|01.06.09 at 9:45 pm ET|
The Boston Celtics knew there would be a target on their backs this season. But the threats sounded empty after winning 19 straight and blowing out their opponents in embarrassing fashion. Eventually, though, the rest of the league began to fight back. The Los Angeles Lakers were the first to take a stand. The Golden State Warriors followed suit and soon the Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats wanted in. (CLICK HERE for a recap of Tuesday’s loss to the Bobcats.)
For every game the Celtics win, there is an opponent circling their next meeting. The problem is, the Celtics can’t mark every game as their biggest and defending their title is taking a toll on them. They are 2-5 since losing to the Lakers on Christmas Day and holes in the roster are being exposed. The once unstoppable Rajon Rondo has been contained by big men. The bench that was supposed to compensate for the loss of James Posey has blown numerous leads. Final minutes that used to be garbage time are now seconds of desperation.
December 25, 2008: Lakers 92, Celtics 83
The Celtics made the Lakers look soft last season during the NBA Finals. The Lakers got payback by snapping the Celtics’ 19-game winning streak on Christmas Day, challenging the Celtics to test them again for the title. Phil Jackson inspired other coaches to put their bigs on Rondo, which stifled the Cs soaring offense.
December 26, 2008: Warriors 99, Celtics 89
The Warriors kicked the Celtics while they were down and handed them their second consecutive loss of the season in Oakland. It was a rude awakening that offered a reminder that, no matter what kind of advantage the Celtics have on paper, stats can’t compensate for the motivation of their opponents.
December 30, 2008: Trail Blazers 91, Celtics 86
The Brandon Roy-less Trail Blazers forced the Celtics to make bad plays and dealt Boston its first loss in Portland in four years. The Celtics were outrebounded by 15 in a sloppy defensive effort.
January 4, 2009: Knicks 100, Celtics 88
Thirty points from Al Harrington served as a reminder to the Cs of what a deep bench can do for you. The Celtics were simply outhustled and there was no secret who wanted this win more.
January 6, 2009: Bobcats 114, Celtics 106 (OT)
The Celtics practically welcomed the Bobcats into the paint with open arms early on to jumpstart this loss. They forced far too many shots from long range (6-23 3PG) and did not hit enough from the line (22-30 FT). This game affirmed the concern that the Celtics have work to do.
As long as the Celtics wear the rings, they will also wear a target. It is an inevitable struggle they will have to overcome if they want to face the same curse next season.
|01.06.09 at 12:49 pm ET|
Boston Celtics guard Tony Allen will miss tonight’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats due to a right ankle strain. According to the Boston Globe, Allen suffered the injury during Sunday’s loss to the New York Knicks. He did not participate in today’s shootaround and could miss Wednesday night’s game against the Houston Rockets as well.
|01.05.09 at 8:59 pm ET|
Former Boston Celtic Antoine Walker was charged early Monday morning with the suspicion of drunk driving. Walker was pulled over at 5:39 a.m. in Miami Beach while driving without the lights of Mercedes on. According to reports, Walker refused a breathalyzer test after police officers detected a strong odor of alcohol. They also noted Walked looked sleepy. He was held on $1,000 bond.
Walker, 32, was bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies in December and is currently a free agent. He played eight seasons in Boston and won a championship with former Celtic James Posey on the Miami Heat.
|01.04.09 at 7:29 pm ET|
The Celtics have played 23 games against the Eastern Conference and they have lost twice. The first came against Indiana, a way, way back in early November. If there was any game the Celtics played this year that made no sense it was that one. Well, they have a second “what was that?” game for the 2008-09 season now, after getting dumped by the Knicks, 100-88 at Madison Square Garden. (Recap here)
The Knicks, who had lost seven of eight, did just about everything right. They only shot 41 percent, but they made 9-of-22 3-pointers and were 23-for-28 from the free throw line, with only 10 turnovers. Al Harrington (30 points and 7 boards) and Wilson Chandler (31 points and 8 rebounds) both had career nights.
For the C’s, there was Paul Pierce and there was everyone else. Pierce was sensational with 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Captain destroyed Quentin Richardson in this round of their rivalry, but Rajon Rondo did not have a good night (1-for-7, 3 assists, 24 minutes), Ray Allen missed all nine of his 3-point shots and Kevin Garnett was limited to just 28 minutes (6 points and 9 rebounds) thanks to some early foul trouble and what looked like an ankle injury.
The Celtics have now lost four out of their last six, and four of their last five on the road. They have a tough week in front of them with Charlotte on Tuesday, the tough Houston Rockets on Wednesday, the huge matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and then Toronto on Sunday. (The Raptors have been playing better lately).
Speaking of the Cavs, the Celtics caught a break because Cleveland lost to Washington, 80-77 Sunday afternoon in a game that was as ugly as the score. Boston (29-6) and Cleveland (27-6) are still tied in the loss column for the best record in the East race.
A few more quick observations on a Sunday evening:
1. The Celtics got great looks, but they just didn’t go down. The Knicks made more than a few tough shots. It happens. That’s why it’s so hard to win 70 games, or go on 19-game winning streaks. There’s a reason things like that are historic, and it’s also why the reporters got frustrated when the players wouldn’t acknowledge the accomplishments.
Forget winning 70, the Celtics have to get themselves straightened out. There’s no reason to think they won’t, but let’s hold off on the rest of that for now, considering they were to this point stastically not as good as the team that won 66 games last year.
2. Because it was the Knicks, one can’t help think about Stephon Marbury tonight. This one wasn’t the bench’s fault–the decisive run came early in the third quarter–but the bench has been much maligned over the last few weeks and seems to be in need of a shakeup. Marbury makes sense for a number of reasons, namely:
A. The second unit needs a creator. They need someone who can break down his man and get to the basket. The best person off the bench right now is Tony Allen, and his jumper isn’t good enough to allow him to do that with any kind of consistency. That is Marbury’s biggest strength.
B. Eddie House would feast off Marbury drive-and-kicks (provided that smallish backcourt wouldn’t get eaten alive defensively).
C. Rondo is too good, and too far along, to be bothered by somebody like Marbury playing behind him.
D. Marbury could be what they’ve wanted Sam Cassell to be.
E. All of that assumes that Marbury had his screwed on straight if he got here. And if he didn’t, he’d be gone. That is an assumption, also.
3. OK, speaking of the second unit: Brian Scalabrine has to make wide-open jump shots. Yes, he played good defense and it’s really a treat to watch him play with the starters because he does such a good job of moving without the ball, but when he has that much open space, he has to knock them down.
4. Pierce has been playing his best basketball of the season. Over the last 10 games he is averaging 23 points on 53 percent shooting (56 percent on 3-pointers and 87 percent free throw shooting).
What’s been fascinating about his season is that Pierce has been incredibly restrained this year. Earlier in the season, when his shot wasn’t going down he rarely forced the action. Even when he has played with the second unit, he has been fine blending into the action. He’s going with the flow, as he said the other night. He’s not going to win any MVP awards playing like that, but he is the team’s ballast, more so than even Kevin Garnett this year.
5. The Celtics are fine, but it really wouldn’t hurt their cause if they got a big win in Charlotte, Tuesday.
|01.04.09 at 4:27 pm ET|
Yankees fans aren’t the only New Yorkers who speak their minds. The Madison Square Garden crowd is just as vocal when the Boston Celtics come to town. Rather than get annoyed, the Cs appreciate their dedication to the Knicks.
“One thing I’ve always liked about Madison Square Garden, and actually our fans … they actually come to watch the game,” Doc Rivers said. “I mean seriously, they don’t walk around and it’s not a fashion show. Both Garden crowds, Boston and Madison Square, people sit and watch basketball and that’s what they’re there for. They’re not there to be seen and they’re there to cheer for their team. And I’ve always appreciated that.”
Ray Allen attributes their die-hard mentality to the intense media coverage in New York.
“You figure from any New Yorker who comes to a game, you know baseball or you know basketball or you know football, and you know every team basically around the United States,” he said. “You might not see them but you know them because being in New York, walking through Times Square you see every stat, sport, game, whatever it is, through the media outlets in New York. So the fans are very knowledgeable, they appreciate good sports. They appreciate great athletes, the ones that works hard.”
Whether they are loved or hated, at least the Celtics always know where they stand in the Big Apple.
“When you’re walking down the street and everybody knows who you are,” Allen said. “They’ll tell you if you suck or if they really appreciate you.”
|01.04.09 at 11:47 am ET|
On Sunday the inconsistent Boston Celtics bench will be tested by a newly improved New York Knicks second unit. The trade for Al Harrington gives the Knicks the luxury of having a starter come off the bench. Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said the Knicks reserves were already deep with guard Nate Robinson and the addition of Harrington gives the second unit even more weapons.
‘[Harrington] can go from the post to the three-point line and the four spot, and it makes it a very difficult cover,’ Rivers said after Saturday’s practice. ‘They also put him at the three at times which makes them a more physical team. So I guess he’s giving them versatility. When you look at with (Zach) Randolph, he was a post guy. There was no doubt about that. He was going to go to the post, so I think that’s where they changed.”
|01.03.09 at 9:53 pm ET|
Come to Boston and win, that’s how the Celtics organization is seen by many around the NBA. It has become a paradise of victory, a hotspot for veterans who want a legitimate shot at a championship. But it is also a place where selfishness and egos are checked at the door. Personal accolades mean nothing unless the team wins.
So what makes the Celtics, who downplay individual achievements, so much more appealing to vets than other teams who celebrate superstardom? Why settle for blending in when you could stand out next to Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? For those who have made the sacrifices, the explanation is very simple.
“Coming here you get to fit in and be a cog in the wheel,” Ray Allen said. “It’s not about any one individual here on this team. We play together and we beat teams together. We lose together. Everything is together.”
Over the past few weeks the Celtics have been named as possible destinations for veterans Stephon Marbury, Robert Horry, and Dikembe Mutombo, among others. Even though they could have a legitimate shot of winning all with the Los Angeles Lakers or Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston has been a primary destination in the rumor mill.
“I think what’s appealing is that we play together. We have three stars and they actually play together and I think that shows more,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “But honestly I think they would play with Kobe as well and I think they would play with LeBron as well. We may be more aggressive in the market, let’s say, than some of those teams. And maybe we’re not. I think they would play for any of them. At least I would if I were the player.”
Eight-year vet Eddie House, who has signed two contracts in two years with the Celtics, can understand why these players would be interested in Boston. The journeyman had already played with plenty of big names before — Elton Brand, Steve Nash, and Jason Kidd, to name a few ‘ and was lured back by selflessness rather than headliners.
“When you’re playing with one guy then the ball’s dominated by one guy,” House explained. “Here, you’ve got a group of guys who like to share the basketball, who can take the load if they’re asked to take the load. They aren’t depended on the take the load, but if they are asked to take the load that night they will do it.
“But for the most part, it’s very unselfish and it’s not a ‘me’ attitude. With those guys (Bryant and James) it’s more so they have to dominate the ball and you have to play off of them. To where these guys will get you the ball and play with you, instead of you playing off of them.”
The Celtics are set apart from the rest of the league by more than just their trophy. The success of Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce sent the message that being the superstar doesn’t guarantee being the best. It was only when these vets took a step back that they won it all.
“The point of us coming together last year, we were at a point in our lives, in our careers where we were somewhat content with what we had done individually,” Allen said. “We could continue at that pace and finish our careers out that way being a great scorer on a team that never won. But if we didn’t [let go] of our egos and come together, we would have been doing that for the rest of our careers. That’s why, at that time, it seemed like it was a great moment for all of our careers. And I think there’s that progression for most athletes.”
Should the Celtics make any mid-season moves, they already know how to adapt to new additions. Last season veterans P.J. Brown emerged from semi-retirement and Sam Cassell accepted a buyout from the Los Angeles Clippers for the prospect of a ring. These acquisitions could have rattled the Celtics, but those already on the team didn’t see less playing time. They saw a better shot at the title.
“The late in the season addition when you’re already the number one team, you could have some grumbles about that and guys might not welcome guys in,” House said. “But everybody knew this is a business and not only is this a business, but we were on a mission to a hang a banner in the rafters. So we had to accept what was going on for the greater good.”
39-year-old Cassell re-signed with the Cs fully aware that he could be inactive the entire season. At this stage in his career, he doesn’t need 20 minutes per game to be happy.
“It’s about winning,” he said. “For me, I don’t know what [other veterans’] agendas are, but for me it was about winning. I just got a nice taste of winning so I just wanted to win. This was the best opportunity for me to win again.”
As long as the Celtics continue to win with their unselfish play, Boston will stay on the map for veterans who want to capture a championship without having to do it all on their own.
“We welcome the help,” Allen said. “Our egos, we’re pretty selfless here on this team when it comes to playing basketball. We just want to win.”
The door is open for eager vets, just as long as they leave their egos behind.
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