A day after John Hollinger’s NBA playoff odds indicated the Celtics would be the odd team out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the C’s are statistically entrenched in his top eight thanks to a 100-91 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee. Now, if only they could make the 76ers’ odds of winning the Atlantic Division similarly vanish.
The 76ers have an 80.6 percent chance of winning the division, according to Hollinger. The Celtics? 11.9 percent. That could change in Philadelphia on Friday as the C’s (25-21) trail the Sixers by just one game in the win column.
If history is any indication, Friday in Philly won’t be pretty. The Celtics are 0-6 when they have to travel for the second night of a back-to-back (they did beat the Clippers a night after losing to the Lakers in the same Los Angeles arena), including a 32-point loss to the 76ers earlier this month.
However, the Celtics are 10-4 since the All-Star Game, owners of the league’s second-best record since the break — behind only the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed Bulls (12-2) and one win better than the surging Lakers (9-4). Who would have seen that coming with eight straight away games spread out over 6,000 miles looming?
But the Celtics will emerge from the season’s longest road trip no worse than 4-4, including hard-fought losses to the Lakers and Nuggets (the Western Conference’s current third and seventh seeds, respectively).
Based on ESPN.com writer/mathematician John Hollinger’s latest NBA playoff odds, the Celtics (25-21) are the odd team out in the Eastern Conference playoff race — behind the Knicks (23-24) and Bucks (21-25), winners of five and six straight, respectively. Of course, that projection jibes with the most recent Irish Coffee breakdown.
Regardless, Thursday night’s matchup between the seventh-seeded Celtics and ninth-place Bucks was the biggest thing to hit Milwaukee since the filming of “Bridesmaids.” But only the Celtics showed up, cruising 100-91.
Paul Pierce (25 points, 9 rebounds) led the charge. Rajon Rondo (10 points, 14 assists) Kevin Garnett (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (12 points, 10 rebounds) all recorded double-doubles. And Greg Stiemsma (6 points, 5 blocks, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists) filled up the stat sheet during his first NBA game in his home state.
The Celtics travel to Philadelphia on Friday night, trailing the 76ers by just 0.5 games for the Atlantic Division lead (and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference). But first, let’s get to the Fast Break.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Pushing for the cushion: The Celtics shot 58 percent from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, in the first quarter, taking an early 35-29 lead. Pierce scored 11 points in the frame, and Rondo added six. Whenever those two get involved early, good things happen for the C’s. At least for the first 12 minutes, they showed they could match Milwaukee’s newfound fast-paced offensive style of play. Obviously, it helps when the opposing team doesn’t play defense.
Oui, Oui, Oui: It’s no revelation at this point, but Mickael Pietrus‘ ability to make 3-pointers coming cold off the bench is remarkable. He knocked down a trio of triples in the first half, walking the walk after talking the talk. On top of his long-range shooting, a couple tough Pietrus (13 points) takes to the hoop in the fourth quarter helped the Celtics stretch their lead to double digits.
The Bucks stop here: On a nightly basis during this road trip, it seems Doc Rivers has said something to the tune of, “We’ve got to grind out games.” It didn’t appear Thursday night’s game would play out that way, as the two teams combined for 114 first-half points, but Stiemsma and Avery Bradley led an inspired defensive effort in the second half that turned the style-of-play tide in the Celtics favor.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Turkish terror: For the second straight meeting, Bucks 6-foot-10 power forward Ersan Ilyasova burned the Celtics, totaling 12 points and eight rebounds by halftime (he had 25 and 10 against the Celtics last month). Ilysasova (12 points, 14 rebounds) entered the game averaging 12.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in 27.0 minutes a night. For the record, he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season (cc: Danny Ainge).
Oh, shoot: It wasn’t Ray Allen‘s night. He finished just 1-of-8 from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3-point range. And it’s not like he wasn’t getting good looks. Even wide open attempts weren’t falling for Allen. Luckily, the C’s held Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings (12-of-32 combined field goals) relatively in check.
Paint by numbers: Despite matching the Bucks on the glass for much of the night, Milwaukee owned a decided advantage in points in the paint (50-36). And that was on a night that Drew Gooden played awful basketball. The Celtics can get themselves in trouble when they settle for jumpers while the other team gets to the bucket, but even that didn’t seem to matter in Beertown.
Default Player for embeding in WEEI.com columns and blogs
Size, power and quickness. Toughness, fearlessness and the ability to rebound.
All of those are qualities the Celtics could use. It’s a commodity they’ve been desperately seeking since Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal were lost for the season.
The Celtics won’t be in the lottery this season so scouts like Ryan McDonough will be searching long and hard in the college and amateur ranks for someone who might fall through the cracks and be available in the NBA Draft this June.
Meet Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates.
At 6-9, 260 pounds, he’s certainly powerful. He can rebound, currently ranked ninth all-time on Cincinnati’s all-time rebound list with 911. He is one of only six players in the school’s illustrious history with at least 1,400 points and 900 rebounds.
He’s a senior who’s been through the wars.
Oh yeah, about that last line. Arguably the ugliest moment in Cincinnati’s basketball history came on Dec. 10 at the Cintas Center against the archrival Xavier Musketeers.
With just 9.4 seconds remaining in a 23-point loss, Gates was in the middle of college basketball’s ugliest chapter of the season. He threw a right cross that landed flush on the left eye brow of Xavier big man Kenny Frease. It opened a gash and dropped him to the ground. Frease was then stomped on by Cheikh Mbodj and blood started flowing from above Frease’s eye.
To his credit, he served a six-game suspension handed down by the school and expressed remorse. It was a complete loss of self-control and judgment. But in saying that, he has showed something else in the following three months – competitive fire.
While inconsistent at times, Gates has been the backbone of the interior game for the Bearcats, rebounding and playing defense, as coach Mick Cronin directed the team not to rely on his offense but the other things he brings to the table, like nine rebounds a game in the Big East, still considered the toughest in college basketball.
“Defense and rebounding,” Cronin said Wednesday. “We lost Ibrahima Thomas and Yancy really had to change his basketball personality from an offensive player to an all-around player. He needed to be our defensive anchor this year because we’re small in the other areas. It took him time. When he came back [from suspension] he realized here’s what I have to do to help this team win – I have to be an anchor on defense.
“These guys are scoring, they’re running around, hitting shots, beating their man off the dribble. ‘I have to finish plays around the rim, fit in and give these guys an anchor inside.’ And he’s done that. Maybe I should’ve been using him more in that capacity. So, sometimes as a coach, you stumble on to some things.”
With his presence in the middle, he led the team to road wins over Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Connecticut and home wins over Louisville and Marquette. Then, in the Big East, the Bearcats did it again to Georgetown and sent No. 2 Syracuse packing before their offense was a no-show against Louisville in the Big East championship.
Fast-forward to the tournament, they handled Texas and eliminated No. 10 Florida State, the team that beat North Carolina in the ACC title game.
This is a Bearcats team tournament-tested, and ready to take on Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes. This is a great chance for NBA scouts to see how Gates does against a big-man who projects as a potential lottery pick. And the Celtics will be watching Gates very closely. You can count on it.
Where does that leave the Celtics? The two names still in circulation are Ryan Hollins and journeyman Josh Powell. Here’s the take on Hollins: He’s 7-feet tall with a decent touch around the basket, but he’s a poor rebounder who lost his spot in the Cavs’ rotation to rookie Tristan Thompson.
Still, Hollins is better than Powell and would serve an immediate need considering the sore foot that Greg Stiemsma is currently playing through. If anything happens to Stiemsma, the Celtics are in major trouble and it could lead to Kevin Garnett playing more minutes than the team would like.
In order to add Hollins — or anyone else for the matter — the Celtics would have to make room on their roster by waiving one of their players. Chris Wilcox is out for the season and will undergo heart surgery later this month and Jermaine O’Neal decided to have wrist surgery and will also miss the rest of the season.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, they wouldn’t be able to re-sign a player they waived for at least a year so if they have any interest in bringing Wilcox back, they’d keep him on the roster.
This Friday is the deadline for players to be bought out/waived and still be eligible for the postseason on another team. As a reminder, players can sign at any time up until the last day of the regular season and still be eligible for the postseason as long as they are not on someone else’s roster by the Friday deadline.
Celtics fans have the chance to watch the Celtics take on the Heat on April 1 from Paul Pierce‘s personal luxury suite, as Pierce is offering 12 tickets to fans through a special online raffle. Raffle tickets cost $2 apiece with a minimum purchase of five tickets, and all proceeds go to benefit Pierce’s Truth on Health Campaign.
Truth on Health is Pierce’s non-profit organization that aims to encourage and empower young people to lead healthier lifestyles. Tickets can be purchased online at www.netraffle.org and the winner will be selected on March 30 at 11 a.m. In addition to the tickets, the winner will receiver $500 worth of food and drinks in the suite, a basketball autographed by Pierce, and 12 Pierce activity watches.
“I am thrilled to offer my fans a chance to sit in my suite while helping to raise funds to support my Truth on Health Campaign,” Pierce said in a press release. “It is critical for kids to understand that staying active and eating healthy are the keys to leading a happy and fulfilling life, and all of the funds we raise will help give kids the tools and information they need to live a healthy lifestyle.”
As the Celtics search to replace Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox, relieve Kevin Garnett and aid an ailing Greg Stiemsma (sprained right foot), add Bobcats power forward Boris Diaw to a list of available free agent big man targets that already includes Ronny Turiaf, J.J. Hickson and Ryan Hollins.
The Bobcats and the 6-foot-8, 235-pound (yeah, right) Diaw have reached a buyout agreement on what remains of his $9 million salary this season, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Diaw played a franchise record 258 straight games since being traded from the Suns in 2008 before a conflict with coach Paul Silas led to his benching in seven of their nine games since March 6, the report said.
Naturally, the disconnect resulted from the coach’s perception of Diaw as, in a word, lazy. After all, the NBA’s 2005-06 Most Improved Player entered the league weighing 203 pounds and has since watched his waistline grow considerably in recent years.
Still, he’s averaged 7.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 27.5 minutes a night this season. Playing in all 82 games a a season ago, the eight-year veteran produced 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Diaw ranks last in rebounding rate among power forwards who play 25 minutes a night, according to Hoop Data, but the hope from the Celtics would be that an engaged Diaw could add defense and playmaking.
At least two respected reporters in the field — ESPN’s John Hollinger and Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe — suggested the Celtics as a likely destination for Diaw on Twitter.
The NBA lockout ended. Rajon Rondo nearly got traded for Chris Paul during a frenzied training camp. Paul Pierce has played his way into shape, Kevin Garnett has enjoyed a vintage Kevin Garnett season and Ray Allen is shooting better than ever because he’s wearing bigger shoes.
And that’s not all. Jermaine O’Neal played all of 25 games. Heart problems ended both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox‘s seasons. Mickael Pietrus came on board, guaranteeing an NBA title. The Celtics lost five straight games — twice. They’ve also had two separate 10-game stretches where they’ve won nine and eight games.
Now, with one third left of this long, strange trip that has been the Celtics regular season, they sit in the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff spot. Trailing the Bulls (38-10) and Heat (33-11) by a respective 12.5 and 9.5 games with 21 games left, the Celtics (24-21) can forget about catching either for the No. 1 or 2 seed.
Catching the Magic (29-18), owners of a four-game lead on the C’s for the No. 3 seed, isn’t inconceivable, but more likely the Celtics will vie with the 76ers (26-20), Pacers (25-18) and Hawks (26-20) for the No. 4 seed. All are within 1.5 games of each other. The Knicks (21-24) and Bucks (20-24) are battling for the final playoff spot.
Three division winners and the conference’s next best team are seeded 1-4 based on records, so the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers are slotted fourth, even though the Pacers own a better record. The remaining teams are ranked 5-8 based on record, but division winners are not guaranteed a home series. So, should a lower seed own the better record, they’d still play four road contests in a seven-game series — negating the seeding advantage.
For example, should the Celtics win the division but have a worse record than the Pacers, they’d still be playing the first two games of their playoff series on the road. With all that said, let’s see who has the best shot of getting those three and four seeds based on how the strength of their remaining schedules.