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Nothing will be finer than Carolina… Trags Take

04.06.09 at 2:02 pm ET
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National Championship-Michigan State (31-6) vs. North Carolina (33-4), 9:18 p.m. ET, CBS-TV.

They didn’t play close to their best game on Saturday night and the North Carolina Tar Heels still dispatched of the Villanova Wildcats by 14 points.

The Michigan State Spartans are unquestionably the darlings of this tournament, if you can be with a 31-6 record and a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. They beat No. 1 Connecticut on Saturday and advance to the national title game just 90 miles from their campus in East Lansing. Their official web site proclaims: “One More. Wear White on Monday Night.”

One of the more overwhelming storylines of this Final Four is the boost that a national championship would give Detroit and the state of Michigan if the Spartans could prevail.

Roy Williams, the Heels coach, would have none of that talk on Sunday.

“You know if we’re playing against the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan, they out number us,” Williams said. “We don’t have as good a chance at that one. But the other thing is you guys have to understand, we left here (Saturday) night at 12:45. We went back, we had a nice little snack and some ice cream and the kids went to bed. I saw them this morning at 11:00 for 30 minutes. We haven’t exactly exhausted the state of the nation’s economy in the last 18 hours.

“So for us, we’re playing Michigan State. I do realize they have a cause. Well, we also have a cause. We want to win a national championship, period, the end. And if you would tell me that if Michigan State wins, it’s gonna satisfy the nation’s economy, then I’d say, Hell, let’s stay poor for a little while longer. I don’t think that’s gonna happen. So if all the workers of America come down and start guarding my butt on the bench, then I’ll start being concerned about it.”

Michigan State has certainly been outstanding guarding people and that’s the No. 1 reason they have gotten to this point. They completely took overall No. 1 seed Louisville out of its game, allowing just 52 points in the Midwest final. They never let Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price get into their game in the national semifinal on Saturday. Now, they are playing their third straight game against a No. 1 seed.

Can they do it again against Carolina? Here’s a vote for reality and against storybook finishes. Carolina simply has too much.

Here’s how North Carolina wins its fifth title tonight in Detroit.

1: Depth. When Ty Lawson picked up two quick fouls on Saturday against Villanova, the Heels didn’t panic. When Tyler Hansbrough picked up his third early in the second half, again no worries. The reason for the calm is the number of bodies Roy Williams has next to him on the bench that can come in, bodies that would be starters on most other Division I programs.

2. Ty Lawson. The bum toe of Lawson has not been a factor and the point guard has played his best basketball in the tournament.

3. Outside-in. As Carolina showed in the first half on Saturday, they have plenty of scorers who can fire from three-point range.

4. Tyler Hansbrough. The Carolina big man can match up with Goran Suton. That will be a fascinating matchup to watch.

5. Us against the world. Carolina knows full well what the atmosphere is likely to be. Playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium, in many ways, is harder than playing before 72,000 in dome stadium.

How they lineup:

Michigan State:

Morgan, Raymar…… f
Roe, Delvon……… f
Suton, Goran…….. c
Lucas, Kalin…….. g
Walton, Travis…… g

North Carolina:

Deon Thompson……. f
Tyler Hansbrough…. f
Lawson, Ty………. g
Danny Green……… g
Wayne Ellington….. g

How they got here:

No. 2 seed Michigan State won the Midwest Regional. Beat No. 15 Robert Morris, 77-62. Beat No. 11 USC. 74-69. Beat No. 3 Kansas 67-62. Beat No. 1 Louisville, 64-52. Beat No. 1 Connecticut

No. 1 seed North Carolina won the South Regional. Beat No. 16 Radford, 101-58. Beat No. 8 LSU, 84-70. Beat No. 4 Gonzaga, 98-77. Beat No. 2 Oklahoma, 72-60. Beat No. 3 Villanova, 83-69.

It certainly won’t be the 98-63 Carolina blowout in the same stadium back on Dec. 3 but Carolina can handle the pressure that the Spartans will throw at them.

Final take:

North Carolina 76, Michigan State 71

Read More: March Madness, Michigan State, North Carolina,

Sounds of the game… Celtics 104, Hawks 92

04.03.09 at 11:47 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo spent the last five minutes of Friday morning’s shootaround in Waltham setting up behind the three-point line. He was making them at roughly a 50 percent rate.

Everyone knows that Rondo is the machine that drives the Celtics offense. He’s know trying to add an extra gear to the machine that produced 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting against the Hawks on Friday night in a 104-92 win at TD Banknorth Garden.

And as is often the case with the soft-spoken Rondo, it was his teammates doing the most talking about his great game on Friday.

‘€œWhen Rajon is aggressive, he’€™s scoring the ball and it opens up everything for all of us,” Paul Pierce said. “Night in and night out you know me and Ray are going to get out touches but when Rajon is out there getting 16 points, getting layups, knocking down jumpers it just opens up the floor for everybody as you can see, Perk getting lay-ups, Baby getting wide open shots, I’€™m getting good looks and our offense gets pretty much unstoppable when he’€™s going.’€

‘€œIt’€™s hard to beat us when a guy like that gets going, you know, he’€™s a wonderful guy, he can do some many things on the court, and when his jump shot’€™s falling, that’€™s even better for our team,” Kendrick Perkins added. “So, Rajon is a big, big player for this team, and he goes out there and contributes, and that’€™s what you saw tonight.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, NBA, Rondo,

Did you miss the Celtics? They’re back

04.03.09 at 11:17 pm ET
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The last month or so has felt like a long, slow slog toward … what, exactly? The playoffs are not yet quite in sight, but the conference race is all but decided except for what may be a trivial distinction between second and third place. The games, and the injuries (especially the injuries) have piled up on each other, and just getting from one to the next has felt like a trial. Overtime with Miami, double overtime with Charlotte, each win seemingly needing maximum effort and too many minutes.

For a time Friday night didn’t really seem like it would be any different. The Hawks certainly weren’t going to make things easy on the Celtics because they never do, but then early in the second half Paul Pierce swung the ball to a wide-open Ray Allen who knocked down a 3-pointer like it was a lay-up. It was the old Celtics, if by old we mean 2008.

In the end, a nice tidy 12-point win secure (click here for a recap), the stat sheet looked like this:

Five players in double figures, nobody with more than 14 shots, assists on 26 of 40 made baskets, 53.5 percent shooting and 35.6 percent defensively. Vintage Celtics.

If you had to pick a player of the game it might have been Rajon Rondo who had 20 points and six assists. “He was fantastic tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “He was fantastic.” You might go with Pierce who had 21 points and six rebounds. “Paul was very aggressive tonight,” Doc Rivers said. “They trap and I thought Paul was unselfish.” The combination of aggressive and unselfish defines Pierce at his absolute best.

You might tab Big Baby Davis who had 19 points. “When Big Baby is knocking down that mid-range jump shot, it’s kind of hard because you over-commit,” Hawks forward Josh Smith said. “It’s kind of like picking your poison.” Somebody asked Baby about that and he said, “They don’t believe in me yet,” meaning the other team, but they’re starting to.

You might have picked Kendrick Perkins who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots. “If he doesn’t make the All-Defensive team it’s a conspiracy,” Pierce said.

You could have picked just about anybody, which is the whole point of the Celtics. “The extra passes,” Rivers said. “Twenty six assists. That’s a good sign for us.”

This is the way they need to play; with or without Kevin Garnett, and we haven’t even really noted the defensive effort that kept the Hawks in check inside and out, and if not for the 31 free throws (sound like last April’s playoff series?) this would have been a 20-point game instead of a dozen.

As it was in November and December when the Celtics were steamrolling through the rest of the league, it started with Rondo. Like most NBA teams, the Hawks didn’t really have anyone who could stay in front of him and as he drove the lane time and again the shots just opened up. Can’t key on Pierce because then Allen is open. Can’t try to take away the perimeter because Big Baby  and Perkins were doing work inside.

“Rondo’s speed was an absolute factor in the third quarter,” Rivers said. “You know, we’ve got to keep him doing that every night. It’s amazing how now they’re feeding off his speed. They know if they run to the right spot on the floor, he pushes the ball up the floor.”

And when the bench came in — essentially consisting of Stephon Marbury, Eddie House and Mikki Moore — there was no drop in energy, flow or ball movement. Forget Marbury’s 1-for-7 shooting line; he played fast and when the game gets fast House gets free looks and House doesn’t miss a lot of free looks.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether the Celtics can win another championship without a healthy Garnett, and as any rational observer will tell you, the answer to that question is almost certainly no. They can’t. But it’s also true that the Celtics won’t approach those lofty heights again without playing the kind of basketball they played against the Hawks Friday night. It’s defense, of course, but it’s also aggressive, unselfish basketball.

“It’s time for us to start building some momentum right now,” Pierce said. “It’s our fourth game in a row that we’ve won. We want to be playing well going into the playoffs.”

Hawks explain Celtics keys to postseason success

04.03.09 at 11:07 pm ET
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Before the Boston Celtics won their 17th world championship and proved ‘€œanything is possible,’€ the Atlanta Hawks proved something of their own ‘€“ beating the Celtics was possible, too.

Despite looking unstoppable heading into the playoffs last season, the Celtics needed seven games to fend off the eighth-seeded Hawks. This season they are even more vulnerable, with injuries hampering their lineup. If the Celtics came dangerously close to elimination with a healthy squad, what do they have to do this season to avoid another first round scare?

‘€œThey just have to come out to try to keep focused throughout the whole series,’€ said Al Horford prior to the Celtics-Hawks game (RECAP HERE). ‘€œI think that after them beating us the first two games here (Boston), they thought that they could just go into Atlanta and take care of it. But they didn’t realize what was ahead of them. I think they know this by now. They know they have to come in and they have to bring their A-game on the road too.’€

The Celtics inability to win on the road nearly cost them their title. They folded in Atlanta — ‘€œ[They played] totally different. Totally different,’€ said Horford — and it wasn’t until Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons that they finally won away from the Garden.

‘€œThey are a lot more energetic, I would say, [at home]. They get up and down a lot more and play with a lot more confidence at home, so it makes them a much better team,’€ said Joe Johnson. ‘€œI don’t think they run as much [on the road]. I just think that as soon as you go on the road, the atmosphere is not the same. You’re just not used to a lot of things. But at home, that’s where you’re more comfortable so you tend to play more relaxed and have a lot more confidence.’€

Even if the Celtics overcome their woes on the road, there is still a bigger concern ‘€“ the nagging knee injury of Kevin Garnett. He averaged nearly 21 points (more than twenty percent of the Celtics total offense) and nine rebounds per game in the first round against Atlanta. But the Hawks have lost twice to Celtics this season without Garnett and think they can compensate for his absence.

‘€œKeep (Glen) Big Baby Davis confident in his play and keep having Mikki Moore come off the bench and play well like he’s doing,’€ suggested Josh Smith. ‘€œI don’t think they have anything to worry about.’€

In less than two weeks the Celtics will be drawing up their gameplan for the start of the postseason. While they have three first round losses to the Hawks to reflect on, they may have already learned all the lessons they need.

‘€œJust win, that’s what it comes down to,’€ said Hawks head coach Mike Woodson. ‘€œI think the fact that they might not have homecourt advantage all the way through, when you win a title that doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t because these guys, they’ve been through the wars. They went seven with us, they went seven with Cleveland, Detroit gave them a good run. There’s nothing they haven’t seen so I don’t think it really matters.

‘€œThey’re going to be there when it counts. I promise you that.’€

Read More: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics,

The Answer is done, what was the question?

04.03.09 at 8:00 pm ET
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The Pistons announced today that Allen Iverson would miss the rest of the season because of his ailing back. Left unsaid was that Iverson complained about his role coming off the bench.

This is what Iverson told reporters after playing 18 minutes in a dispiriting loss to the Cavs the other night:

“How many minutes did I play? It seemed way, way, way less than that. Eighteen minutes? Come on, man. I can play 18 minutes with my eyes closed and with a 100-pound truck on my back. It’s a bad feeling, man. I’m wondering what they rushed me back for? For that?

“It’s a bad time for me mentally.”

As a connoisseur of Iverson rants that one rates far below practice, we talkin’ bout practice, but ultimately sealed his legacy in Detroit. Iverson will be a free agent at the end of the year and while it’s hard to see him having a future in Detroit, it’s been something of an open question around the league if this is the last we will see of Iverson. As in ever.

The theory goes like this: As teams look to shed salary in uncertain economic times, it’s doubtful anyone will pay an inefficient shooting guard like Iverson the kind of money he has made in the past, and conversely, would Iverson even want to play for the veteran minimum?

Regardless, the Iverson move has some ramifications for the Celtics. The C’s entered play tonight as the No. 2 seed in the East and the Pistons entered at No.7, although obviously both spots could change in the final weeks. This was Doc Rivers‘ reaction to the news:

“I’ll leave that up to them,” he said. “We’ll try to keep our room clean. They’re different (as a team) because Iverson has the ball more, and without him, the ball moves more. But he scares you too.”

Credit Rivers with the correct diplomatic response, but the Pistons were 24-30 with Iverson in the lineup and 8-9 without him. It’s not like they morphed into the ’86 Celtics, in other words, but the Detroit of Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace is one that the current C’s certainly respect.

Tony Allen returns

04.03.09 at 7:59 pm ET
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With three minutes to go in the first quarter, Tony Allen took the court for the first time since February 8. Allen had been rehabbing from torn ligaments in his thumb that he suffered in practice. He was cleared to play on Wednesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats. He made it as far as the scorer’s table but never got into the game.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Tony Allen,

More boos for Bibby

04.03.09 at 7:51 pm ET
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Nope, Celtics fans still have not forgotten about Mike Bibby’s anti-Boston comments during last season’s playoffs. I’m waiting for the boos to die down, but six minutes into the game they are going strong. The only difference, everyone forgot their Bibby face:

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Mike Bibby,
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