|01.08.09 at 9:54 pm ET|
Ask the Boston Celtics who their toughest competition in the East is and they won’t say LeBron James. They’ll tell you it is themselves who stand in their way of another title, that only they can control the fate of their season. On Friday night when the suddenly skidding Celtics take the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers, their biggest challenge is not stopping King James. It is simply not getting beat by their own mistakes.
‘I really don’t care who we play next,’ Ray Allen said. ‘It’s just, I look at it personally as an opportunity to get back on track to do what I need to do to help this team. Every little thing that I look at that has my input or my stamp individually for this team, I’ve got to find out ways to do it better, to make it better out there.’
After winning 19-straight, the Celtics are on a three-game losing streak and have dropped six of their last eight contests. At this point they aren’t seeing Friday as a chance to beat an Eastern Conference rival but rather an opportunity to get back on track.
‘The thing about our team is that we don’t ever look ahead. Now that we’ve got Cleveland, we’re concentrating on Cleveland. But we never once had just talked about beating Cleveland,’ Kendrick Perkins said. ‘We need a win. We’re desperate for one right now.’
Even though winning on the road has been a struggle for the Celtics this season, spoiling the Cavs perfect home record is a test they are up for.
‘We have an opportunity to go in down there playing one of the best teams in the league,’ Leon Powe said. ‘They’re real hot at home too. I think they’ve won about 18 straight in their house. Man, it’s going to be a challenge. But we’ve got a wonderful opportunity to go in there and play well and hopefully pull out a win to give us a big confidence boost.’
A win in Cleveland would do more than get the Celtics back on the winning side. The Eastern Conference standings are so close this season that an early January victory could pay dividends in the playoffs.
‘Really, we’re just trying to win all the games we possibly can and get homecourt advantage,’ Perkins said. ‘That just would make it a little bit easier for us in the playoffs. But if we don’t get homecourt advantage I’m not saying we won’t win he championship, but it’d really be a whole lot harder.’
With an electrified crowd behind them, the Cavs will also look to avenge last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals elimination. The biggest key is matching their intensity.
‘It has the same sense of urgency,’ Powe said. ‘We’ve got to go out there, play hard, it’s going to be just like a Game 7. They’re going to come at us and try to hit us in the mouth first. We’ve got to take it and then respond back. We haven’t been doing that as of lately but I think we should be alright going out there. Our captains and everybody on this team know what we’ve got to do to win the game.’
Playing hard is one thing, but the Celtics don’t have a panicked attitude toward the game. Allen added the team has not reached the point of frustration yet, and Sam Cassell, the only member of the Celtics who has won back-to-back titles, explained there’s no need to get flustered this early in January.
‘When you’re repeating you’ve got all that stuff with big matchups, but it doesn’t matter,’ he said. ‘You want to win every game possible but it doesn’t make you or break you. A team that got its rhythm in April going into the playoffs is a team that can win a championship … Why should we [worry]? We aren’t breaking .500. When I won a championship we were 10 games over .500, that’s all.’
The Celtics won 19 straight by focusing on one day at a time. After Friday night they have 44 more regular season games left and each one is just as important as a match up against LeBron James. It doesn’t matter who’s on the opposite side of the court. The Celtics have to take care of the five guys in green first.
‘It wouldn’t have made a difference if it were Cleveland or Sacramento,’ Allen said. ‘It wouldn’t have made a difference. We lost three in a row and that’s the mentality we have to have going into the game.’
|01.08.09 at 2:31 pm ET|
In the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Boston Celtics have recalled rookies J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker from the NBDL’s Utah Flash. Giddens (17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds) and Walker (18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds) have been standouts on the Flash given the playing time to develop. Both players welcomed the assignment and have been preparing for their recall since October.
Some players would rather forgo playing time to stay in the NBA, but you seemed to embrace the D-League. What was your reaction when you found out you were assigned to the Utah Flash?
JG: Well I was excited because I had an idea that I was going down there. My brother and some of my closest people talked about it, how it was going to be a good opportunity to go down there and get into game shape and just gain confidence and become better every day. So whenever I do get the chance from the Celtics to play, then I’ll be in the best shape possible and I’ll be able to take a good swing at it.
BW: I was excited to have a chance to be able to play again, so I was excited about going. J.R. was already down there and I just welcomed it.
It took no time for you to become the leading scorers on the Flash. What kind of improvements have you seen in your game already?
JG: I’m just trying to be efficient and attacking the basket and finding teammates who are open and using my size to rebound and doing just more of whatever I can, whether it’s enhance or defense or make somebody better by running the court. Just doing whatever I can to help the team win.
BW: Just trying to cut down on my turnovers right now, pass out of double teams, so that’s the only difference. Just learning how to play in a 48 minute game, learning how to play hard but still pace yourself where you have enough to finish the game out.
When you get called back up to the Celtics, which versions of Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens can we expect?
JG: I know I’ll be a lot more confident and feel more fluid with my movements on the court and I’ll feel like I’m in better shape. Being an athlete I feel like being in games in crucial because you use a certain amount of energy when you’re playing. When you’re not in game shape you’re not as quick and you’re not as on point as you normally would be.
BW: Probably a more confident Bill Walker. Just having some game experience on this level and knowing what I can do and what I can’t do, so I’m learning the ropes.
This is the first time Giddens and Walker have been recalled. The Boston Celtics roster stands at the league-maximum 15.
|01.08.09 at 12:53 pm ET|
With less than two weeks left to vote, Rajon Rondo still struggles to crack the top 10 among all guards. Dwight Howard leads all players while LeBron James is catching up. Paper ballots close on January 11 and fans may vote online at www.nba.com through January 19. The 2009 NBA All-Stars will be announced on January 22.
2009 NBA ALL-STAR BALLOTING EASTERN CONFERENCE
Forwards: LeBron James (Clev) 1,940,162; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 1,375,814; Yi Jianlian (NJ) 1,216,348; Chris Bosh (Tor) 751,927; Paul Pierce (Bos) 486,656; Hedo Turkoglu (Orl) 366,174; Shawn Marion (Mia) 264,888; Danny Granger (Ind) 199,200; Josh Smith (Atl) 163,145; Michael Beasley (Mia) 157,286; Tayshaun Prince (Det) 144,337.
Guards: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 1,818,717; Allen Iverson (Det) 1,278,600; Vince Carter (NJ) 856,498; Ray Allen (Bos) 552,094; Devin Harris (NJ) 474,637; Gilbert Arenas (Wash) 403,577; Luke Ridnour (Mil) 379,806; Derrick Rose (Chi) 293,483; Jose Calderon (Tor) 274,509; Joe Johnson (Atl) 236,993; Jameer Nelson (Orl) 227,226.
Centers: Dwight Howard (Orl) 2,102,368; Samuel Dalembert (Phi) 257,527; Rasheed Wallace (Det) 255,950; Jermaine O’Neal (Tor) 224,583; Andrew Bogut (Mil) 198,811; Al Horford (Atl) 191,105; Brendan Haywood (Wash) 178,868; Ben Wallace (Clev) 159,132; Emeka Okafor (Char) 133,501; Zyrdrunas Ilgauskas (Cle) 122,607; Kendrick Perkins (Bos) 85,855.
|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.
- 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 »