|02.01.09 at 12:06 pm ET|
Greetings from the Garden where we are live for today’s game between the Celtics and the Timberwolves, aka the former Celtics. The question for today: Is there any force on this mortal coil that could keep Kevin Garnett from making his appointed rounds against hid old team? Apparently there is. It’s called the flu and it has knocked KG out for today and possibly into next week.
Big Baby Davis gets the start in his place and he has been playing the best ball of the season. He’ll have his hands full trying to help stop Al Jefferson, et al. We’re about ready to begin and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Kevin McHale just got a standing ovation during pregame warm-ups when his image filled the JumboTron.
KG may not be here, but Jess and I are back in force. Let’s have at it…
FIRST QUARTER WRAP: Great quarter by Kendrick Perkins who went for nine points and five rebounds. The Celtics are owning the boards, 13-5, even without Kevin Garnett in the lineup. Minnesota has cooled off after a fast start. It will be interesting watch how this game is called the next three quarters. The refs let a lot of contact go without calls in the first 12 minutes.
First Quarter Observations
— Of course Kendrick Perkins will have Big Al most of the day, but Baby will have to keep an eye out to help. That’s where a player like Garnett would have been valuable today.
— That’s the second time I’ve seen Rondo break out the overhead diagonal bounce pass on the fast break. Those things aren’t accidents folks. It may look funky sometimes but there’s not much that Rondo does that he hasn’t thought through a few times.
— If Minny is going to insist on putting Craig Smith on Perk, that’s a matchup the Celtics should be able to exploit. Perk’s offensive game has been coming along nicely the last year or so. If he gets just a little more fluid, he has the touch, and you know he has the bulk, to be a very productive low-post option.
— If you could have one guy back from the KG trade–besides Al Jefferson–whom would it be? Got to be Ryan Gomes, right? A versatile 6-8 or so forward with range would be ideal on this team. Of course, it’s still a trade you make every day of the week and twice on Sundays, but I think the rest of the league is finally acknowledging that it wasn’t the straight-up steal people thought it was at the time.
— Four turnovers already for the Celtics. If they keep a lid on that they can go for 110 again. Great start by Paul Pierce who is 4-for-4 and nine points. This is a game for Pierce to really pick up his scoring. As has been noted several times, I love the way he’s playing this year. He’s in the flow, so to speak. Time for him to ride the wave this afternoon.
On the other side, you can see what not having KG does to the defense. The T-Wolves are getting good looks, and they’re making them.
— Great move by Ray Allen. He pump-faked the 3 and went hard to the basket. He’s doing that so much more than he did last year when he was basically a catch-and-shoot player. And yes, he got robbed for the All-Star team. Rondo too.
— Minnesota has zero rebounds. Sorry, now they have one.
— Kevin Love and Mike Miller are in for Minny. Miller is the subject of much trade rumor mongering and he would definitely help a contender. The guy has very quietly put together a solid career. Love, meanwhile has also put together a decent, if not overwhelming, rookie campaign. Safe to say he’s a better rebounder than people thought he would be. Once he extends his range he should be a solid NBA player for the next decade.
|01.30.09 at 6:21 pm ET|
An NBA title with the Boston Celtics has made it easy to forget about Kevin Garnett’s days with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is no longer the player who couldn’t win it all. Rather he is the champion who proved anything is possible.
Yet the former Celtics who were involved in the blockbuster deal are still known as ‘the guys traded for Garnett.’ It has been two seasons, though, since the move and now they are ready to make a name for themselves in Minnesota.
‘We’re thankful for what [the Celtics] gave us but now we’ve got to set our own trends, set our own careers,’ Ryan Gomes said in a telephone interview. ‘We’re not with the Celtics anymore. We know who they have and what they’ve accomplished, but now we’ve got to try to set other goals for ourself.’
Gomes, Al Jefferson, and Sebastian Telfair are the only remaining players on the Timberwolves from the 2007 trade. (Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff have signed with other teams.) Last season they finished 22-60, their worst record since the pre-Garnett era. In attempt to establish a new identity, the Timberwolves made off-season moves to acquire a highly-touted rookie and veteran shooter. Nonetheless they got off to an eight-game losing streak.
‘What people should understand is that we had high expectations coming into this season, with the trade of Mike Miller and getting Kevin Love and Brian Cardinal and Rodney Carney,’ explained Gomes. ‘We had high expectations and it didn’t work out for the first 35 games.’
The Timberwolves were 4-15 when head coach Randy Wittman was replaced by former VP of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale. Ironically it was a Celtic great who got the Timberwolves playing their own style of basketball. They headed into the new year hot off a five-game winning streak.
‘In the beginning we did go through a rough time,’ Gomes said. ‘Our schedule in the month of December was real tough and we were trying to find ourselves. But now we’ve found ourselves and I think that’s why we’re playing well. Everyone’s understanding their roles and fulfilling them, and I’d say that’s the most important thing. Whenever you have success that means everyone’s doing their part.’
Gomes points to a demoralizing loss as the source of their improved play. In December the Timberwolves (then 6-24) blew a 29-point lead in the third quarter to the Dallas Mavericks. In spite of losing, the Timberwolves gained confidence and momentum.
‘We ended up losing that game and that was what turned it around,’ said Gomes. ‘We had seen what we could become and where we were at, and then they took it away from us. They kept fighting and kept pushing through it and believing they could win, and I think that’s what we took out of it. We had a tough stretch where we lost 13 games in a row early in the season and that game showed that we can bounce back and we can make something of the season. There’s a lot more games to be played, and once that came in January we got off on the right foot and we’ve been rolling ever since.’
The Timberwolves are 9-3 since January 1, including upsets over the New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns. They will look to continue their streak when they face the Celtics on Sunday in Boston. Their former teammates have taken notice.
‘First of all, Big Al’s playing like an All-Star,’ said Kendrick Perkins. ‘Second of all, Randy Foye has stepped his game up. Rodney Carney, the rookie (Kevin) Love, Sebastian (Telfair), they’re all playing well. Since coach Kevin McHale got the job, they’ve been playing well. They’re playing good defense and I’ve been watching them lately on TV, so they’ve been playing really well.’
With just under 40 games left on their regular season schedule, the Timberwolves are nine games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. A postseason berth is a longshot, but Gomes doesn’t mind waiting. Even if their time doesn’t come this season he is confident it’s only a matter of time before the Timberwolves establish themselves as a playoff contender.
‘I think the Timberwolves are a team on the rise and this year is not over,’ Gomes said. ‘We’ve got a lot of games to play and if we play the way we’ve played this month for the rest of the season, who knows where we’ll be. Hopefully we can maybe sneak in the playoffs and if not we could be right there. Next year should be our breakout year to take what we did this year and carry it over next year from the beginning and have a successful season. So the Timberwolves should be a team that teams should be worried about in the West and in the East because of the way we’ve been playing lately.’
|01.30.09 at 12:58 am ET|
Eddie House has been unstoppable from behind the arc, knocking down eight three-pointers against the Sacramento Kings this week. So just how well is House playing? It’s the best basketball of his nine-year career.
Game- High 3PG Made (Regular season)
07-08: 5 (2x)
04-05: 3 (3x)
03-04: 3 (4x)
01-02: 4 (2x)
00-01: 2 (3x)
3PG % when making 5+ treys
House isn’t just topping his personal bests. He and Ray Allen are the only two players this season to hit eight three-pointers in a single game. He is also shooting better this season than those who once ruled from behind the arc.
For more on House’s streak, listen to Sounds of the Game.
|01.29.09 at 7:22 pm ET|
Western Conference Reserves:
|01.29.09 at 6:47 pm ET|
The Boston Celtics may be on a nine-game winning streak but they are out of luck in one sense of the word. Damon Blust, who played the mascot Lucky the Leprechaun, has left the team. On Thursday the Celtics issued the following statement:
“Damon Blust who played the role of “Lucky” the Celtics mascot is no longer employed by the team. We appreciate his many efforts in entertaining Celtics fans as well as his work in the community while a member of the Celtics organization.”
Blust recently appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
|01.29.09 at 9:57 am ET|
If Eddie House was trying to make a case for being included in the three-point shooting contest, it’s hard to imagine making a better one than he has in his last four games.
He is 22-for-32 in his last four games beyond the arc, including an 8-for-9 exhibition Wednesday night at the hands of the helpless Sacramento Kings, leading the Celtics to a 119-100 victory, their ninth straight.
House was hitting them from all angles and all places. He lives in Scottsdale and is going to be in the Phoenix area anyway, and would be a natural for the annual event at All-Star Weekend.
As far as trying to petition the league on such matters, head coach Doc Rivers told Dennis and Callahan this morning that, “the league is like the gestapo about it. We’re not sure who we can lobby about it.”
Well, let us help. Yes, the Celtics bench was a huge part of the proceedings, scoring a season-best 61 points. Yes, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo were red hot early, even though the Kings shot out to an early 23-13 lead in the first quarter.
But the story was the House on Fire.
|01.28.09 at 11:23 pm ET|
You are a big man. Your job is to guard Kevin Garnett. This will not be a fun night for you because every time the point guard comes your way, you will have a choice to make and neither option is particularly appealing. You can cheat to the outside whereupon Garnett will roll to the basket and unleash a thunderous slam off an alley-oop. The crowd will go crazy. The highlight will be shown on SportsCenter and you will not look good.
Or, you can cheat to the inside and take away the lob, whereupon the point guard, Rajon Rondo, will slice hard to the basket and Garnett will be able to hand it off to him for a layup. What do you do?
If you’re a big man for the Sacramento Kings you guard against the lob. (Click here for the recap). You have seen the tape and you have seen the Celtics execute this play time and again. It seems like a wise strategy, but then you get this on the play-by-play during a three-minute stretch of the third quarter and you seem as lost as Charlie on the MBTA (and no, you never did get home):
Rajon Rondo makes layup (Kevin Garnett assists)
Rajon Rondo makes two point shot (Kevin Garnett assists)
Kevin Garnett makes two point shot (Rajon Rondo assists)
Kevin Garnett makes dunk (Rajon Rondo assists)
“With the floor spacing it’s very difficult to guard it,” Doc Rivers said. “If you play on the inside, Rondo gets to come off the pick and roll. If you play Kevin on the outside, then Kevin gets the lob. And it’s a pick your poison thing. Actually, most teams are picking the lob because it’s a tough pass and they’re trying to get backside help. But Ray (Allen’s) standing back there. You can see every time it happens, the coach is yelling at Ray’s guy. But Ray’s guy is thinking, ‘I’m not leaving Ray.’ So it’s a difficult choice. It’s been very good for us.”
The lob, or the alley-oop, has become a staple of the Celtics offense in the last month or so. It’s been so good that Garnett doesn’t like talking about it. (“We’re not talking about the lob,” Garnett said a couple of weeks ago. Trade secrets and all that.) But as the Kings showed last night, there’s a reason it’s been so effective, which is the alternative isn’t all that great either.
“We try to make adjustments every game depending on how teams play us,” Rondo said. “Tonight it was the give-and-go. Kevin saw I could run my man off and he’s so tall and long he can give it to me or bring it right back. The ball can go through him because he’s a great passing big (man) and he’s so unselfish.”
Passing has always been an underrated aspect of Garnett’s game. During his days in Minnesota, when he constantly drew double and even triple teams, he still averaged five or six assists per contest. With all the talent the Celtics have around him, they haven’t had to run their offense through him on the low post to get mismatches or double-teams.
In fact, Garnett can be even more effective playing on the perimeter because 1) he’s a very good shooting big man, 2) that leaves the middle of the paint open for Rondo and Paul Pierce to drive and 3) he can get back on defense quickly when he’s not stuck under the boards.
The connection between Rondo and Garnett has been developing from the early days of their time together when Garnett went out of his way to make sure Rondo knew he was an integral part of what they were developing. It’s been noted that Rondo is almost preternaturally calm and confident and certainly that helped hasten his development, but Garnett’s early acceptance was also important.
Watching Garnett roll hand-offs to Rondo it was hard not to think back of the great Larry Bird-Bill Walton tandem back-dooring teams to death. Like Larry and Big Red, Rondo and Garnett have developed an unspoken method of communication, which is probably why Garnett hates talking about it. After all, how do you explain a karmic connection?
The Celtics have played 11 games with more than two days rest and they have won all 11 of those games. Even more impressively, their average margin of victory in those games in 17 points.
Only four times in those 11 have they won by less than 10 points and the last four times they have won by 25 (Washington), 20 (New Jersey), 24 (Dallas) and 19 (Sacramento). The Celtics have seven more games this season (counting the first game after the All-Star break) with more than one day off between games.