Archive for February, 2012

Fast Break: Celtics Buck trend, win two straight

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

In the lockout-shorteneded season, the NBA has seen nine triple-doubles, and Rajon Rondo now has three of them.

It had been 22 days since the Celtics last won two straight games and the same time span since they won a game by double digits. At least Rondo’s 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists helped erase one of those streaks and bring the Celtics back to .500 at 17-17. The C’s let a 17-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to two in the final 20 seconds, but four Kevin Garnett free throws sealed the deal, 102-96.

Garnett (25 points, 10 rebounds), Chris Wilcox (7 points, 13 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (16 points, 7 rebounds) combined for 48 points and 30 rebounds to lead a rare inspired effort on the glass in the victory.

Drew Gooden (23 points, 8 rebounds) and Ersan Ilyasova (25 points, 10 rebounds) carried the Bucks (14-21).

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Good Rondo: With 13 points, six assists and five turnovers midway through the third quarter, the triple-double watch binoculars for Rondo got dusted off early. The point guard seemed capable of working his way into the lane at will, and generally that produces good things for the Celtics. He finished with 15, 11 and 10, but made it look easy in the flow of the offense.

Quarter barreling: Over a six-minute period in the third quarter, the Celtics turned a 60-55 deficit into a 77-64 lead (that’s a 22-4 run for those counting at home). While Pierce struggled for much of that stretch, everyone else picked up the slack, led by nine third-quarter points from Brandon Bass.

Board to death: Despite giving up 11 offensive rebounds, the Celtics managed to grab 12 of their own on their way to a 52-49 rebounding advantage. Wilcox led the way with 13 off the bench, while Rondo, Garnett, Bass and Pierce all chipped in at least six.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Sad Truth:In the first four minutes of the third quarter, Pierce started 0-for-6 and committed two turnovers. He’s had his share of sloppy play this year, but that may have been his worst stretch of this roller coaster season. He finished the game with 10 points (5-12 FG), six rebounds, five rebounds and four turnovers.

Turkish terror: Ilyasova entered the game averaging 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds, and he closed out February in style, totaling 10 points in the first quarter alone to keep the Bucks in the game early. His 15 second-half points helped the Bucks get back into the game late, as the C’s let a 17-point lead dwindle to two in the final 20 seconds.

Glass backwards: Same old story. While Garnett was busy jawing at various Bucks, Gooden and the Larry Sanders show combined for seven first-half offensive rebounds, totaling 22 points and 10 boards between them by halftime. Milwaukee’s 13 offensive boards marked the 10th straight game the C’s have given up double-digit o-rebounds.

Celtics vs. Bucks Live Blog

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

One night after opening the second half by snapping a five-game losing streak with a win in Cleveland, the Celtics are now looking for a win in their first home game of the second half. The C’s open a stretch of five home games out of their next six contests by hosting the Bucks on Wednesday.

The 16-17 Celtics are currently holding onto the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They are 2 1/2 games ahead of both the Bucks and Cavs for the last playoff spot. For all the latest from the TD Garden, join the Live Blog, below.

Celtics vs. Bucks Live Blog

Irish Coffee: When will Celtics develop a scorer?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Whether it’s Gerald Green‘s glorious return to the NBA, the sight of Semih Erden facing them as a starting center or the team’s woeful offensive production, a number of factors led me to this question: When is the last time Celtics president Danny Ainge or coach Doc Rivers has either drafted or developed a scorer?

Clearly, Rajon Rondo is the best player cultivated under the Ainge-Rivers regime, but I don’t think anybody would argue Rondo has markedly improved in the scoring department. His scoring averages per 36 minutes in his rookie season (9.9 points) and last season (10.3) are nearly identical, and we all know about that jump shot.

The best scorer drafted by Ainge has to be Al Jefferson, but even his 36-minute averages didn’t improve much under Rivers, crawling from 16.3 as a rookie to 17.2 in his final Celtics season. Not until he was traded to the Timberwolves did those averages climb into the 20s. Of course Ainge and Rivers deserve credit for molding Big Al into bait to land Kevin Garnett, but the fact remains Jefferson made a leap offensively once he left the Celtics.

The same goes for Tony Allen, Ryan Gomes, Leon Powe and Bill Walker, all of whose 36-minute scoring averages barely budged in either direction on the Celtics, and then saw those numbers rise once they left Boston.

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Fast Break: Nothing Cavalier about Celtics victory

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

In a battle between two teams vying for eighth in the Eastern Conference (yup, you read that right), the Celtics blew a 16-point lead but salvaged the night when Ray Allen sandwiched a fast-break layup and two free throws around a big Kevin Garnett offensive rebound in the final minute to secure an 86-83 win over the Cavaliers.

Allen (22) and Garnett (18) combined for 40 points to help the Celtics (16-17) avoid the first six-game losing streak of the new Big Three era and stretch their lead over the Cavs (13-19) to 2.5 games for the eighth seed.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Welcome back Bass: The Celtics finished 1-5 in Bass’ recent six-game absence, and it didn’t take long for the consistent big man to demonstrate his value on the court, scoring 10 points on six shots by halftime. Bass brings a combination of scoring and toughness that the C’s simply don’t have outside of Garnett. If the Celtics have any hope for success in the second half of the season, they need a healthy Bass contributing like this.

Nothing but Garnett: Garnett reportedly called a team meeting prior to the All-Star break, and even if the entire team didn’t respond in its first game since, at least KG came to play. Wincing at times, possibly still battling the hip injury that kept him out of a game before the break, Garnett totaled 18 points and eight boards while playing his usual staunch defense. In the final seconds with the C’s leading by one, Garnett willed an offensive rebound off his own miss, got fouled and made both foul shots.

Jumping the run: Perhaps the result of an aging team benefiting from the five-day NBA All-Star break, the Celtics rattled off runs of 9-0 and 13-0 in the first quarter to establish a rare double-digit lead early (28-15 after one). Rondo recorded six assists in the first 12 minutes, including one on another fast break with his new running mate Chris Wilcox. The have only led after the first quarter in 16 of their 33 games, accumulating a 12-4 record.

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NBA Power Rankings: Post All-Star Break

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Now that we’ve reached the midway point, the NBA season is still a nebulous blob of strange. Who could have foreseen that the biggest story of the first half would have involved an undrafted free agent from Harvard who was cut twice and possibly on his way out for a third time? We have seen the rise of the Clippers and the fall of the Celtics, as well as the emergence — and disappearance — of the Nuggets and Blazers. The East remains status quo, with everyone chasing the Bulls and Heat. The West is a tangled mess of very good teams with no clear front-runner.

1. Miami (27-7): Here’s the deal for the Heat and LeBron James. When you have the best player in the league on the best team in the league, you have to win the championship. It doesn’t matter if LeBron winds up passing to Eddy Curry for the winning shot in the final minutes — if he and Miami wins, he’ll be exonerated. Not beloved, not even liked, but the only way LeBron will finally be set free is if he wins a championship.

2. Chicago (27-8): Pity the Bulls. They are as merciless in their approach as star guard Derrick Rose is apparently mirthless in his. They take you apart on defense and have more than enough offense and depth to run roughshod over teams in the regular season. But do they have enough firepower for the Heat? LeBron and Dwyane Wade will no doubt take turns smothering Rose. What then?

3. Oklahoma City (27-7): Windows are strange things in the NBA and while the Thunder’s is in no way closing, it is wide open right now. The West is a jumble; any of five other teams could legitimately make a claim on winning the conference crown this season. But in that confusion lies Oklahoma City’s opportunity. The pieces are in place. Kevin Durant is in his prime. Russell Westbrook is a star and James Harden isn’t far behind. A Heat-Thunder finals would capture the nation’s imagination and re-write the rules on big/small markets.

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Irish Coffee: Celtics midseason report card

Friday, February 24th, 2012

If Danny Ainge shook a Magic 8-Ball right now, the odds of “outlook not so good” coming up are probably even. After losing seven of their past eight games for the first time since he acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen prior to the 2007-08 NBA season, Ainge’s aging Celtics are 15-17 entering the All-Star break.

It’s an uphill battle the rest of the season, but it might be all downhill from here for Doc Rivers & Co. Needless to say, based on the expectations they’ve set the past four years, this Celtics group isn’t making the grade. Let’s take a look at how the C’s have stacked up individually this year.

MICKAEL PIETRUS: A-
Last Grade: A

When the news broke that Jeff Green would undergo heart surgery for an aortic aneurysm, the Celtics once again had a hole to fill behind Paul Pierce at the small forward position. Pietrus has bridged that gap, and then some. Charged with 3-point shooting and bringing energy defensively, he has shot 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and defended vigorously (at the end of the blowout loss to the Thunder, Pietrus was one of few C’s who played to the buzzer). In an attempt to improve the team’s terrible rebounding, Pietrus has also begun to assert himself on the glass, grabbing 19 rebounds in his last two games.

KEVIN GARNETT: A-
Last Grade: B+

Of the aging Big Three, the one with the most mileage and the worst knees has enjoyed the best season. Garnett entered the NBA All-Star break by recording 23 points and 13 rebounds for the first time since December 2008. That marked his ninth double-double of the season, bringing his averages to 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in only 30.8 minutes. Paired with his usual defensive prowess, he’s played all but three games — missing only one due to a tweaked hip and two for personal reasons — and it’s no surprise the Celtics are 0-3 in those contests.

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Fast Break: Another Celtics comeback falls short

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

The most disturbing thing about the Celtics road trip was that they didn’t hit rock bottom until the very end. One might have thought it came against Detroit when the Celtics lost by double digits to one of the worst teams in the league and Rajon Rondo was ejected and ultimately suspended for two games. Nope.

One might have though it would have happened against the Mavericks in a game where they struggled to score 73 points and were never seriously competitive from the opening tip. Not even close.

Rock bottom appeared in the first half on Wednesday when their vaunted defense was shredded to the tune of 72 points in a 119-104 loss to Oklahoma City. It was the first time in 29 games that an opponent had scored over 100 points against the Celtics. Not only did the Thunder shoot 57 percent in the first half. They also made 8-of-12 3-pointers and the Celtics didn’t record a single steal or block.

Making it worse they actually got within six points late in the fourth quarter after being down by 27 points. Like most Celtics’ comebacks this season, it wasn’t enough. They have now lost five games in a row and seven of eight.

The only consolation is that the All-Star break is mercifully here. They’ll need those five days off to recover and try to get healthy. Brandon Bass, Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox all missed the game with injuries in addition to Rondo, who was serving the second game of his suspension.

WHAT WENT WRONG

— The Celtics actually led 22-12, but OKC came back with a 25-3 run and that was basically that. The Thunder actually scored 21 straight points, slicing through the Celtics’ depleted second unit. OKC outscored the Celtics 27-4 in bench points in the first half, and the immortal Royal Ivey actually doubled their total.

— The bench has been a problem all season, but with Bass, Wilcox, Rondo and O’Neal things got ugly. Keyon Dooling, in particular, had a miserable night. It’s worth asking halfway through the season if he has a role anymore. He’s not a backup point guard and Mickael Pietrus has taken his minutes behind Ray Allen.

— Free throws and rebounding were again their undoing in a first quarter that should have seen them build a lead. At one point in the first quarter, the Celtics were shooting 69 percent while holding OKC to 39 percent and they had a one-point lead. How? The Thunder had four offensive rebounds and 11 free throws.

— Every time the Celtics crept within single digits, Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant made a play. They combined for 59 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Celtics jumped out to a 13-4 lead and the energy was palatable right from the opening tip when Paul Pierce scored a layup off the opening tip. They were in attack mode, aggressively challenging the Thunder defense. That’s when things fell apart.

Avery Bradley had one of his best offensive games as a starter, with 12 points and five assists. He not only made a couple of mid-range jump shots, he also throw down an electrifying dunk on Durant and successfully ran a pick and pop with Kevin Garnett. The last part may not sound like much, but that’s a major improvement from where he was last season.

— Garnett was solid in his return after missing two games because of a family issue. He scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 38 minutes of work. All five starters scored in double figures.