Archive for December, 2011

Starting five: Thoughts on the Celtics’ struggles through season’s first five days

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Doc Rivers called Jermaine O'Neal the MVP of camp, but he's contributed almost nothing through three games. (AP)

Last Friday, before leaving for their Christmas day showdown against the Knicks, Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked that the media would have to calm fans down if his team started the season slowly. Unfortunately for Rivers, Boston’s first three games have left the team winless, with the very panic that Rivers seemed to anticipate ensuing.

Perhaps the most glaring issue through three games is Boston’s proclivity to fall behind early in contests. The Celtics have trailed by sizable margins at the half in each of their three games, the smallest deficit being nine.

Although Boston displayed strong fortitude against both Miami and New York — finding itself within striking distance in the last two minutes of each game after falling behind by double-digits — they know playing catchup is not a winning recipe.

“All the teams were the aggressors initially,” back-up guard Keyon Dooling told reporters Wednesday night, following the team’s loss to New Orleans. “We were on our heels trying to bounce back. We can’t be that type of team. We have to be a hit-first team if we want to be successful.”

Boston showed some of Dooling’s “hit-first” mentality against the Hornets, jumping out to a 9-2 advantage. However, playing in the second game of a back-to-back caught up to the Celtics, as New Orleans finished the first quarter on a 22-9 run. “We played tired,” Rivers told reporters. “We looked tired. It happens.”

Another alarming trend is overall team defense. In the previous four years of the new “Big Three” era, Boston has allowed an average of 92.6 points per game. Meanwhile, this season the Celtics are allowing 106 points per game. Looking even closer, the Celtics gave up 60 or more points in the first half only four times last season. This season Boston allowed 62 points in the first half against New York, and followed that performance by giving up 69 points through 24 minutes two days later in Miami. (more…)

Fast Break: Slow Celtics get stung by Hornets

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

There’s no sense worrying about the schedule because it’s not going to slow down anytime soon. There’s no use pining for Paul Pierce because the last thing the Celtics need is for him to be bothered by his bone bruise all season long. This is the Celtics’ reality and right now they are 0-3 after a dispiriting 97-78 loss to New Orleans.

Their legs may be tired after playing at warp speed against Miami on Tuesday, but the Celtics barely resemble their teams of recent vintage. Their offense was stagnant (16 assists and 37 percent shooting) and their defense was slow and lumbering.

The unfortunate symbol of their lethargy was Kevin Garnett who was outplayed by Carl Landry one night after getting worked by Chris Bosh. Garnett had no lift, scoring just eight points in 26 minutes and was often caught behind the play on pick and rolls. Garnett was far from the only offender, but on a night when the Celtics needed something from their All-Star forward, he didn’t have the legs to deliver.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel with games against Detroit, Washington (twice) and New Jersey next on tap. Three of those are at home beginning Friday night against the Pistons but they will once again be playing three games in four night and four in six.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The Celtics one again had a huge free throw discrepancy in the first half as the Hornets went to the line 15 times to the Celtics’ seven. Boston didn’t shoot a free throw until the 4:04 mark of the second quarter. The Celtics haven’t received many favorable whistles, but their rate of putting opponents on the line is troubling and indicative of an older team that has failed to rotate defensively.

Ray Allen picked up three fouls in the first half and played just 13 minutes. The Celtics desperately needed his shooting in a half in which they missed 30 of 45 shots.

Keyon Dooling can do a lot of things, but running the team isn’t one of his strengths yet. When Rondo was out of the game, the Celtics offense had no rhythm or flow and it was difficult to tell if they were actually running any kind of an offense besides high pick and rolls that went nowhere. It’s not entirely Dooling’s fault. With so many new players, continuity is a major issue, but the Celtics have really struggled when Rajon Rondo is out of the game.

Jermaine O’Neal was just 1-for-6 in 19 minutes. In 58 minutes played this season, O’Neal is 3-for-12 and has scored just eight points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Welcome to the NBA, Greg Stiemsma. The former Defensive Player of the Year in the D-League wasted no time asserting his shot-blocking ability as he rejected a shot on his very first possession as an NBA player. Stiemsma finished with six blocks and provided a shot-blocking presence that the Celtics simply haven’t had.

– Rondo and Allen continue to do the majority of the work offensively. The duo made 10-of-18 shots and scored 28 points. The rest of the Celtics were 19-for-60.

Sasha Pavlovic had his best game by far, scoring seven points and grabbing four rebounds. Faint praise, but it’s a start for the maligned swigman.

Ex-Celtic Ricky Davis joins D-League’s Maine Red Claws

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Ricky Davis knew how to get to the basket during his two years in Boston in the mid-2000s. (AP)

Former Celtics swingman Ricky Davis, looking to make an NBA comeback, signed a contract with the NBA Development League and on Tuesday was claimed by the Maine Red Claws.

Davis is expected to make his debut with the Red Claws this weekend, when they host the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Saturday (1 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.).

“Ricky Davis brings a veteran element to the Red Claws and will undoubtedly become an instant fan favorite at the Portland Expo where many of our fans will remember him from his days with the Celtics,” Red Claws president/general manager Jon Jennings said in a team release. “Ricky is someone who knows what it takes to get to and stay in the NBA and is someone who is hungry to return there. We are all excited to welcome him to Maine.”

Davis, 32, last played in the NBA for the Clippers before being released in the 2009-10 season. He has played in Europe and Asia since.

A first-round draft pick of the Charlotte Hornets in 1998 out of Iowa, Davis averaged 13.5 points per game in his 12-year NBA career. His best season was 2002-03, when he averaged 20.3 points for the Cavaliers, although he developed a reputation as a selfish player. In one memorable moment, he attempted to throw the ball off his own backboard during the closing seconds of a blowout win over the Jazz in hopes of recording a rebound that would give him a triple-double, angering Utah and leading to a fine from the Cavs.

He was traded to the Celtics during the following season and averaged 14.1 points in 57 games (five starts) with the C’s. In his only full season in Boston, 2004-05, Davis averaged 16 points while playing in 81 games (11 starts). He moved into a starting role the following season and averaged 19.7 points in 42 games before being traded to the Timberwolves.

In addition to the Hornets, Cavaliers, Celtics, Timberwolves and Clippers, Davis had two stints with the Heat.

Fast Break: Heat burn Celtics

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

The Celtics almost pulled off an amazing comeback against the Miami Heat, rallying from a 16-point third quarter deficit behind a small lineup and an effective zone defense. A Keyon Dooling 3-pointer sliced Miami’s lead to three points with just over two minutes remaining, but the Heat answered after a crucial Boston turnover in a 115-107 victory.

Without Paul Pierce (bone bruise, right heel), the Celtics didn’t have an effective defensive counter for LeBron James. They also didn’t learn their lessons from last year’s playoff series as 15 first-half turnovers led to 23 Miami points.

Their defense was absolutely shredded as Miami shot 56 percent and put on a clinic in the open court. James scored 26 points and Dwyane Wade added 24 and the Celtics had no answers for either of them.

For all the concerns about the Celtics’ ability to score points, it’s been their defense that has let them down. Coach Doc Rivers hit upon an effective strategy midway through the third quarter when he went zone. That, plus a small lineup of shooters somehow got the Celtics back in the game, but they couldn’t complete the comeback.

There’s no rest for the Celtics with their first back-to-back on tap Wednesday in New Orleans. The last time they started a season 0-3 was 2006-07, the year before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– James abused Sasha Pavlovic and got Marquis Daniels in foul trouble almost immediately. Rivers rode with Daniels for as long as he could but he picked up his fourth foul in the second quarter, forcing Rivers to play three guards at times

– No matter how many times it’s been said, you can’t turn the ball over against Miami because it’s almost a guaranteed two points. The Celtics have no chance of keeping up with the Heat in the open court and they were burned time and time again.

– The Celtics were forced to trap James and Wade, which left James Jones open and he did what he always does, going 3-for-3 on 3-point attempts in the first half.

Chris Wilcox played only eight minutes and left with a bruised left shoulder. X-rays were negative but a thin frontcourt can’t afford to lose any of its top four players.

– There were a handful of calls that didn’t go the Celtics way and they wound up shooting eight fewer free throws than Miami. Both Rivers and Rajon Rondo were given technical fouls.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Allen did his best to keep the Celtics in the game, knocking down four 3-pointers in the first half in only five attempts and finishing with 28 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The Celtics vaunted floor spacing and passing has been off in the first two games without Pierce and Allen was forced to attempt hurried off-balance shots. Still, no one does it better.

– Rondo continued to be aggressive, earning 11 free throw attempts. He’s going to have to make them consistently and even then teams will continue to foul him, but that’s the best sign of the early going.

Keyon Dooling had a strong game off the bench. Except for a brief stretch when Avery Bradley was in the game, Dooling handled all the backup minutes at both guard positions and was on the floor with Rondo and Allen when the Celtics went to a smaller lineup that was very effective.

Inside the matchup: Celtics vs. Heat

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Are the Celtics and Rajon Rondo looking up to the Heat? (AP)

For most of the 2010-11 season, the Celtics were confident in their ability to beat Miami. They beat them on opening night in Boston and did it again in Miami less than three weeks later. The Celtics won again in February with just six healthy rotation players.

Everything changed in April when the Celtics were blasted on South Beach, losing 100-77, and the dynamic was completely reversed during the playoffs when the Heat won in five games.

With their first meeting this season on Tuesday, it’s the Celtics that are trying to prove that they can handle the Heat, who have won five of the last six meetings.

It won’t be easy because they’re not likely to have Paul Pierce, who is resting a bone bruise in his right heel and new addition Mickael Pietrus isn’t expected in the lineup until they return home on Friday. That leaves the underwhelming combination of Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels to handle LeBron James, fresh off a 37-point Christmas Day showing against the Mavericks that equaled the 37 Carmelo Anthony dropped on the Celtics.

The Celtics have always had great respect for accomplishment and hierarchy — that’s the reason they gave the Magic more respect than LeBron’s Cavs — and coach Doc Rivers has been reinforcing the notion that these Celtics haven’t won anything in a long time.

They did get a reprieve of sorts with word that Kevin Garnett escaped both a fine and a suspension after his one-arm shove of Bill Walker after time expired on Sunday. The Celtics didn’t lose three straight games at any point last season but with a back-to-back looming the next night in New Orleans that could suddenly become a stark possibility.

Here’s a closer look at the matchup:

What’s new with Miami: Shane Battier was the Heat’s big free agent acquisition, but a more important addition is one who never left: Udonis Haslem.

The veteran forward played in just 13 regular season games before tearing ligaments in his left foot. Haslem saw less than three minutes of action in the Celtics’ series, but returned to form later in the playoffs and grabbed 14 rebounds in 32 minutes in their opener against Dallas.

Haslem is part of a three-man frontcourt rotation with Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony that’s on the smaller side. Not coincidentally, the Celtics have adjusted their frontcourt with Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox, who should be able to provide a much more balanced matchup with Miami.

The other important addition is rookie point guard Norris Cole, who split duties with Mario Chalmers in the opener. That’s a major upgrade in terms of youth and athleticism from Mike Bibby, who had major problems with Rajon Rondo last season.

Can Avery Bradley offer defensive support? The Celtics clearly missed defensive stopper Tony Allen in last year’s playoffs and Dwyane Wade took full advantage, scoring 151 points in their five games. Bradley remains a liability on offense, but if he can give the Celtics 5-10 minutes of defense on Wade, that would help take some pressure off Ray Allen. The Celtics need something from Bradley because the alternatives are Rondo and/or Keyon Dooling.

Key matchup: Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh

Garnett had a brilliant performance in Game 3, the only game the Celtics won, but was otherwise either outplayed or neutralized by Bosh throughout the series. Jermaine O’Neal is not a great matchup on Bosh and Wilcox is in the early stages of gaining Rivers’ trust. It’s up to Garnett who played 37 minutes in the opener, which is not part of the master minutes plan.

The Rondo factor: In 41 minutes against the Knicks, Rondo made 11-of-19 shots and scored 31 points. Much notice was paid to his outside shot where he sank three of five from 16-23 feet and his free throws where he made nine of 12 attempts. More importantly, he converted on 8-of-10 attempts at the rim and seven of his 13 assists were for inside shots.

Against the Knicks, the Celtics made a staggering 84 percent of their shots inside — 21-of-25 — and that was against Tyson Chandler, one of the league’s top interior defenders. Miami doesn’t have a shot-blocker like Chandler protecting the basket and it will be on Rondo to stay aggressive. He’s their best weapon against Miami.

CELTICS LIKELY STARTERS: Rondo, Allen, Daniels, Garnett, O’Neal

Rotation: Dooling, Bradley, Pavlovic, Bass, Wilcox

HEAT LIKELY STARTERS: Chalmers, Wade, James, Bosh, Anthony

Rotation: Cole, James Jones, Battier, Haslem, Juwan Howard

Fast Break: Not enough Rondo as Celtics lose opener to Knicks

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

For one half, the Celtics lived down to everyone’s worst expectations for the season. They looked old on defense and disorganized on offense without Paul Pierce in the lineup. They stayed in the game against the Knicks because Rajon Rondo was the best player on the floor, but in the second half they suddenly looked like the Celtics of old again, and that was a good thing. Their defense was tight, their halfcourt movement was back and Rondo was brilliant.

The Knicks did not go away. In a wildly entertaining game that saw both teams trading baskets down the stretch, the Knicks prevailed, 106-104.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Without Pierce in the lineup, the Celtics halfcourt offense looked sluggish and out of sync. Despite all their new additions, the Celtics simply don’t have many players who can create their own offense. His absence was acutely felt in the final minute when the Celtics couldn’t score.

– Pierce’s replacement, Sasha Pavlovic, had a completely non-existent game. He didn’t attempt a shot in 15 minutes of play and recorded just one assist and one rebound. Marquis Daniels also struggled offensively, but he had a much-stronger floor game.

Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points, again without Pierce on the floor. Anthony was unstoppable at times and Daniels was called for a reach-in foul with 16.4 seconds left that gave the Knicks the two free throws that were the difference.

Brandon Bass picked up two fouls in the first quarter and Jermaine O’Neal was called for three fouls in the six minutes in the first half, which led to Kevin Garnett playing 21 minutes. So much for the 5-5-5 plan. Garnett played 37 minutes, about seven more than coach Doc Rivers has in his usual budget and KG’s last-second jumper was short.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Rondo was aggressive right from the start. He attacked the basket, drew fouls and in a major revelation he also made his free throws. Rondo was the lone bright spot offensively among the starters and he carried the Celtics throughout the game. If this is the Rondo the Celtics will see all season then it’s way too early to start writing their obituaries. The problem for Rondo is the physical toll he’ll take throughout the season.

Brandon Bass may never be more popular than he is right now. Despite getting into early foul trouble, Bass scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. Bass was the only Celtics’ reserve to get into an offensive rhythm and his production was essential.

– The Celtics recaptured the defensive mojo in the third quarter, erasing a 10-point halftime deficit and outscoring the Knicks, 35-17. New York was just 7-for-19 from the floor after shooting almost 50 percent in the first half. Jermaine O’Neal in particular anchored the Celtics defense.

Ray Allen shook off a terrible first half that included a first quarter without a shot attempt to score 15 second-half points. Allen was a complete non-factor in the first half, but the offensive spacing of old returned in the second half and Allen took advantage.

Live Blog: Celtics, Knicks kick off NBA season at Madison Square Garden

Sunday, December 25th, 2011