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Ainge on The Big Show: Sheed lives for big games

05.20.10 at 6:53 am ET
By
Danny Ainge (AP)

Danny Ainge (AP)

A day after the Celtics went up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made his weekly call to The Big Show on Wednesday afternoon to talk about Doc Rivers’ strategy against the Magic, Rajon Rondo’s emergence, Rasheed Wallace’s strong postseason play, and the team’s recent dominance over the top two seeds in the East.

“With each of these individuals on our team, I know what they are capable of doing and it’s taken a great performance out of each guy,” Ainge said. “We’re getting a lot of contributions out of a lot of people right now and they’re all playing their best basketball of the year together. We’ll see what they’re capable of doing.”

A transcript of the interview follows. To hear the full interview, click on The Big Show audio on demand page.

How are you feeling right now?

I’m doing well. That was an exciting game last night.

Celtics analyst Cedric Maxwell said that the things going on in the stands reminded him of Philadelphia in the ‘80s. Was it that bad?

I heard of some incidents, but I didn’t see anything. Maxwell had a better view of that than I did.

There’s a story out that Marquis Daniels’ father was tased during the game. Does the team have anything to say on that?

No, we won’t comment on that. I talked to Marquis after the game and I’m aware of the situation, but don’t know all the details.

It seems like playing single coverage has really tripped up Orlando and it’s allowed the Celtics to cover out on the perimeter.

Well, I didn’t think we did such a good job last night. We got the win, but Dwight [Howard] had his way inside. He was out of the game for a short period of time with foul trouble, and we made a little bit of a run. He’s still a very dominant force. The first game, I thought that he struggled, and the second game, I thought he dominated.

Last round against Cleveland, you said it was difficult to shut down one guy — LeBron James — because it opens up other doors for the rest of the team. Now against the Magic, is the recipe to win about taking away the perimeter, even if it means leaving one guy to defend Dwight Howard?

I don’t know, there are a lot of recipes for winning. In order for us to win that game last night, it took a [Rajon Rondo] fade away, 15-foot jump shot over the top of the best defensive player in the league, that was well contested … with the shot clock expiring.

That’s a formula for success; guys making huge plays at the right time of a game. That’s how fragile winning and losing can be. I wouldn’t say that our formula is any better than any other formula, I think that we made plays when we needed to.

At the end of Game 2, Vince Carter missed two free throws and J.J. Redick dribbled down the court, missing the opportunity to call a quick timeout and have a midcourt inbounds. The Celtics have played well in the closing minutes of their games lately, who do you attribute that to?

I think that it’s everybody. I think that everybody contributed to the game last night, even the guys that played short minutes. Rasheed [Wallace] comes in again and knocks down two huge three pointers, uses up fouls, abides his time.

Doc [Rivers] has done a great job of coaching this team all year long in my opinion, and yet a coach can’t make those fade-away jump shots. It’s not Stan Van Gundy’s fault that J.J. Redick dribbles the ball after getting a rebound. Those are things where you can’t react that fast. A player has to know that once you take a dribble, you can’t advance the ball.

It’s players, it’s coaches, it’s everthing. Not to diminish our formula or diminish our game plan, I think our game plan is excellent, but I think their game plan has been good. Last night in particular, I thought it was who made the best plays down the stretch of the game won.

How much of an advantage is it to have veteran players who know what it takes to win NBA finals games and a championship?

I don’t think that we have that much of an advantage. I think that Rondo is really good, [Kevin Garnett] is really good. Those guys made big-time shots. Paul Pierce is really good. Paul Pierce had never been there before when he won in 2008.

Good teams win, good players down the stretch of games make big plays, and that’s the difference between winning and losing.

In retrospect, it was a smart move signing Rondo to a contract extension in November.

Rajon has been terrific and he’s had a very consistent year. All the things that we talked about this summer with his consistency have really come to fruition. He’s growing right in front of our eyes.
What I loved most about Rajon last night, besides the big jump shot that he hit to win that game for us, was his defense, and how consistently he played defense. He gets a lot of praise and credit for defense, but I’m not sure anybody can really appreciate the amount of effort that he put in last night, chasing those screen and rolls with Jameer Nelson being set by Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis. That’s a tough night at work and he’s playing a lot of minutes.

A lot of veteran Celtics players have talked about transitioning leadership from the Big Three over to Rondo. Was it a rocky road to get to this point?

I think that it’s a natural progression. It’s not what anybody says,”OK, now is the time.” It happens just naturally. At first, it has to start with him and his quality of play, his ability to lead the team, his ability not just to talk the game and occasionally do it, but for him to go out and set the tone and set the example. And that’s been progression, just because of his age and youth.

We’ve seen it from Michael Jordan, and right on down the line, the great players. It didn’t just happen; they weren’t just given the franchise, especially with a good team with the chance to win early on. I think it’s just something that’s happening over time and he has earned the respect of the veteran players.

I saw something in the Miami series where [Kendrick Perkins] and KG and Glen Davis that were arguing over something, over a pick and roll coverage is what I thought it was, and then here came Paul came in and they were still kind of debating. And then Rondo came in and just calmly sat everyone down, and it was amazing. They were all listening to him. Now, that doesn’t mean that KG doesn’t have a voice, and Paul doesn’t have a voice, because they do. They still have a major voice in things that we do, but I would have never seen that two years ago.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis had a line of 28 minutes, eight points, six rebounds. Do you think he played better than what was written down on paper?

I think two of the biggest plays of the game were taking away baskets on those charges. He took two charges at crucial times of the game. Baby made winning basketball plays last night. You’re right, the box score doesn’t even begin to show what his contribution was.

Rasheed Wallace hasn’t been consistent at all this year, but now he’s finally turned things on this postseason. Do you find it a little maddening to not see him play at this level all season, or do you reconcile that expectation since he’s a veteran player?

No, you don’t expect anybody to not give less than what they’re capable of giving on a nightly basis. At the same time, in defense of Rasheed, I think he wasn’t in great shape, which is not acceptable. We want everybody in great shape, but he is a “big-game player.” We did know that when we acquired Rasheed, he doesn’t enjoy the mundane part of the game, and he does enjoy the big games and the big moments. That’s what his MO has been over the last couple of years.
I’m not disappointed that we were hoping that he would step up in the playoffs. He’s had a few really good games in a row, and he’s been a major contributor in finishing off Cleveland and so far in this series with Orlando.

As an observer or as a fellow player, it has to be tough to say in the middle of the season, we’re probably not going to get his best performance, while other players would die for the opportunity to go for a loose ball or to make a play.

I understand, at the same time he needs to get into a feel with the other team. By the way, he had a fantastic game, I can’t remember which game it was, San Antonio and Houston, I think, he single-handedly won the game for us in Toronto one night. We were on the road, he hits five or six 3-pointers, got a bunch of rebounds. It wasn’t like he didn’t show up in the regular season, he did not have a good regular season. He did not shoot the ball well, but it was not like he didn’t contribute to us during the regular season either.

You picked up Wallace for more than just the playoffs, but he’s truly shown his worth during the postseason. As a player personnel figure, can you even think about picking up a player who doesn’t give much during the regular season but specializes in postseason play?

When we played Orlando last year, we felt like we needed a shooting big that can play defense, and he fit exactly what we needed and we’re seeing that in these playoffs. You know that playoff basketball and regular-season basketball are completely different and we need a shooting big in the playoffs more than we do in the regular season, because of how teams strategize and the formulas they use to try to beat us. It’s been paying dividends for us so far.

Kevin Garnett has looked rejuvenated in these playoffs, getting offensive rebounds and making big defensive stops. When the Celtics played the Magic earlier in the regular season, it looked like Rashard Lewis had his way with him. Now Lewis is virtually nonexistent in this series. Do you think KG looked at that matchup and felt better about himself?

I think that there are a lot of times players are missing because of the way their team plays, like Ray Allen. He didn’t have a good game last night offensively, but I wouldn’t say Ray was missing. He had such a good game in Game 1 and they went after him. I think the same thing with Rashard Lewis. We are putting some attention on Rashard Lewis; we’re taking some things away that they’re used to getting. It’s not so much that we’re sacrificing some things to stop Rashard Lewis, just like they are opening up the door and gave us a few shots that they we probably wouldn’t get if they didn’t give so much attention to Ray Allen.

So sometimes even though a guy is not putting up numbers, their presence on the court is allowing other guys to succeed. We are choosing to allow certain guys more freedom than other guys, but you have to be careful with guys like Rashard Lewis because those guys are capable of having 20 point halves and changing the series back and giving [their team] some confidence and momentum. I hope that our guys stay locked in and continue to make it hard on Rashard Lewis because I think he is a terrific player.

If you were Doc Rivers, would you anticipate that the Magic would try to move things around to give Lewis more of an impact in Game 3?

I think that both teams know what the other team is trying to do now, but it’s not always that easy. Sometimes it’s very difficult to get guys shots. You’ll remember a couple years ago where Ray couldn’t get a shot. It wasn’t because of Ray. I’ve said that over and over and over again but yet people want to still keep pointing at Ray.

I remember when I was playing with the Portland Trail Blazers and we were playing the Phoenix Suns, and Jeff Hornacek had a fantastic year. We decided to take Jeff Hornacek out of the series and he had a terrible series against us. Dan Majerle had an unbelievable series against us and everybody was praising Dan Majerle for having this amazing series when we sacrificed that to stop Jeff Hornacek.

You have to be careful of just looking at numbers, watching guys make shots, and guys getting open. Rashard Lewis is a guy that we have amazing respect for and I hope our guys stay locked in and focused on continuing to try to make it difficult for him.

People criticized Paul Pierce for having a poor series against the Cavaliers, but that happens when the man defending him is LeBron James. Would you admit that he’s breaking through so easily because he’s being so lightly defended now?

Yeah not only that, but a good example last night was how KG had a tough time catching a ball in the post. We’re trying to post KG and they have two guys on him before he even touches the ball. They have Rashard Lewis in front of him and they got Dwight Howard behind him, leaving Perk open. It’s been very difficult for us to run our stuff and to get KG in the flow of the offense, but KG is fine with that, though. KG doesn’t care. He wants to win and he’s ready to take the shots, but you’ve got to be prepared to win. You’ve got to sacrifice your ego sometimes for the betterment of the team. The good news about our team is we don’t have to have any one individual go out there and have an amazing performance, we have to go out there and score 95 to 100 points ourselves and do a great job defensively.

You know that the veterans were beaten up and had to drag themselves into the playoffs, so have you been surprised with what they’ve accomplished so far this postseason?

Well, I never really thought that they were beaten up. I did feel like we were healthier at the end of the season than we had been all season, but if you would have told me when the playoffs started that we were going to beat Cleveland and Orlando five games in a row, that’s an amazing accomplishment. It would have been hard to believe that that was going to happen.

At the same time, with each of these individuals on our team, I know what they are capable of doing and it’s taken a great performance out of each guy. We’re getting a lot of contributions out of a lot of people right now and they’re all playing their best basketball of the year together. We’ll see what they’re capable of doing.

Whenever the team’s play starts to break down and they go into the huddle during a timeout, Doc preaches that they need to play together as a team and stop trying to be the hero. It’s human nature to want to be the one who ends the game when it’s on the line, but it doesn’t seem to work with this team unless they all playing together and working as a team.

Yeah, that’s the goodness of our team. We have a lot of guys who believe they can make that shot and make that play, but we have to make the right reads. We have to make sure that we taking advantage of the right matchups and that we’re not playing with an individual agenda. I think Doc has done a great job using the timeouts to get our guys refocused and back on the same page when he sees that start to creep back in. He really gets this team, gets their emotions, and knows which buttons to push. I think he’s done a great job.

When there were rumors that Doc might not return to the Celtics, do you think that any of that was due to frustration with where the team was? Based on where the team is now, do you think that changes his decision?

I hope so. Doc only wants to win right now, and really, that’s all he’s focused on and that’s all we’re focused on. We have never had a conversation on any of this stuff, he hasn’t had it with players. This is just Doc focused on winning and we’ll worry about all that other stuff later. I’ve been coaching and I’ve sat on that bench and I know how draining it can be. I know how taxing and emotional it gets. I think it was a very taxing year for Doc this year, so hopefully he’s feeling some success and feeling how good he’s doing and how good his team’s responding now.

About a month ago, you said you had a bunch of different scenarios for the offseason. Based on what you’re seeing now and how the team will continue to play in the playoffs, will those change any of your decisions for the offseason?

Yes. I think how the team plays in the biggest games of the year against the best competition in the world would certainly have an effect if for the fact that how guys would play in November, December when they’re banged up and injured would also have a major effect.

Even though those guys are going to be a year older when they come back to play for you next year?

Sure. If you’re playing in June against the best people in the world, I don’t think that your game is going to fall apart over the summer, just because you have a birthday and you’re out playing golf.

How important is it that the Celtics get off to a terrific start in the first quarter of Game 3 and quickly make the Magic start thinking about their summer vacations?

I just don’t think that that’s a thought process right now. We have a great deal of respect for them, and the game last night could have gone either way with a ball bounce here or there. We have a great deal of respect for Orlando and I think they’re a terrific team. If we don’t play as hard as we just played, then we won’t win. I do not think under any circumstance that they’re thinking about summer vacations as of yet. We’ve got to get prepared to play a team that’s even better than the team that we just beat twice.

Anybody hack into your Twitter account today?

No, I don’t have a Twitter account. I’ve never even been on Facebook, either. One of my friends called me the other said and said, “You know, you’ve got 4,000 friends on Facebook.” I said “I’ve never been on Facebook in my life.”

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