|01.21.09 at 10:43 pm ET|
Here’s something that I’m almost positive has not happened this season to the Boston Celtics this year. At one point in the third quarter, the Miami Heat scored on 10 of 11 possessions. You can’t score in practice on 10 of 11 possessions.
At the end of that run that saw Dwyane Wade score 10 points and had Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley playing like they were back in the Big 12 against Iowa State, the Heat still trailed by 11 points. That made it the strangest of NBA occurrences: a relatively close blowout.
It didn’t last all that long because the thing with having a lead that size is that one nice push the other way and it’s game ovah, which is exactly what happened when Ray Allen started dropping bombs in the fourth. (Click here for a full recap).
So, the Celtics wrapped up their sixth straight win. Kendrick Perkins got some much needed court time before facing down Dwight Howard Thursday night and the starters kept their minutes down. All in all, a pretty decent night for the C’s who are now 35-9 and back in first place in the Eastern Conference (albeit by a half game over the Magic and not by winning percentage where Orlando has a slight edge).
A six-pack of observations:
1. Free Eddie House!
House got his NBA career started in Miami where he developed something of a cult following and I vaguely recall a story where Pat Riley’s daughter was spotted sporting a Free Eddie House! t-shirt. Riles should have listened.
House has not had the greatest of shooting seasons, but last night’s line (9-for-15 from the floor, 7-for-11 from 3-point range) proves why he is so valuable. You just can’t afford to leave the man open. Of course, that’s exactly what Miami did time and again playing some of the laziest perimeter D seen this year. The Celtics made 15-of-25 3-pointers (15-of-25!) and most of them were of the wide-open nolo contendre variety.
2. The Good, the Bad, the Rondo
Rajon Rondo scored only seven points and took just seven shots, but he knocked down a 3-pointer in rhythm from the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. That’s good. He also passed up several shots inside, forcing passes to big men that weren’t really there. That’s bad.
Rondo beat his man whenever he wanted to and wound up with 10 assists. That’s good. He also had five turnovers, including four in the first quarter. That’s bad.
Raw +/- stats are only superficially useful. They don’t take into account context, score or pace, but for a one-game snapshot they can me somewhat interesting and tonight the Celtics were +23 when Rondo was in the game. (That’s good).
3. Kendrick Perkins Had Some Rust
Perkins played 23 minutes, scored just two points and for the first 18 or so of those minutes looked like a guy who hadn’t played in a week and a half, which was to be expected. But in the last five he grabbed every rebound and generally made himself a menace to any Heat players who wanted to get down the lane.
It was a solid run for Perk who now has to face Orlando’s monster-child Dwight Howard 24 hours later.
Interestingly, Brian Scalabrine who played so well in place of Perkins, stayed in the rotation in the first half, getting 22 minutes on the floor total. Big Baby Davis played well when he got his chance in the second half. I’ll be curious to see if Scal keeps a spot in the bench rotation after playing so well and if anyone’s time suffers as a result.
4. Miami Cold
For reasons that I will keep to myself, I have spent a decent amount of time in the town of Manhattan, Kansas aka The Little Apple and the home of Kansas State University. It was always a curious thing that Michael Beasley wound up there, for while it is a underrated spot of midwest terra firma, it ain’t exactly UCLA.
You could see all the good stuff in Beasley’s game. The left-handed jumper, the quickness off the floor, the scoring instinct, etc. You could also see the kid needs work, especially on the defensive end. He’s a nice talent, however, and along with D-Wade just about the only two things I liked about this Miami team.
Granted, Shawn Marion hurt himself on a missed dunk (thus delaying the trade rumors for a little while), and it’s possible that the Celtics just caught them on a bad night, but the Heat shot way too many 3’s and got crushed on the boards. Erik Spolestra is either the best coach in the league, or D-Wade is playing even better than we thought, but it’s hard to believe that Miami is playing better than .500 ball.
5. Stephon Marbury to Greece?
This is one of those there-is-no-way-it’ll-happen stories, but it’s out there. Apparently a Greek team has expressed an interest in Stephon Marbury and contacted the Knicks about trying to work out a deal. (Now here comes the joke about how the Knicks would trade him for a box of Souvlaki.)
Marbury apparently hasn’t been in contact with the team, however, and a move to Greece doesn’t seem likely. The pressure has been turned down on the bench a little and at this point, Marbury seems more like an illusion than a reality.
6. How Important is the Orlando Game?
For the Celtics, mildly. It’s a chance for them to show the rest of the NBA (the game is on TNT) that they are still the baddest dudes on the block. They wiped out Orlando earlier in the year–who was playing without Jameer Nelson and generally solidified the opinion that the Magic are a nice, but not great, team.
Since then the Magic have gone 20-3 and riding a seven-game winning streak. For them, it’s a big game. They played well against the Celtics last year and a win would help give them some credibility.
|01.21.09 at 8:57 am ET|
On Thursday the 2009 NBA All-Star teams will be revealed. While a lack of fan votes has put Rajon Rondo‘s selection in question, it was 55 years ago today that another Celtics PG made his mark on the game. On January 21, 1954, Bob Cousy scored 10 of his 20 points in overtime to lead the East to a 98-93 win. It was the first overtime in All-Star history. Cousy won All-Star MVP honors and appeared in 13 All-Star Games over his career.
The 2009 All-Star teams will be announced on TNT prior to the Celtics-Magic game.
|01.20.09 at 1:48 am ET|
Rajon Rondo had perennial All-World point guard Steve Nash for lunch, scoring 23 points while dishing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds in three quarters. Nash was held to 12 points and eight meaningless assists.
The Celtics forced 15 first half turnovers, matching the same number of field goals the Suns managed in the same 24 minutes.
Maybe the Celtics were inspired by the fact that they will be traveling to Washington early Tuesday for the historical inauguration of Barack Obama. Whatever the reason, the Celtics made the Suns look like the Arizona Cardinals when they visited Foxboro in December.
But, as the Cardinals showed, regular season games sometimes don’t mean much, just don’t tell Shaq that.
|01.19.09 at 11:52 pm ET|
On Draft Night 2006, the Phoenix Suns selected Rajon Rondo with the 21st pick and traded him to the Boston Celtics. It was a move to stay under the salary cap, avoid the luxury tax, and free up money for future acquisitions. Three years later, nearly $75 million in payroll could not stop him.
‘The challenge is what everybody’s challenge is with him ‘ keeping him in front,’ said Suns head coach Terry Porter following the Celtics 104-87 victory. ‘He does a great job of penetrating, getting to the paint, and causing havoc that way.’
This season Rondo is set to earn $1.3 million, a bargain by NBA standards and nearly one-tenth of Steve Nash’s salary. On Monday night he proved he was worth every penny the Suns did not pay for him. Rondo posted 23 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, six more than Amar’e Stoudemire (RECAP HERE).
‘There were a lot of fast break opportunities for me,’ he said after the game. ‘They missed shots, that was key for us all night long. We got stops on defense and that allowed me to push it up on the break and get easy looks at the basket.’
Rondo scored more than half of his points in the paint against the Suns $35 million front court of Shaquille O’Neal and Stoudemire. Whereas other teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have collapsed on Rondo, the Suns let him have his way at the hoop.
‘He’s improving all the time. He’s emerging as one of the elite guards in the league,’ Nash said. ‘I think regardless of whether he’s shooting the ball well and he needs to improve there, his game has improved. I think it’s made the shooting not as big a question. He’s become a better and better passer. He’s a great athlete who does a lot of things for his team on the floor. He’s emerging as one of the elite guards in the league.’
Even though Rondo says he does not think about being traded, his performance only accentuated the Suns’ Draft Night loss. Over the years they have also drafted and dealt point guards Nate Robinson and Sergio Rodriguez, as well as forward Luol Deng. After missing out on Brandon Rush in the 2008 Draft, the Suns are left with little depth at the one-spot and a point guard who turns 35 next month.
‘Well, we’ve had a few draft night trades to stay under the salary cap that were difficult in the big picture,’ said Nash. ‘Our franchise is built on a business model that tries to stay under the cap as much as we can. It’s just how it’s been.’
It’s games like this that could have the Suns wondering what might have been. But for Rondo, it’s just another game.
‘I just try to get better every game,’ he said. ‘No one particular night I can try to say my confidence has been boosted, but I just try to stay consistent as possible because there’s a lot of ups and downs in the NBA. I had a good night tonight, shooting the ball but it’s all about the win.’
Three years ago it was all about the money for the Suns. On Monday night it was all about the win for Rondo.
|01.19.09 at 11:31 pm ET|
Before last night’s game with Phoenix, Doc Rivers was asked what Kevin Garnett could do when he’s matched up with Shaquille O’Neal. “What he has to to do,” Rivers said. “Is keep his body between Shaq and the basket. He’s got to use his quickness, and he’s got to use his length.”
Very technical. Very precise. Very accurate. But then Doc doesn’t have to feel the force of 325 (listed) pounds coming crashing down on him.
So, Mr. Garnett: What’s it like?
“It’s like holding up a house,” Garnett said. “Y’all go home, knock out the foundation in your house, and just hold up the wall. And when it’s about to fall on you, that’s what it’s like holding up Shaq. Have someone in your house come over, you take a break, get some Gatorade and come back and hold it up. Every now and then you let it fall and then you pick it back up. That’s what it’s like guarding Big Diesel.”
Shaq scored 16 points last night and you can make the argument that he was just about the only good thing the Suns had going for them (click here for a recap). Amare Stoudemire was held without a field goal and scored just three points. Jason Richardson was scoreless in a first half that saw the Celtics open up a 64-34 lead. But it was the job the Celtics did on O’Neal to start the game that set the tone for the carnage that followed.
Without Kendrick Perkins and his big body, the Celtics were forced to open the game with Garnett on O’Neal. This is not the way they like to play. The Celtics prefer to put Garnett on the smaller, more agile frontline player, especially if it’s someone who allows Garnett to roam the middle of the paint like a free safety. But desperate times and all that.
In the first quarter, Garnett used his superior footwork to keep Shaq away from the basket. He used his quickness to intercept a pass and force a turnover. And he used his length to reach back and get a block from the weakside. At times the foundation crumbled, and the wall came crashing down, but Garnett dusted himself off, got his Gatorade, and came back for more.
When Garnett was done, Big Baby Davis took his turn.
“With them two it’s like a boulder moving a boulder,” Garnett said. “You’re not going to stop Shaq. Shaq’s too big and too clever. He’s been in this game a long time and you don’t just score 25,000 points by bullying your way to the basket.”
Baby met Shaq way back when he was in high school and the Diesel influenced him during his time at LSU, teaching him what he could expect in the NBA, both on and off the floor. The two are obviously close as Shaq called Baby his son before the game.
“I’m a little bit of a house too,” Davis said. “I’m a little house. He’s a big house. He still can do whatever he wants on the court. Whatever he wants.”
But Shaq couldn’t do everything. “It was a good old fashioned (butt) whooping and there’s nothing more to say,” is how O’Neal put it. “Period. That’s it.”
Don’t tell anyone, but that alley-oop that Garnett and Rajon Rondo have been throwing down on people? It’s good. Real good. So good, in fact that the Celtics aren’t talking about it.
“We aren’t speaking about the alley-oop pass tonight,” Garnett said. “That’s top secret.”
|01.19.09 at 10:00 pm ET|
There is a palpable sense of joy across the NBA about the inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow. Travel plans are being changed, Tivo’s are being set and Ray Allen is heading to Washington to take in the momentous occasion live and in person.
Perhaps no one in the NBA has a more interesting perspective than Phoenix’s Grant Hill whose mother was roommates with one Hilary Clinton at Wellesley. But Hill was an Obama supporter from way back, donating money to his campaign as early as 2007. Like a lot of players, Hill would love to be in the District tomorrow, but his schedule won’t allow it. I caught up with Hill before the Celtics game with the Suns and asked him about the day.
“It’s kind of hard to make sense of it,” Hill said. “Home for us is Florida, which is a fairly conservative state, and Obama carried Florida. Phoenix is (John) McCain country and people there are excited too. What he’s done, and how he’s done it has the country excited. There’s a feeling that there are some smart people in place. There’s a feeling of pride in the country and the whole political process. Hopefully that will inspire people to go out and work for change because the hard part starts now.”
There has been much made about Obama’s love of basketball. The analogy is an easy one to make–teamwork, sacrifice, a sense of being a part of something greater than the individual self–and it appeals to what people see in Obama and their hopes for his administration. It’s so easy to make that it’s already become a bit of a cliche, but I asked Hill about it anyway.
“I think he understands the importance of teamwork,” Hill said. “He picked smart people for his cabinet and he relies on them. They’ll challenge him. It certainly reflects the value of sport and athletics.”
With a grin, Hill added, “I hope he’ll be a better president than a basketball player, though.”
|01.19.09 at 9:49 pm ET|
At the start of the fourth … Celtics 89, Suns 58
– Rajon Rondo starts the fourth quarter with 23 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. Now is a good time to remember the Suns drafted Rondo with the 21st pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and traded him to Boston. Celtics fans everywhere are thanking the Suns for that generous move.
– Second unit plus Scal is in: Pruitt, House, Davis, Powe, Scalabrine. For the Suns it’s Barbosa, Lopez, Amundson, Barnes, and Tucker.
– There’s a “We want Walker” chant starting near Section 20. The Celtics are up 31 with 11 minutes to go … a perfect situation for the rookie to get some PT.
– Gino is warming up backstage.
– Patrick O’Bryant wiped out Goran Dragic at the top of the key. Dragic is 6’4.
- Final score … Celtics 104, Suns 87