Archive for April, 2012

Fast Break: Celtics clinch fifth straight division title

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Captain Paul Pierce followed up his 43-point effort on Tuesday night in New York with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists on Wednesday night in Boston — including the dagger with 7.6 seconds left — to guide the Celtics to a 102-98 win over the visiting Magic and clinching a fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title in the process.

Avery Bradley (23 points) tied a career high, Brandon Bass contributed 21 points against his old team, and Kevin Garnett amassed 15 points and nine rebounds, as the Celtics (37-26) clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference — even without Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus in the lineup against Orlando.

Old friend Glen Davis totaled 27 points and seven rebounds in Dwight Howard‘s absence, but the Magic (36-26) dropped a game behind the Hawks (37-25) — 116-84 winners over the Pistons — for the fifth seed and the right to face the Celtics in the first round. With three games left on their schedule, the C’s travel to Atlanta on Friday night trailing the Hawks by a game in the loss column for home court advantage in their potential playoff matchup.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Shoot first: The Celtics shot a blistering 73.7 percent in the first quarter (14-19 FG), staking themselves to a 33-22 lead that even survived a second-quarter starting lineup of E’Twaun Moore, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Greg Stiemsma and Garnett. In the first 12 minutes, Bradley, Garnett, Bass and Pierce shot a combined 13-of-16 and scored 31 points. That allowed the undermanned C’s to play with a lead for the majority of the night.

Brad-ical: As discussed in Wednesday’s Irish Coffee, Bradley entered the game averaging 14.2 points on 53 percent shooting in 15 games since joining the starting lineup on March 25. Those averages will only increase, as he scored 17 points by halftime on 8-of-10 shooting, eclipsing 15 points for the fifth consecutive game.

Captain steering: With Rondo resting a sore back and wrist, Pierce assumed the role of distributor, and played it well. He made Rondo’s streak of 23 straight games with at least 10 assists seem easy, as the Celtics captain amassed 11 dimes by halftime. He also added 13 points in the opening 24 minutes to earn a double-double and take the Celtics into the break with a 55-51. Considering it’s been a roller coaster season that started with a heel injury and recently featured a toe injury, Doc Rivers & Co. must be pleased to see Pierce — who dropped 43 points on the Knicks on Tuesday — peaking at the right time.

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Irish Coffee: The rise of Avery Bradley’s offense

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Lost in the rubble of a 3-point barrage that left a 118-110 loss to the Knicks in its dust lay another stellar offensive performance from newest Celtics starter Avery Bradley.

By now, everyone knows of Bradley’s defensive exploits, but his shooting of late has been downright Ray Allen-esque. That’s not to say Bradley is a clone of the man he’s replaced in the starting lineup, but his 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against the Knicks — including 5-of-6 from long distance — can’t be ignored.

In 15 games since joining Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett in the first five on March 25 (with the exception of an 87-86 loss to the Spurs), Bradley is averaging 14.2 points while shooting 53.1 percent from the field (86-162 FG), 56.7 percent from beyond the arc (17-30 3P) and 85.7 percent from the line (24-28 FT). He’s reached double figures in 11 of those 15 games, including the last four.

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Sean Grande: Not your Garden variety night for Celtics in New York

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Carmelo Anthony posted a triple-double against the Celtics on Tuesday night. (AP)

Editor’s note: This is a guest piece by Celtics radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande. He wrote the story just before 3 a.m., after the Celtics’ 118-110 loss Tuesday night to the Knicks in New York.

You know what’s a bad idea?

Starting a blog at 3 a.m. But hey, doubling down on Carmelo Anthony and giving J.R. Smith and Steve Novak open looks at 3′s also is a bad idea.

So bad, in fact, it made history.

And that’s really what I’m doing here at 3 a.m., and what you’re doing there, likely early in the morning, maybe putting off the work that you left sitting in your cubicle when you went home last night. Because, hey, if it could wait overnight, it can wait another few minutes.

Besides, it’s going to be a long, long time before we see another one like that.

At 6 p.m., as the Celtics were preparing to leave their hotel in midtown Manhattan, an SUV pulled up in front of our bus. A few seconds later, from the back, emerged one William Martin Joel.

In New York, and the rest of the world, but really in New York, everyone calls him Billy.

He once said, in a song he considered a real next-level breakthrough for him, that it’s either sadness … or euphoria.

And it’s a shame that “It’s fantastic!” was just so darn catchy, because the NBA could have easily adopted that as its slogan instead.

It’s been a remarkable second half for the Celtics. Their 21-9 record is one of the NBA’s best, Wednesday night on their home floor they can clinch their fifth straight division title, the defense has been the league’s standard and they’ve put together a string of outstanding nights and quality wins that with the playoffs approaching have made people think about what’s still possible.

This … was not one of them.

Big picture, the 118-110 loss to the Knicks Tuesday night may end up just a footnote on a division championship season with the truly memorable moments still ahead in the playoffs.

But these were some remarkable footnotes.

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Poll: Should Danny Ainge have broken up the Big Three?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Memphis guard O.J. Mayo was almost a Celtic at the trade deadline. (AP)

At the trade deadline, the Celtics were 23-19 and just beginning to show signs of a second-half surge. Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Magic, they are 36-26, on course to win the Atlantic Division and possibly play more than just a spoiler’s role in the postseason.

Team president Danny Ainge didn’t make any moves at the deadline, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. He said he had a handful of deals in the works that just couldn’t reach completion and now we know what they were, thanks to a report from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Per Woj, Ainge had a deal in place to send Ray Allen to Memphis for a package involving O.J. Mayo and a draft pick. Things were so far along that coach Doc Rivers even told Allen that it was done, only to have to pull back at the last minute when it fell apart.

Additionally, a deal that would have sent Paul Pierce to New Jersey for Mehmet Okur‘s expiring contract and their lottery pick also didn’t make it to the finish line. (The Nets made a similar deal involving Portland’s Gerald Wallace, leaving their pick top-3 protected).

If the deals had gone through, Ainge would have had Mayo — a 24-year-old shooting guard who has averaged 15 points in his four seasons — and multiple picks in what many consider to be a loaded draft. He also would have had essentially a blank canvas and more than $40 million in cap space to rebuild around Rajon Rondo with Pierce’s contract off the books.

One side effect of the deals that didn’t happen. Not only have the Celtics played better since the deadline, they have also seen Avery Bradley emerge as a potential cornerstone for the future. With Mayo in place, perhaps Bradley never gets a chance to get significant playing time. Since March 23, Bradley has averaged over 14 points a game and the Celtics are 11-4 with wins over Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami (twice) and Atlanta.

Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make, but Ainge doesn’t necessarily feel that way. He told The Big Show last week that he still would have made the deals knowing what he knows now.

What do you think?

Should Danny Ainge have broken up the Big Three

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Celtics’ age-old problem: Health vs. home court

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Paul Pierce and the Celtics are banged up. (AP)

In an ideal world, Celtics coach Doc Rivers will go into the playoffs with an eight-man rotation.

In addition to his five starters, he’ll use Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma off the bench. Sasha Pavlovic or Keyon Dooling can absorb a few minutes here or there and Ryan Hollins is the emergency big man in case of foul trouble.

That’s a mighty thin rotation, but its really all Rivers has to work with as the playoffs approach. Jermaine O’Neal is out for the season. Marquis Daniels simply hasn’t been able to regain his form following spinal surgery and the Purdue rookies have been relegated to the deep ends of the bench.

In theory, that eight-man rotation offers versatility and intriguing matchup possibilities. Rivers got a sneak peak at using Allen off the bench before his ankle injury flared up. Having Allen and Kevin Garnett on the floor to start the second quarter was a huge upgrade over some of the lineups he’s been forced to use this season.

The real key is Pietrus, who has the ability to guard multiple positions and he was sorely missed in their 118-110 loss to the Knicks on Tuesday. New York started three guards and forced the Celtics to use Brandon Bass on Carmelo Anthony at times.

Bass has proven to be a willing defender all season, often matching up with much larger players, but Anthony is a tough cover for anyone, let alone a banger like Bass. With shooters like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak bombing away from the perimeter, the makeshift second unit without Pietrus and Allen was powerless to stop the onslaught.

The Celtics won’t play the Knicks in the playoffs barring a rash of upsets, but whoever they face, the one thing that is perfectly clear is Rivers needs all eight of his top players if his team is going to make a run. There simply isn’t enough depth to withstand any more injuries.

This sets up a problem for the coach. (more…)

Fast Break: Knicks Garden 3 party barrages Celtics

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Another Atlantic Division title will have to wait. A record-setting 3-point barrage by the Knicks put the undermanned Celtics in a hole Paul Pierce couldn’t even dig them out of in a 118-110 defeat at Madison Square Garden.

Pierce (43 pionts, 11-19 FG, 4-6 3P, 17-18 FT) became the first Celtics player to eclipse 40 points since he scored 50 on Feb. 15, 2006, but Knicks reserves J.R. Smith (25 points, 7-10 3P) and Steve Novak (25 points, 8-10 3P) helped New York set an NBA record for 3-point field goals off the bench in a remarkable effort.

Carmelo Anthony‘s triple-double (35 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and Tyson Chandler‘s inside presence (20 points, 7 rebounds) also contributed to a 56.8 shooting night for the Knicks.

With the bench getting outscored 55-2, the Celtics dropped to 36-26 despite quality offensive nights from Rajon Rondo (13 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds) — who recorded 10-plus assists for the 23rd straight game — Kevin Garnett (20 points), Avery Bradley (17 points) and Brandon Bass (15 points).

The Knicks (32-29) moved a game ahead of the 76ers (31-30), who lost to the Pacers (40-22), so the C’s magic number for the division title and the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed remains at one. They also dropped a game back in the loss column behind the idle Magic (36-25) and Hawks (36-25), who would own homecourt advantage as the fifth seed should they finish with a better record.

WHAT WENT WRONG

New York 3 party: When the horn mercifully signaled halftime, the Knicks had made 14-of-21 3-pointers (66.7%) — including 11 in the second quarter — to enter the break with a 72-53 advantage after the worst defensive 24 minutes of the Celtics season. Victimized by J.R. Smith (7-9 3P) and Steve Novak (4-6 3P) helped the Knicks tie records for treys both in a half and a quarter, and the 14 triples tied the most the C’s allowed in a game all season.

Finishing touches: Led by the starting backcourt duo of Bradley and Rondo, the Celtics staked themselves to a 24-17 advantage with 3:38 remaining in the first quarter, but Anthony led a Knicks charge that resulted in a 32-26 deficit after the opening 12 minutes. Anthony finished the frame with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

Forwards, backwards: The ailments of Ray Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (knee) forced Celtics coach Doc Rivers to start the second quarter with a lineup that included Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling. That translated into the Knicks putting the finishing touches on an 18-0 run (and 23-2 overall) that began in the first quarter. And that was before New York’s 3-point onslaught really got going.

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Irish Coffee: An All-NBA case for Rajon Rondo

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

By now, you know Rajon Rondo‘s streak of 22 straight games with at least 10 assists trails John Stockton‘s record of 29 by seven. With only five games left, that record will stand at least until the 2012-13 NBA season begins.

But just how good has Rondo been during this streak, and this entire season for that matter?

In his last 22 games, Rondo has averaged 10.1 points, 13.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals, leading the Celtics to a 15-7 record. He has totaled 223 points and 303 assists — 57 of which led to 3-pointers — putting his hand in 886 of the C’s 2,050 points (43.2%) in that span.

To put that in perspective, NBA MVP favorite LeBron James has averaged 26.1 points and 5.5 assists in his last 22 games, leading the Heat to a 14-8 record. He has totaled 574 points and 121 assists (25 on 3P) in that span, generating 841 of Miami’s 2,081 points (40.4%).

And those numbers aren’t too far off Rondo’s season averages of 12.1 points, 11.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Out of all the players in NBA backcourts, Rondo may fall outside the top 50 in scoring, but he ranks first among guards in assists, fourth in rebounds (behind two guards Paul George, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade) and fourth in steals (behind only Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio).

All of which begs the question: Should Rondo make First Team All-NBA?

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