™s going to be a good big in this league and he’€™s going to be a good big for a long time. What we don’€™t know is whether he’s a good enough big right now.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jermaine O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden, Shaquille O'Neal
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