Archive for February, 2012

Chris Wilcox: Duracell Man

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Chris Wilcox has been making a positive contribution for the Celtics. (AP)

One of the biggest compliments a bench player can receive is being called an “energy guy.” Over the course of an NBA season starters go through lulls or, even worse, injuries. Reliable role players that bring energy to the table every night may not catch someone’s attention in the box score, but their ferocious and relentless style of play can change the outcome of games.

Exhibit A: Chris Wilcox‘s production the last three weeks.

After starting the season poorly due to injuries, Wilcox turned the corner while helping Boston during its comeback win on the road against Orlando.  The very next night he scored 14 points in a victory over the Pacers. A few days later, when the Celtics began a five game winning-streak, Wilcox began to flourish and Doc Rivers even attributed the dramatic 91-89 victory over the Knicks to his effort on the offensive boards. But the 6-foot-10 back-up center wasn’t scoring in bunches, or collecting every rebound in site. Instead, he was showing his worth with something intangible — his energy.

“He’s figured it out,” Rivers said. “I think this is how he should be every day in his career. I don’t think it should be inconsistent. I think this is who he is, this is a talent he has. Energy from a big is a talent. It’s who he should be every night. I tell him that all the time.”

The best part of Wilcox’s contributions over the period is the subtle way he tries to make a positive impact. Many bench players fall into the trap of pressing for more minutes. They may force shots or disrupt the flow of the offense to prove they belong on the floor. Wilcox has let the game come to him.

In the 12 games since his breakout performance against Orlando, Wilcox is only taking about four shots a game, but has shot an efficient 34-of-52 (65 percent) from the field. His focus has been largely predicated on the little things like boxing out, creating deflections on the defensive end and trying to get ahead of the pack to give the Celtics fast break opportunities.

“The fact that he runs the floor and he’s in front of everybody,” Rivers said. “And [Rajon] Rondo has trust that he can throw the ball up and he’ll go get it. Rondo made some tough passes tonight and Chris caught them and finished. No different than [Tom] Brady and [Rob Gronkowski]. You get confidence in certain guys.”

Wilcox has not only accepted the challenge of being a spot starter, but thrived in the role. On Sunday against the Bulls, he had 11 points (5-of-6 shooting) to go along with nine boards. Even though his role was enhanced, it was still an energy play which highlighted Wilcox’s performance. With the game still in the balance, JaJuan Johnson completed a thunderous dunk off a Rondo lob. After another Chicago turnover, Rondo pushed the ball forward and found Wilcox for yet another dunk. The crowd rose to their feet and the Celtics never looked back.

“I love playing with Chris,” Rondo said. “He’s probably one of the fastest bigs in the league. I tell him to get out there and run with me and he does a great job every night. We’re starting to get easy baskets in transition and that’s what we need offensively.”

Although the Celtics lost Wednesday night against the Pistons, Wilcox continued to impress in another spot-start performance scoring 17 points (8-of-12 shooting) and collecting nine rebounds in a season-high 32 minutes. The overall result wasn’t ideal for Boston, but Rivers and company know they got what they bargained for when they signed the veteran late in training camp.

“He’s giving us exactly what we hoped he’d give us when we signed him,” Rivers said. “Energy, athleticism, running the floor, finishing at the basket. If he can stay were he’s at right now, I’m very happy with that”.

In glorious defeat, Rajon Rondo faces media music

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

BOSTON — Give Rajon Rondo credit. Three days earlier, the Celtics point guard ducked out of the locker room without speaking to reporters after a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. On Wednesday night, he faced the media music following a 98-88 loss to the Central Division-worst Pistons.

Silent in victory, vocal in defeat. Not that he really said all that much. So goes the enigma that is Rajon Rondo.

Upon scoring a career-high 35 points against Detroit three days after equaling his career best against Chicago, Rondo simply said, “I made some, I missed some.” For the record, he made 15 field goals and four free throws, missing 12 field goals and five free throws.

On Sunday, Rondo became the fourth player in NBA history to record 32 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and two steals in a single game, joining Magic Johnson (thrice), LeBron James and Reggie Theus. Wednesday’s performance brought his totals for the last two games to 67 points, 21 assists, 15 rebounds and six steals.

Rondo’s reaction? “The main thing is our record is 1-1 in these last two games,” he said.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Celtics trailed the Pistons, 73-72. Detroit’s lead grew to six as Rondo sat the first 3:33 of the final frame, and even after his return the Pistons stretched the lead to 13 with just over five minutes remaining. The C’s never recovered, as just four of Rondo’s 35 points came in the final quarter.

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Fast Break: Not enough horsepower for C’s against Pistons

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

BOSTON — Rajon Rondo scored a career-high 35 points, but only four of those came in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons built a 13-point lead the Celtics couldn’t erase in a 98-88 defeat — their third loss in four games.

Rodney Stuckey (25), Greg Monroe (22) and Ben Gordon (22) all exceeded 20 points for the Detroit (9-22), with Gordon’s 12 fourth-quarter points delivering the knockout blow.

Rondo’s 35 points came on 15-of-27 field goals and came with six assists and five rebounds as the C’s drop to 15-13. While Kevin Garnett (hip) missed his first game of the season, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen didn’t show up either, combining for just 20 points on 4-of-16 shooting.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Where’s the Truth: Thrown off by Bill Russell‘s presence courtside or just plain having an off night, Pierce looked as though his mind was elsewhere. He finished just 3-of-11 from the field, and while he didn’t record a turnover in 37 minutes, he seemed to juggle the ball each time he touched it and generally be a step behind in the early going.

JO vs. Monroe: Returning from a two-game absence, Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal (knee) appeared overmatched at times by the younger, left-handed Greg Monroe (22 points, 11-14 FG, 9 rebounds). Of course, it didn’t help that O’Neal picked up five fouls in his first 18 minutes on the floor.

What the Stuckey? As Rondo’s point total increased, lost in the shuffle was Rodney Stuckey, who totaled 25 points (including 11-11 FT), four assists and three rebounds. He led four Pistons in double figures and helped keep Detroit in a game they had no business hanging around for three quarters, let alone pulling away in the fourth quarter.

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Irish Coffee: How the Celtics can score more points

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

While the Celtics rank eighth in field-goal percentage (45.8%), they’re 26th in points scored. Why? Two reasons: They don’t get to the free throw line, and they don’t attempt enough 3-pointers.

To the first point, free throws are down across the NBA, but the Celtics have been particularly inept in that regard. The C’s are one of only two teams that attempt fewer than 30 field goals per game from 0-10 feet, where the majority of fouls occur. Only the Nets (8-21) take fewer shots within 10 feet (27.9) than the Celtics (29.5). From 2007-10, when the C’s made two trips to the NBA Finals, they averaged more than 25 free throws per game and ranked in the NBA’s top 10 each season. This season, they attempt just 19.8 a night.

That last number has gotten increasingly worse as this season has progressed. The C’s nightly free throw attempts have declined from 23.8 in December to 20.2 in January and an NBA-worst 16.4 in February. For the season, the Celtics are being outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game at the free throw line.

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The JaJuan Johnson experience

Monday, February 13th, 2012

JaJuan Johnson will have a chance to play for the Celtics. (AP)

Moments before JaJuan Johnson‘s breakout game as a member of the Celtics, his coach was asked if the skinny 6-foor-10 rookie was ready to take on a more meaningful role.

“Not yet,” Doc Rivers replied quickly. “I think he’s getting close. You’ve got to execute when you’re on the floor. That’s an area he has to improve on. He’s talented, but there’s a level, to me, of intensity that you have to play with every night and focus and he’s inconsistent in that. But he’s getting there and he’s a great kid and he will get there.

“We want to use him, but he has to come get it,” Rivers continued. “We’re not going to give him anything.”

Johnson went and got it on Sunday against the Bulls and their talented — and huge — frontline. After a rough first few minutes, Johnson scored 12 points on 6-for-13 shooting and managed to hold his own on the boards. He was credited with just one block, but it seemed like he altered several other shots. Even when the likes of Omer Asik and Joakim Noah were playing through the generously-listed 220-pounder, Johnson kept competing.

As is his custom, Rivers handed out praise judiciously to his young player.

“Yeah, but he’s got to keep doing it,” the coach said. “You know, one game doesn’t make a star. One season doesn’t make a star. So you’ve just got to keep doing it, and he’s got to do it consistently. He will, like I keep saying, he’s a great kid and he wants to do it. He’s young and he’s still learning focus and all that. But he’s a good player.”

Johnson is the latest young player on the Celtics’ roster to get his chance at making a meaningful contribution. With Brandon Bass sidelined for up to two weeks with swelling in his knee and Jermaine O’Neal missing the last two games with an assortment of injuries, Johnson is one of three healthy frontcourt players alongside Kevin Garnett. The others are Chris Wilcox and Greg Stiemsma.

Johnson has patiently waited his turn while fellow Purdue rookie E’Twaun Moore has already made an impact as a reserve guard, and second-year player Avery Bradley has grabbed hold of the backup point guard job. Even Stiemsma, the 26-year-old veteran rookie has been ahead of the first rounder, but Johnson’s talent has been on display, albeit in only 103 minutes with most of that coming in garbage time.

With a huge small-sample size warning blaring in neon blinking lights, Johnson is shooting 55 percent and averaging 18.2 points and almost six rebounds per 36 minutes. He made 3-of-7 shots from 16-23 feet and seems comfortable taking the jumper in the halfcourt. Johnson also got out on the break and finished at the rim, including a highlight-reel alley-oop lob from Rajon Rondo late in the fourth quarter.

Johnson’s breakout performance followed a forgettable seven-minute stint against the Raptors on Friday when he seemed hesitant and confused on the court. Rivers called two quick timeouts and let Johnson — and the rest of the team — have it. Still, without much practice time to work on his game, Johnson has drawn praise from Rivers for his mature approach.

As with the other young players, the hard part starts now. Johnson must perform consistently, night in and night out, while Bass and O’Neal are injured. One game does not a career make, but for the other rookie from Purdue, Sunday afternoon was a positive step.

Irish Coffee: Bulls consider Celtics ‘dangerous team’

Monday, February 13th, 2012

BOSTON — The Celtics haven’t had two days off between home games for more than a month — and won’t again until April — so the process of building a cohesive team capable of contending in the Eastern Conference continues for head coach Doc Rivers in Waltham on Monday and Tuesday.

“If you want quality product, you have to give time for quality product to be quality. And you have to have time for that,” said Kevin Garnett, who totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in Sunday’s win over the Bulls. “It’s not just something just because you have four guys who have been together — you’ve got a whole group of guys that’s in here, and chemistry is everything. And I’m not going to back off that. So, we have some days where we do have some practice time, and you’ll see a better, more quality product, so I’m happy for that.”

Of course, the same was said on Jan. 7 when the Celtics had a stretch of four days off between home games, and then promptly lost four straight to cap the longest losing streak of this Big Three era (5 games). Since then, though, the Celtics have won 11 of their last 15 games — including a string of nine out of 10 — capped by the 95-91 victory against the Bulls, albeit without reigning MVP Derrick Rose in the lineup.

“That team is very experienced, and I think that they’re playing at a very high level,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who served as an assistant under Rivers during the 2007-10 glory years. “As I said before the game, even in the Lakers game I thought they played very well and could’ve won that, of course they won the nine out of 10 and I throw out the Toronto game because to me that was a scheduling game. They had back-to-back — a late start here and then the travel to Toronto — so that was a tough game for them.

“Throw that one out, they’re playing at a very high level,” added Thibs. “When you have [Paul] Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin and [Rajon] Rondo running the team, their bench has been playing very well, they’ve been getting a number of contributions from different people, so they’re going to be a dangerous team.”

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Chris Wilcox and JaJuan Johnson may not be Kareem Abdul-Jabar but they were pretty good Sunday

Sunday, February 12th, 2012


The Celtics were without Jermaine O’Neal and Brandon Bass Sunday. They were going up against a front-court of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer that destroyed them on Jan. 13 in Boston in Chicago’s win over the Celtics.

You figured the Celtics were in for a long afternoon-into-night. You figured wrong.

Chris Wilcox got the start and scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 26 minutes while rookie JaJuan Johnson had 12 points in 33 remarkable minutes off the bench as the Celtics stunned the Bulls, 95-91. The Bulls only outscored the Celtics, 40-38, in the paint. Wilcox ran the floor, finishing four Rajon Rondo fast breaks with dunks, while Johnson had the biggest game of his rookie year out of Purdue. Those were two big reasons why.

“I think anybody can run. I mean, [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] was running at 37, 38, and 40,” Doc Rivers joked. “So it’s not that – whatever your speed is, you’ve just got to do it every time. And I think it’s the consistency of doing it every single time. Chris was phenomenal, though, with his speed, and so was JaJuan. I mean, both of them. The one things we did know when those two were in – you know, our post defense was what it was, and I thought JuJuan overall, except for the very beginning when he first got in, they he kind of – then he kind of caught on, and got into it. After that, I thought his speed and Chris’ athleticism, both of them, had a major impact.”

As for Johnson, Rivers wants to see more.

“Yeah, but he’s got to keep doing it. You know, one game doesn’t make a star. One season doesn’t make a star. So you’ve just got to keep doing it, and he’s got to do it consistently. He will, like I keep saying, he’s a great kid and he wants to do it. He’s young and he’s still learning focus and all that. But he’s a good player.

“And be able to catch. I mean, they both have pretty good hands, okay hands, but, yeah it helps. It really helps. And you know what people miss is I thought Paul and Ray ran – and because they run, and we showed them on the film, we showed old games today on the film – that when the two guards run, Ray and Paul, and it puts them in the dilemma: do they stay out, wide, in the break and take away their threes? If they do that, if one of our bigs run, then we’re going to get it. I don’t believe two bigs on the other team is going to run every single time, is the point I keep making. Someone eventually is going to say, ‘I’m not running back.’ One of those bigs. And we’re going to get a lay-up.” (more…)