Archive for March, 2011

Why getting the second seed matters

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

The Celtics got a welcome break on Tuesday when the Heat were run out of Cleveland by the Cavaliers. It was a classic LeBron-fraude game as the would-be King had his entourage stopped by security and then skipped the pregame introductions, claiming he was still on his throne, as it were.

More importantly from the Celtics’ perspective, the Heat’s loss to the team with the worst record in the league knocked them back a step in their fight for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics remain two games behind the Bulls for the top spot with nine games left and a showdown looming in Chicago a week from Thursday. It’s not impossible for them to reclaim the top spot, but their more immediate problem is holding off the Heat for second place.

In addition to getting homecourt in the second round, the second seed carries with it the likelihood of a first round matchup with the reeling Knicks, while the third seed will probably draw the surging Sixers. Just how different have these two teams played over the last two months?

NEW YORK

Since acquiring Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups from the Nuggets, the Knicks have gone 8-12 and had lost six in a row and nine of their last 10 before escaping with an overtime win over Orlando on Monday.

New York’s main issue is its defense, which went from acceptably bad to downright awful since the trade. Among their issues are a tendency to foul too much and an inability to guard the mid-range game.

They also lack size in the middle — with Ronny Turiaf out they have been reduced to starting either Shawne or Shelden Williams at center — and depth everywhere else. Offensively, they have gone from a team that lived on high pick-and-rolls with Amar’e Stoudemire to one that plays through Anthony.

Along the way, they have lost twice against the Cavs, Bucks and Pacers and also dropped games to the Bobcats and Pistons. And you thought the Celtics’ transition was difficult.

PHILADELPHIA

Since late January, the 76ers have gone 21-11 and recorded wins over the Spurs, Celtics and Bulls. They are a team that plays defense first and while they’re not at the Celtics level, they are in the top 10 in efficiency, field goal percentage defense and rebounding.

After years of waiting for Andre Iguodala to become something that he is not, they seem to have finally accepted his limitations as go-to-scorer and embraced what he does well. Elton Brand has had an underrated comeback seasons and Jrue Holiday has had a breakthrough season at the point. Additionally, the Sixers have a top-notch bench with Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young leading the way.

No matter who they draw in the first round, the Celtics will be heavy favorites and how they perform in the playoffs will be much more about them than their opponent. Still, getting the second seed has its obvious advantages. The question for the Celtics and coach Doc Rivers, is how hard will he work his core players to get it?

The Celtics just went through a stretch of 12 games in 19 days and went 5-7 while showing some of the obvious signs of schedule fatigue. It won’t get any easier with the final nine games crammed into the last two weeks of the regular season and three sets of back-to-backs remaining.

Irish Coffee: Chris Herren’s fall and rise

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

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

As a junior at Boston University, I remember attending a Celtics game during the 2000-01 season and hearing a fan scream, “Hey, Chris Heroin!” He was, of course, referring to Chris Herren, the kid I’d read about years before in Bill Reynolds’ book, “Fall River Dreams.”

It was a sad commentary on how far the former Durfee High standout had fallen since being named a McDonald’s All-American in 1994. Now, 10 years later, at the age of 35, Herren is the subject of another Reynolds project, “Basketball Junkie: A Memoir.”

After almost three years of sobriety from the substances that destroyed his career, Herren has been on the anti-drug speaking circuit at high schools around New England, detailing the poor decisions that led to his expulsion from Boston College, exile from the NBA and near-death experience after tours of basketball duty everywhere from China to Iran.

Here are two of those decisions Herren has been sharing with high school athletes:

As a 14- or 15-year-old Durfee High freshman, Herren attended a party, where he and four friends took down a few drinks on a Friday night. When his curfew came calling, his head said to call his mother for a ride home, but his self esteem let his best friend drive him.

“I didn’t have the courage, I didn’t have the self-esteem to say, ‘You know what, guys? This drinking and driving isn’t cool, and I’m not going to be a part of it,'” said Herren. “I jumped in the back seat, got dropped off, and six or seven minutes later my best friend was dead.”

A few years after he failed to prevent his drunken best friend from getting behind a wheel and colliding with a telephone pole, Herren had become a Boston College-bound high school senior and one of 22 players selected to the McDonald’s All-American Game (along with three other former Celtics: Antoine Walker, Raef LaFrentz and Danny Fortson).

(more…)

Celtics live chat with Paul Flannery

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Join WEEI.com Celtics writer Paul Flannery is talking about all that is right, wrong, and in between when it comes to the Celts. Bring your opinions, analysis, and questions. It all starts at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday …

Celtics Live Chat

Fast Break: Fourth quarter dooms Celtics in loss to Pacers

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Just as the Celtics began to solve one problem, they ran into another in the fourth quarter against the Pacers. The Celtics played one of their best offensive games in weeks, but ran out of steam at the end of a back-to-back in a 107-100 loss. They made sloppy passes and missed free throws — two sure signs of fatigue — and were outscored 26-15 in the fourth quarter. In other words, they were playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road.

Here’s how it happened:

WHAT WENT WRONG

Foul trouble for the bigs: Kevin Garnett picked up his second foul with five minutes to go in the first quarter and the Celtics leading 22-12. By the time he returned the Pacers had a 37-35 lead. Garnett didn’t stick around long, getting his third foul two minutes later on an over-the back call. Nenad Krstic also spent the first half in foul trouble, which allowed the next thing to happen …

Roy Hibbert went off: Glen Davis does a lot of things for the Celtics and one of the most important is his willingness to guard taller players. Davis typically use his bulk to keep bigger post players out of the paint and his nimble feet to get to a spot on the floor and draw charges. Both skills were useless against Hibbert who simply shot over him and made 9-of-10 in the first half. Davis played well for the most part, but having to guard Hibbert wouldn’t have been in his job description if Garnett and Krstic hadn’t spent the night in foul trouble.

Jeff Green needed to assert himself: Over the last few weeks, Jeff Green has become the kind of offensive energizer the Celtics were looking for when they acquired him from Oklahoma City. Aside from getting to the line at the start of the fourth quarter, Green offered little in the way of an offensive spark in his 28 minutes of action.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rondo was Rondo: Rajon Rondo wasn’t supposed to play Monday night. An hour before the game tipped off, Doc Rivers told reporters in Indiana that his point guard would sit out a second straight game to rest his injured pinky finger. That changed about 45 minutes later when Rondo took the floor for warmups. In the first quarter he made all five of his shots (all on layups) and made two free throws. This is the Rondo they have been waiting for.

Third quarter rally: This would have been very easy for the Celtics to pack it in at halftime. They were down eight, it was the second game of a back-to-back and they weren’t getting the calls from the officials. Instead, they put together an impressive third quarter run that put 36 points on the board and gave them back the lead.

Paul Pierce picks up his game: Lost in all the angst over Rondo is that Paul Pierce has been the other missing ingredient in the Celtics’ offense. He’s shooting just 26 percent from 3-point range since February and while his percentages have dropped, his turnovers have risen. But Pierce shot the ball better — making 8-of-13 and going 3-for-4 from behind the arc.

Irish Coffee: What Jared Sullinger’s decision means to the Celtics’ future

Monday, March 28th, 2011

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

Over the weekend, when Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger vowed to return to Columbus for his sophomore season, the thought struck me: Because of the uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, could many college underclassmen be targeting 2012 rather than this year’s NBA draft?

It sure looks that way, and that benefits the Celtics — considering they own their 2012 pick and the selection that came with Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for Kendrick Perkins.

That pick from the Thunder is a little complicated. It’s top-10 protected and falls in the less favorable spot between the Clippers and Timberwolves. Basically, if either the Clips or Wolves capture any pick from 11-30, the lower one belongs to the Celtics. If both teams get top-10 picks, the pick gets pushed to the next season — until 2016, when it’s unprotected.

Considering the Clippers own the eighth-worst record this season and should improve based on a young roster that includes Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, there’s a legitimate chance the Celtics could own two picks in a draft that will be much better than anticipated.

Of the 40 college underclassmen projected as potential first-round picks, only three have declared to enter the 2011 NBA draft — and none of them is a lottery projection. Of course, the remaining 37 players have until April 24 to declare.

Still, two w0uld-be lottery guys (Sullinger and Texas freshman forward Tristan Thompson) are going back to school. According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, 23 of those 37 — and six potential lottery picks, including North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight — are “50-50″ with less than a month to decide. The remaining 12 still reportedly have “one foot in the door.”

So, if half of those 50-50 guys — along with Sullinger and Thompson — wait until 2012, that could push as many as 15 more potential first-round picks to a draft that might also include Celtics coach Doc Rivers‘ son Austin Rivers. With possibly two picks in that draft, the C’s should be able to add some serious young talent for cheap dollars in 2012.

With a lockout looming, at least Celtics fans have something to look forward to.

(more…)

Chris Mannix on D&C: Celtics don’t know what they have for playoffs

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Sports Illustrated NBA writer Chris Mannix appeared on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to talk about the Celtics and their recent struggles. To hear the interview, visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Mannix said he thinks there is something to the theory that the Celtics are disinterested in getting the one-seed and seem to think they’€™ll be able to just turn it on in the playoffs like they did last year.

‘€œI think there’€™s a lot of truth to that,’€ Mannix said. ‘€œI think we saw at the end of last year that the Celtics had the same kind of laissez-faire attitude about the end of the regular season. The difference last year, though, was the core of that team was still in tact and they kind of knew what they could do if they turned the jets on and played well in the postseason. This year, they’€™re banking on something that no one, including themselves, is sure is even there. You’€™re talking about bringing back [Shaquille O’€™Neal] and Jermaine [O’€™Neal].

‘€œImagine before the season if we thought getting into late March, early April, ‘€˜If only Shaq and Jermaine can come back, we’€™ll be OK for the postseason.’€™ To me, that’€™s a horrible attitude to have, if that’€™s what this team is thinking, that one of those guys can come back and be a difference-maker. Once Shaq comes back, he’€™ll only play for about two months, and who knows what kind of physical shape he’€™s in at this stage. And Jermaine has given you nothing all season long, so there’€™s no reason to believe he’€™s going to add anything to the equation.’€

Mannix said not getting the top seed could be a death knell for the Celtics. ‘€œI honestly think that not getting the No. 1 seed for Boston this year could be disastrous and could be the reason that they don’€™t come out of the Eastern Conference for two reasons,’€ he said.

‘€œNumber one, the difference between playing the 8 seed and the 7 seed this year is like playing the 16 seed in the NCAA tournament vs. a 2 or 3 seed. Whoever winds up in that 8 spot, be it Indiana, Milwaukee, Charlotte, I think they’€™re going to be a relative pushover in the first round. Maybe they take a team to five games. Most likely they get swept in four.

‘€œThat 7 seed, whether it’€™s New York or Philadelphia, those aren’€™t going to be easy games,’€ Mannix continued. ‘€œThey’€™re going to be kind of knock-down, drag-out games. They might push you to six, maybe even seven games. I think that’€™s something Boston really has to start to consider going into the postseason.’€

The hosts added that not only have the Celtics fallen behind the Bulls, but they’€™re also on the verge of getting passed by the Heat and dropping to third. ‘€œYeah, and that’€™s going to kill them, too,’€ Mannix said. ‘€œYou get into those second-round series that are inevitably going to go six games, probably seven games. You lose that homecourt advantage and that hurts, even against a team like Miami, whom, by the way, Boston hasn’€™t beaten yet with this new group. Same thing with Chicago.’€

Speaking of that new group, Mannix said the Kendrick Perkins trade has everything to do with this slump. ‘€œI 100 percent attribute it to the trade,’€ Mannix said. ‘€œI said as soon as this deal went down that it was the worst trade they could’€™ve possibly made. And I say that knowing exactly why it was made. ‘€¦ This was a one-sided trade, I thought. That’€™s taking nothing away from the obvious skill of Jeff Green. But Jeff Green, as much as you needed a backup swingman for this roster, you needed a powerful big up front more.

‘€œYou need a guy that brings the intensity every single night,’€ Mannix continued. ‘€œYou just mentioned that lackadaisical attitude. I think some of that would’€™ve been eliminated with Perkins in the lineup because he never takes plays off. The guy is aggressive all the time. With him in the lineup bringing that intensity, I think a lot of it would’€™ve rubbed off on some of his teammates. So I think they lost a physical presence and I think they lost a mental intense presence.’€

Fast Break: Celtics narrowly beat Wolves

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

For nine minutes the Celtics looked unbeatable. For the next 30 they looked like the Nets. They were able to pull off an 85-82 win because Paul Pierce found his offensive game just in time, Kevin Garnett did work on the post and the Wolves played like the Wolves, committing silly turnovers and throwing away chances to win the game.

The Celtics will take it, but this was not progress. This was against a team that had won 17 games and was playing without its best player in Kevin Love. Perhaps that first quarter gives them something to build on, or maybe the way they closed out the game defensively will give them a spark.

One way or another, however, the Celtics needed a win and here’s how they did it:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Fast start: The first quarter was a thing of beauty. The ball movement was crisp, the shots were well taken and there was an energy and bounce to the Celtics’ game. They shot 59 percent and had nine assists on 13 made field goal with zero turnovers. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, that kind of efficiency is hard to do against anyone. It was 15-5 after four minutes, 22-5 after six and 28-8 after nine. The Celtics then proceeded to do everything the opposite way after the opening quarter.

Kevin Garnett continues to bring it: If there’s one player who should escape scrutiny these days it’s Garnett, whose production has held steady this month. Garnett dominated the defensive glass when he was in the game and also served as a second point guard by making the extra pass and racking up assists. Garnett finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and five assists and was once again the Celtics’ best all-around player.

Delonte West filled in nicely for Rajon Rondo: Early in the game when the Timberwolves went under screens, West buried two jump shots. The T-Wolves adjusted and when they went over the screen, West hit Garnett on the roll who found Nenad Krstic open underneath for a layup. He finished with eight points, five assists and one huge offensive rebound that prolonged a possession and put the Celtics up five.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Nenad Krstic is still fighting himself: The Celtics made a concerted effort to get their center the ball in a position to score and the results were mixed. There were times when he caught it and went up strong for dunks, and there were others when he pump-faked himself into oblivion. Krstic didn’t play in the fourth quarter and except for a few brief flashes, he continues to look lost.

Glen Davis was outplayed by Anthony Tolliver: With Krstic struggling, the Celtics needed something positive from their other big man, but Davis missed 11-of-15 shots and was outworked by Tolliver, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds. To Davis’ credit, he played almost the entire second half after Rivers benched Krstic.

Paul Pierce, also struggling: Pierce’s offense has come and gone lately. Fortunately for the Celtics he was able to turn it back on in the final three minutes and help the Celtics pull off the win. Pierce’s stat line of 23 points and 7 rebounds looks solid, but he shot 2-for-8 from 3-point range and continues to struggle with his shot. Like Davis, Pierce redeemed himself with solid play down the stretch.