Archive for February, 2009

The Stephon Marbury equation

Friday, February 27th, 2009

The lights were going down and the excitement in the Garden was building when PA announcer Ernie Palladino began to introduce, “The World Champion Boston Celtics.” Mikki Moore snuck up behind Stephon Marbury and shook him by the shoulders as if to say, “Can you believe we’re a part of this?”

For Moore, who was in something akin to exile in Sacramento, and Marbury who actually was in exile from the Knicks it must have felt like getting an upgrade from the old Howard Johnson’s in Kenmore Square to a room at the Collonade.

While Moore provides a burst of energy and more than a little bit of “length” all eyes were on Marbury in his Boston debut. He said all the right things in his pre-game press conference, channeling Crash Davis with various renditions of, “I’m just here to help the ballclub.”

If the first meeting with the press went well, Marbury’s introduction to the Boston faithful was like the Bosstones taking the stage at the Hometown Throwdown. His face was cheered on the Jumbotron and when he entered the game late in the first quarter he received the full rock-star treatment with a raucous standing ovation. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Marbury said. “I was hoping they would clap. There was a lot of love tonight.”

It’s all in place for Marbury to rejuvenate his career, his image and a good bit of of his self-respect. “I’ve made mistakes,” he said before the game. “I’ve learned from them.”

Lost in all of that is the fact that for a guy who hasn’t played in an NBA game in over a year he looked remarkably good. He showed his mid-range game and an ability to turn the corner and get to the basket. He was 4-for-6 from the field for eight points and two assists in 13 minutes. Oh, there were a few signs of rust–he had three turnovers, and while he is tremendous physical shape he is not in NBA shape yet, and probably won’t be for at least a few more weeks.

“Shooting the ball wasn’t the problem,” he said. “It was getting legs to get into the shot.”

“I was laughing with him at halftime, I said, ‘You looked like Jerry Quarry there,'” Doc Rivers said. “He had the boxer’s legs, you know.”

But as first impressions go it was pretty close to perfect for Marbury and the Celtics. He solves one immediate problem by being the capable ballhandler the bench has lacked for the better part of two seasons. Eddie House, who isn’t nearly as bad a a dribbler as people who make him out to be, but is not really suited to the task moves immediately to the off-guard position.

“I think it will help Eddie because it moves Eddie off the ball,” Rivers said. “In the grand scheme of things, I think it’ll help make Eddie a better player because now Eddie can become a shooter full time.”

What’s not clear, at least not yet, is how this affects Gabe Pruitt, who couldn’t have picked a worse time to get picked up on suspicion of DUI. Even before the incident, Pruitt was about to become the third and maybe even the fourth option. Pruitt who remains a work on progress may have seen his best chance to establish himself as a contributor this year go by the wayside.

The other thing Marbury does is potentially alleviate the load on Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Rivers has been concerned about the veterans’ minutes–a concern that has only grown without Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine to back them up. Pierce logged almost 40 minutes and Allen checked in with a whopping 43+ minutes, which is entirely too many. Rivers knows this, which is why he plans to incorporate House as a shooter off the bench to help spell Allen.

That solves one set of problems but could introduce another, as Marbury and House are not exactly “big” guards. In that construction, Marbury would probably draw the oppositions two guards, which is an additional adjustment he must make on the defensive end. “Defense,” Marbury said. “That’s the only thing they talk about is defense. The offense takes care of itself.”

How Marbury handles the defensive schemes will be as much a part of his success in Boston as the points, rebounds and assists, but you get the feeling that he is liberated by the change. “It’s not about who’s shooting the ball and who’s not shooting the ball,” Marbury said. “Ray had 30, I didn’t even know he had 30 points. I didn’t even know (Rajon) Rondo had 17 assists. Until I looked up at the board and saw that, I didn’t even know that.”

Ah, Rondo. When Sam Cassell arrived last year there was some angst over how his presence would affect Rondo. As it turned out, nobody really needed to have worried much. Rondo, as preternaturally calm and confident as they come, couldn’t have been bothered less by Cassell. This time there are no such questions, and his career-tying 17 assist effort only further proved the point.

This is Rondo’s team, but what Marbury brings is some direction to the bench which could frankly use some. “His whole career he’s had to be the franchise player,” Allen said. “Here he just has to run the second unit.”

Allen first met Marbury at a Nike camp a long, long time ago. Allen, the high school senior, remembers the ninth-grader with boundless energy bouncing off the bleachers. They came into the league together as part of the famed 1996 draft class when Marbury was taken one spot ahead of Allen by Milwaukee and then immediately traded for him. “I told him he still owes me 200 grand,” Allen joked; the difference between their two draft slots. “Our careers have definitely come full circle.”

For one night at least, this unusual, highly improbable chemistry experiment was a success. As Marbury finished answering questions in his locker, which is right next to his old Minnesota running mate Kevin Garnett, the smile never left his face. “Can you believe I’m a part of this?”

Passing Chemistry 101

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Stephon Marbury wasted no time making his intentions known.

‘€œI’€™m not looking to improve my game,’€ he said at his introductory press conference. ‘€œI’€™m coming here to try to help the Celtics win another championship.’€

Wearing a Boston Celtics shirt with a handwritten number eight on the shamrock, Marbury addressed the media prior to Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. (RECAP HERE) He shrugged off talks of selfishness and expressed his willingness to do whatever is asked of him on the court.

Marbury said all the right things as the newest member of an organization driven by chemistry and teamwork.

‘€œThis is a very selfless team,’€ said Ray Allen. ‘€œWe don’t care about individual accolades.’€

Even though Marbury received a standing ovation in his first game, the skepticism of his team-first attitude is not going to go away overnight. He comes to Boston with the baggage of a tarnished reputation, one that isn’t forgotten by wearing a new uniform. The front office explained to Marbury how the team operates, a discussion which is protocol for every new player.

‘€œWe establish what the rules are, how we run things here, and how it’s about the team,’€ Celtics president Danny Ainge told WEEI’s Big Show. ‘€œWe’ve established those rules with Steph. (Head coach) Doc (Rivers) and I had a good conversation with him this morning and I’ve had a handful of conversations with Steph about those things even before now, as the Knicks gave us permission to talk.’€

Marbury wants to look ahead. And so do the Celtics.

‘€œI’m not afraid of Steph, Doc’s not afraid of Steph, and it really comes down to Doc,’€ Ainge said. ‘€œI think Doc understands Steph and can manage him and that Steph will respect Doc, first and foremost.’€

Last season Rivers coached five veteran first-year Celtics to a championship. He knows firsthand that a new environment can turn a vet’s career around.

‘€œThat was New York and wherever else. That has nothing to do with today and tomorrow,’€ Rivers said of concerns about Marbury. ‘€œI’€™ve always had an open mind with everyone who’€™s come in, and you know, we’€™ve done pretty well. Our locker room is very strong and we just have good people. And so, no, I’€™m not that concerned about that at all.’€

The players are on board with personnel. After winning a title with a reconstructed team, the Celtics know that a midseason acquistion (think P.J. Brown) can be the missing piece to success.

‘€œYou’ve just got to welcome him in, make him feel like he’s at home. Other than that, just do things together off the court,’€ said Kendrick Perkins. ‘€œI think [adding so many new players last season] helped us a lot. We’ve just got to keep getting better and help these guys just keep improving as a team. I think we’ll get better as they get to play more games.’€

The key to Marbury’s success with his new team is just that, playing as a team.

‘€œYou never know what’€™s in front of you as far as your basketball career,’€ he said. ‘€œThat’€™s why you just play as hard as you can and do the best that you can.’€

Celtics-Pacers Game Blog: Fourth Quarter

Friday, February 27th, 2009

At the start of the fourth quarter: Celtics 77, Pacers 75

– The tandem of Marbury and House are back on the court. This moves Ray Allen to the small forward, where he quickly got to work hitting threes.

– Marbury is showing versatility on the court and the crowd is loving it. From finding Ray on the arc to driving the lane, he has helped the Celtics build a double-digit lead.

– There are high-fives all around heading into a timeout halfway through the quarter. Marbury and Moore are not letting their new teammates down. Marbury received a standing O when he left the game.

Leon Powe finally has the opportunity to show what he can do at the four spot. He posted 14 points and 6 rebounds.

– Despite the excitement in the Garden, this game is not over yet. The Pacers are still in it with a minute to go.

– The Celtics are 1-0 in the Stephon Marbury era. They beat the Pacers 104-99.

Celtics-Pacers Game Blog: Third Quarter

Friday, February 27th, 2009

The Celtics got absolutely pounded on the boards, 26-14, in the first half which is the biggest thing that stands out from the opening 24 minutes. And yet, they are only down one as we get ready for the third quarter.

THIRD QUARTER WRAP: Despite Rajon Rondo’s brilliance. Despite Ray Allen’s hot hand. Despite solid production from Paul Pierce, the Celtics have some work to do in the fourth quarter against the short-handed Pacers. Oh, and there is some serious tensions between the Celtics and ref Derrick Collins.

It’s all leading to an exciting fourth quarter. Will Stephon Marbury play an important part?

Third Quarter Observations

— It would really help the backup big men’s causes if they learned how to finish around the rim. Both Big Baby and Leon Powe seem to have a tick where they either expect contact or wait for it to come instead of finishing off the play.

— Old NBA wisdom that seems apt this evening. Long road trips don’t end until after the first home game back in town. The Celtics have been gone for almost three weeks and they seem a step slow tonight.

— Leon Powe has put together a nice night so far with 10 points and three rebounds. As I wrote after the Clipper game, Powe’s per-minute production is practically starter level. What keeps him off the floor for longer periods of time (besides playing on a team like the Celtics) is the fact that he averages a foul every six minutes or so. If he can do two things–cut down on the fouls and make free throws at a 75 percent rate–he can have a long and very lucrative career.

— Rondo has 17 assists tonight. Seventeen. Think he might be making a point? (That ties a career-high by the way).

— That was so close to the greatest offensive move Kendrick Perkins will ever make.

— Well, give the Pacers credit for hanging in this one without Danny Granger. They’ve shot the ball much better this quarter and they’re still enjoying a +10 margin on the boards.

Celtics-Pacers Game Blog: Second Quarter

Friday, February 27th, 2009

At the start of the second quarter … Celtics 26, Pacers 18

Stephon Marbury may be Enemy Number One to some Knicks fans, but Celtics fans are quick to embrace him. Marbury received a standing ovation when he checked in late in the first quarter. They followed up with a loud cheer the first time he brought the ball up the court. Mikki Moore received about a fifth of the applause when he made his Garden debut.

– Marbury scored his first points as a Celtic less than two minutes into the second quarter.

– Doc is going with the frontcourt duo of Leon Powe and Moore. The (barely) 6-8 Powe appreciates the move back to power forward. He doesn’t have to guard Shaq anymore, he joked.

– During an early timeout, Doc and assistant coach Tom Thibodeau separately pulled Moore aside for some one-on-one feedback.

Eddie House is sharing the backcourt with Marbury. Doc likes this combination and thinks it will help House. “In the grand scheme of things, I think it’€™ll make Eddie a better player because now Eddie can become a shooter almost full time,” Rivers said. “He can run he floor, he can come off picks. The point guards will still probably have to guard Eddie. The two guards will guard Steph together, and I think of all the guys who this benefits it’€™s probably Eddie.”

– How are the Celtics losing this game? Being outrebounded 23-11 never bodes well.

– The Phoenix Suns were interested in rookie Brandon Rush last summer and it’s easy to see why. Rush has the shot to make an impact of the bench and would have been another scoring option for Steve Nash (who, as the Celtics have exposed twice this season, isn’t the same player he used to be). Rush has 13 first half points.

– At the half … Pacers 49, Celtics 48

Celtics-Pacers Game Blog: First Quarter

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Hey, there’s a game tonight? After all the pregame hullaboo it was easy to forget that the Celtics have a real live actual game at the Garden. I don’t want to say it’s been a while, but the last time the C’s played at the Garden, Kevin Garnett was healthy, Stephon Marbury was still kind of a Knick (although not really) and the NBA wasn’t pulling out $175 million loans.

Against all that, it will be kind of a nice reprieve to just focus on hoops, which we shall do for the next two hours, 20 minutes or so.

FIRST QUARTER WRAP: At the end of the quarter, Marbury was inserted into the game and he received a rousing standing ovation. So far everything for the Celtics is going according to script. They have a 26-18 lead, Indy is shooting 32 percent and Pierce looks strong.

First Quarter Observations

— So, in case you missed any of it. Stephon Marbury is going to play tonight. (see above) It will be interesting to say the least. Doc Rivers didn’t seem the slightest bit hesitant to run him out there, and presumably he is in great shape. There’s the old adage about the different between shape and basketball shape (it’s a lot. Trust me), but Marbury is probably about as well-prepared as anyone who hasn’t played in over a year could be.

— Playing the role of Reggie Miller tonight: Ray Allen. I think he just ran off five different screens to get that 3-pointer. Not that anyone on the Pacers remembers when they used to do that. Whoops forgot about Jeff Foster. OK, there’s one who does.

— OK, I’ll say it. It’s hard to take the Pacers seriously in those electric yellow unis. UC Santa Cruz called, they want their color-scheme back.

— So far Pierce looks fairly solid for having only nine fingers. The Celtics absolutely, positively can not afford to have him miss any time. It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating: Pierce was banged up during the playoffs last year. Forget the knee injury against the Lakers, he was getting mauled on a nightly basis. If there’s anyone on this team that plays well (better?) with pain, it’s Pierce.

— In case any of you were wondering, Marbury is sitting closest to the coaching staff on the bench and during the timeout he was listening intently to whatever Doc was saying in the huddle. And no, that doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s a start.

The Marbury-Rivers Transcription

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Selected questions and answers from the Stephon Marbury and Doc Rivers press conference. (Note: the questions are paraphrased and the speaker is Marbury, unless noted).

Q: How long will it take you to be ready physically?

A: I don’t how long it’s going to take me. I’ve been training the whole summer until now so I’m ready to play basketball.

Q: What kinds of workouts have you done?

A: Lot of lifting weights. Core balance. Stability. And I shot the ball. Just working on my skills. Continuing to keep my game sharp.

Q: (Directed to Doc Rivers) How long before he’s ready?

A (Rivers): We’re just going to throw him out there. Minutes will be determined by the rhythm of the team for one because we don’t have a lot on there for Steph obviously, and then two, conditioning. It’s one thing to play against me in the gym right now and another thing to be on an NBA court.

Q: (At Doc) references PJ Brown who spent the first part of his time with the Celtics on the bench.

A (Doc): It will be more immediate than PJ. One, because we have to with Gabe being suspended today and Tony (Allen) being out. We need bodies. And two, because we have a lot of practice time between games it gives us a chance to do this quicker.

Q: Will he play tonight?

A: (Doc) Yes. If he screws up a play it’s because he doesn’t know it. So he’ll be safe that way. It’s impossible for him to mess up a play tonight. One of the things I told Steph on the court is just be free. Just play.

Q: How were you greeted by the players?

A: Everyone was excited, which I was happy about.

Q: How about being a backup to Rondo?

A: I’m happy just to play basketball again, let alone what my role is. Like I said, I’m just excited as a player. Whatever the coach asks me to do is what I’ll do.

Q: Feelings on putting on a Celtics jersey?

A: I was lit up. The tradition. I felt it. Thinking about the championships and all the guys that played here just speaks for itself.

Q: Did he look anywhere else?

A: I pretty much had my mind set (on coming to Boston). This is where I wanted to be, because they wanted me here. They wanted me to come here and play basketball and I wanted to be here.

Q: How will this impact Eddie House?

A (Doc): I think it will help Eddie because it will move Eddie off the ball. I think the guy it will benefit the most, and obviously this is not right away. It will take Steph time to learn the system and get in NBA shape. But in the grand scheme of things I think it will make Eddie a better player because Eddie can become a shooter, almost full-time. He can run the floor and come off picks. The point guards will have to guard Eddie. The two-guards will probably guard Steph.

Of all the guys (this will help) it’s probably Eddie. And maybe Paul (Pierce) and Ray (Allen) because now we can get them more rest. In my opinion, even though their minutes are down career-wise, their minutes are over the limit that I want to play them. This will give me the opportunity to give them some rest, as well.

Q: What about playing with Kevin Garnett again. Did he think it would ever happen?

A: No, but my mother did. She kept telling me that day would happen. I’m happy about that. Playing with Kevin is going to be a lot of fun. Kevin brings a lot of energy, which I’ve known since playing with him in Minnesota.

Q: Worried about dealing with shooting guards?

A: It doesn’t matter. You still got to play defense.

Q: Do you want to be here next year?

A: If they want me, I’ll be here.

(Rivers): You’re on next year already?  Gosh. We’re just trying to get to next week.

Q: Do you have anything to prove?

A: I don’t look at it as something to prove. It’s just an opportunity to go out and play for a championship team.

Q: (To Rivers) Any concerns?

A (Rivers):  No. What’s happened before has nothing to do with today and tomorrow. We’ve always had an open mind with everyone who has come in. We’ve done pretty well. I’m not concerned about that at all.

Q (to Rivers) about Gabe Pruitt’s DUI arrest.

A (Rivers): Obviously we’re disappointed as an organization and disappointed in Gabe. He understands the mistake that he made. He’s young and you learn from those mistakes. I told him to protect the family name first. Pruitt. Your mother and father earned that name and earned that reputation and you should always protect that. And two, you’ve got to protect the Celtics name. Fortunately, no one got hurt and it’s probably a great learning experience for him.

Q: To Marbury about his reputation.

A: I’m human. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve just got to keep on pushing on.

Q: What’s your impression of Rondo?

A: I like him. He’s a really good player. His hands. His hands are amazing. The things he can do with the basketball are amazing.

Q: Did he learn anything from this past season?

A: Definitely. Sitting home watching basketball games and going to basketball games, it was a humbling experience for me. The whole process of going through what I went through this year was a different test for me. Going forward and playing basketball here in Boston is a great way to get (past that).

Q: Another question about his rep.

A: If you know me, that’s one thing. If you don’t know me you’re speaking about me through what someone else tells you.

Q: What he remembers about playing with KG.

A: The excitement that he brought to the game every night. Every day. Playing against him, I believe we always wanted to beat each other. It’s competitive.

Q: Did he look at other teams, or international teams?

A: No.

Q: On playing in New York?

A: You never know what’s in front of you. Playing in New York was another part of my book. Another chapter.

Q: Anything he’s looking to improve on?

A: I’m not looking to improve my game. I’m coming here to help the Celtics win another championship.