|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.
|04.10.09 at 9:23 pm ET|
Things are getting interesting at the Garden as D-Wade and Paul Pierce put on a nice little show in the third quarter. Wade scored 10 of his 20 points in the quarter, while Pierce went for a dirty dozen to give him 19 and the C’s are holding a 79-72 lead.
It’s been an entertaining game with both teams shooting around 50 percent, balanced scoring on both sides and Rajon Rondo continues to work his way toward a triple-double. He has seven points, nine rebounds and eight assists going into the final frame.
Elsewhere, the Cavs are up 11 on Philly and about to wrap up the top overall seed in the East.
|04.10.09 at 8:42 pm ET|
The man of the hour, or the half, whichever you prefer, is Stephon Marbury. As Marbury’s play has improved over the last few weeks the one thing still missing has been his shot. Early in the second quarter, Marbury pulled up on the break and knocked down an elbow jumper. That shot appeared to galvanize him as he finished the quarter with eight points and shot 4-for-5 from the floor.
Marbury’s play, and a solid defensive effort from the second unit got the Celtics the lead, but they still are having a problem with Jermaine O’Neal who has racked up 14 points and six rebounds. The C’s have managed to hold Dwyane Wade mostly in check and the Heat have shot a shockingly bad 4-of-10 from the free throw line. That’s helped them take a 54-47 lead into the break.
The highlight of the night, though, was Bill Walker’s reverse alley-oop jam. I talked to Walker before the game about Tony Allen’s similar dunk during the Nets game Wednesday and told him that I still preferred his tomahawk jam on Memphis’ Darrell Arthur a few weeks ago. Walker thanked me for the compliment but added that TA’s dunk “was pretty sweet.” Now he’s got one of his own.
One more note from the first half: Rajon Rondo is flirting with a triple-double. He’s got five points, six rebounds and five assists.
|04.10.09 at 8:10 pm ET|
If you want to know why the Miami Heat fall into that nebulous category of potentially dangerous in the playoffs, it goes beyond Dwyane Wade. In Jermaine O’Neal and Michael Beasley Miami has a pair of athletic and active big men who run the floor well and can provide matchup problems.
O’Neal and Beasley combined for 10 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter while the Heat shot a scintillating 55 percent from the floor in taking a 25-22 lead. The Celtics, meanwhile, have struggled mightily, making just 8-of-24 shots, but own a 14-9 edge on the boards. On a positive note for the C’s, Paul Pierce heated up late in the quarter, sticking that step-back 20-footer and nailing a contested 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Both teams have something to play for tonight. The Celtics, of course, are trying to hold off Orlando for the second seed, while Miami has a one game lead on Philly for the fifth seed. The Magic are hosting the Knicks tonight, while the Sixers are in Cleveland. The Cavs can clinch homecourt with one more win, or one more Celtics loss.
|04.10.09 at 7:42 pm ET|