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All eyes on Howard

05.18.10 at 7:37 pm ET
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ORLANDO —Dwight Howard finished second in the MVP voting and was voted to the NBA’s First Team. He is a monster defender, as evidenced by his Defensive Player of the Year award.

But sometimes Howard can’t win, because too often in this game players get judged by their offensive numbers, and by any measure his were sub-par in Game 1. He scored 13 points on 3-for-10 shooting and turned it over seven times, which is a direct reflection on the Celtics defense.

Howard’s been getting some heat for his play, with some suggesting that he needs to score 30 points in Game 2 to justify his standing among the league’s elite. Stan Van Gundy, for one, disagrees.

“No, and here’s one of the problems,” Van Gundy said. “I think that it is a tough thing and you have to be a very strong person today if you are one of the best players. Whether it’s Dwight Howard or LeBron James because they will tear you apart in the media and say, ‘You need to do this, this and this to prove to us,’ and that may not be what your team needs you to do to win the game. Are you about your reputation at siliencing your critics, or are you about doing what you need to do to help your team win?”

Still, Kendrick Perkins is aware of the scrutiny, and what it might mean for him.

“It’s scary in a way,” Perkins said. “If he comes out and tries to do too much and is on point, it’s scary. Everybody goes through this at one point. I don’t think he played a bad game in my opinion. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do defensively. What happens is, y’all gas the man up and get him mad. Then I come out and I got my hands full.”

Van Gundy noted that part of the burden lies with him and the rest of the Magic. While he didn’t say it, look for Orlando to try and get Howard moving toward the basket on the pick and roll to make Perkins try and keep up with him. But if Howard has another game like he did in the opener, the criticism will surely follow.

“He’s going to be have to just be able to deal with the criticism, as unfair as it is right now,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a great player. We wouldn’t be anywhere near the level that we have been without him. For whatever reason, no matter how many times you say it, it doesn’t matter that the Boston Celtics turned things around with their defense in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter how many times people say that defense wins. The bottom line is the media won’t stop judging guys on their offense.”

If nothing else, Perkins can empathize with Howard.

“Dwight’s a good dude,” he said. “He’s got to focus on what he’s supposed to be doing. He can’t worry about what other people say.”

He’s got enough to worry about with Perkins, and maybe vice-versa tonight.

Read More: Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins,

Garnett’s tough cover

05.18.10 at 11:45 am ET
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ORLANDO — Whenever he is asked about the toughest players to cover in the NBA, Kevin Garnett always pays respect to Rashard Lewis. At 6-foot-10, Lewis is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league, but he also can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket.

Lewis shot 2-for-10 in Game 1 and scored just six points, a far cry from last season’s playoff matchup when the Celtics couldn’t come up with an effective counter without Garnett in the lineup.

“KG was phenomenal,” Doc Rivers said. “Not only with Rashard, but with help and recovering. We’€™re asking him to recover from pick and roll angle to 3. Usually you recover from pick and roll to roll where you’€™re running under the basket. That’€™s the complete opposite direction. For him to train his mind to do that is really tough to do. With Rashard, you show [on the pick and roll] and you have to sprint the opposite direction. Eighty games of going that way and now you’€™re going this way, mentally that is really difficult. You can even see it in practice where he shows and takes a step this way, with Rashard if you take that one, you’€™re not getting back in time. He did a great job in Game 1.”

Garnett’s offense did not come as readily. He shot 4-for-14 and found himself out on the perimeter. Credit the Magic defense with making it difficult for him to get the ball in the post.

“They double team without the ball,” Rivers said. “You don’€™t see that very often. With [Kendrick Perkins] in there or [Rajon] Rondo, they use their guy to front and back Kevin so you can’€™t get it to him. We have to get it to him on movement plays. Once we get it to him I feel very confident.”

Read More: Kevin Garnett, Rashard Lewis,

C’s mission for Game 2: Defend the corner 3

05.18.10 at 11:29 am ET
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ORLANDO — The Magic took 22 3-pointers in Game 1 and made just five of them. Part of that was the active Celtics defense and part of that was just Orlando missing makeable shots.

“They’€™re going to play harder, they’€™re going to play with more energy and they’€™re going to be better,” Doc Rivers said Tuesday before the team’s shootaround. “They’€™ll shoot the ball better. What we’€™ve focused on in the last 48 hours is showing all the open shots that they did have. They were rushed but they were open and we can’€™t allow those. They did a lot of good things. Some of it was their doing and some of it was us and we have to get away from what we allowed.”

One of the keys to defending the Magic is taking away the corner 3-pointer, which is one of the most efficient shots in basketball, and they makes good use of the shot, averaging almost eight attempts per game. Orlando shoots 41 percent from the left corner and 43 percent from the right corner (hat tip to Celtics Hub, which has a nice breakdown).

“For them it’€™s huge,” Rivers said. “For the league, that’€™s our spot. We have the ‘No corner 3’ rule. We’€™ve had it for about five years. It’€™s true. It’€™s the shortest shot for the 3-pointer and it’€™s the one that they take the most.”

Doc on Chicago rumor: ‘That’s silly’

05.18.10 at 11:06 am ET
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ORLANDO — An unsourced rumor on the AOL FanHouse website Monday night linked Doc Rivers and LeBron James to the Chicago Bulls as part of a package deal. Rivers denied it Tuesday morning as the team went through a shootaround in preparation for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Magic.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard it, but no,” Rivers told WEEI.com. “That’s silly.”

Rivers is a Chicago native, and the Bulls do have a head coaching vacancy after they fired Vinny Del Negro. But Rivers has a year left on his contract with the Celtics and he has maintained that he will either be with the Celtics or he will spend the year in Orlando, where his family has a home.

Read More: Doc Rivers, LeBron James,

Legler on D&C: Sheed’s ‘D’ key for C’s

05.18.10 at 10:15 am ET
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ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler joined the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning to talk about the Celtics-Magic series. To hear the interview, click on the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Legler pointed to the much-maligned Rasheed Wallace as the pivotal figure in the C’s Game 1 victory. “You have to have guys that not only physically are capable of playing Dwight Howard in single coverage as much as you can, you have to have guys that are emotionally ready for it and want the challenge. Boston’s got a few guys like that,” Legler said. “I thought Rasheed Wallace was the key to their victory in Game 1. I thought he got in the head of Dwight Howard. I thought his nastiness, his edge was something Dwight Howard wasn’t prepared for, ready for. Rasheed, you think of him as a 7-foot 3-point shooter and a finesse player, but that’s not the case on the defensive end of the floor. He has been, in the 15 years he’s been in the league, he’s been one of the pre-eminent post defenders we’ve had. He loves the challenge.

“His versatility defensively I thought was the key to the first game, and it will be the key to the series moving forward. If [Kendrick] Perkins and Rasheed can play [Howard] that successfully one-on-one and you stay out on the 3-point shooters, Orlando’s in big trouble.”

Legler said the pressure is on Orlando’s big man to come up big. “Dwight Howard has to do more,” Legler said. “He has to be a guy who can knock down a face-up jump shot once in a while. I’ve never seen him even take one, much less make one. He doesn’t have enough ability to go to a sky hook or go to a turnaround jump shot in the post. He’s a guy that simply has to overpower you and he has to catch the ball in great position to be able to do that, and the Boston Celtics are determined not to let that happen. … What is his efficiency going to be when he catches the ball? It wasn’t there in Game 1. It’s going to have to get a lot better.”

Legler said the Celtics’ balance makes them difficult to defend, but he points to Ray Allen as the player the Magic should focus on stopping. Said Legler: “Ray Allen, to me, is the barometer for the Celtics. He always has been. He’s a guy, his activity offensively, when he’s running off those screens and he’s getting clean looks, or he’s getting looks in transition, that loosens up everything. … Ray Allen, to me, is a guy that you’ve got to get under control and make sure he’s not getting up in the mid-20s. Because when he’s there, the Celtics rarely lose.”

Asked for his prediction about where LeBron James will sign as a free agent, Legler said he would rank the favorites as Chicago, New York and Cleveland.

Read More: Celtics, Dwight Howard, Magic, Rasheed Wallace

Celtics have room for improvement

05.17.10 at 1:28 pm ET
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ORLANDO — The important thing is that they got the win, but the Celtics know that if they are going to head home with two games in their back pocket that they have work to do. First and foremost, is cleaning up on the boards.

The Celtics allowed 15 offensive rebounds in Game 1 against the Magic and they know that can’t continue.

“That’€™s real disturbing,” Paul Pierce said. “That’€™s something we gave up mostly in the second half.”

Pierce is sort of right on that count — the Celtics allowed eight of the 15 in the second half — but the problem became more noticeable in the fourth quarter when the Magic made their run. As is often the case, a decent number of the Magic’s second-chance points came off dribble penetration and freelancing from their defensive system.

“It wasn’€™t their bigs in some places, it was their guards,” Doc Rivers said. “[Matt] Barnes hurt us a couple of times. We double teamed three times and they scored all three times where we were not supposed to double team, and then the dribble penetration. [J.J.] Redick killed us off the dribble.”

By Rivers count the Celtics double-teamed on three occasions, and they got burned each time.

“It’€™s instinct,” Rivers said. “We had a horrible one, where we doubled Dwight [Howard]. Dwight was five feet off the block and we went and doubled him and Jason Williams was standing by himself behind the 3. That’€™s just an instinct and we do allow that, but we have to be smarter against this team. They kill you when you double them. If you double team this team they’€™ll hurt you.”

The Celtics also want to figure out their pick and roll coverage. Jameer Nelson burned them in the second half when they went under the screen. He’s too good a shooter to allow him open looks.

“We’€™ve got to figure out a way to stop Jameer Nelson in the pick and roll,” Pierce said. “He really got hot in the second half. We’€™re far from being where we want to be.”

Read More: Celtics, Jameer Nelson, Magic, Paul Pierce

Perkins is a fifth wheel no longer

05.17.10 at 1:15 pm ET
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ORLANDO — When you think of the Celtics, you think of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce willingly sharing the collective glory. Or maybe you think about Rajon Rondo’s emerging brilliance. Rarely do you think about Kendrick Perkins, the team’s defensive anchor in the paint.

That’s cool with Perk, whose perpetual scowl masks an open and honest individual who doesn’t really mind whether he gets the credit or not.

“Nope,” he said Monday before the team practiced. “I actually like it. It’€™s cool to have it, but I’€™m really beyond it. I just do my work. Danny [Ainge] told me something a long time ago. As long as your teammates are fans of yours and the coaches are fans of yours and the organization is fans of yours then you don’€™t need no any other fans.”

The Celtics certainly appreciate his work.

“Every night with Perk, he’€™s the tackling dummy.,” Doc Rivers said. “He’€™s getting hit, he’€™s getting punched. He’€™s getting knocked down and all he’€™s getting is picked up off the floor. But he does it. He doesn’€™t mind doing it. It’€™s just as important as a jump shot. Shooters get all the glory. He’€™s an offensive lineman.”

That changes a little bit in this series as he is matched up against Dwight Howard. This is where Perkins has made his reputation as a post defender, by not giving an inch against the NBA’s most intimidating physical specimen.

“You can’€™t come into the game like, ‘Oh, I’€™m playing Dwight, I’€™m playing Superman,’ ” Perkins said. “You have to come into the game willing to get dirty. I put my nose into the fight. That’€™s what it is.”

While Howard had his way with the Bobcats and Hawks in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Perkins was going toe-to-toe with Shaquille O’Neal, and he’s got the bruises to show for it.

“It’€™s about the same.,” Perkins said of the physical challenge. “Shaq’€™s big and strong. Dwight’€™s big and strong. Dwight’€™s quicker and more athletic so it’€™s a different challenge. You can get hurt against either one of them. I feel it though. Everywhere. You better believe that.”

Perkins goal with Howard is rather simple. Limit his catches deep in the post and try to push him further away from the basket. If the end result is a missed shot, it means that he’s done his work before the ball even got there.

“You try to limit his dunks,” Perkins said. “Any time he has a chance to get a dunk you want to wrap him up and send him to the foul line. When he gets a dunk he gets going. He can make a jump hook, he doesn’€™t really feel that. He gets his energy off of getting dunks.”

And it doesn’t help to have Rasheed Wallace behind him either since their styles are so different.

“I play him differently than everybody else,” he said. “Rasheed plays mind games with him. I’€™m just going to be a straight-up physical presence.”

Perkins isn’t doing anything that he doesn’t normally do, right down the scowl, but by staying consistent, he’s getting his due.

Read More: Kendrick Perkins,
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