|12.04.09 at 10:24 pm ET|
Before the Celtics went on their four-game road trip the mood around the team was one of unease. They were winning games, mostly, but they were making things very hard on themselves. The double-digit blowouts were just a distant memory.
One week later the Celtics will return to Boston as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, winners of seven straight and proud owners of a four-game road sweep. They capped it off with an impressive 105-87 win over the young and exciting Oklahoma City Thunder, a day after gutting out a win over the San Antonio Spurs.
On the trip the Celtics returned to their dominant defensive roots and played smart, efficient basketball on the offensive end. They will have a well-earned three days off before their next game back at the TD Garden against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Player of the Game: Kevin Garnett. You could have picked any number of Celtics for the coveted Green Street Player of the Game award, but KG gets the nod for scoring 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds and a couple of tasty dunks. It’s impossible to say at this point if KG is back to being the KG of old, but he sure looked like it on the road trip.
Turning Point: Oklahoma City made it clear early on that it was going to try to run. A good strategy by coach Scott Brooks considering his team’s youth and the Celtics long road trip. There was only one problem: The C’s wanted to run as much as the Thunder did and they did it much, much better. A 15-5 run erased an early three-point lead and put the Celtics in the drivers seat.
* The worst thing that could happen to the Thunder was foul trouble and Nick Collison lived in it all night long. Without Nenad Kristic, the Thunder simply didn’t have enough size to match up with the Celtics inside.
* Garnett got free for a number of easy dunks and he finished strong on each of them. He looks positively rejuvenated on this trip.
* After a slow start Rajon Rondo turned it on in the second half finishing with 15 points and six assists.
* Paul Pierce and Kevin Durant put on a good show in the first half with Durant scoring 22 and Pierce going off for 21 points. Durant is a phenomenal offensive player, but his defense has a long way to go before he can join the upper echelon of stars.
|12.03.09 at 11:22 pm ET|
The Celtics and Spurs entered Thursday’s game on five-game winning streaks. At the end of a tense fourth quarter the Celtics came out on top, 90-83, while the Spurs hit a skid.
Kevin Garnett led all players with 20 points while Rajon Rondo orchestrated an all-around attack with 12 points and 12 assists. Paul Pierce had another quiet night, scoring eight points for the second straight game.
The Spurs received very little help from their starting lineup tonight. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker could not win this game alone and the rest of the first unit did little to help. Richard Jefferson scored just six points while while Antonio McDyess and Keith Bogans were scoreless.
Player of the game: His team may not have won but Spurs rookie DeJuan Blair made the biggest impact down the stretch. Blair was a steal at the 37th pick in this year’s draft and proved tonight that he was underestimated. His 18 points were the driving force behind the Spurs fourth quarter run and he showed no signs of intimidation going up against veterans Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. More importantly, he crashed the boards on both ends of the court. The Celtics grabbed just two offensive rebounds as a team while Blair grabbed five offensive and six defensive. Expect to see more of Blair this season.
Turning point: The Spurs cut the Celtics lead to four points late in the fourth and looked to draw even closer as Tony Parker drove the lane on a fastbreak with just over 22 seconds to go. Rondo reached in to strip the ball, which bounced out of bounds off of Parker’s leg. The Celtics regained possession and the Spurs were forced to put them on the line.
– Garnett hit his stride and nailed shot after shot from mid-range (9-15 FG). He added seven rebounds and committed zero turnovers.
– The Spurs shot just 7-for-17 from the free throw line. The Celtics hit 14-of-19.
– The Celtics were outrebounded 55-32. Duncan had 15 boards to Kendrick Perkins seven.
– Rasheed Wallace was a reliable force off the Celtics bench. He posted 13 points, including 3-for-5 three-point shooting.
|12.03.09 at 3:44 pm ET|
On Thursday night, WEEI Celtics radio broadcaster Sean Grande will call the 1,000th NBA game of his career when the Celtics take on the Spurs in San Antonio. Grande will become just the third broadcaster behind Marv Albert and Ian Eagle to call 1,000 NBA games before the age of 40. He called his first NBA game on December 23, 1997 and has been broadcasting Celtics games for WEEI since 2001.
Albert “Scooter” Vertino, a senior producer for TNT, met Grande more than 10 years ago when Grande was a television broadcaster for the Timberwolves. He says Grande still exhibits the same qualities that impressed him back then.
“The thing that impresses me most is his preparation. I am sure that most people in his position put in the hours and work hard, but he doesn’t miss a trick. I have seen the numbers he crunches and the quantity is pretty incredible,” Vertino said via email. “The funniest moment I can recall was the Knicks game at Boston two seasons ago. The game was a huge blowout. Pretty sure it was James Posey that dove over the scorer’s table and landed in Sean and Cedric Maxwell’s laps. Posey’s presence was mentioned, but the game call continued.”
The Celtics WEEI pregame program will begin tonight at 7:30 EST. The game will kick off at 8pm. Click here for the official press release on the 1,000th game milestone.
|12.03.09 at 11:58 am ET|
The basketball community has been graced with a number of exceptional books to start the 2009-10 season. From Bill Simmons’ epic tome to Jackie MacMullan’s fantastic look back at the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson era, we are in a golden age of basketball books after a long fallow period.
But for the current season, one stands out above the rest. Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle have finally put together a book that echoes the best of the Baseball and Football Prospectus traditions by reviving the Pro Basketball Prospectus annual. Using new statistical metrics, the duo breaks down and analyzes all 30 NBA teams in an informative and entertaining volume.
If you are a fan of the other Prospectus books, it will open your eyes to all the nuances of the NBA game. If you are a fan of basketball, the Pro Basketball Prospectus is required reading, even if you’re a little unfamiliar with the concept of usage rates.
We talked with Kevin Pelton via phone and asked him about the book process, why former Sonics scrub Russ Schoene is so important, and how good he thinks Rajon Rondo can be (hint: really, really good).
How did the book come out?
Baseball Prospectus wanted to focus on publishing baseball books. We decided to go the print on demand route. We were fortunate that Football Outsiders tread the exact same path a few months ahead of us, so we were able to learn from what they did and use the same layout. That worked out really well for us. Doing a book had always been a goal since we started doing the website. We’ve always loved the prospectus books across multiple sports.
What were some of the things you learned from the process?
The only details you’re going to learn about individual players come when you sit down and focus on each of them. That’s not something you do during the season. You watch games and look for numbers as they stand out. When you have to do two paragraphs on DJ Mbenga, you learn something you didn’t know before.
The other thing you pick up are trends. Every time I had to write, ‘This is why you don’t overpay for role players in free agency,” that was something I thought before, but when you’re looking at all these contracts for terribly mediocre guys that get signed for the mid-level exception, it really hammers that home.
|12.03.09 at 11:36 am ET|
Meanwhile, a certain team in San Antonio (9-6) might be hitting its own stride. After making a splash this summer by trading for former New Jersey Nets star Richard Jefferson (career 17.6 ppg), it appeared the Spurs positioning themselves to contend for another NBA title. But after a three-game skid dropped their season record to 4-6, questions began to surface about age, chemistry and hunger for winning.
So much for that.
Five straight victories for San Antonio and they’re right back in the title talks. That being said, the black and silver has been beating up mostly on second-tier teams; their game Thursday night against the Celtics will be another matter.
Both teams teams have been hot of late, and neither is a stranger to the NBA spotlight. The Celtics dominated the league in 2007 en route to their 17th NBA Championship, meanwhile seemingly every year the Spurs are on the brink of grabbing one of their own, including winning four titles in the past 10 years.
Tonight’s 8 p.m. clash has just about everything: the names, the legacy, and the anticipation. But how does everything else pan out? Let’s take a look:
On A Roll ‘ Both teams come in winners of five straight, though neither streaks have been star studded. Aside from Boston’s 92-85 win on Sunday over the 10-5 Miami Heat, none of the Celtic’s past five victories have come against opponents above .500. In fact, before taking down the Heat, the last time the Celtics beat a team with more notches in the win column than the loss column was back on Nov. 11, a 105-96 win over the now 10-7 Utah Jazz.
Similarly, San Antonio has benefited from a rather smooth stretch in their schedule, helping them get back on track after losing three straight in mid-November. The only above .500 team in the Spurs’ past five wins? The 10-8 Houston Rockets, whom San Antonio disposed of 92-84 back on November 27. But you’d have to travel all the way back to that same Nov. 11 to find the last time the Spurs beat an above .500 team prior to the Rockets, a 92-83 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Head to Head
Strangely Familiar ‘ They may not meet that often, but when they do, chances are it’ll be memorable. Boston and San Antonio have yet to collide this season, but last year they met two times – as they do every season ‘ and both games were spectacular. The Spurs took the first game, a 105-99 nail-biter that had San Antonio taking the lead with 20.4 seconds left off a Roger Mason three, stunning a packed house at the Garden. The second game, however, was taken by the Celtics in an equally exciting matchup, an 80-77 victory at the AT&T Center in Texas. Kendrick Perkins netted the game-winner for the Celtics, who escaped San Antonio with KG on the bench for the entire fourth quarter – in part thanks to the Spurs’ six consecutive free-throw misses to close out the game.
Boston swept the two-game series in 2007-08, but the two split again back in 2006-07 with both teams winning their home matchups.
Defense Wins Championships ‘ It’s no secret to anyone in the NBA how the Spurs run their team: a combination of stout defense and scoring mainly from anyone on the floor named Duncan, Parker or Ginobli. But the addition of Richard Jefferson this season has helped alter that perception a little, giving the Spurs a potent fourth option when it comes to putting the ball in the net. So far in 2009, Jefferson has averaged a solid 13.5 points a game, a nice complement to point guard Tony Parker (16.5) in the absence of guard Manu Ginobli (groin injury). But regardless of how much or how little Jefferson steps up, the Spurs are still the same old Spurs, and they live and die by perennial All-Star forward and team-leader, Tim Duncan.
As a result, the most exciting matchup within the Spurs-Celtics rivalry is as it has been for the past three seasons ‘ Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett. Seeing those two do battle in the paint is like watching history collide. Whenever two NBA greats the likes of Garnett and Duncan meet on the hardwood, it’s bound to be exciting, particularly considering that the two play the same position and will literally be matching up head-to-head.
.833 ‘ After posting a very less-than-Allen .259% from beyond the arc in his past six games, Ray Allen heated up in a big way in the Celtics win over the Bobcats. Allen nailed five of six shots from three-point range on Tuesday night, was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line and finished the night with a game-high 27 points. The Celtics would like that hot shooting to carry over to tonight’s game against a tough defensive squad in the San Antonio Spurs, who are surrendering 96.5 points a game, 10th in the NBA.
3/4 ‘ the amount of major statistical categories in which Tim Duncan leads the Spurs, furthering the notion that the black and silver go as No. 21 goes. So far in 2009, Duncan leads San Antonio with 18.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and an intimidating 2.00 blocks per contest. He even ranks third on the team in assists with 3.7, a rarity for a power forward with the size of Duncan.
The Ginobli We All Know and Love ‘ He’s back on the injured list ‘ again. Oh wait, never mind, he’s off. Wait, no, he’s back on. Okay, forget it ‘ he’s off it now. Ginobli finally returned to the Spurs lineup on Sunday, a 97-89 win over the 76ers that had the Spurs’ star bench-player contribute 17 minutes on the court, netting only eight points and grabbing three rebounds. Obviously a sub-par game for Ginobli, who is averaging 13.5 points a game in ‘09, but it’s apparent he doesn’t have his sea legs back yet after injuring his groin in the Spurs’ loss to the Jazz back on Nov. 19. Since then, the injury has kept the Argentinean born guard out for five-straight games until returning on Sunday. He’s only appeared in 10 games this season, and may not be at full-strength tonight against the Celtics, something that will undoubtedly hurt the Spurs both on the offensive and defensive ends.
On the other hand, San Antonio’s backup guard, Roger Mason (7.1), who was a thorn in the Celtics’ side last season, may be cleared to play Thursday night. The Spurs’ off-the-bench hot shooter has been dealing with a hamstring injury that held him off the court in Sunday’s win over the 76ers, but he is expected to be available for Thursday night’s clash with the Green. In his last two games before injuring the hamstring, Mason posted a combined 28 points, shooting a torrid 66.7 percent from the field.
Nothing new for the Celtics on the injury front, as the usuals — Glen “Big Baby” Davis” and Tony Allen — will be sidelined for tonight’s matchup. News for Tony Allen is that the Celtics will be without the 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard for the entirety of their four game road-trip, and he will be re-evaluated when the club returns to Boston.
Big Four? – “Those situations were created by that little guy. He was excellent tonight, really. … I thought he controlled this game as well as anybody and I don’t know if his stat line is really as indicative of how much impact he had on this game.” – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Celtics’ point guard Rajon Rondo after Sunday’s game.
He’s no longer a secret in the NBA. Rajon Rondo continues to improve daily, and the Celtics have all the confidence in the world in him, evident in his new five-year, $55 million contract. It will be another tough night for the point guard however, as he goes toe-to-toe with perennial All-Star Tony Parker, who is averaging 16.5 points a game this season. It’s apparent that a lot of this game hinges on Garnett vs. Duncan ‘ but make no mistake about it, it will be no small battle at the point.
|12.03.09 at 10:34 am ET|
1. LA Lakers (7): I had to sip on some of Ron Artest’s Hennessy to put them here without grimacing. They’re a matchup nightmare with all their height and skill, and it doesn’t hurt that Kobe still plays like he has something to prove.
3. Boston (5): I’d be lying if I told you I never thought, “Maybe they’re not that good …” at one point this season. But that was when KG was dragging his leg and looking like Mikki Moore on defense. Since then, he’s barely missed a shot and you can see him gaining more trust in the knee.
4. Dallas (4): If you needed to X and O your way out of a problem quickly and you could call a friend, wouldn’t Rick Carlisle be on speed dial? Man, this guy can REALLY coach.
|12.01.09 at 9:34 pm ET|
Coming into Tuesday night’s action, the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference were Boston and Charlotte. Despite their inconsistent play the Celtics had reeled off four straight wins. Despite being the Bobcats, Larry Brown’s crew had also won four straight, including a decisive victory over the Cavs.
Additionally the Celtics came in with the best road record in the league, while the Bobcats owned a 6-1 mark at home. But what looked like an intriguing matchup quickly turned into a rout as the Celtics played their best game since the first week of the season in a 108-90 win. Ray Allen broke out with 27 points, while Kevin Garnett continued his hot shooting, scoring 16 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists
Player of the Game: Kendrick Perkins. The Celtics center has very quietly put together a strong season, but he may not remain a secret for much longer after scoring 21 points to go with 12 rebounds. It was Perk’s second double-double in as many games and his third in the last six. He scored easily and efficiently against Tyson Chandler, showing a nice variety of low-post moves.
Turning point: Midway through the second quarter the Bobcats had cut the Celtics lead to 12, 42-30, when the starting five came back on the floor. They proceeded to go on an 11-1 run, highlighted by deft passing and great defensive work. The Bobcats never got back in the game.
* The Celtics were 17-for-17 from the free throw line in the first half. Among the encouraging signs: Garnett had six free throws and Rajon Rondo and Perkins were a combined 5-for-5.
* The Bobcats racked up 13 offensive rebounds but that number is a little deceiving. Most of them came on just a handful of possessions so it wasn’t like the C’s were getting beat on the boards all night and a few of them were, shall we say, generously awarded.
* Hard to say that the Celtics played “great” defense because the Bobcats looked so disorganized offensively, but they held Charlotte to 41 percent shooting.
* Once again things got testy between these two teams. Garnett and Nazr Mohammed had to be separated and Rondo and Chandler picked up double fouls away from the ball.
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