NEW YORK — For as long as Rajon Rondo plays with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, people will question his place in the great point guard hierarchy. Is he a product of the environment of playing with three future Hall of Famers or a great player in his own right? Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni raised the issue prior to Game 4 of the Celtics’ first-round playoff series with New York.
“He’s a very good player,” D’Antoni said. “I’d like to see him play in Minnesota and see how he does. Everybody’s tied together and they have three Hall of Famers playing out there. But Rondo’s a very, very good basketball player. Really good. There’s no doubt about that.”
Rondo had 20 assists against the Knicks in Game 3 and at least nine of those were on jump shots, according to Synergy Sports, which tracks every play. But Rondo also had a triple double in the game, his sixth in his postseason career.
“You play with those guys, that’s probably what you’re going to get,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t think he would trade it. I think he enjoys playing with them. If there is a negative side — I guess — that would be it. No matter how well you play, the question will be [that]. And someday that will be answered, too. I’ve got a feeling he’ll answer them all in the way he’s answering them now.”
Asked if this kind of talk fueled Rondo, Rivers said, “I don’t talk about it a whole bunch. He doesn’t bring it up a lot. It probably does in some way, it would bother anyone in some way and it’s probably good for him. Keep doing it. If it’s going to make him play like this, I’m all for it.”
NEW YORK — Follow WEEI.com’s Paul Flannery, Ben Rohrbach and Mike Petraglia as they join a cast of experts in breaking down Game 4 of the Celtics’ first-round Eastern Conference matchup with the Knicks …
NEW YORK — Step one was getting the defense in order. Step two was finding a way to make the offense function better. Step three, and possibly the final step in getting the Celtics on the right track for the rest of the playoffs is unlocking the potential of the second unit.
Delonte West, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic have all started at various times in their career. Glen Davis is practically a starter for the Celtics, so the talent is there. But for whatever reason those four have not functioned well either as a group, or individually.
The numbers are not pretty. Through three games of the postseason, those four have averaged just nine points, nine rebounds and three assists, while shooting 14-for-45 in 179 minutes.
“It’s something I’ve got to do, I know that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said on Saturday after the team had a brief walkthrough at Madison Square Garden. “I’ve got to get them playing right. We’re searching I can tell you that because we need them in this series and we need them to play well.”
No one is standing out for the bench crew right now, which has magnified the pressure on all of them. Rivers had a quiet conversation with Davis after practice and simply told him to keep playing hard.
“We need him,” Rivers said. “He can play better. I can help him play better. I told him I was going to try keeping to do that as long as he keeps his end. Baby’s an energy player for us. As Pat Riley used to tell me — and everyone else — thinking hurts the team. When you start thinking what’s wrong you usually play poorly.”
Davis has struggled shooting jumpers all season and while he’s started trying to maneuver closer to the basket in recent games, he has had a difficult time shooting over the Knicks more athletic players. Davis is the Celtics most important reserve, but they also need more from Green.
Game 3 wasn’t a breakout game for Green, but it was his best of the playoffs as he scored nine points and earned praise from Rivers for his defense.
“He played much better,” the coach said. “Defensively, he was terrific. He’s starting to cut better for us. We got him a couple of nice cuts where he got deep posts and got his spot. He’s getting there. Jeff is going to help us.”
This is Green’s first time coming off the bench since his rookie season. He has said that the adjustment is all mental and it’s something he’s still getting used to doing. He also has to be something of a go-to guy for the reserves because they lack a dominant scorer with this group. Should the Celtics advance, Green will become a very important player in their series with the Heat because they play so many unorthodox lineups.
Even with all that no one has struggled more than Krstic. He has attempted just one shot, a jumper in Game 1 when he had a clear path to the basket. He saw second-half minutes in Game 3 only because of the score and he has grabbed just three rebounds in the series.
Rivers hasn’t given up on Krstic yet, but there are other options, namely Troy Murphy.
“There’s always another guy when the other guy’s not working,” Rivers said. “Troy’s working his butt off, I can tell you that. Him and Von [Wafer], they may be guys that help us win a game.”
NEW YORK — In the Kevin Garnett era, the Celtics have won eight playoff series and lost only two, but they have had a strange inability to close out series, especially on the road. The Celtics are 8-11 in elimination games and 1-9 on the road in those situations.
The one win came against Detroit in Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference finals and was hailed at the time as a breakthrough for a team that was still learning how to play with each other in the playoffs. That 1-9 record has cost them twice. In 2009 they lost Game 6 in Orlando and then were knocked out on the TD Garden floor in Game 7. Last season the Celtics had two chances to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles and lost them both.
They have a chance to take care of the Knicks on Sunday and the odds are in their favor, considering point guard Chauncey Billups is not likely to play and Amar’e Stoudemire is having problems with his back.
But it’s never easy. Take last season’s first round matchup against Miami. The Celtics won a dramatic Game 3 on Paul Pierce‘s last-second game-winner and the talk in South Florida was about how the Heat didn’t want to get back on a plane and take their beating in Game 5 back in Boston. Instead, they rallied from a 77-71 deficit in the fourth quarter and rode Dwyane Wade‘s incredible shooting back to Boston.
“Close-out games are difficult because it’s the one game where you tend to let your guard down,” Kevin Garnett said. “[They] make you tend to relax versus remembering the things that got you there and how you put yourself in a position to close out.”
One would think that a veteran team like the Celtics would have an advantage in these situations because of their experience, but their record shows otherwise. Either way the Celtics are confident in their approach.
“It’s not difficult for me by any means,” Ray Allen said. “I don’t look it as a close-out game. I just look at it as another game we have to play and another game we have to win. Last night we didn’t win anything. We just have to go out and do our jobs and that’s how I look at it.”
One area they want to carryover from Game 3 is their execution offensively. Obviously Pierce and Allen aren’t going to make 25 of 37 shots again, but the shots were just the end result of an offensive that functioned better than it has in months.
“I attribute that to the bigs being in good position and setting great screens and [Rajon] Rondo playing with great speed,” Allen said. “If my guy has to shift just a little bit the one way and I go the other way then he’s beat already. All those little small things help.”
Still, they pointed to their 20 turnovers and the fact that they were so perimeter oriented.
“We made shots and we’re all really smart when we make shots,” Doc Rivers said. “Paul and Ray were 14-for-18 from the 3, if they had been 3-for-18 from the 3, you would have been saying, ‘Doc why didn’t you post the ball up more.’”
SHAQ UPDATE: The Celtics didn’t have a full practice on Saturday and there was no opportunity to see if Shaquille O’Neal was ready to play, so he was ruled out of Game 4. Rivers insisted that they are not holding him out for any strategic purposes because of their 3-0 lead.
“He didn’t feel great, so I’m not taking a chance,” Rivers said. “I’d still like to use him. If he could play I’d play him because I think it would be good for him. The minute he can play he’ll be on the floor.”
THE RAY AND PAUL SHOW: After Game 3, Pierce noted that he was enjoying watching Allen light it up from the outside. Allen had the same reaction.
“I just kept seeing Paul make shots, I was like man, Paul is hot right now, keep giving him the ball,” Allen said. “I felt like I was in the meantime, keep giving Paul the ball.”
Allen was asked if this game was the antidote to all their offensive problems over the last month and a half. “I didn’t question it,” he said. “I know what we need to do and we’ve always known that. It’s just going out and doing it.”
Kevin Garnett and the Celtics got the better of Amar'e Stoudemire and the Knicks Friday night. (AP)
For the last three days all the Celtics have been saying is that they have to play better. Their lead on the Knicks in their first round playoff series was great, but they knew they got away with uneven performances in both games. New York had something to do with that too, especially some of their role players who played above their heads, to say nothing of the tremendous individual performances by Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
But the Celtics believed that the close games had more to do with their inconsistencies. “I just want us to play well,” Doc Rivers said prior to tip-off. “[If] we play well, we will see what happens.”
They played well in Game 3. They played perhaps their best playoff game since Game 5 in Cleveland last year when they silenced LeBron James and the Cavaliers and kickstarted their run to the NBA finals. The feeling inside Madison Square Garden was eerily reminiscent. A hopped up crowd was stunned to silence early and when the Knicks tried to make a run early in the second half, the Celtics went into kill mode.
The result was a 113-96 blowout that gave them a commanding 3-0 lead. This is what the Celtics look like when they play well.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
What’s better than a great start? What the Celtics did: The pregame chatter was all about the Knicks riding the energy of the first home playoff game in seven years to a quick start. Instead it was the Celtics who established the early pace. They led 22-5, their biggest lead of the series and got center Ronny Turiaf in early foul trouble. Coming into another team’s arena and taking the crowd out of the game has always been a point of pride for the Celtics. “If you want to bother us, tell no one to come,” Doc Rivers said an hour before tipoff. “That will freak us out.”
Paul Pierce was locked in: In another quiet Celtics locker room before the game, Paul Pierce saw a couple of players engaged in small talk with a couple of reporters. “None of that,” Pierce said quietly but forcefully. He wasn’t kidding. Pierce was in his own world, all business, and he played like it, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. He took over at various times and seemed to make every big shot whenever the Knicks threatened to make a run. Ray Allen was phenomenal. Rajon Rondo had a triple double and 20 assists , but this was Pierce’s game.
The Celtics owned the 3-point line: Late in the season, the Celtics game from behind the arc went missing. It looks like they found it. Allen knocked down 8 of 11 and now has made an incredible 15-for-20 in the series. Pierce added six more and the Celtics made 14 3′s, which was a season high. They obviously won’t shoot this well again, but their success from behind the arc is a good sign for a team that has been fighting to recapture its offensive identity.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The bench was better, but still ineffective as a group: First, the bad news. The Celtics big first quarter lead evaporated as soon as Rivers went to his bench. Like clockwork it seems these days. But there was a glimmer when the second unit was able to keep the lead at five points. Not great, but it was something. There was some honest to goodness good stuff too. Jeff Green finally provided some offensive punch scoring seven first half points. But the backups have to start playing better soon.
Too many turnovers: This is nitpicking considering how well the Celtics played, but they once again turned the ball over too much. Considering the score and the way they cleaned up their work on the defensive glass, it’s perhaps asking too much for them to play a perfect game, but the turnover problem has been an issue.
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
Considering all that’s gone wrong for the Knicks in this first-round NBA Playoffs series, the Celtics should put them in a 3-0 hole on Friday night in New York — a deficit no NBA team has ever returned from. Here are 10 reasons why that should happen …
10. They’re underdogs? The Celtics are 3.5-point underdogs to the Knicks in Game 3, according to Bodog.com. A lot of teams use the “nobody believes in us” mentality as inspiration, but most times it’s a load of B.S. Except nobody actually does believe in these Celtics. When’s the last time you heard so much negativity about a returning conference champion that leads their first-round opponent 2-0 while holding said opponent — which nearly led the league in scoring — to an average of 89 points per game?
By the way, some fun props for Friday night’s game: Ronny Turiaf has the longest odds of any expected starter to score the game’s first points (8/1); “Will Ray Allen make his first field goal?” is even money; the over/under for points for Paul Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett are 19.5, 16.5 and 14.5, respectively; and the over/under for Rajon Rondo‘s total points and assists is 24.
9. Doc Rivers > Mike D’Antoni: If you believe what TNT analyst Charles Barkley said, the Knicks are being coached by a guy who will be fired at season’s end. Meanwhile, the Celtics desperately want their leader to return to the bench next year — if there is a next year in the NBA. That should tell you all you need to know about how lopsided the coaching matchup has been in this series. And if you haven’t read Paul Flannery’s breakdown of Rivers’ exceptional execution, you should.
8. The MSG atmosphere: Who’s more prepared to play in front of what is going to be an insanely raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden tonight — the team that has played 30 road playoff games in the past four years or the team that’s played none at home?
The Knicks were the team playing with nothing to lose in Games 1 and 2. Now, they have plenty to lose, like the respect of the New York fans. And the Celtics are the ones playing loose. Do you expect anyone outside of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire or Chauncey Bilups to rise to the occasion for the Knicks in the face of that kind of pressure?
7. The bench is due: During his interview on WEEI’s Big Show, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said Celtics coach Rivers is expecting a breakout game from Jeff Green on Friday night. Green has been the focal point of the criticism of the Celtics’ bench during this series, but Glen Davis, Delonte West and Nenad Krstic carry some of the blame, too.
The C’s bench has been outscored 46-22, and those four guys have shot 9-of-30 in Games 1 and 2. If Toney Douglas is in the starting lineup again, you could make the claim that Green, Davis, West and Krstic are better than anybody the Knicks can bring off the bench. I mean, did you even know Roger Mason Jr. was still in the NBA?
6. Anthony’s play should Melo out: What are the chances Carmelo Anthonychannels Bernard King and totals 40-plus points, 15-plus rebounds and five-plus assists again? Considering Anthony only exceeded 40 points twice, 15 rebounds once and five assists six times in 77 games this season, I’d say it’s extremely unlikely.
The Celtics have mismatches against both Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni and guard Landry Fields. (AP)
5. Landry Fields looks like a lost puppy: The Knicks’ starting shooting guard is 2-for-7 in 34-plus minutes in the series, and he’s looked even worse that that. Meanwhile, his defensive assignment (Ray Allen) has averaged 21 points on 65.2 percent shooting. The playoff atmosphere has clearly messed with Fields’ psyche. But, hey, at least he can blog:
I don’t think there are too many adjustments we need to make for Game 3. Here and there, we might sniff out a few plays before they happen. But other than that, I think with our energy level and the pace that we run at, it should be hard for them.
There is some uncertainty with Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups, but we can only focus on things that we can control. We hope those guys have a speedy recovery and hopefully they’ll be back tonight. We might know going into the game whether they’re available, but still, I don’t think that sways us in what we need to do. Because we didn’t have Amar’e for the second half of Game 2 and we still played it pretty tough. Either way, we should be all right.
If the Knicks don’t make many adjustments for Game 3, they’ll lose again, because the Celtics haven’t even played their best game of the series yet.
4. Keeping up with the Joneses: And by Joneses, I mean the Bulls and Heat. It hasn’t exactly been easy for those teams in the playoffs, either, but they each have 3-0 leads against the Pacers and 76ers, respectively. The last thing these old Celtics need is to stretch this Knicks series longer than it needs to be. They’re better than a .500 team that doesn’t have a healthy starting point guard or power forward, and they don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they’re facing a younger Heat team that’s also more rested.
3. Chauncey Billups isn’t healthy: The Knicks’ floor general has a strained left knee, and all indications are that he won’t play in Game 3, although he is listed as questionable before a game-time decision. New York Newsday reporter Alan Hahn set the chances of Billups playing at 10 percent. That means the worst defender on a bad Knicks defense (Douglas) will be matching up against the most important offensive player for the Celtics (Rondo).
2. Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t healthy: Based on the New York Post’s latest report, Stoudemire was “definitely hurting” on Thursday night. He was still “walking gingerly” on Friday morning and hasn’t even attempted to run yet, much less practice. Even if his game-time decision is a positive one, Stoudemire won’t be 100 percent.
1. An extra motivated KG: As if Garnett needed anything else to fire him up for a playoff game at Madison Square Garden, an anonymous NBA star wrote an ESPN.com column, calling the Celtics star “a punk and a coward” …
Don’t worry, I’ll tell him to his face, too. And I’m not the only one who thinks that: If you’re not on his team, chances are you hate the guy. You can learn a lot about him by watching his eyes. If he’s talking to you — and he’s always talking — he avoids eye contact. My advice to other guys in the league: Stare him down, and he’ll retreat. From what I’ve seen, he’ll never mix it up with a player who’s bigger than he is. Personally, I think he’s scared to fight — like a playground bully who barks but doesn’t bite.
But I have to admit, the Celtics are the most talkative guys in the league. And that makes sense, because it’s the mark of a championship team. Mouths help you win big games. Ray Allen got mean in Boston, and Paul Pierce will look at you, say, “Stop this,” then drop a J on your head.
Dear Player X, Garnett might not look you in the face, but at least you know who’s talking. KG has two double-doubles in two games in this series. Facing an ailing Stoudemire or an ailing Ronny Turiaf or a fully healthy Shelden Williams should mean a third. As Garnett wrote in his Anta blog, “we gotta come out firing next game.”
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee or a future mailbag? Send an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or a Twitter message to @brohrbach.)