Archive for October, 2012

Irish Coffee: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee still searching for magic potion in Celtics’ backcourt chemistry experiment

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

If you look at their production during the preseason, newest Celtics guards Courtney Lee and Jason Terry appear headed in different directions in terms of adjusting to their new team, but both are confident they’ll end up in the same place when the NBA season starts on Oct. 30 — meshing their strengths into an established system.

“We’re not worried about that,” said Terry. “Right now, we’re just trying to execute what [Celtics coach] Doc [Rivers] lays out there for us, and we know that part of our game will come here shortly. We’ve got three games in a short amount of time to get right and get ready and prepare.”

After struggling in the C’s 97-91 loss to Istanbul’s Fenerbahce Ulker to start the preseason, Lee’s comfort level has steadily progressed, culminating in his most extended minutes (33) and most complete performance (13 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 block) during a 97-96 loss to the Nets on Tuesday night. It marked his third start in five preseason games and his third double-digit scoring output in the four games since the opener.

“I was trying too hard to fit in,” Lee said of his early struggles. Obviously, a collision with Fab Melo‘s shoulder that left him with a deep right thigh contusion and kept him out of the C’s unofficial practices from Sept. 6 to the start of training camp didn’t help. “I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t being aggressive at all.

“Doc came to me and said that hurts the team. He needs me to play my game, be aggressive and make the right plays. The more practice we get and the more games we play, I’m getting more and more comfortable with that.”

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Armond Hill: ‘What would happen if [Doc Rivers] gets thrown out’

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012


When the second half began Tuesday night, Doc Rivers was no where to be found on the Celtics bench. As it turned out, there was no medical emergency. It was all pre-planned. Rivers told his longtime assistant Armond Hill he would be taking the reins in the second half. Why?

“He just came to me and said, ‘Armond, you’re coaching the second half.’ He’s always said that as much as players are in training camp, so are the coaches. And so what would happen if he gets thrown out, something like that?”

Rivers actually joked with reporters before the 97-96 preseason loss to the Nets at TD Garden that everyone should go home by nine o’clock in order to watch the debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. As it turned out, Rivers was in the locker room right about the same time as the debate began. But Hill insisted Rivers was actually watching the Celtics game since he knew every detail of what was going on in the game, including the Celtics losing a nine-point lead with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter.

“I can only thank Doc for giving me the opportunity to coach,” Hill said. “That’s what we’re all here for. He’s taught me and I’ve been with him and he continues to teach me and he’s given me another opportunity.

“As far as at the end, I put all the guys in and I didn’t have any point guards in. But, once I explained that Courtney [Courtney Lee] was cramping up a little bit, he understood. So we just played them. But we still had chances and I thought we shot quick, too quick, when we had a seven-and eight-point lead. But it’s all a learning experience.” (more…)

Fast Break: Paul Pierce ends this Celtics-Nets debate

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Even Celtics coach Doc Rivers couldn’t watch a full preseason game against a Nets team that didn’t send any of its starting five out for the opening tip. Conveniently, the second half of the C’s 97-96 loss coincided with the start of the presidential debate, and that’s when Rivers — an ardent support of President Barack Obama, a fellow former Chicagoan — excused himself, “allowing his assistant coaches to handle the bench duties.”

At least Paul Pierce stayed for the second half, capping a 29-point night on 10-of-17 shooting (6-8 3P) in 27 efficient minutes. Jeff Green (14 points) and Courtney Lee (13 points) also stuck around until the end of the C’s bench eventually coughed up a double-digit lead in the final minutes. Here’s what else Rivers missed.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Sharp Pierce: After entering training camp out of shape and suffering a foot injury that lingered long past the three games he missed to start the 2011-12 NBA season, Pierce seems prepared to begin this season in much better shape, showing no ill effects of the knee injury that hobbled during the playoffs. The Celtics captain connected on four of his first seven shots against the Nets, scoring 10 of the C’s 14 points in the opening seven minutes.

Green party: After struggling for the first time all preseason against the 76ers, Green turned in another aggressive performance, recapturing his leadership role on the second unit. After falling hard to the floor early in the second quarter, he shook off the trainer and even drew a charge on the other end. If there were any lingering questions about Green’s hesitance after returning from heart surgery, he answered them in that stretch.

On guard: Lee’s outside shot wasn’t dropping (1-4 3P), but the C’s starting shooting guard once again demonstrated the athleticism and defensive ability that made him so coveted. Also, his chemistry with backcourt mate Rajon Rondo is clearly developing, as Lee found open spots on the perimeter and Rondo naturally found him with a few nice crosscourt passes. Eventually, the career 39 percent 3-point shooter’s stroke will connect.

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Celtics eye outside help after waiving Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

It was a tough decision the Celtics made when they waived Jamar Smith and Dionte Christmas prior to Tuesday night’s home exhibition opener against the Nets. It wasn’t so much that the pair did anything wrong, but that the Celtics are looking to add another veteran player and they needed the extra roster spot. It’s possible they could add another player by the end of the week, sources said.

It’s unclear the direction they’ll go in yet, but coach Doc Rivers said that it didn’t necessarily have to be in the backcourt where the C’s are dealing with the unexpected retirement of Keyon Dooling and the injury absence of Avery Bradley.

“We’re always looking. It would be great to get another guy, at any position,” Rivers said. “We can’t forget that Avery is coming back so we don’t want to overdo that point guard thing. When you count Courtney Lee and [Jason Terry] and Avery, all three are ballhandlers. None of the three are pure point guards, but they certainly can play together.”

The moves would also seem to open a path for second-round pick Kris Joseph to make the team. The Celtics have 13 players under guaranteed contract and Rivers said he thought they would have the full 15-play compliment heading into the season. For a team that’s up against the tax-line, Joseph’s $473K rookie contract is a good fit.

Still, the rookie from Syracuse has work to do.

“You can see the ability there,” Rivers said. “He really hasn’t done anything yet. We look at a lot of tings when we decide to keep a guy or not keep a guy. We like what he can potentially do, but he has done nothing yet.”

If nothing else it’s a reminder that nothing in this league is guaranteed until it is and that competition isn’t just internal.

Fast Break: Spencer Hawes, 76ers slap Celtics silly

Monday, October 15th, 2012

The Celtics started Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic, marking the fourth different Doc Rivers starting lineup in as many preseason games. In Philadelphia, few showed up — namely Sixers fans, centers Kevin Garnett and Andrew Bynum, and the C’s cohesiveness.

When all was said and done after an atrocious 107-75 C’s loss, only Pierce (16 points) and Brandon Bass (11 points) reached double figures, six different Celtics committed at least two of the team’s 20 turnovers and Milicic left in the second half with a sore wrist. All that said, let’s sort through the ugliness.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Turnovers and turnover: As analyst Tommy Heinsohn said at halftime, when the C’s had already coughed the ball up 14 times (Pierce 4, Milicic 3, Rondo 3, Sullinger 2) and experimented with roughly 9,736 different lineups, “There was no chemistry. It was boiling over into turnovers.” Few if any lineups appeared to have any continuity. Given the Celtics are only midway through the preseason, it’s probably too early to be concerned about excessive experimentation, but the earlier Rivers can discover which units work best together, the better.

Off center: Without Kevin Garnett, who would normally treat Spencer Hawes like Hulk treated Loki in “The Avengers,” Rivers turned to Sullinger and Milicic to guard the Sixers center. Often, the former proved too small and the latter too slow to challenge the rangy 7-footer. Understandably, the Celtics didn’t want to play Garnett in back-to-back nights, and Rivers likely wanted to experiment with his big Garnett/Milicic lineup against Brook Lopez and the Nets on Tuesday night. Still, Monday was further evidence how important KG is to the C’s chemistry.

Project Green light: Green may have guarded everywhere from the 2-4, but that didn’t mean he did it successfully. While NBA plus/minus statistics aren’t always the best indicator, he was a team-worst minus-28 against the 76ers. After reaching double digits and shooting better than 50 percent in his first three preseason games, Green made just 3-of-9 attempts, missed all three of his long-distance attempts and committed two turnovers. Outside of an unchallenged slam dunk, he failed to take advantage of a matchup against offensive-minded Nick Young.

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Fast Break: Celtics continue experiments in loss to Knicks

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Brandon Bass was back in the starting lineup for the Celtics’ third exhibition game against the Knicks on Saturday night and C’s fans should probably get used to some uncertainty with the starters. Whether it’s Bass or Jared Sullinger at the 4 or Jason Terry or Courtney Lee at off-guard, or even Darko Milicic at center, the days of the set starting lineup may be a thing of the past.

It’s not just matchups, although that will play a significant part. If Doc Rivers wants to have his team in peak condition for the playoffs in the spring, he’ll need them to be healthy and somewhat less exhausted then they have been in the past. In order to do that, Rivers will need as many as 10 different players to perform significant roles and play major minutes.

Bass didn’t do much with his opportunity, however, scoring just 5 points on 2 shots in 18 minutes, while Sullinger scored a team-high 14 points to go with 7 rebounds in a 98-95 overtime loss. None of that changes the dynamic, which will continue to evolve throughout preseason.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The big lineup has potential: Rivers turned to Jeff Green midway through the first quarter and had him on the floor with Paul Pierce, Bass and Milicic. It’s an intriguing look because it will get more minutes for Green, help a thin backcourt rotation — until Avery Bradley returns, Rivers have only three veteran guards on his roster — and also add some scoring punch when Kevin Garnett is off the court. What’s still to be determined is whether the lineup can play successfully.

They did some good things in their time together and helped the C’s get back in the game after a rough start. It helped that Green was able to guard James White instead of J.R. Smith, who didn’t play. There’s more on the look in this post.

Speaking of Green: Another solid outing for the forward as he poured in 12 points to go with 4 rebounds and had another highlight-reel dunk. Some in Celtics land have been comparing him with James Worthy, but let’s pump the brakes on that kind of talk. If Green can average 20 and 6 for the next 4 years then fine, but Worthy is a Hall of Famer. Green is a decent player trying to find his way. Maybe he should be allowed to do that first.

Rajon Rondo, preseason MVP: It’s not just that Rondo continues to make his free throws: he hit three more and is now 13-for-13 in their three games. Or that he’s making jump shots and looking smooth and unhurried while doing so. Rondo is also in complete command of the offense and is playing at a controlled pace. He finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and zero turnovers.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding: It might be the single biggest issue for the Celtics this season and it’s all on the defensive glass. The C’s were crushed on the boards in the first quarter and fell into an early hole on the scoreboard. They rebounded, so to speak, in the second and built an 8-point lead at the half. Still, the Knicks had 11 offensive rebounds and the Celtics had exactly zero at the break. That can’t continue.

Offensively, it was a drag: All the usual caveats about preseason apply, but the C’s had almost no rhythm throughout the game. The Celtics have five more preseason games in the next 8 days so there is ample time to work out the kinks.

Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and Pablo Prigioni played crunch-time minutes: Playing without several key players including Amar’e Stoudemire, JR Smith and old friend Rasheed Wallace, the Knicks turned to a handful of veterans in the fourth quarter against a Celtics’ lineup that featured rookies and undrafted free agents. Not surprisingly, that allowed New York to get back in the game.

Fun with lineups: Jeff Green and Paul Pierce together?

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Jeff Green will be a key figure in the Celtics' small-ball lineups. (AP)

WALTHAM — With all the attention on who’s starting and who’s going to be on the court when the game ends, it’s important to remember than an NBA game is filled with multiple lineups and each has its own purpose. It’s the starters job to get a lead. It’s the bench’s job to provide support or change the flow of the game if it gets off on the wrong foot.

Some lineups have shooters. Some have defenders. Some strive for balance across the board.

More than most teams, the Celtics have relied on their starters to carry the weight. The potentially wonderful thing about this year’s squad is that Doc Rivers has options, and he’s excited about trying them all out. The reality is that Rivers has eight or nine players who could conceivably start or finish games and he seems far more worried about the middle part of the games than the beginning or the end.

Here’s Rivers on a big lineup with Kevin Garnett at power forward:

“You’re still going to play the same guys. Kevin’s going to play his 30 minutes and then you move around, but it does allow you to be big all the time if you want to be. It allows you to move Kevin to the r at times, which is good. So it gives you more options.”

And on whether Jason Terry or Courtney Lee could start:

“[Terry] could start. Whatever I prefer is whatever I think will be the best fit for our team. We may start Jason Terry and use him like Kevin for the first five minutes, just to get him some minutes and then bring him back in. We may start Courtney, so there’s a lot of ways we can go with it.”

If Rivers is being coy about his starters, he was much more open to talking about an intriguing pairing on the wing where he plans to play Paul Pierce and Jeff Green together.

“You can do it with the same lineup, just one’s a 2 and one’s a 3,” Rivers said. “You wouldn’t want to do it against a Miami with [Dwyane] Wade because one of those guys would have to guard Wade or a Ray Allen, a Reggie Miller type. You wouldn’t want them chasing guys off of screens. They don’t do that very well. It will be definitely a lineup we use, it will probably be a lineup we use every night at some point in games just to create our own matchup.

“There’s teams with big guards. That works offensively and defensively. There’s teams with a small guard, but not a great shooting guard and we can definitely do that because now that gives us an offensive advantage. It can go both ways.”

While Miami might not be the best look for this kind of lineup there are teams in the East who might make this interesting. Take Indiana with 6-foot-8 Paul George and Danny Granger on the wing. Or Brooklyn with Joe Johnson. Green would have played a huge role against Philadelphia in last year’s playoffs with all their funky combinations.

One of Rivers’ tasks this season is finding lineup where Green can be utilized to the best of his abilities. He can soak up minutes when Pierce is on the bench, but that’s at most 16 minutes or so and probably less on a given night. Getting the two of them together on the court would help increase Green’s time.

It’s easy to say now before the season has even started, but the rest of the Celtics seem on board with whatever combinations Rivers decided to use.

“Doc has a lot of options,” Garnett said. “He’s been playing with a lot of them during practice. Jeff Green in the lineup, the lineups that he’s playing with remind me of the 07-08 year when we had four smalls and one big and we had shooters and different dynamics to score the ball.”

If there’s one underlying hint to the coach’s direction, it seems that he’s trying to find ways to maximize their offensive potential and save some of the burden from his veterans. Terry and Jared Sullinger, for example, are more offensively-inclined than Lee and Brandon Bass, which may be why Rivers is thinking about starting them at times.

That seems smart considering the Celtics were once again a top defensive outfit last season, but a woeful offensive one. Along those lines, playing Pierce and Green together may take something away on the defensive end, but could potentially bolster that anemic attack.