Archive for March, 2011

Race for top seed in Eastern Conference takes shape

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

A few weeks ago, the Celtics were in the driver’s seat for the best record in the Eastern Conference. After beating the Suns on March 2, their record stood at 44-15, three games ahead of the Bulls. Things changed quickly, as the Celtics went 3-4 over the next two weeks, while the Bulls reeled off eight straight wins to take a momentary lead.

The Celtics got themselves back on track with comeback wins against New Orleans and New York, and now with 13 games left in the regular season, the Celtics and Bulls are tied again at 50-9 heading into Chicago’s game with the Hawks on Tuesday night.

In examining the remaining schedule, the Celtics have a slightly tougher slate of games — but they own two tiebreakers. First, they have gone 2-1 against Chicago with the final matchup scheduled for April 7 at the United Center. If the Celtics win that game, they’ll own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even if they lose, they currently have a better conference record (33-6) than Chicago (30-9), which is the next tiebreaker.

The Celtics are on record as saying that health is their primary focus, not getting homecourt. Yet with 13 games left it remains a possibility and there is incentive. At stake is homecourt advantage as well as the benefit of playing a sub-500 team in the first round and avoiding a semifinal matchup with Miami.

Here’s how the schedule break down:

Record: 50-19 

Home: 6 (Memphis, Philadelphia, Toronto, Phoenix, Boston, New Jersey)

Road: 7 (Atlanta, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland, Orlando, New York)

Back-to-backs: 4 (Two second games at home against Toronto and New Jersey and two on the road against Milwaukee and Cleveland).

Playoff opponents: 6

Home: Memphis, Philadelphia, Boston

Road: Atlanta, Orlando, New York

Toughest stretch: After they play the Celtics on April 7, the Bulls have three games on the road against Cleveland, Orlando and New York before finishing the regular season at home against New Jersey. There are two back-to-backs against the Cavs and Nets.

RECORD: 50-19

Home: 6 (Memphis, Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, New York)

Road: 7 (Minnesota, Indiana, San Antonio, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, Miami)

Back-to-backs: 4 (One second game at home against Washington and three on the road against Indiana, Atlanta and Washington).

Playoff opponents: 7

Home: Memphis, Philadelphia, New York

Road: San Antonio, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami

Toughest stretch: There are actually two. The first is a four-game road trip that has two sets of back-t0-backs with Minnesota and Indiana followed by San Antonio and Atlanta. The second starts with the Bulls game and is followed by a back-to-back at home against Washington on Friday and then a trip to Miami for a Sunday afternoon game with yet another back-to-back against the Wizards, this time in Washington.

How many wins over the final 13 games will it take to clinch the East? Various projection models have it at 59, which would mean going 9-4 down the stretch. Justin Kubatko’s forecast at Basketball-Reference has the Bulls with a 57.4 percent probability of getting the top seed and he has the Celtics at 35.4 percent going into Tuesday night’s games. The Heat have a slim 7 percent chance. Based on the schedule, and also the Celtics stated intentions to not go all out for the top seed, the Bulls have to be considered the favorites but that can change in a week.

Irish Coffee: Celtics make statement(s) in New York

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

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

Make no mistake that Monday night’s Celtics victory against the Knicks was a statement by Doc Rivers & Co. that a) any discussion of a Celtics-Knicks rivalry still ends in a hammer-nail declaration, b) they care about the No. 1 seed more than people think, c) the Eastern Conference crown still belongs in Boston and d) Kendrick Perkins wasn’t the only tough guy in Green. The Associated Press pictures tell the whole story, so let’s let them (NOTE: click on the pictures in the rest of this entry to follow the links) …

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Fast Break: Celtics outlast Knicks

Monday, March 21st, 2011

For the second straight game the Celtics started poorly on the road and found their legs after halftime, and the result was another comeback win, as the Celtics rallied late to beat the Knicks, 96-86. The Celtics have been living dangerously, but perhaps they are proving something to themselves right now, as well. They can’t expect to play passively and win. Now they have to do it 48 minutes again.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rondo rallies: The point guard has been showing signs of coming out of his funk, but on Monday, he has still not looked like the Rajon Rondo of old. In the first half he pulled off a trio of Rondo-esque moves that stood out as the only first-half highlight. He carried that momentum into the second half and finally recorded double-digits in assists (12), his first in eight games, and finished with 13 points on 15 shots. It was by far his most aggressive outing in weeks.

Kevin Garnett leads second-half surge: It didn’t take long for an indication that the Celtics were not going to roll over in the second half. Garnett made sure of that, scoring their first eight points of the third quarter and throwing down a vicious transition dunk on Ronny Turiaf. He made many big plays in this game, but perhaps his biggest came when he chased down a loose ball and dove into Amar’e Stoudemire to force a jump ball.

Great theater at the MSG: The Celtics have played two games in New York this season and both have been classics. While this one lacked the drama — and quality play — of the December matchup, it every bit as intense. Allen left the game after catching an elbow that drew blood. Later, Carmelo Anthony got busted up after colliding with Rondo in mid-air. The Celtics showed better poise and more toughness down the stretch, but if these two teams meet in the playoffs expect the drama to be thick.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Second-unit struggles: One game after using a tight eight-man rotation in a win over the Hornets, Rivers went back to a platoon-style lineup using five reserves to start the second quarter. Four minutes in, the five had not scored a point and the Knicks were on their way to building a double-digit lead. The reserves went 2-for-10 in the first half, and while the 51-37 halftime deficit wasn’t all on them, they started the downhill slide.

Glen Davis had one of those nights: This was the bad version of Big Baby for the first three quarters. The one that misses jump shots and then allows himself to get outworked and outhustled by the likes of Turiaf — another undersized post player who relies on toughness and energy. Davis’ night was summed up by the flop he took on a phantom elbow by Anthony. While Davis lay on the ground, the Knicks raced downcourt.

On nights when his shot doesn’t fall, he still has to bring defense and energy to the game and both were in short supply until the fourth quarter when he brought both. Not surprisingly, the Celtics played much better defense. Davis is not a luxury player anymore. He has to anchor their defense every night.

Ray Allen’s tough night: Allen had a rough night shooting (4-for-15) and he took an even rougher elbow to the head that drew blood and sent him back to the locker room. But Allen returned — without stitches — and capped the night off with a clinching layup.

Irish Coffee: Who wants the No. 1 seed more?

Monday, March 21st, 2011

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

Arguing that the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is more important to the Bulls than the Celtics, Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen wrote, The Celtics know they can win on the road, while this Bulls team has yet to win a series under any circumstances.”

The logic is certainly sound, considering the veteran C’s defeated the Cavaliers and Magic and nearly won the 2010 NBA Finals as a No. 4 seed. But these are the Celtics’ probable Eastern Conference playoff matchups if they earn the No. 1 seed …

  • First Round: Pacers, Bucks or Bobcats
  • Eastern semis: Magic or Hawks
  • Conference finals: Bulls or Heat

And these are their probable conference playoff opponents if they get the No. 2 seed …

  • First Round: Knicks or 76ers
  • Eastern semis: Heat
  • Conference finals: Bulls

Now, which would you rather have? Door No. 1, right? Like, by a significant margin. Still, the Celtics seem to be aligning themselves with Thomsen’s thinking — at least, to NBA.com

Rajon Rondo: “If you ask me personally, I don’t think it’s so important. I think it’s important that we get our chemistry. We have a lot of new guys on our roster and lot of veterans. The focus should be on getting Shaq [O'Neal] back, getting J.O. [Jermaine O'Neal] back. Delonte [West] is getting acquainted. We’ve got to continue finding a way.”

Doc Rivers: “We’re gonna lean on the health side. I’m gonna always go that way, and we hope we can still win games and still get the No. 1 seed. But we’re not gonna get it if it means that we’re gonna have to give up health. Health is gonna be No. 1.

“Any timing when you get healthy is good timing. But I obviously would have preferred it to be right after the All-Star break. That’s when we hoped that everyone would be back and that we’d be able to kind of put the parts together. It just hasn’t happened. There’s nothing we can do about it. So we have to hope to figure it out on the fly.”

We should be able to determine if either team cares less about the top seed than the other simply by taking a look at whether or not Rivers or Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau are limiting their respective team’s minutes.

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Chris Broussard on M&M: ‘It comes down to the Celtics and the Heat’

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Chris Broussard

ESPN’s Chris Broussard joined the Mut & Merloni show Monday afternoon to talk about the Celtics and topics of interest around the NBA. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The C’s play the Knicks Monday night in New York. Broussard said despite the initial excitement over the addition of Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks aren’t a threat to knock off one of the East’s elite. And that was before the reported locker room discord that is swirling around the team during its recent struggles (five losses in the last seven games).

“They clearly have talent and should be dangerous,” Broussard said. “They don’t look that way right now. Even when they were looking good, I would never have picked them to win their first-round series over those top teams. But I did think they had maybe a puncher’s chance and could make it interesting. I still will say they could make it interesting if they get it together, but right now they don’t look like they’re any major threat to beat any of these top teams.”

The Celtics have their own problems, having lost four of their last seven games. Broussard speculated that much of the reason for the malaise falls on the trade of Kendrick Perkins, noting that Perkins and the struggling Rajon Rondo “were very tight.” He also said the Celtics still have a hole to fill with Perkins off the roster, and Shaquille O’Neal‘s absence exposes it that much more.

“I didn’t like [the trade] in the first place,” Broussard said. “With this kind of mystery involving Shaq, I like it even less.”

Added Broussard: “My biggest concern if I was a Celtics fan would be the lack of bulk and toughness that they now have without Kendrick Perkins. They only needed Perk for a few teams: Miami — that gave them a big advantage over the Heat — Orlando and the Lakers. You may be better matching up with Chicago without Perk. But if Shaquille O’Neal can’t come back and give you really quality minutes, and significant minutes, then I think a huge advantage that the Celtics had over everyone in the league is gone.”

Asked which team is the best in the East, Broussard said: “Boston, you’d have to give them their due respect. They’ve been great all year. I’m not going to hold this couple of weeks where they’ve struggled against them.”

Added Broussard: “I think if Miami plays the right way, they can win the East. And I feel a lot more comfortable about picking them in the preseason. But for most of this year, I have felt like it was Boston that’s the best team in the East. I like Chicago, but I still think at the end of the day it comes down to the Celtics and the Heat.”

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Irish Coffee: Delonte West ecstatic about Jeff Green

Friday, March 18th, 2011

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

 

While the Big Four of Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen probably looked at the Celtics-Thunder deadline deal as “The Kendrick Perkins Trade,” at least one member of the C’s saw it from a different perspective.

That’s because Delonte West knew better than his teammates what Jeff Green was capable of contributing, because — as West puts it — everybody who grows up playing basketball in the Washington D.C. greater metropolitan area knows each other. Not to mention the two played together on the SuperSonics for half the 2007-08 season.

“I played with Jeff in a few rec leagues before up at Georgetown, and I played with him in Seattle,” said West. “I know what he can do. I know what he’s capable of. In Oklahoma, you had a few guys taking all the shine over there, but when I heard we were getting Jeff Green, I was automatic ecstatic. I’ve been in the gym with him before in Seattle. The guy can play.”

Green could play then, and West believes his former teammate is even better now that he’s added a few weapons to his repertoire of skills. Green has averaged 11.1 points on 48.8 percent shooting in 23.1 minutes a night in 10 games for the Celtics.

“Of course he’s matured a little bit,” added West. “He’s a few years in now, and he’s only getting better. I see him shooting that 3 ball real comfortably. I already knew he could run the floor and how easy he can get points for us. That’s important.”

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Doc Rivers on Paul Pierce: ‘He’s the sneakiest athlete in the league’

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Paul Pierce

This has been an ongoing, and underrated, part of the Celtics season, but Paul Pierce has been finishing at the rim at a 72.4 percent clip. To put that in perspective, that percentage ranks fourth among NBA small forwards and is a slight tick ahead of LeBron James, who admittedly gets there more often.

For most of the season Pierce has quietly gone about his business, but in recent weeks he has been executing highlight-film poster dunks on players ranging from Kris Humphries to Carlos Delfino to the entire Clipper frontline and extending into Wednesday night’s dunk on Roy Hibbert. (Reds Army has the video highlights).

While Pierce doesn’t fit the mold of a high-flyer, this doesn’t come as a surprise to Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

“I told you this years ago when I first got here. I used to get so pissed when we played the Celtics because I used to think this non-athletic guy keeps beating us,” Rivers said. “Then when you coach him you realize he’s a super athlete. He just plays at a pace [where] he doesn’t show it. He’s the sneakiest athlete in the league.”