|01.08.09 at 8:14 am ET|
You can sense the concern growing each and every day. What was a juggernaut headed for 70+ wins two weeks ago is now a team that has lost three straight, six of eight and in second place, IN ITS OWN CONFERENCE. Talk about a change of direction. The Celtics haven’t hit a bump in the road, they’ve hit a Boston-sized pothole that has messed up their alignment and they desperately need a trip to the garage to get it fixed. Problem is their next pit stop is against the Cavaliers, the team ahead of them in the East, in Cleveland Friday night where they haven’t lost at home this season in 18 games. Wednesday night, someone named Von Wafer drilled a three with 44 seconds remaining and the Celtics couldn’t overcome Yao Ming’s 26 points as Houston handed the Green their sixth loss in eight games since Christmas.
|01.07.09 at 9:15 pm ET|
There were about seven and a half minutes left when Kevin Garnett began his slow walk to the scorer’s table. Everything Garnett does when he’s off the court is deliberate. It’s a veteran’s move to save whatever reserves of energy he has left, and Garnett knows every trick in the book. But this walk seemed slower for some reason. Maybe it was the sleeve wrapped around his right calf, or maybe it was just the effect of another grueling night in what seems like an endless parade of games.
All around him bodies were hitting the floor. Ron Artest and Ray Allen were in the process of untangling themselves under the basket after yet another high-speed collision. Every loose ball was a fight to the finish. and every shot was being contested. If you’re a fan of the NBA, this is why you watch games in January.
As Garnett made his way on to the court there was a feeling that the moment was there. This was when the Celtics blocked out all the things that have been plaguing them for the last two weeks–all the back-to-backs, all the travel, all the little breakdowns–and made a stand.
A few minutes later, Artest committed his sixth foul after locking Paul Pierce in an abdominal stretch. Artest glared at Pierce, who never so much as turned around. With a wave of his hand, Pierce motioned his nemesis to the bench. It was straight-up cold blooded.
There were more moments. A Pierce jumper from the top of the key tied it. Garnett blocked a shot by the quicksilver guard, Aaron Brooks, and outfought three Rockets for the ball. This was it, only it didn’t happen. (Go here for a recap).
A journeyman shooter named Von Wafer knocked down a 3-pointer in front of the Celtics bench with everyone in green hollering in his ear. Yao Ming got a rebound because he’s 7-foot-6 and then dropped in a layup, because as Doc Rivers sighed after the game, “He’s long. Real long.”
It was the Celtics third loss in a row and their sixth in their last eight games, and they knew it before it was over. “You could see it in their eyes in the huddle with about 40 seconds left,” Rivers said. “(Shoot). We’re going to lose this game. It wasn’t (a lack of) confidence. It bothered them.”
The Celtics play Cleveland on Friday and you wouldn’t find a soul on press row who would take them, or the points, in that one. They’re tired. The bench is struggling. The defense isn’t right. The offense has gotten bogged down. They’re exposed?
The Celtics were having none of it afterward. “I told the guys we need to get our defensive swagger back,” Pierce said. “It’s been broken these last 10 or 12 days. We know what we’re capable of. It’s just going back to basics and getting the job done. The confidence is still there. It’s a long season and that’s what we try to tell each other. We bend but don’t break. That’s what it’s all about.”
This is the reality of the situation. The Celtics have never gone through a stretch like this in the Paul-Ray-Kevin era. Yes, they had some issues in the playoffs, and no, the regular season isn’t nearly as important. But, and there is a but, the Celtics have not gone through a stretch like this before, and the rest of the league is licking their chops at a chance to knock the champs down a peg or two.
The issues didn’t start with the losing. There was a feeling at the end of the 19-game winning streak that things weren’t quite right. Rivers voiced his concerns then but they were drowned out by the record-setting run.
“Now you believe me,” Rivers said before tip-off. “I don’t know if it’s inevitable or not. It doesn’t change who we are or who we think we are. It doesn’t affect us a staff and what we have to work on. These are the dog days. From Christmas to the All-Star break. Last year we really focused though it. We did a hell of a job.”
Now, they head into Cleveland into what will surely be as hostile an environment as they will see until the playoffs in April. It will make Atlanta look like Romper Room and they need of a win. You could see the glint in Pierce’s eye when he was asked about Friday’s showdown.
“This is the team we put out of the playoffs,” he said. “This is the best home team in all of basketball. We’re going to get their best punch. We have to be ready for their best shot. The way they have been playing at home has been unbelievable, but the way we are playing, this is a great way to get back on track.”
|01.07.09 at 7:28 pm ET|
- I’m hoping for more Pierce vs. Artest action in the fourth quarter. They love to hate each other on the court and I haven’t seen another player target Pierce as intensely as Artest.
- Nate Robinson gets credit for being the biggest little man in the NBA but Aaron Brooks deserves more recognition. Brooks just dribbled circles around Ray Allen on top of scoring 14 points already.
- Huge 3 for Pruitt. He can be explosive when given the minutes.
- Adalius Thomas wants you to get up out your seats and make some noise. His message was just as effective and a lot less startling than Big Baby’s frenzied plea earlier.
- Double fouls issued to Artest and Allen. Looked like Artest pulled Allen to the ground but the Celtics are going to have to fight for this one tonight.
- “In the Air Tonight” is on so you know what that means. KG is about to be unleashed on the Rockets.
- What was that? On a drive to the basket Artest bobbled to ball, seemed to pass it back and forth to himself a few times, then landed on the fans sitting courtside before the shot clock ran out.
- Artest fouled out with three minutes to go. Pierce kindly pointed to the bench, not once, not twice, but enough times to rattle Artest. Were those tears a la Big Baby we saw on the Jumbotron? The Pierce vs. Artest battle is over but everyone got their money’s worth. I’ve never seen Pierce react so strongly to the disqualification of another player.
- Excitement aside there’s no ignoring Perk’s struggle tonight. He is scoreless and reboundless in the second half and hasn’t found a way to contain Yao.
- Rondo, who has been quiet as well, doesn’t have to stress about finding his teammates when they are getting him the ball. Nice dish from KG to Rondo under the basket to give the Celtics a one-point lead with 1:30 to go.
- Homecourt advantage? Pierce got whistled for an offensive foul with a minute to go. Wonder if Artest is snickering about that from the bench. That late game call could come back to haunt the Celtics.
- It did.
|01.07.09 at 6:54 pm ET|
This is the Bizarro-world game. The Celtics shot 12-for-18 in the first quarter and the Rockets shot 12-for-18 in the second. A big reason was the small lineup employed by Rick Adelman. Aaron Brooks, in particular, ran circles around the Celtics defense. The good news for Boston? Only five turnovers in the first half.
This is a big half for the Celtics, maybe their biggest of the season to date. Read the rest of this entry »
|01.07.09 at 6:42 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo can’t pinpoint exactly why the Boston Celtics have been struggling but he has a few ideas on how to get back on track. On Wednesday, the Cs point guard explained how he wanted to bounce back against the Houston Rockets:
Be up for the challenge: “Doc told us from the beginning that it’s going to be like that every night. We’d be a team’s Game 7, especially the Warriors, Charlotte, New York and they played extremely hard.”
Match the intensity: “We’re definitely getting every team’s best shot. Guys are playing extremely hard against us every time we play one particular team. So we’ve got to come out every night and it starts with defense. We have to talk more, communicate better, play better, and get it going on the offensive end as well.”
Want it more: “We just need to get down and dirty. We need to fight for loose balls, get out on hustle plays, win the hustle wars … Not the whole games but it seems like in key possessions they’re outhustling us.”
Remember Ubuntu: “We’ll stick together. This is a tough time for us right now but we’ve just got to handle the adversity and I’m sure we’ll bounce back from it.”
Build momentum for the road: “We’re just in a slump right now and we’ve got to find a way to get out of it. And it starts tonight. But we’ve got to carry it over when we go to Cleveland (on Friday).”
Stay confident: “Every game we go through right now, the tough times can only you stronger. Like they say, if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. We’ll find a way.”
|01.07.09 at 6:16 pm ET|
HALFTIME WRAP: No T-Mac, no problem for the Rockets in the first half. The Celtics have been unable to stop Houston in the paint and find themselves down by three at the half. Perk has been virtually ineffective down low (0 points, 3 rebounds) and the Celtics will have to ramp up their defensive efforts to slow down Yao Ming, Ron Artest, and Aaron Brooks (37 points combined).
- Doc Rivers said Gabe Pruitt has earned more playing time and he’s on the court at the start of the second quarter. It’s Pruitt/Powe/Davis/Pierce/House vs. Brooks/Landry/Barry/Hayes/Artest.
- Carl Landry’s future with the Rockets was in question this summer. After a lengthy negotiation Landry returned to Houston and is giving the Rockets a spark off the bench. He already has four points and four rebounds in 10 minutes.
- Doc’s going with a lineup we haven’t seen much of: House/Pruitt/Ray Allen/Garnett/Powe. Rivers said he only felt comfortable with Pruitt and House in the backcourt together if their were playing a smaller team.
- Here comes Scal. Whereas Pierce could battle all night with Artest, Scal high-fived him after fouling/practically landing on top of #96.
- All sorts of size mismatches on the court … 7’6 Yao vs. 6’8 Powe … 6’11 KG vs. 6’6 Hayes … even 6’1 Rondo vs. the no-way-is-he-really 6′ Brooks.
- Time for Celtics Karaoke on the JumboTron. Tonight it’s Ray Allen “singing” the theme song to “Cheers.” It’d be better if people didn’t know his name after that rendition.
- With two minutes to go, KG finally drew the first personal foul on Yao Ming. That should tell you something about the Celtics aggression down low. So far they’ve been outscored 20-10 in the paint.
- That’s something to think about as the Celtics enter halftime trailing 52-49.
|01.07.09 at 5:38 pm ET|
We are live from the Garden for tonight’s highly-anticipated matchup between the suddenly reeling Celtics and the banged-up Rockets. That’s not the NBA version of the promo, but this is a big game for both teams. The C’s, as we know, are reeling a bit. Losing three out of four on the West Coast and then dropping back-to-back games against the Knicks and Bobcats of all people, have put them on edge a bit.
Tony Allen is out again and might not be ready until next week. Kevin Garnett is also feeling the effects of just about everything. But that’s nothing compared to what the Rockets are going through. Tracy McGrady is not in the starting lineup and not expected to play, and Huston has dropped three in a row and six of its last eight.
So, what will it be? Which team will get itself right tonight? Let’s find out… Read the rest of this entry »