Archive for March, 2012

Keyon Dooling: ‘This team is made for the playoffs’

Thursday, March 29th, 2012


Winning can do lots for a team. Most of all – for the Celtics – it’s brought back their swagger.

Never was that more evident than when Keyon Dooling spoke to reporters Wednesday night after his 3-pointer keyed a 7-0 run that broke a 66-66 tie midway through the fourth quarter and helped the Celtics manage a 94-82 win over the Jazz at the Garden.

The win again put them in a flatfooted tie with the Sixers atop the Atlantic Division at 28-22.

But more than that, it gave evidence to the theory held by many inside the Celtics locker room that once they get to the playoffs, they’ll be prepared for success.

“You just stay the course,” Dooling said. “We have a team that is really about us, what we do, building habits and building for the playoffs. This team is made for the playoffs, it’s built for grind-it-out games, and that’s usually how playoff games are. We’re building our habits and guys are executing their roles and starting to get back.”

Dooling is finally healthy after a mid-season bout with a nagging hip injury.

“Just the opportunity is there,” Dooling said. “Coming back from injury, you don’t feel great and you have to earn the trust of the coach and Doc is really starting to trust me and I’m starting to feel what he wants from me when I’m on the court and I’m just trying to find my niche. Each team you’re on, you have to find your niche, get your role, you try to execute it so now I’m just trying to build my role on this team.

“One night it might be diving on the floor, one night it might be making open shots. Every night it’s contributing, keeping guys’ energy up, helping guys from an execution standpoint, just being who I am every day.”

And who he was on Wednesday was a big-time shot maker. His three just over a minute into the fourth snapped a 66-66 tie and gave the Celtics the lead for good. He drilled another jumper two minutes later to put the Celtics up, 75-70.

“Anytime when a team is making a run on you, you’re looking for that slump-buster,” Dooling said. “They tightened the screws defensively, and they packed the paint on [Kevin Garnett]. Me and Sasha were able to get a couple of wide-open looks and we were able to knock them down.”

“Keyon, he’s just coming on,” Doc Rivers added. “We don’t want to forget how much he’s been injured and now he’s starting to come on. You can see it a little bit and its nice to see him make shots.”

Kevin Garnett: ‘I hear y’all calling me old’

Thursday, March 29th, 2012


Perhaps it was the presence of Al Jefferson, the kid who he has enjoyed trash talking ever since the Celtics swapped them for each other five years ago. Whatever the reason, Kevin Garnett assumed Yoda’s persona.

“His Jedi mind tricks worked tonight,” said Celtics guard Keyon Dooling after the Celtics tuned out the Jazz.

Wednesday night, Big Al was just another patron at the Mos Eisley Cantina, at least to the masterful Garnett, who considered Jefferson an afterthought in a mind that’s clearly had plenty weighing on it this season. Rarely do we get a glimpse into KG’s consciousness, so when we do it’s best to savor it completely. Here goes.

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Fast Break: Celtics’ third straight win earns first-place tie

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

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Rajon Rondo became the first player since 2009 to register double-digit assists in 11 straight games (obviously, Steve Nash was the last to accomplish that feat), as his 14 dimes on Wednesday night helped the Celtics (28-22) defeat the Jazz 94-82 and move into another tie with the idle 76ers for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Kevin Garnett submitted his 16th double-double of the season, amassing 23 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Paul Pierce (20 points, 6 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (19 points, 4 rebounds) also turned in big nights.

Meanwhile, despite 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists from old friend Al Jefferson, the Jazz (27-24) dropped into a tie with the Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

High-flying Hollins: He may not be much of a rebounder for a 7-footer, but the 27-year-old Ryan Hollins can run the floor with Rondo, and anyone who can do that will be rewarded. On consecutive plays 30 seconds apart in the waning minutes of the first half, Hollins threw down two alley-oop dunks sandwiched around a Jazz timeout.

Seconds, please: The second quarter was vintage Celtics, who outscored the Jazz 28-14 going into the break. As a team, they shot 11-for-20 (55%) from the field. Pierce scored six points in the frame while Garnett and Bradley each netted five apiece. As good as they were on offense, they might have been better on the defensive end.

Rondo tornado: Where there is vintage Celtics, there is vintage Rondo. His four points, three assists and two rebounds in the first in the first eight minutes cued the triple-double watch early. While he didn’t shoot as much as the Celtics might have liked, he kept the engine running smoothly for most of the night.

Dooling bravos: It’s been a rough season for Keyon Dooling, battling injuries and losing his role to Avery Bradley, but the veteran guard submitted his best performance of the season. He scored seven points, including a huge fourth-quarter trey that gave the Celtics the lead back after the Jazz tied it, 66-66.

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The Celtics are in first place, can they stay there?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Kevin Garnett goes in for two of his 24 points against Charlotte, as the Celtics moved into a first-place tie with Philadelphia. (AP)

On Jan. 20, the Celtics scored 71 points in a home loss to Phoenix that put their record at 5-9. A month later, they capped off a road trip from hell with a 15-point loss to Oklahoma City that left this proud team talking about moral victories. That’s how sub .500 teams talk, which is what they were, lugging a 15-17 mark into the All-Star break.

A month after that, they’re in first place after beating the Bobcats, 102-95. The Sixers hold the tiebreaker, so technically the Celtics still have a game to make up on Philadelphia, but the accomplishment is still worth acknowledging. Did anyone really see this coming?

This is a team that showed up out of shape with a makeshift roster constructed for the main purpose of not being here after this season. They’ve had two five-game losing streaks – the first time that’s ever happened in the Big 3 era — and they lost two crucial players to heart conditions, their starting center to season-ending wrist surgery and just had another get carted off the court in a stretcher.

The last two nights they have been without Ray Allen, as well as his primary backup and invaluable role player in Mickael Pietrus. Sure, they played the Wizards and Bobcats, the two worst teams in the league, but the victories all count the same and for the Celtics to remain in the mix for the division race, these are the game they have to win.

They are 8-14 against teams with winning records this season and more than a third of their 27 wins have come against four teams: Washington, Charlotte, Toronto and New Jersey.

In April, they play 15 games in 26 days with 12 of them against teams who are competing for the playoffs. The other three are on the road on back-to-back-to-back nights. Beginning on Sunday when they host Miami, the Celtics will play the following schedule in eleven days:

Miami, San Antonio, at Chicago, at Indiana, Philadelphia, at Miami (again) and Atlanta. Then they play Toronto, New Jersey and Charlotte in consecutive days.

If they are still in first place after all that, then that will really be an accomplishment because winning the division — so often an afterthought over the last four years — takes on added importance this season. The reward is a fourth seed and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The alternative will likely be the seventh seed and a first round matchup with the Heat.

Still, the Celtics have reason to feel good about themselves. They’ve won 12 of 17 games since the All-Star break and they continue to survive whatever obstacle is put in their way. Whether it was the loss of Chris Wilcox, the eight-game road trip, the trade deadline, the lack of big men depth without Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal and the frightening Pietrus incident, the Celtics have persevered.

Much of the credit belongs to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who have stepped forward in the second half of the season and carried the team. Pierce scored a season-high 36 points against the Bobcats and he’s been playing like the middle of the season Pierce again. In his last four games, he’s scored 102 points and grabbed 38 rebounds.

Garnett continues his amazing renaissance as the team’s center. He took 20 shots against Charlotte – on the second night of a back-to-back – and it’s suddenly not a stretch to think he could be the team’s center for the next two years if that’s what he wanted to do.

This season has not been about growth or cohesion. It’s been about survival and on March 27, they can finally look at the standings in their division and see their names on the top line. In many ways, the hard part is just beginning.

Fast Break: C’s bob and weave to victory

Monday, March 26th, 2012

No Ray Allen or Mickael Pietrus? No problem for the Celtics. Riding the coattails of Paul Pierce (36 points on 10-of-20 shooting, 10 rebounds) and Kevin Garnett (24 points on 10-of-20 shooting), the Celtics won their second game in 48 hours in Charlotte on Monday night, 102-95.

The Celtics are now tied with the 76ers in first place in the Atlantic Division (Philly owns the tiebreaker) and are 12-5 since the All-Star break. They could get Allen back on Wednesday night when they return to the Garden to face the Jazz.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Backing up the Truth: Sunday night Pierce said the Celtics should beat teams like the Wizards, who are in rebuilding mode. The seven-win Bobcats fall under the same umbrella as the Wizards, and Pierce helped make sure Monday’s “gimme game” did not turn into an ignominious loss. His line in the first half filled up the stat sheet: 17 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and even two blocks.

In the second half Pierce continued to lead the way, scoring 10 points in the third quarter to give the Celtics some breathing room after the Bobcats crept back into the game. The captain was stellar, cutting to the basket and engaging in an aggressive style of play to help set the tone. He earned 18 trips to the foul line (converting 15 attempts).

Avery Ascent: This is the second stint this season in which Avery Bradley has played with the starting unit (earlier this season he started eight games while Rajon Rondo recovered from a wrist injury). In both instances the 21 year-old has risen to the occasion and flashed great potential.

Anyone watching the Celtics this season knows Bradley plays tenacious defense, but what has been a positive sign for Bradley has been his offensive growth. He was productive again Monday night, scoring 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

Board to death: For the first time in a long time, the Celtics weren’t annihilated in the rebounding department. No, no, no. In fact, Boston grabbed eight offensive boards, and held an overall 37-33 advantage on the glass.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Reluctant Rondo: Going into Monday night’s game, Rondo had been extremely passive. The last three games Rondo has only taken 19 shots and scored 20 points. Always the enigma, the cerebral point guard has 42 assists over that same stretch, so it’s difficult to fault his performances.

The trend continued against the Bobcats as Rondo had 13 assists (nine in the first half), but only had seven points on 1-of-7 shooting. Against non-lottery bound teams the Celtics will need Rondo to assert himself more in the scoring department.

Nine lives: The Celtics were great in the first quarter. Against an inferior team on the road, Boston jumped out to an 18-point lead at the end of the first 12 minutes. Dreams of an early blowout vanished after a dismal effort in the second frame. Boston executed poorly offensively and even worse on defense, as they were outscored 35-19 in the second quarter.

The Bobcats managed to hang around late, cutting the lead down to four with just under two minutes left, despite the Celtics holding a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter. The Celtics were able to stave off the run, but things were still more difficult and uncomfortable than they needed to be.

Help wanted!: It’s tough to jump on the Celtics bench for its lack of scoring. With Bradley starting in place of Allen, and Pietrus still unavailable, one figured the starters would have to carry the load (again). Unforeseen, however, was the Bobcats bench keeping Charlotte in contention. In the first half Byron Mullens, Derrick Brown and DeSagana Diop — you’re probably muttering to yourself “Who? Who?? Who?!?!” — combined for 30 points on 12-of-21 shooting and were vital to their second-quarter comeback.

Irish Coffee: Greg Stiemsma’s March to NBA legitimacy

Monday, March 26th, 2012

As Austin Powers reminded us, the idiom of a steamroller as an overwhelming, irresistible force isn’t exactly an apt one. Rather, the plodding machine goes about its business, transforming a bumpy road into a smooth, consistent surface. And so goes the NBA life of Greg “The Stiemroller” Stiemsma.

Since amassing 13 points and seven rebounds during his first career start just six games into his rookie season, Stiemsma became somewhat of a cult hero in Boston — Brian Scalabrine 2.0, if you will — particularly after Tommy Heinsohn compared his shot-blocking prowess to the legendary Bill Russell.

Except, the “Scal-a-bri-ne” chants that so often enveloped the Garden came in the final moments of blowout victories by a championship-contending team, a Gino-esque symbol that signaled another opponent throwing in the proverbial white flag. The opposite is true for this group of Celtics, whose lack of depth in the frontcourt requires a nightly contribution from the 7-foot Stiemsma if they hope to accomplish anything in the playoffs.

“I don’t think there’s been one real moment that it kind of all clicked in, but this whole season has been about opportunities,” said Stiemsma. “Early on, even in the preseason and the training camp, I had certain opportunities, and I got to play well in those opportunities. So, I think early on it helped me establish just in my own head that, ‘All right, I can play at this level and proved that.’

“So, even if I have a bad game or have a bad possession, whatever it is, I can just get over it and not worry about the big picture of ‘Maybe I’m not cut out for this level,’” he added. “I think I’ve proved that I am.”

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Celtics take care of business

Monday, March 26th, 2012

When analyzing the Celtics’ schedule in the lockout-shortened season, their eight-game road trip in the middle of March stood out like like an Avery Bradley 19-point first half. The stretch took on new meaning and appeared even more daunting as it drew nearer. The veteran squad had struggled all season long with a combination of ill-timed injuries, rumors of possible trades and overall inconsistent play.

On paper the end results weren’t flawless, or even impressive — the Celtics finished 4-4 — but sans a woeful second half against a bad Kings team, the performances were proof the Celtics could still make noise come playoff time. Doc Rivers wanted his team to maintain the intensity upon returning home Sunday night against an inferior Wizards team.

“We told them we are not at home,” Rivers said. “We are on the road still. The road trip ends after the next game is the way we look at it.”

Empirical evidence suggests the Celtics could perform up to their potential in a dominating performance, like they did against the Blazers just before the road tip, or drop a game they should win like they did losing both games of a home-and-home series against a lottery-bound Pistons team in February. Fortunately for the C’s, the former occurred as they shot 65 percent and built a 19-point lead at halftime they would never surrender.

“This is definitely game we’re supposed to win,” Paul Pierce said. ”The Washington Wizards are in a rebuilding phase, trading away a lot their players. It’s just nice to get a win.”

Pierce is not being arrogant or presumptuous in his statement; he is being truthful (no pun intended). The Celtics should post victories against teams out of contention like the Wizards. However, even though the road trip is over, in the final 18 games only four are against teams with no playoff aspirations. Additionally, Boston faces the Heat three times, has matchups against the Knicks and Bucks — each of whom are battling the Celtics for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference — and has a trip to conference-leading Chicago.

“There are a lot of expectations,” Greg Stiemsma said. ”We step on the floor and expect to win every night, and we’ve got big plans the rest of the year.”

If any plans are to come to fruition, games like Monday’s in Charlotte no longer can be chalked up to an off night due to back-to-back games. Schedule losses don’t happen to championship-caliber teams in April while gearing up for the playoffs.