Archive for January, 2011

Irish Coffee: Interpreting Celtics vs. Lakers

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Considering all the stars on and off the court — for both teams — at Sunday’s game between the Celtics and Lakers, you would’ve thought there’d have been some great Twitter messages in the aftermath of the C’s 109-96 victory at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There wasn’t, so I made them up anyway. Here’s my interpretation of what the players and celebrity fans should’ve Tweeted throughout the finals rematch:

  • Matt Damon: “The Celtics are showing ‘True Grit’. The Lakers are playing like True …”
  • Jimmy Kimmel: “I’m feeling Matt Damon.”
  • Ron Artest: “Is this my second season with the Lakers? Time to check out.”
  • Phil Jackson: “I’m going to kill Ron Art– (deep breath) Serenity now!!!”
  • Kobe Bryant: “The ring I bought my wife and Artest’s contract cost the same. And I’m sorry for both.”
  • Robert Rodriguez: “Black Mamba seems like a strange nickname for a guy who was once arrested for sexual assault, but let’s go with it Kobe!”
  • Derek Fisher: “A cheerleader blew me a kiss, and I thought I got shot. I flopped like 10 feet backwards!”
  • Zac Efron: “Who’s worse at acting: Me or Fisher?”
  • Paul Pierce: “The only way I could’ve made this win better is to get the wheelchair involved.”
  • Adam Sandler: “KG told a ballboy he had a better chance of catching Bin Laden than getting an autograph? Was it Bobby Boucher? ‘Stop making fun of me!'”
  • Kevin Garnett: “It wasn’t a good week for me and things that hold balls. Just ask Channing Frye.”
  • George Lopez: “Wait, why aren’t I rooting for the Nuggets? They have Eduardo Najera!”
  • Glen Davis: “Coach told me to treat Odom and Andrew Bynum like a bowl of gumbo. Eat ‘em up. Ayo!”
  • Lamar Odom: “I’m not sure whose badonkadonk is bigger: Big Baby’s or Khloe Kardashian‘s.”
  • John Lackey: “Who’s better looking: Me or Semih Erden?”
  • Brooklyn Decker: “I love basketball. How many touchdowns does Kobe have? Oh, and who’s better looking: Me or John Lackey’s wife?”
  • Joey Crawford: “Wait, Kendrick Perkins is back? (whistle) Technical foul, No. 43.”
  • Kendrick Perkins: “Two technicals in two nights. I’m in midseason form!”

(more…)

Fast Break: Celtics write new LA story

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

It had ebbs and flows, runs and counters, and even some blood spilled by Kevin Garnett after he was gashed by Pau Gasol. The Celtics and Lakers didn’t disappoint in their first game since the 2010 finals.

You can break this game down in a number if different ways, but in the end it came down to a simple proposition: Could Kobe Bryant beat the Celtics by himself? Bryant erupted for 22 points in the first half and helped the Lakers recover from an early nine-point deficit. He dueled with Paul Pierce throughout the third quarter and into the fourth, but late in the game the Celtics were finally able to contain Bryant and the Lakers had nothing else left.

They can say that this was just another game, but the Celtics proved something in their 109-96 win Sunday afternoon. They proved that this is a different team than the one that left Staples Center without a championship. The rematch is only 11 days away at the Garden.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce destroyed Ron Artest: The captain destroyed his antagonist from last year’s finals, scoring 32 points on just 18 shots and sending Artest to the bench in the fourth quarter. There was nothing Artest could do to contain Pierce, who had both his long-range and in-between game working.

The Celtics were overwhelming in the second half, but Pierce kept them in position throughout the game in what might have been his best performance of the season.

Defensive Rebounding: This is very simple. When the Celtics clean up on the boards, the Lakers can’t win. The Celtics were strong out of the gate, allowing the Lakers just one offensive rebound in the first quarter. When the game sped up in the second, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were able to get on the glass.

The Celtics held the fort in the second half and Garnett was a huge factor with 12 defensive rebounds. For all the talk about what a difference a healthy Kendrick Perkins would have made in Game 7, the 2010-11 version of Garnett would have been even bigger.

The bench: Give Nate Robinson credit. The guard has been much-maligned in recent weeks for his propensity for taking long pull-up jumpers in transition. But, that’s what he does. The Celtics rely on him to come off the bench and provide instant offense and that’s what he gave the Celtics, scoring 11 points in 14 minutes. Glen Davis also had a strong game, outproducing Lamar Odom and making huge plays down the stretch.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rajon Rondo didn’t look right (for half): Either there’s something physically wrong with the Celtics point guard, or he’s just worn down from all the minutes he’s played this season. Either way, Rajon Rondo followed up his disastrous outing against Phoenix (more turnovers than assists) with another low-impact performance in the first half.

The Lakers defensive scheme against Rondo is well-known at this point. They drop Kobe Bryant off into the paint where he forces Rondo to shoot jumpers, while also using his length to disrupt his passing and driving lanes. Too often Rondo simply takes himself out the action.

In the second half Rondo completely changed course. He had six assists in the third quarter and became far more aggressive in the fourth when matched up against Steve Blake. Rondo had 15 of his 16 assists in the second half and played (finally) like Rondo.

Kobe did work: The Celtics generally don’t mind when a superstar opponent tries to take a game over on their own. Their feeling — whether it’s LeBron James, Dwight Howard or Bryant — is that if one player is trying to beat them, that makes them much easier to defend. But when Bryant makes 8-of-11 shots and scores 22 points as he did in the first half, that’s simply too much. Bryant managed to keep it close, but even he can’t beat the Celtics by himself.

Foul trouble: The whistles started early as both Ray Allen and Bryant had to check out in the first few minutes with two fouls. Not surprisingly, foul problems also plagued Shaquille O’Neal who got his fifth early in the third quarter. That led Kendrick Perkins to play 25 minutes, his longest outing since returning from knee surgery.

Fast Break: Celtics shot down in flames against Suns

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

This one was simple, but oh so painful to watch. The Celtics got into Phoenix around 4 a.m. local time Friday night and started out in a not-surprising funk. By the end of the first half they had set new season lows for points in the first quarter (16), points in the first half (35) and they continued their futility throughout the second half.

Then they lost their coach after referee Steve Javie tossed Doc Rivers at the 4:33 mark of the second quarter and Glen Davis who strained his right hamstring. If that wasn’t enough, Kevin Garnett was ejected after low-blowing Channing Frye on a 3-point attempt.

The final was 88-71, which extended their run of futility in back-to-backs. Their last three have been particularly ragged with a loss 90-79 loss to Chicago that was their offensive low point before Friday and the 83-81 loss in Washington last week.

The Celtics return to action Sunday against the Lakers, who lost at home to Sacramento. Chances are good that both teams will be in a lousy mood for that one.

(For a complete recap, click here.)

WHAT WENT WRONG

Offensive stagnation: Unlike Thursday when the Celtics recovered long enough to put enough points on the boards and beat the Blazers, the C’s never got into any kind of a rhythm. That’s discouraging because the Suns are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Back-to-back or not, there’s simply no excuse for the Celtics to shoot 34 percent in the first half, or turn it over six times in the first quarter against the Suns.

Much of the blame for the Celtics offensive woes falls on Rajon Rondo. He had a miserable night on both ends of the floor, scoring just seven points on 1-for-6 shooting and registering more turnovers (seven) than assists (six).

Glen Davis missed the second half with a hamstring injury: This could be a potentially bad blow for the Celtics because Davis is their most important bench player and the key to their frontcourt versatility. The Celtics don’t really have another backup power forward on the roster (Luke Harangody is next in line), but Davis has become much more than just Garnett’s replacement. He also plays important fourth quarter minutes at center, which makes him a matchup nightmare in his own right.

Hamstring injuries are notoriously difficult to calm down — Rondo’s lingered weeks after he was supposedly healthy. If Davis is out for any length of time, the Celtics could have a serious problem.

They got nothing from the bench: Before the Celtics pulled their starters, their bench players had scored 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Nate Robinson couldn’t provide a spark and Davis did little before his injury. Von Wafer got some early minutes, but the shots just weren’t there for him either.

This has been a constant theme for the Celtics this season and while Rivers hopes to cobble together a coherent second unit after Delonte West returns from his broken wrist, the bench has been a huge disappointment to this point. With the amount of talent the Celtics have they don’t need their bench to win them games very often, but there are nights when they need a change in direction and energy and the second unit has provided neither on a consistent basis.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Celtics fought it out (literally): Give them credit for not packing it in when they could have, but they couldn’t get the lead under 10 in the third quarter and make a serious run. They did cut the lead down to 11 after Mickael Pietrus elbowed Garnett and picked up a technical foul. That seemed to energize the Celtics for a bit, but with a chance to cut the lead to single digits Marquis Daniels was whistled for an offensive foul in transition. Their last chance evaporated after Garnett’s ejection.

Name That NBA Tweet: Celtics vs. Suns

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Welcome to ‘€œName that NBA Tweet’€ ‘€” the game show where everybody’€™s a loser (including the host)! If you didn’€™t catch the first season over on LEEInks, here’€™s the deal: An athlete or celebrity posted the following 140-character thought on his/her twitter account over the last week. This week’€™s episode features a Celtics vs. Suns theme in anticipation of Friday’s game. It’€™s your job to figure out who produced these Shakespearean efforts.

1. ‘€œI’€™ma go home and sit by the fire and drink some hot cocoa. And listen to some John Denver!!!’€

‘€“ Glen Davis or Justin Bieber?

Davis is Big Baby. Bieber sings ‘€œBaby’€. Both have been known to dance the Dougie.

Answer: Click here.

 2. ‘€œGotta pick my girls up early from a half day of school. How good were half days?!!’€

‘€“ Steve Nash or Ice Cube?

Cube messed around and got a triple-double, while Nash once recorded a triple-double in a playoff game.

Answer: Click here.

3. ‘€œThank you for all your well wishes. I AM slowly coming out of this thing. It has been truly, truly brutal.‘€

‘€“ Jermaine O’€™Neal or Dr. Drew?

Drew is recovering from Leptospirosis. Jermaine is recovering from Oh-my-knee-itis.

Answer: Click here.

4. ‘€œWhat did everbody think about Obama’€™s State of the Union speech he just finished?’€

‘€“ Jared Dudley or Shannon Elizabeth?

Dudley played alongside Sean Williams at Boston College, while Elizabeth played alongside Sean William Scott in ‘€œAmerican Pie’€.

Answer: Click here.

5. ‘€œWELL THIS IS SUNDAY ‘€¦ so let’€™s all give a big shout out to GOD ‘€¦ and LOVE.’€

‘€“ Nate Robinson or Kirstie Alley?

Robinson has won three dunk contests. Alley has probably won at least that many pie-eating contests.

Answer: Click here.

Thanks for playing again, folks. Two more terrible Twitter puns: If you got four or more wrong, you’€™re a Twignoramus; if you got four or more right, you’€™ve got Twisdom. Until next week, and, as Bob Barker said, ‘€œHave your pets spayed or neutered!’€

On the Celtics and clutch plays

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Over on True Hoop, Henry Abbott wrote a post about one of his favorite topics: The perception of Kobe Bryant as a clutch player versus the reality of his numbers in ‘clutch’ situations. Abbott’s main point is that Bryant makes about one-third of his shots in the clutch, which is about average for every other player in the league.

This is one those third-rail arguments that generate lots of heat and discussions since Bryant fans will never concede on the clutch argument. They have watched him make too many big shots. On the other side, this is manna for Bryant opponents since they have likewise watched him miss contested shots with the game on the line.

The thing that truly stands about Bryant is this regard is that if the game’s on the line he’s going to take the shot. Abbott points to a five-year study done by Roland Beech at 82games.com that shows that Bryant took 56 shots in clutch situations and had just one assist. The other thing that stood about the study? Paul Pierce had the most assists in those situations with nine.

There are a number of different conclusions one can jump based just on those numbers, but let’s start with the idea that Bryant, and therefore the Lakers, are relatively easy to defend in late-game situations because everyone knows that Bryant is going to take the shot. Maybe easy isn’t the right word, since defending Bryant is no one’s idea of a good time. Let’s say instead that they are predictable.

The Celtics have their own version of Kobe in the clutch: Pierce at the elbow. Time and again the Celtics return to sets that puts the ball in Pierce’s hands near the top of the key where he attempts to work into his sweet spot at the elbow for a 15-foot jump shot. There are good reasons for this, most prominently is that Pierce is the Celtics’ best one-on-one player and the one who is best able to create his own shot.

When it works, Pierce is a cold-blooded assassin. And when it doesn’t, fans scream that it’s a predictable, low-percentage play.

Despite this tendency, the Celtics and coach Doc Rivers also have a well-deserved reputation for coming up with interesting plays out of timeouts. Just this year alone there was the gorgeous Rajon Rondo lob to Kevin Garnett that beat the 76ers and this motion set that gave Ray Allen a 3 that put the Celtics ahead of Detroit.

The point is that in late-game situations opponents can never be too sure where the Celtics are going. Sometimes they aren’t either. Most of Rivers’ plays have multiple options that rely on his players reacting to the different looks the defenses give them.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra noted in a radio interview that he had “great respect” for the plays Rivers draws up out of timeouts. Spoelstra said, “They always seem to come out with something. You don’t know which guy they’re going to, and they execute well.”

Take for example that Pierce game-winner against the Heat in Game 3 of last year’s playoffs. On the surface it seemed like an ordinary ISO play for Pierce, but there were other factors.

“We had two plays called just in case they fouled,” Rivers said after the game. “What we tried to get is Paul facing the basket because it’€™s very difficult to commit a foul when you’€™re facing. If you reach and grab he’€™ll throw the ball up. The whole play was for Paul, but we wanted activity.”

This, ultimately, is what you want out of late-game situations. A play with movement and options that leads to the best shot available by the player who is most willing to take it. Give Bryant this: He doesn’t shy away from the moment. That may not make him a clutch shooter, but he is completely unafraid of the situation. Perhaps, as Abbott suggests, to his detriment.

Irish Coffee: Why Celtics should fear Suns

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

I’ve got to hand it to colleague Jerry Spar for this one. It’s not surprising that the Celtics haven’t performed well on back-to-back nights when the second game is on the road, regardless of where the first game is played. What’s surprising is how putrid they’ve been in those situations this season.

And they’ve found themselves in that situation again Friday night, as the Celtics take on the Suns in Phoenix less than 24 hours and 1,300 miles removed from defeating the Trail Blazers 88-78 in Portland Thursday night.

Here’s how the Celtics have fared on the road during the second leg of back-to-back nights:

  • Oct. 27 at Cleveland: 95-87 loss
  • Nov. 8 at Dallas: 89-87 loss
  • Dec. 9 at Philadelphia: 102-101 win
  • Dec. 29 at Detroit: 104-92 loss
  • Jan. 8 at Chicago: 90-79 loss
  • Jan. 22 at Washington: 85-83 loss

Note: This doesn’t include the Nov. 22 game at Atlanta (a 99-76 win), because the game the day before (at Toronto) was played in the afternoon, not at night — allowing for extra travel/recovery time.

For those of you counting at home, that’s a 1-5 record in such instances, with the lone win a one-point decision over a 20-25 Sixers team that required a Kevin Garnett alley-oop with 1.4 seconds left.

The Celtics have five remaining games in these situations:

  • Friday at Phoenix
  • March 14 at New Jersey
  • March 19 at New Orleans
  • March 28 at Indiana
  • April 1 at Atlanta

Note: This doesn’t include Feb. 7 at Charlotte or April 11 at Washington because the games the previous days are in the afternoon.

Spar took this breakdown further, noting that the C’s have had four occurrences when they’ve played the second game on back-to-back nights at home (the first game was on the road each time). They’re 4-0 in those instances.

The fact that the Celtics are four-point favorites tonight in Phoenix makes all this even more interesting.

THE CASE FOR KENDRICK PERKINS

I won’t bore you with in-depth statistical analysis like I did the other day, so I’ll let the New York Times do it for me. If you like this stuff, as I do, you’ll love this piece about why Kendrick Perkins makes a huge difference.

While Perkins’ 36-minute averages last season of 13.2 points and 9.8 rebounds are good, they don’t reflect the Celtics center’s impact, particularly defensively. Even the adjusted plus/minus statistics that author Michael Lewis unveiled to portray the relative value of a player like Shane Battier don’t help Perkins’ case.

Over his last two seasons of action, Perkins has posted a -5.76 adjusted plus/minus, one of the worst marks in the league. Adjusted plus/minus is far from infallible, but characteristically it favors guys who fall in line with Perkins’€™ reputation: tough-defending, solid-rebounding, low-usage role players on winning teams.

Furthermore, when you look at the production of his individual opponents, Perkins’ 2009-10 numbers aren’t so favorable, either, as they were for Battier.

In each of his last two seasons, Perkins has allowed opposing centers to produce at an above average rate, a curiosity for a well-regarded player whose primary contributions come on the defensive end.

Yet, when you examine his per-possession statistics, it sheds some light on Perkins’ value.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Perkins allowed just 0.77 points per possession in the post during the 2009-10 season, a truly impressive mark. Opponents on the low block shot just 38.5 percent despite their proximity to the basket, and Perkins, amazingly, fouled opponents on only 6.3 percent of their post-up possessions. Go back to the 2008-09 season and the numbers get even better: 0.73 points per possession allowed and 35.4 percent shooting.

PORTLAND PERSPECTIVE

Following an ugly, ugly game that saw the Celtics tie a season-high for turnovers (21), the Trail Blazers still had high praise for their Eastern Conference foes. Here‘s what they told the Oregonian:

LaMarcus Aldridge: “They showed why they are champions. They played championship basketball. They do a good job of taking away the paint. Every time I wanted to go middle, I never saw anything [open]. I tried to force it a couple times, turned it over, but I think they are one of the best teams at not … letting you get to the basket.”

Nate McMillan: “That’s a great team. That team is prepared and built to win a championship. I thought our guys scrapped. I thought they played hard. They battled tonight. But they have so many options that they can go to. When you have that many options and that team is locked in to playing that way, knowing how to win. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Two other interesting statistics from the Celtics’ victory on Thursday night:

  • Portland out-shot the C’s, 90-64, but made only three more field goals (33-30).
  • In just 31 minutes, Kevin Garnett nearly recorded his first triple-double of the season (10 points, 9 rebounds and a season-high 9 assists).

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee or a future mailbag? Send an e-mail to brohrbach@weei.com or a Twitter message to @brohrbach.)

A small collection of Bill Walton phrases

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Celtics fans received a treat Thursday night when Bill Walton stepped in for Tommy Heinsohn alongside Mike Gorman on the Comcast SportsNet broadcast. Walton remains as goofy, weird and non-sequitur-ish as ever. Only Walton could drop a reference to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthday into a riff on basketball creativity, especially in a game that featured very little in the way of aesthetically pleasing basketball.

To be sure some people didn’t like Walton, whose crimes against broadcasting included: talking too much, saying weird things that made no sense, making sweeping over-the-top statements that couldn’t possibly hold up under scrutiny, and not being Tommy.

To those people we say: Lighten up. It’s Bill Walton! You were expecting something different?

The one thing that shown through the broadcast is that he loves the game and loves being around it. In April of last year, Walton told the San Diego Tribune that he had contemplated suicide because of the back pain that had nearly completely incapacitated him. Walton has been working a handful of Sacramento Kings broadcasts this year and is obviously thrilled to be back around the NBA.

If you missed him Thursday, Walton will also join Gorman for Friday night’s game in Phoenix and be on the Comcast set for Sunday’s game in Los Angeles.

This is just a small sampling of Walton’s witticism and odd one-liners, pulled from Twitter and my own notes. Some need more of a set-up than others. Please add others in the comments:

On oft-injured Portland center Greg Oden:

He should move to Hawaii, lose a ton of weight and start all over… become a yoga master

On former Pistons Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman:

They just made those decisions. That they were going to break all the rules of human decency.

After Doc Rivers argued a call:

Doc Rivers making sizable contributions to our website, ilovetherefs.org

On Ray Allen’s shooting form:

Flawless … like Yosemite Falls coming right through the rim

After pleading for Kevin Garnett to come back in the game, Walton seemed almost sad that Semih Erden was checking in instead.

Semih’s not as good as KG

After the camera caught Garnett in the middle of his pregame ritual where he bangs his head against the basket stanchion:

Kevin Garnett, working on his repetitive head injuries

On Portland center Joel Pryzbilla:

Pryzbilla does what he does best… violate the rules.