|04.11.09 at 11:32 pm ET|
The Boston Celtics locked up the second seed in the Eastern Conference after the Orlando Magic lost to the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night. Not only did the Magic fall to the third spot, they also lost Hedo Turkoglu in the fourth quarter after he suffered a sprained ankle. They were already playing without Rashard Lewis (knee). The Celtics are 2.5 games ahead of the Magic and four behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, who they face on Sunday afternoon.
|04.11.09 at 5:56 pm ET|
Quick quiz. In April of 2008 Kevin Durant was, what?
A. A bust.
B. Way too thin to handle the rigors of the NBA, unfortunately, cause he was so much freaking fun to watch in college.
C. About to be named Rookie of the Year even though nobody really thought he had played all that well.
The answer is C, and if you ask people about Durant now, they will tell you that they would have taken him over Greg Oden (still not sure about that one myself) and that Durant might be the most important young player in the game (a different argument, but an interesting one). Point is, perceptions change in the NBA quickly and often from season to season.
With that in mind, here’s a look at who made a jump in 2008-09 and who took a hit in the Atlantic Division.
1. Doc Rivers (Celtics): I wrote about this earlier in the week, focusing on how the players view their coach. For these purposes it’s important to remember that even as late as the conference finals there were people who didn’t believe in Doc, like, at all. The criticisms were not without some merit and certainly Rivers had something to prove in the playoffs, but his work this season has been blessed by all corners of Celtics fandom.
2. Nate Robinson (New York): We can all agree that if Nate the Great were playing in Milwaukee and scoring
17 points a game off the bench he wouldn’t be getting profiled in major publications, or making Letterman appearances. But, whatever. He’s awesome to watch and in a normal year his restricted free agency would mean somebody would overpay to have him dunk on tall dudes. Not sure that’s going to happen in this economy, but the Knicks have gone from having fan pressure to sign restricted free agent David Lee to having fan pressure to sign David Lee and Nate Robinson. Wouldn’t have said that at the beginning of the year.
3. Devin Harris (New Jersey): From injury-prone complimentary guard to scoring machine All-Star. Would be higher if Nets had made the playoffs.
4. Mike D’Antoni (New York): He’s pretty much handled the New York media and the fans seem to be sold on what the Knicks are doing, which in turn buys he and Donnie Walsh some time to do whatever it is they will do by 2010. (You know how they say you can’t rebuild in New York because the fans won’t let you? It’s like Knicks fans are going out of their way to disprove that notion with this team).
At any rate, D’Antoni has received generally high marks and there is chatter in the stat-geek community that he’s not really the terrible defensive coach everyone makes him out to be. That’s good for now but even with all that if the wins don’t creep higher next year it won’t be long until the NY tabs are running Teflon D’an(toni) back pages.
5. Andre Miller (Philly): Miller has two things going for him as he heads into unrestricted free agency. He’s quietly putting together another highly efficient season and he’s also doing it at a time when people are starting to be less impressed with gaudy scoring numbers and looking deeper to value players. In uncertain times, Miller’s consistency is his greatest asset. You want to gamble or take a sure thing these days?
Stephon Marbury (seriously, but you’re not wrong for withholding judgment)
Rajon Rondo (on the cusp of national stardom)
Andre Iguodala (should be on the cusp of national stardom)
Andrea Bargnani (at least offensively)
Mareese Speights: (The under the radar stat geek rookie find of the year.)
1. Chris Bosh (Toronto): His numbers are about the same which makes this unfair, but remember, this is about perception and this has not been an easy season for a number of reasons. From the Raptors disappointing record to his 2010 free agency, plus the weird thing with Shaq and an off the court controversy, Bosh has seemed like the unhappiest 20 and 10 guy in the league.
If Toronto doesn’t make the right moves this summer get ready for a lot of, ‘What’s the matter with Chris Bosh?’ stories next season.
2. Everybody else in Toronto: The coach got fired a year and 17 games after winning Coach of the Year, the GM is taking on water and Shawn Marion hasn’t exactly set himself apart from the guy who played with Steve Nash in Phoenix. Just a bad year for the Raps. The most disappointing team in the NBA, especially when you consider Bosh and Jose Calderon had good years.
3. Elton Brand (Philly): It should have worked, and maybe it still will. From all indications the Sixers aren’t giving up on their prized free agent after a year in which he was hurt most of the year and ineffective when he did play. The Sixers played better without Brand, but that just meant that they were a 40-win or so team that won’t be favored to get out of the first round of the playoffs again. GM Ed Stefanski needs to see this play out next year, but this year? Not so much.
4. Lawrence Frank (New Jersey): There had been a lot of talk out of Jersey that Frank was in trouble, but that seems to have subsided a little bit. The question here is if everyone assumed that the Nets would be a 25-30 win team this season and it turns out that they are, why are people mad at the coach?
5. Eddy Curry (New York): Curry has gone from a wasted year on the court to a tragic figure off it. It’s so bad even Shaq is backing off. Curry’s at the point in his career where he has to decide if he wants to keep playing because the days of NBA teams wildly overpaying semi-decent big men large sums of money are probably over.
And some Celtics
It’s hard to pick on the Celtics for winning 60 games amidst all the injuries and there isn’t really anybody on the roster who has taken a dramatic step back this season, but Gabe Pruitt did not progress the way many people would have liked and first-round pick JR Giddens has been so far removed from Doc’s thought process that he’s whatever comes after afterthought. Patrick O’Bryant would count too, but he’s now the Raptors’ project.
|04.11.09 at 3:19 pm ET|
While the Boston Celtics-Cleveland Cavaliers battle is a must-watch on Sunday, there are several other games to keep an eye on this weekend that could impact postseason match ups:
Saturday, April 11
(7) Chicago Bulls vs. Charlotte Hornets: 8:30pm EST – WGN
Sunday, April 12
|04.10.09 at 11:53 pm ET|
Sure Paul Pierce turned it on in the second half and scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half in Boston’s 105-98 win at TD Banknorth Garden. But you expect such offense from the Celtics captain who could wind up in the Hall of Fame someday.
But when second-year big man Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis goes off for 22 and takes a team-high 17 shots (making eight), you’re left with few options but to just shake your head. After all, Davis is the guy replacing All-World Kevin Garnett in the Green’s lineup.
‘We want KG back, most definitely,” Davis said. “But, it’s all how you look at it. It gives me an opportunity to get the experience, get the minute under my belt so when I’m in playoff situations that, I know, I’ve been through this before and I know how this feels to hit a shot, to put us up. I know how it feels to make a defensive play, I know how it feels to execute when your supposed to execute. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.10.09 at 11:31 pm ET|
When the Boston Celtics arrived in Cleveland in January, they had just dropped their third consecutive game and were in the middle of their longest losing streak since last season. The following game, the Cavaliers blew them out by 15 points.
But thanks to a grind-it-out victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night in Boston, the Celtics are riding the momentum of a six-game winning streak into Sunday’s game in Cleveland. (Click here for a recap) They will try to make a dent in the Cavs’ four-game lead of the top spot, and while head coach Doc Rivers conceded the number one seed weeks ago, the Celtics are looking to build on their two-game lead over the Orlando Magic for the second spot.
‘Every game is a big game for us,’ said Paul Pierce. ‘We’re trying to lock up the number two seed. I think Cleveland locked up the number one seed tonight, so we’re trying to lock up the number two seed. So every game is big for us. We’re only [two] games in front of Orlando, so these last three games we feel like we have to win them all.’
With less than a week left in the regular season, the Celtics have to tackle Sunday’s game as if it were a Game Seven situation. The Cavaliers are sure to as they battle against the Los Angeles Lakers for the number one overall seed.
‘Everybody we play from here on out is basically trying to achieve something,’ said Tony Allen. ‘So each game is playoff-like. We’re going in there with a clear focus that we need to win just as badly as they do because they’re competing with L.A. We’ve got to take it as a must-win game that we need because we’ve got goals that we need to achieve too. It’s going to be a tough fight.’
The Celtics will turn to their bench to help carry the team without Kevin Garnett. Friday’s win against the Heat was a confidence-booster for the reserves.
‘You play a little looser. You play with a little more confidence,’ said Mikki Moore of playing on a winning streak. ‘But we just have to concentrate on the defensive end. We’re pretty sound on the offensive ends. As long as we don’t have too many turnovers and we play solid defense, we’re alright.’
As for Ray Allen, he is simply looking forward to putting a blemish on the Cavaliers’ near-perfect 38-1 home record.
‘They take care of what they have to take care of, we take care of what we have to take care of,’ he said. ‘I think we know where we stand, but as a team it will be a great win on the road for us and that’s what we’re looking forward to.’
The Celtics and Cavaliers will face off at 3:30pm EST on Easter Sunday.
|04.10.09 at 11:28 pm ET|
The other night Stephon Marbury said that Rajon Rondo reminded him of former Syracuse great (and former Net not-so-great) Pearl Washington. It was a nice trip down remembrance lane for the assembled press corps, conjuring up memories of the Pearl weaving his way through the Georgetown Hoya Paranoia press of yore. But for Rondo? Not so much.
“I don’t know who Pearl was,” Rondo said before reminding the media that he didn’t spend a lot of time watching basketball while he was growing up. The conversation turned to Doc Rivers, who Rondo also doesn’t remember as a player, not that it stopped him from taking a little trash.
“I would have a field day against Doc,” Rondo said. Wouldn’t Doc post you up somebody wanted to know? “He’d have to bring it up first,” Rondo said. “Doc can’t go left. That’s what he told me anyway. That would be his problem.”
“That’s probably true,” Rivers answered. “But I’m humble. If we played under the rules I played under (read: hand checks and lots of ‘em) he wouldn’t stand a chance. If we played under his rules I wouldn’t have a chance.”
The rules being what they are, Doc’s assessment is probably correct because without the free use of hand checks (and body slams a la the old Pat Riley Knicks) no one in the NBA has much of a prayer of staying in front of Rondo.
Rondo’s recent scoring binge was a topic of conversation pre-game, but he dismissed that too saying he’s rather have 15 or 16 assists then 30+ points like he dropped on the Nets, Wednesday. Against Miami on Friday his scoring was down–just seven points–but he had 12 assists to go with 10 rebounds and prevented his counterpart, Mario Chalmers, from doing much of anything.
Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus fame recently unveiled his picks for the All-Defensive team, which featured Rondo as the First-Team point guard. Pelton wrote: “Rondo has size and quickness, and uses them both along with a pair of hands that might be as good as any in the league. Rondo’s ability to pressure the length of the court sets the tone for the Celtics‘ stifling defense, and he is an asset defending in the half court as well.”
The age of Rajon is upon us. Here are five other things we learned from Friday nights’ game with the Heat. (Click here for a recap).
1. PAUL PIERCE IS NOT TIRED
The Truth unleashed a classic Truth kind of game with 28 points, eight rebounds and a bushel of clutch shots down the stretch. There has been much concern about Pierce’s physical well-being after he appeared worn down in late March and early April, but the Captain seems to be picking it up at the right time.
“Paul just plays,” Rivers said. “You don’t know if he’s tired, if he’s hurt. You don’t know if he’s feeling great, he has the same expression every night. He’s such a warrior and people don’t get that about him. He is a tough, tough, tough guy. He really is and I think his love of the game is what drives him.”
Pierce cited his maturity and with age comes wisdom, particularly in terms of getting his rest and taking care of his body. “As I get older, I’m getting a lot smarter,” Pierce said. “I feel great right now. I love the way I’ve been playing. I feel like I can do this for another 10 years.”
2. STEPHON MARBURY’S JUMPER IS COMING–SLOWLY
Early in the second quarter, Marbury pulled up on the break and drained a 15-foot jumper. It’s the last thing that has been missing from his comeback attempt, not only the shot, but also the willingness to take it. Marbury made four of five shots in the first half, but he struggled in the second, an indication that he’s not all the way there yet.
“We just want him to keep looking at it,” Rivers said. “And do it in rhythm. In the first half he just played the game and let it come to him. Second half I thought he was looking for it.”
For the second night in a row, however, it was the second unit that gave the Celtics a jolt of energy; a positive development that has helped fuel their run of 10 wins in their last 11 games.
3. RAY ALLEN WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE ACADEMY
Ray Allen won the Red Auerbach Award as the player who best exemplifies what it means to be a Celtic, and he was a little surprised by the honor.
“I’m think OK, somebody’s going to get an award,” Allen said. “I looked behind me to see who was going to step up… I was totally overwhelmed. Surprised. It was a great surprise.”
Allen has put together one of the most efficient seasons of his NBA career by adding a mid-range game that was mostly absent last year. If you recall, the year began with something of an unofficial Allen Watch every time he struggled. Given his track record, it’s unfair to say that this year comes as a complete shock, but given the track record of shooting guards in their 30′s it’s a testament to the hard work Allen has put in on his game.
4. THE PLAYOFFS ARE BECOMING SOMEWHAT CLEARER
The Cavs won, and locked up the top seed in the East. The Magic lost (somehow) at home to a Knicks team that started the immortal Jared Jeffries at center opposite Dwight Howard. That gives the Celtics a two-game lead with three games to play for the second seed.The Hawks, meanwhile, locked up the fourth seed.
The rest of the East is still a jumble. Miami and Philly are still separated by a game for the fifth spot, while Chicago and Detroit are within a game of Philly for sixth. So, there’s still a lot to figure out, but at least it’s not as messy as the West.
5. 60 WINS (AGAIN)
The Celtics won their 60th game, marking the 13th time in their distinguished franchise history that they have reached that plateau and the second year in a row. Prior to last season, the Celtics had not won 60 games since the Larry Bird era when they turned the trick six times in Larry Legend’s career.
Of their 60-win seasons the Celtics have won the NBA championship six times–2007-08, 1985-86, 1983-84, 1980-81, 1964-65 and 1961-62.
|04.10.09 at 9:59 pm ET|
It’s over at the Garden where the Celtics held off the Heat in a wildly entertaining game, 105-98. Paul Pierce led the way with 28 points, while Big Baby Davis added 22 and eight rebounds and Rajon Rondo came up just shy of a triple-double with seven points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
In the last two minutes with the score tied 95-95, the Heat switched Dwyane Wade on to Pierce, an interesting tactical decision by rookie coach Erik Spolestra. Pierce had been working over James Jones when Spolestra made the switch, and while Wade has the edge on Jones in the strength department, he also gave up a few inches in size and he picked up two quick fouls including one on a Pierce jumper.
Pierce went to the line and made a pair of free throws and after Wade missed a 3-pointer, the Celtics cashed in on some solid ball movement that resulted in Davis dropping in a lay-up as the shot clock hit zero.
For the C’s it was their 60th win of the season, the first time they’ve had back-to-back 60-win seasons since the Larry Bird era. Elsewhere, Cleveland beat Philadelphia and clinched first place in the Eastern Conference, while Orlando is down seven at home against the Knicks entering the fourth quarter.