Saturday practice notes: Rejuvenated Knicks, pressing issues & five for fighting
|03.03.12 at 5:31 pm ET|
It seems every time the Celtics and Knicks play one another this year each team is going through a tipping point of some kind. The Celtics dropped their first three games of the season beginning with a 106-104 loss on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden.
The next time the two Atlantic division foes met was early February at TD Garden Garden. The Celtics prevailed, 91-89, as they were amidst a streak that saw them win 10 of 12 games. Meanwhile, the loss was New York’s 11th in 13 games.
Then Jeremy Lin happened. The Harvard University standout invigorated the Knicks, while also seemingly taking over the entire sports landscape, leading New York to wins in 10 of their 13 games since their loss to the Celtics.
Doc Rivers, who said he had written in his game notes that he was impressed with Lin during his limited action in the Feb. 3 matchup, thinks the Cinderella story is good for the league.
“The kid has played terrific basketball,” Rivers said Saturday afternoon, following the Celtics walk-through. “He’s earned it. He’s clearly made them a better team.”
It’s not only that Lin played great. He performed when the team was in dire need of a spark due to injuries, something Rivers can appreciate.
“He bridged a great gap,” Rivers said. “When Carmelo [Anthony] and [Amar'e] Stoudemire were down, they needed someone to pick their team up while they were injured. The thing about us is when Kevin [Garnett], [Rajon] Rondo and Brandon [Bass] were out, we lost all of our games. When Carmelo and Stoudemire went out they won all their games because someone else stepped up and picked them up. I think that is wonderful. I don’t like it because they’re in our division, but I think it’s good for the league.”
On the other hand, the Celtics have struggled since the last meeting, but have found some semblance of momentum, winning their first three contests after the All-Star break. At 18-17, the Celtics find themselves just one game ahead of the Knicks in the loss column, making Sunday’s game that much more important.
“It’s an important game for both teams,” Rivers said. “I always find that to be good during the regular season. I think every game after the break is a measuring stick game. It’s just a grind game for now on. And I think our guys have joined that mentality, so that’s good.”
The Celtics full-court press proved to be an effective, yet unexpected, defensive wrinkle in last night’s 107-94 victory against the Nets. Rondo spearheaded the decision to implement the scheme, which helped force 11 steals and played part in a few of New Jersey’s turnovers.
“It caught me off guard,” explained Avery Bradley. ”But Rondo – he’s the leader of our team – and he is the one that put us in it. It worked out for us. I think he’s going to call it tomorrow too, most likely.”
Bradley, who Paul Pierce called one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the entire NBA earlier this season, beamed with excitement when asked about the impact the press had on the game.
“What makes it so tough is that we’re doing it after made baskets,” he said. “Teams are like, ‘Dang we just got scored on and now they’re picking us up full court.’ We don’t get to practice much, so us doing it in a game shows how good we could be if we were doing it in practice too.”
Jermaine O’Neal is still wrestling with the decision of whether or not to have season-ending surgery on his left wrist. While O’Neal is certainly a valuable defensive presence, Rivers reiterated Bass’ insertion into the starting lineup was imminent before the injury.
“Kevin has been fantastic at the five,” Rivers said. “Having all these moving parts has been good for us. I had made the decision before the injury. Before the All-Star break, I told the guys when Brandon and Kevin come back that will be our starting lineup.”
Garnett has flourished playing center for the Celtics. His 20 points (10-of-13 shooting) and 10 rebounds in last night’s win marked the fifth time in six games Garnett has registered a double-double.
“We’ve sort of shifted up a little bit here,” Garnett said Friday night. “We’re trying to be more athletic, and trying to get out and run more. It’s all good with me as long as we get wins at the end of the day.”
Despite the production, the Big Ticket said playing the biggest position isn’t necessarily a burning desire, but understands the importance of filling the role.
“When it comes to preference, I enjoy the four,” Garnett said. “There’s a lot more versatility in the four. In the five you’re kind of stuck in cement. There is not a lot of variation in the five position. This is what it is. I’m enjoying it. I’m doing whatever I can do give my team an advantage.”
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