Archive for March, 2011

Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics kick Spurs

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Rajon Rondo recorded 22 points and 14 assists (to go along with zero turnovers), leading the Celtics in an inspired 107-97 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday night.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also eclipsed 20 points and Glen Davis netted 16 points off the bench for the Celtics (52-22). While Jermaine O’Neal returned after nearly three months to score five points in 11 minutes, Celtics starting center Nenad Krstic left the game with a “right knee injury” and did not return.

Tony Parker and Tim Duncan reached the 20-point mark as the Spurs (57-18) dropped their fifth straight.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Pierce and Rondo asserting themselves: Pierce scored 12 first-quarter points to keep the Celtics competitive despite allowing 33 first-quarter points, and Rondo sparked a 14-3 run to close the third quarter as the C’s established a 77-70 lead entering the fourth quarter. In all, Pierce and Rondo took 36 shots, making 19 of them. Rondo was so good, even his jump shots were falling, causing the Spurs coaching staff to toss their hands up in disgust.

Buckling down on defense: After the Spurs made 12-of-24 shots and scored 33 points in the first quarter, the Celtics held them to 15-of-44 shooting and 37 points over the next two quarters. Entering the game as the league’s sixth-leading scoring team, the Spurs controlled the (quick) pace in the early going, but the Celtics put a stop to that in the second quarter.

The return of Jermaine O’Neal: In limited action, O’Neal played with surprising energy and range of movement, considering he hadn’t seen the court since Jan. 10. He knocked down his only two shots, including an impressive turnaround over Matt Bonner in the first quarter. Should Krstic’s injury be severe, the Celtics will be relying more heavily on O’Neal than they ever expected, and Thursday night’s performance was a positive sign.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Celtics’ bigs problem gets bigger: Just as Jermaine O’Neal got back into the fold, and as Shaquille O’Neal gets closer and closer to his return, Krstic’s leg bent the wrong way in the second quarter. He left the game clutching his right knee. Krstic did not return, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers told TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge, “We don’t know for sure, but it does not look good.” In 2006, Krstic tore his left ACL.

Defending the paint: The Celtics gave up 26 points in the paint in the first half and 50 total. Spurs point guard Tony Parker got to the rim at will early, leading all scorers with 14 points in the opening 24 minutes. His ability to penetrate opened things up for the Spurs inside. Of course, Garnett’s two quick first-quarter fouls left the Celtics without their best interior defender in that span for more minutes than they would have liked.

Second-chance opportunities: The Celtics shot 48 percent in the first half, and the Spurs made just 40 percent of their attempts, yet the two teams were tied at the half. The C’s allowed eight offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points in the first half alone.

NBA Power Rankings, 3/31

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

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Los Angeles Lakers1. LA Lakers (53-20): Kobe Bryant recently said if he weren’t a basketball player, he’d be a bum. The rest of the league wishes he were the latter right about now. The Lakers are 15-1 since the All-Star break.

Chicago Bulls2. Chicago (54-20): The Bulls are one of two teams that haven’t lost three straight games all season. The other? The Celtics. The difference is that the Bulls have been better bottom feeders, recording a 31-6 record against lottery-bound teams.

San Antonio Spurs3. San Antonio (57-17): With Tim Duncan in the lineup, the Spurs are 56-13 (.812 winning percentage). Without him, they’re 1-4 (.200). The guy’s still got it, and he should be in the lineup on Thursday night against the Celtics.

Dallas Mavericks4. Dallas (53-21): While the surging Bulls and Lakers get all the attention, the Mavericks have quietly reeled off another five-game winning streak. Meanwhile, owner Mark Cuban not-so-quietly explained how to beat the Lakers: “Anything that puts the ball in Ron Artest‘s hands is always a good thing.” Except when its Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Boston Celtics5. Boston (51-22): I maintain that the Celtics are better than the Mavericks, Spurs or Bulls – and should still be the favorites to win the East – but I can’t slot them any higher simply because of that atrocious loss to the Bobcats. Until they start trying again, this is where they’ll sit. While they’re at it, they should ponder why their record against playoff teams (25-11) is nearly identical to their record against non-playoff teams (Hint: effort).

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Danny Ainge: Shaquille O’Neal ‘is going to play Sunday or Tuesday’

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge joined The Big Show for his weekly interview on Thursday afternoon. Ainge was first asked about the status of Shaquille O’Neal. Doc Rivers indicated earlier on Thursday that O’Neal’s achilles injury could be a problem in the postseason.

“I was just with Shaq, we were just working out down in Waltham,” said Ainge. “Shaq is either going to play Sunday or Tuesday. … I think that Doc probably — “bleed into the playoffs” — I think is something different than he’s not going to play until the playoffs. But it looks like he’s ready to go Sunday or Tuesday.”

Jermaine O’Neal – sidelined since January 12 after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee — is scheduled to make his return to the lineup Thursday vs. the Spurs. Ainge feels both O’Neal centers must be playing key minutes for the Celtics to make a run in the postseason.

“First of all, there’s a couple of things,” Ainge said. “With Shaq on the court this year, in the games he started for us, our offense and our defense has been better than it’s been for four years. That tells you how important Shaq is, how important his presence is alone. Second of all, Jermaine has been — in limited minutes — he has been the best defensive center on our team this entire season. So that tells you a little bit about what they’ve been able to do in Jermaine’s limited time and Shaq has played some significant minutes. That tells you all right there.”

The Celtics have struggled mightily as of late, losing seven of its last 12 games. Ainge dismissed the notion that the slump is a result of the trade that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma State.

“There’s been some discussion, I’ve been asked a lot about the emotional element of the team. We won five in a row after the trade. There was no emotional element, the team was playing great. … I think our big four have all had a drop-off in the 12-game stretch. I don’t know [why], it just happens. Rondo and KG have had the biggest significant drop, and Paul and Ray have stayed at a fairly high level but not as high as they did in the first 50 games. The only player playing better since the trade have been Kristic and Jeff Green.

“Our defense, from the time of the trade to the time before the trade, has not waned at all,” continued Ainge. “Our defense numbers are almost identical. Our offense has gone from being the best field-goal percentage team in the league — in a decade in the first 45 games of the year — to being 20th in the league this year. To me, it’s still KG hanse;t been talking as many shots. KG is not demanding the ball. And I know he’s going to do that, I know he’s going to do that more.”

Isiah Thomas rips Larry Bird again

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Has Isiah Thomas been? (AP)

After Larry Bird‘s Celtics defeated his Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference finals, Isiah Thomas told reporters Bird “would be just another good guy” if he were black.

Now, 24 years later, in a FOX Sports interview, Thomas throws another jab in Bird’s direction — tossing Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson under the bus along the way.

“I have no problem saying this at all,” he says. “They’re all 6-(feet)-9 and Jordan was 6-6 and a half. If they were all 6-1, it wouldn’t even be a question. They wouldn’t even f—ing rate. If they were all my size, s—, they wouldn’t even be talked about.

“I beat the s— out of them when they were that big. If we were all the same size, f—.” He stops to laugh good-naturedly. “Make them 6-1 and let’s go on the court.”

For the record, Thomas retired with two NBA titles as a player. Jordan (6), Magic (5) and Bird (3) all finished their careers with more, but who’s counting?

Thomas has been accused of freezing out Jordan at the 1985 All-Star Game, questioning Magic’s sexuality in the wake of his former friend’s HIV diagnosis, bankrupting the Continental Basketball Association and sexually harrassing a coworker as Knicks GM.

And he wonders why he’s been exiled from the NBA. Hmm, I wonder …

Irish Coffee: Jermaine O’Neal’s Celtics impact

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

On Feb. 1, when the Celtics began a two-month-plus stretch without either of the O’Neal “brothers,” if you had to put your life savings on which one would return first, how many people would’ve put money on Jermaine O’Neal?

Not many, me included. I know I would’ve put my $47 on Shaquille O’Neal. And, as Dale Arnold might say, if you gave Doc Rivers Sodium Pentothal, he’d probably admit that he would’ve rather had Shaq back first. But that’s not the case.

Jermaine O’Neal is returning to the Celtics lineup for the first time since Jan. 10, when his knee swelled to the point of no return. In 17 games this season, he had averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes.

So, what, exactly, can we expect from Jermaine O’Neal? If we can agree that all the Celtics need to replace Kendrick Perkins‘ minutes are guys who can defend bigs, rebound the basketball and knock down open shots created by the Big Four, then J.O. can give you plenty. Not as much as Shaq, but it’s something, right?

Let’s start with defense. Here are the points per possession (PPP) and field-goal percentages allowed by Perkins, Shaq, J.O. and Nenad Krstic on man-to-man defense in their limited time as Celtics this season:

  • Kendrick Perkins (7 games): 0.81 PPP on 41.0 percent shooting
  • Shaquille O’Neal (36 games): 0.77 PPP on 37.6 percent shooting
  • Jermaine O’Neal (17 games): 0.76 PPP on 35.2 percent shooting
  • Nenad Krstic (17 games): 0.90 PPP on 44.2 percent shooting

In a limited sample size, Jermaine O’Neal actually gave the Celtics the best defense of all four guys. Even if he can give them 15 minutes a night, that might limit Krstic’s ineffectiveness on the defensive end. When Shaquille O’Neal returns, the C’s should finally have the defensive depth at center that can fill the void left by Perkins.

Now, let’s look at rebounding. Here are the rebounding rates — or the percentage of missed shots corraled by a player in his time on the floor — for those same bigs:

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Jon Barry on Celtics winning Eastern Conference: ‘I think they will’

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Appearing on the Dennis & Callahan Show, ESPN NBA analyst Jon Barry said despite the Celtics’ recent struggles, he still believes they will win the Eastern Conference when it’s all said and done. (To listen to the entire interview, click here.)

“I don’t put a lot of stock what happens at the end of the regular season,” Barry said. “Last year the Lakers lost 7 of 10 and went on to win the thing. Boston was 27-27 their last 54 and got to the Finals in the seventh game. So I wouldn’t read too much into this. But I’m a bit concerned because I really thought they were the best team with Kendrick Perkins on their roster. Now I think they let the pack in a little bit closer to them. I still think they can win the East and I think they will, but I think they’ve brought the other teams back to where they have a better opportunity to beat them.

“I like their experience,” Barry added. “I think Chicago has had a tremendous year but this is a team that hasn’t gone past the first round. The Miami Heat I think still aren’t ready to do it, come playoff time they’re not built for playoff basketball. I do believe the Celtics will come back and circle the wagons and be ready to go and be the team to beat in the East.”

Barry explained that he was taken aback at how much trading Perkins away has affected the Celtics.

“I’m a bit surprised,” the analyst said. “This was the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference with Kendrick Perkins playing 12 games. The impact that he’s made on the floor obviously hasn’t been that big and they’ve played through it. I’m a bit surprised that they’re losing games. They haven’t been able to score. Their execution late in games has been poor. It’s kind of been there bugaboo the last few years.”

Some of the other topics touched on by Barry …

The Celtics recent struggles: “Obviously, since the Kendrick trade this team has not played well. [Rajon] Rondo in particular has not played well. We know how close he was with Kendrick Perkins. I know he has a pinky issue. There’s been no bones about it that these guys are unhappy that Kendrick’s left. Doc Rivers has felt the same way and they got to find a way to crank it back up here as we get started her in couple weeks for the real season.”

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Irish Coffee: Celtics should stop making excuses

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

The Celtics are 5-7 in their last 12 games. You know that. I know that. And they know that. There’s nothing you and I can do about it, but there’s plenty they can — starting with taking some responsibility for coughing wins up to teams like the Nets and undermanned Bobcats.

Just listen to the comments from Celtics veterans in a recent HoopsWorld story

Ray Allen: “I’m not comfortable, and I think even if we didn’t make trades we still had injuries where we were still playing catch up. I’m not comfortable.”

Was he more comfortable taking the same amount of shots per game in January (11.9), when the C’s finished 12-4 without Kendrick Perkins while Allen averaged more points, rebounds and assists than he did this month?

Paul Pierce: “It’s hard when you got pieces missing every other week, it seems like. In another week, we’re going to be a whole new team.”

Was it hard when the Celtics went 33-10 without Perkins for the first 43 games of the season, or when they finished 19-6 in their first 25 games without Shaquille O’Neal — or did it get exponentially harder over the last 12 games against powerhouses like the Nets and Bobcats?

And then listen to the comments from the newest Celtics in that same HoopsWorld story …

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