Archive for March, 2010

Fast Break: Thunderstruck

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Game of the year? No question. Best regular season game of the Big Three era? It would have to be in the discussion.

The Celtics lost to the Thunder Wednesday night, 109-104 and while there are implications to the defeat, it’s not hard to appreciate just how good this game was.

You want numbers? the Celtics shot 17-for-20 in the second quarter and 70 percent in the first half… and they only led led by four. Six different Celtics scored in double figures, but no one scored as many as 18 and they had assists on 30 of their 44 made baskets

You want moments? With four seconds left in the third quarter Rajon Rondo raced the length of the floor, knifed through the Oklahoma City defense and laid one off the glass as the buzzer expired. As Rondo skipped away from the shot he had a slight grin on his face as if to say he knew how good it was. That was only one of a dozen or more example of individual brilliance.

Or how about Rasheed Wallace going 7-for-8 from the floor, with almost all of that working off the low post where he dominated a host of OKC defenders?

And Kevin Durant was ridiculous. He scored 37 points and made impossible shots from all corners of the court. He also lived at the free throw line where he went 15-for-15. As a team the Celtics attempted just 17 free throws.

This game had everything you could possibly want in a regular season NBA contest, except for maybe a Celtics win. They are now a game behind Atlanta for third place in the East. They have two more home games to regroup during this stretch and carry some momentum into the playoffs.

Player of the Game: If you have to pick one player from this game it has to be Durant. He scored 37 points and drew so much attention from the Celtics that Jeff Green found himself open for two huge 3-pointers in the final minutes.

Turning Point: The Green 3-pointers. They were both killers.

* Paul Pierce started despite suffering a stinger in his shoulder and scored 14 points to go with four rebounds and four assists in the first half. Kendrick Perkins also returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with knee tendinitis.

* The Celtics turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter, but committed only one in the second.

* The Thunder had never beaten the Celtics in the Kevin Durant era.

* Durant was awesome, obviously, but the Celtics made him work much harder for shots in the second half. They had their big men hedge off screens to initiate double teams and throw his timing off. It really didn’t matter though. Durant also got the benefit of several whistles and shot 15 free throws. He made them all, of course.

Halftime: Celtics-Thunder

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

At the half we’ve got a good game brewing at the Garden with the Celtics leading 61-57. The Celtics are shooting an amazing 71 percent from the floor, while the Thunder are shooting 57 percent.

As advertised Kevin Durant was phenomenal with 17 points, but the story for the Celtics was the play of Rasheed Wallace who killed a variety of Oklahoma City defenders in the post. Wallace was 5-for-5 from the field with 10 points, but he picked up his third foul with just over five minutes left in the half.

Foul trouble is also an issue for the Thunder as Nick Collison also has three. Seven different players have two fouls each.

Paul Pierce started despite suffering a stinger in his shoulder and scored 14 points to go with four rebounds and four assists. Kendrick Perkins also returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with knee tendinitis.

The Celtics turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter, but committed only one in the second

Coach Belichick, it’s Doc on the line

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Celtics coach Doc Rivers confirmed before Wednesday’s game with Oklahoma City that Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins would both be in the starting lineup.

Pierce suffered a ‘stinger’ to his right shoulder on Sunday night and again on Tuesday in practice but was cleared by the team’s training and medical staff while Perkins has missed the last two games with left knee tendinitis.

“It’s good but it’s scary,” Rivers said. “Obviously, you don’t know why you get stingers. Maybe I should call Coach [Bill] Belichick because it’s a football injury more. We don’t have a whole bunch of stingers in our league that I know of. Obviously, it does concern you because I always think if something like that happens, there’s got to be a reason why but it’s just coincidence, let’s hope.”

Preview: Celtics-Thunder

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Is there a more interesting team in the NBA right now than the Oklahoma City Thunder? They are not yet a championship contender and Kevin Durant is not yet the best player in the league, but as Doc Rivers has said several times this season, “It’s coming.”

Durant is almost too good to be true. A legit superstar with a likable game and personality to match, he and the Thunder will be the story on the league during the first round of the playoffs and for however long they can stick around.

There is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that if the Celtics had been fortunate enough to get the top pick in the 2007 draft they would have selected Durant. It is already one of the great what-ifs for the franchise. Had they taken Durant, would they still have gone after Kevin Garnett or would Danny Ainge have stuck with the a young nucleus of Durant, Rajon Rondo and Al Jefferson? And if he had, would Paul Pierce have wanted to hang around through yet another rebuilding phase?

We’ll never know, and things did work out fairly well for the Celtics. Banners are forever, after all, but one can’t help but feel a tinge of wonder at the thought of Durant in a Celtics jersey for the next dozen years.

THUNDER (45-28, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.3

Points Allowed: 96.6

Differential: +3.7 (11th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.3 (15th)

Defensive Efficiency: 103.5 (6th)

Pace: 92.8(14th)

Likely Starters: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nenad Kristic

Injuries: None.

CELTICS (47-26, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 98.6

Points Allowed: 94.3

Differential: +4.3 (9th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.0 (17th)

Defensive Efficiency: 102.4 (1st)

Pace: 91.7 (20th)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Pierce (Shoulder, questionable), Perkins (Knee, probable) (more…)

Rondo eyes matchup with Westbrook

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

For the past four years, Rajon Rondo has been catching the eyes of veteran point guards around the league as he developed into an All-Star. Now there is another up-and-coming player who has caught his attention.

Rondo expects to run into Westbrook (r) throughout his career

Rajon Rondo expects to run into Russell Westbrook (0) throughout his career. (AP)

Rondo has been impressed by the play of Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.

“He’s a mature guy,“ Rondo said. “He’s running the show, he’s getting his main guy the ball, and at times he knows when to attack.”

In just his second season in the NBA, Westbrook is averaging over 16 points and ranks eighth in the league with 7.9 assists per game. (Rondo is fourth with 9.8 apg.) Many of those have been dished to teammate Kevin Durant, the league’s second-leading scorer.

Not only is Westbrook moving the ball, he also is helping his team win. The young Thunder squad currently holds the sixth seed in the Western Conference and has just two less wins than the Celtics this season.

On Wednesday, the C’s will look to push that differential up to three wins when they face the Thunder at TD Garden. Rondo knows he will have to buckle down on defense to stop Westbrook. Both players scored 15 points in their first meeting of the season (a Celtics win) in December.

“[I have to] try to keep him in front of me, keep him out of transition,“ Rondo said. “He loves to attack in transition, so just try to keep between him and the basket.”

Rondo understands how to stop Westbrook for a reason. Prior to the his first All-Star appearance, Rondo pointed out Westbrook as the player in the Rookie-Sophomore game who reminds him most of himself. He drew similarities between their quickness and aggressiveness with the ball.

If it were up to Rondo, Westbrook would have been joining him on the court in Dallas.

“I think he could’ve gotten into the All-Star Game this year too as well,” Rondo said. “Hopefully he’ll make it next year. He got overlooked, but he’s definitely a good player.”

Even though Rondo and Westbrook are only in their early 20s, Rondo believes this matchup has the potential to become one to watch over the next few seasons.

“You know you’ll be going against him for hopefully another six or seven years,” he said.

Pierce gets ‘stung’ again on right shoulder

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

WALTHAM — For the second time in three days, Paul Pierce injured his right shoulder. This time, the injury happened midway through Celtics practice when he ran into a back screen and fell to the ground. Rivers said trainer Ed Lacerte said if it’s just a stinger, Pierce should be fine to play.

“He actually got hurt again,” Rivers said. “It’s a stinger. It was the same exact reaction. It looked worse today. Eddie said if it’s a stinger, he’ll be fine but you get concerned because it’s a game and a practice, exact same thing.”

“That’s something you play a guy five minutes and that can happen, Rivers added. “There’s nothing you can do about that. The good news is it’s not a shoulder separation or anything and probably the worst case is he misses a game or two, at worse. That’s not all bad and obviously, you’d like to have him and it’s not a lower body injury.”

Meanwhile, Kendrick Perkins, who has missed the last two games with left knee tendinitis, is expected to return to the starting lineup on Wednesday night against Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City at TD Garden.

Williams happy to see Duke return to Final Four

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

It’s hard for Shelden Williams to believe the last time the Duke appeared in the Final Four, he was on the court.

Williams battled four years at Duke

Williams battled four years at Duke

In 2004 the Blue Devils suffered a one-point loss to the University of Connecticut Huskies, who went on to win it all. Since then, the team had not been able to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. (Interestingly enough, Williams and the Blue Devils were eliminated by Glen Davis and the LSU Tigers in 2006.) But that all changed this season.

Six years later, Williams watched Duke defeat Baylor in the Elite Eight prior to the Celtics-Spurs game. (He even boasted when the Blue Devils drained back-to-back 3-pointers.) The top-seeded Blue Devils will face the second-ranked Mountaineers of West Virginia on Saturday in a Final Four match up. It has been a long wait for Williams, who is happy to see his alma mater just one game away from the championship battle.

What was it like watching Duke advance to the Final Four?

“It’s great. It’s kind of strange that this is the first time that we’ve been back to the Final Four since my team in ‘04. It’s been kind of crazy, but actually this year has been amazing for college basketball fans to watch. This tournament has been unbelievable with underdog teams and powerhouse teams, you never know what to expect. If you had tried to tell me after being in the tournament that a fifth seed, a fifth seed, and only one one-seed would make it, that’s crazy.”

Why do you think the Blue Devils could win it all this year?

“Everybody on that team is playing their role. Nobody’s getting out of hands with things, nobody’s trying to doing more than what they can do. I think just everybody is playing their role and playing off of each other well. I think that’s a great thing for them to do. Whether they’re not shooting well, like [Sunday], (Kyle) Singler was 0-for-10, he’s one of the top scorers if not the top scorer on the team, and they still managed to find a way to win. That says a lot.”

Even though you are in the NBA now, what do you miss the most about playing in the NCAA Tournament?

“Just how much every game means to you, how much the atmosphere comes into play, everybody is into it whether they love you or hate you. Basketball is like king and everything else is secondary. It’s one of the best feelings to be part of.”

For more on Williams career at Duke, where he graduated as the school’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots, check out WEEI.com’s Inside the Game series.