|03.18.09 at 11:52 pm ET|
Everyone assumed Wednesday’s game between the short-handed Celtics and Miami Heat at the Garden would be a showcase of an NBA MVP candidate. And it was.
While Paul Pierce is almost certainly not going to beat out guys named Kobe or LeBron or even the Heat’s Dwayne Wade, who was a late scratch Wednesday with a right hip flexor, the Celtics captain showed exactly why he is still one of the most feared players in the league.
He scored 36 points and hauled in 11 rebounds and, with the help of Rajon Rondo’s 27 points and 10 assists, led the Green to a gutsy 112-108 OT win against Miami.
“It almost came down to that we had Paul and they didn’t have Wade,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “When Paul was making all the shots, I thought that last shot he took was in too so, it’s a good win for us, right now even when you get what we’re going through is good. I thought a lot of guys, obviously Paul and Rajon, was terrific.”
Pierce looked like the Pierce of 2006-07 when he HAD to be the guy taking all the big shots at the end of games. Like his three-pointer with 2:27 left in regulation to give the Celtics a 96-95 lead. Like his jumper with 1:49 remaining to give the Celtics a 98-97 lead. Like his jumper with 1:23 remaining to give the Celtics a 100-99 lead. Pierce was 6-for-8 in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his team’s 25 points
“When he does that, it’s unbelievable,” Kendrick Perkins said in wonder. “He’s hitting shots, crazy shots. I knew they were in trouble how he came out. When he comes out like that, he’s in attack mode. I was like, ‘Somebody is in trouble tonight.’ He came out just feeling it. He carried us tonight, he and Rondo.”
Pierce was more humble.
“We just needed a win any way we can get it, right now at this point, it seems like bodies are going down left and right, to get our spirits back up,” Pierce said. “We know that we are injured, we know that we are losing guys every other day, but just to get back on the winning mindframe, is big for us, especially when you are going into San Antonio in a couple of days later. So, this was a big game for us, hopefully on this road trip, we get a couple of bodies back, if not we continue to grind these games out until these guys get better.”
And the captain isn’t about to let his team’s spirits get down, even after losing Ray Allen to a bum elbow and Leon Powe for two weeks with a banged up right knee.
“They’re up,” Pierce said. “That’s the one great thing about this team. We’ve never been down, we’ve never look at one another, point the finger at one another, and we understand that we just have to keep working. We’re a team that doesn’t make excuses, that doesn’t cry over spilled milk. The situation is what it is and we have to go out there and put our hard hats on and our work boots on and continue to work regardless of who’s out there.”
Jermaine O’Neal has seen this all before. He wasn’t surprised by the show Pierce put on against his Heat on Wednesday.
|03.18.09 at 11:21 pm ET|
“Foul on number seven, Mikki Moore.”
Those words have become all too familiar since Moore joined the Boston Celtics in February.
Moore has fouled out of the last two games, including Wednesday night’s overtime win against the Miami Heat. (He was gone after playing less than 17 minutes.) Over the last five games, he has been whistled for a league-leading total of 26 personal fouls. (Recap here)
“I’m playing aggressive, trying to do the right thing, and most of my calls are just touch fouls,” Moore said after the game. “That’s why I’m frustrated. But a foul is a foul. I have to make my fouls count.”
Moore explains there is a difference between a good foul and a bad foul. He should know. He led the NBA with 310 personal fouls during the 2008 season.
“A bad foul is when it goes negative to the team, when it’s a turnover,” he said. “Like if it’s an offensive foul or if I try to come off somebody’s back and get an offensive rebound. That’s a real bad foul. And if it’s low on the shot clock and I foul a jumpshooter, that’s a bad foul. But if it’s just a hustling foul or I’m going for a loose ball, I don’t think that’s a bad foul.”
Moore admits that part of his foul trouble has come with learning a new system. He is anxious to get adjusted, but knows he has to be patient.
“I’ve got to stop trying so hard,” he said. “KG told me tonight, ‘Just relax and play, man. Stop trying to do everything.’ That’s what I’ve got to start doing.”
Garnett’s advice was echoed by head coach Doc Rivers.
Said Moore, “He said, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day so you’ve got to keep working hard.’”
|03.18.09 at 11:15 pm ET|
There are two ways to look at Doc Rivers’ statement before the Celtics took the court against the Heat. “We’re not going to catch Cleveland,” Rivers told the press without being asked about whether they could catch the Cavaliers. “We have a chance to hold on to that second spot.” (Click here for a recap of the Miami game.)
The first is this. The coach is absolutely right. There are 13 games left in the regular season and the Celtics are down five in the loss column. It’s math.
Now that kind of unprompted candor, even from one of the more honest and realistic coaches in the NBA, is not generally expected. Someone who has been around competitive sports for as long as Rivers knows there’s always a chance, and to concede anything less is to admit to defeat on a certain level.
But admitting defeat is not in this team’s nature (and they have the championship banner to prove it) so clearly this was a different sort of message. After the game, which was as good a win as his team has had in almost two weeks, Rivers talked about a jigsaw puzzle. “It’s corny,” he said. “But we were talking about it today that the only way you can put a puzzle together is with the box. You have to have the picture. So we just don’t have all our pieces together right now. They’re kind of scattered but we’re going to have a chance to put them back together and we know that. And we know the picture and that’s what we want.”
The puzzle pieces are scattered throughout Eddie Lacerte’s training room. They have hyper-extended elbows, sprained ankles and strained knees. But the picture is clearer now after suffering losses to Milwaukee and Chicago and it involves getting the home-court advantage against Orlando in the second round. That’s the puzzle they will try to solve over the next 13 games: Get healthy and stay ahead of the Magic.
That’s a different picture than what was in place a few weeks ago when there was a realistic chance at catching the Cavaliers, but that was then and this is now. There were a lot of words spoken in the aftermath of their gritty win over the Heat without two of their stars and with only three able-bodied big men, but none of them were “Cleveland.”
“One, for us to get on the same page and two, to solidify that second spot,” was how Stephon Marbury put it. “Once everyone gets healthy I think this team will be totally different.”
“Either way, I still feel good about us winning a championship,” Kendrick Perkins said. “I don’t care if we play home or away.”
Say this for the Celtics, when the coach talks about something like this it’s not an accident and it’s not a sub-conscious slip of the tongue. The players were briefed about this subtle change in expectations and they are on board.
“That’s the one great thing about this team,” Paul Pierce said. “We’ve never been down. We never look at one another, point the finger at one another, and we understand that we just have to keep working. The situation is what it is and we have to go out there and put our hard hats on and our work boots on and continue to work, regardless of who’s out there.”
To that end, they milked 41 minutes out of Big Baby Davis, who has been out the last four games with an ankle injury. They had three (relatively) healthy big men and when Davis and Mikki Moore fouled out, they turned to rookie Bill Walker in the final minute of an overtime game.
It was, as they say, a good win. A win that clinched them the Atlantic Division, not that any of them cared because that’s not part of the puzzle they’re trying to solve.
“(The division) doesn’t really mean anything to the Boston Celtics,” Pierce said. “They don’t put that banner up. Maybe in other arenas they put that banner up, but here, it doesn’t really mean a thing.”
Getting healthy matters. Staying ahead of Orlando matters. That was the message the coach delivered Wednesday night and it was heard, and well-received by his team.
|03.18.09 at 10:47 pm ET|
Bill Walker and Michael Beasley were more than roommates at Kansas State. They were each other’s toughest competition.
“Oh man, we competed at everything,” Walker recalled earlier this season. “On the basketball side, out of basketball, video games, we competed in every thing. Everything was a competition.”
On Wednesday night the rookies faced off as Walker and the Boston Celtics took on Beasley and the Miami Heat. (RECAP HERE) Just like their friendship, the game was a back and forth battle. But it still doesn’t compare to their one-on-one games back in college.
“That’s probably the most intense basketball I’ve played in my life,” Beasley said. “When he won, I didn’t want to leave. And I when I won, he’s not leaving. So sometimes you could win three or four straight and he just won’t quit, or vice versa. I remember there were times we were in the gym until four or five o’clock in the morning just playing one-on-one.”
Walker dubbed Beasley, “The Beast from the East,” and the two saw everything has a chance to win. Little things walking to the car became a race. Game days were another opportunity to one up each other.
“Honestly, we prepared for a game by bringing our Xbox into the locker room and then playing games until pregame stuff,” Beasley said. “We’d always play as ourselves and be Kansas State versus Kansas State.”
Their must-win mentalities pushed one another to become better than they were before.
“It teaches you a lot about yourself,” said Walker. “Especially when you go up against somebody that’s just as competitive as you are and he’s skilled in the same manner you are, that really challenges you.”
|03.18.09 at 9:38 pm ET|
The stage was set for Paul Pierce to be the hero. But after running down the clock, his last second shot circled off the rim. It’s overtime for the Celtics and Heat, tied at 100 apiece.
|03.18.09 at 9:10 pm ET|
When Paul Pierce saw Rajon Rondo lying on the ground after a foul by James Jones, he had words for the Heat. The Heat spat back, and Pierce and Luther Head were called for double technical fouls with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
|03.18.09 at 8:39 pm ET|
The Celtics have two key objectives in the third quarter. Get the lead back and don’t foul. It’s tough to play that way, obviously, but that’s the situation they are in right now. Big Baby, Kendrick Perkins and Mikki Moore have exactly seven fouls to play with for the next 24 minutes and the way this game is going that’s not going to be enough.
Give the Heat credit for attacking this obvious weakness. Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal did work in the second quarter against the depleted bigs and Udonis Haslem has picked up on their lead.