|Josh Smith: Celtics ‘running plays way more harder’||05.07.12 at 12:58 am ET|
After the Celtics and Hawks were separated by just four points through the first three games of their series, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce & Co. put a 22-point whooping on Atlanta, and it wasn’t even that close.
The Celtics led by as many as 37 points, taking a 3-1 series lead with a chance to end the series on Tuesday.
“They shot the mess out of it tonight,” said Hawks forward Josh Smith, who returned from the left knee injury that kept him out of Game 3. “I’m watching it and being real observant when I’m on the bench. They’re just running the plays way more harder than we are. Whatever play is called, you know, Ray Allen is running off screens 100 miles per hour, Paul Pierce is finding a way to get open, the bigs are setting screens, getting the guards open.
“We have to try to duplicate what they do,” added Smith. “We have to try to get open. They’re trying so hard for Joe [Johnson] not to catch the ball. They’re being real physical with him, so we have to be able to match their physicality and be able to try to return the favor a little bit, see if they like it and stop being so passive.”
|Fast Break: Celtics rout Hawks, take 3-1 series lead||05.06.12 at 9:30 pm ET|
The only question for the Celtics after a 101-79 blowout of the Hawks that gave them a 3-1 Eastern Conference quarterfinals lead was whose virtuoso performance was more impressive: The captain’s or the general’s?
Paul Pierce threw the haymakers, scoring 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting (4-6 3P) in only 16-plus minutes, and Rajon Rondo jabbed away, amassing 20 points and 16 assists against just one turnover. Kevin Garnett (13 points), Ray Allen (12 points), Brandon Bass (10 points) and Keyon Dooling (10 points) also reached double figures, as the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field.
The C’s led by as many as 37 points and put themselves one game away from a fifth consecutive berth in the conference semifinals. The 76ers also took a 3-1 lead on the depleted Bulls team, setting up the possibility the Celtics could host the next round.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Early to rise: After slow starts (and finishes) in Games 1-3, the Celtics came prepared to Sunday’s Game 4 in the Garden. They made six of their eight shots in the opening 4:04, and Rondo orchestrated the offense beautifully. He assisted on five of the six field goals — including a Garnett dunk that forced Hawks coach Larry Drew to call a timeout four minutes into the game. By then, Garnett, Pierce and Avery Bradley each had two field goals, and the C’s were rolling.
Painting a masterpiece: Celtics coach Doc Rivers wants more paint production out of Garnett, even after his starting center’s 20-point, 13-board effort in Game 3. Rivers felt if Rondo could get Garnett the ball deeper toward the basket, the Celtics could be a more effective offensive unit. Done and done. KG’s first three buckets came within six feet, and he scored nine first-half points. As a team, the C’s shot 28-of-44 (63.6 FG%) and scored 64 points (22 in the paint) in the opening 24 minutes, and establishing Garnett early set the tone.
Headband of brothers: When Rondo and Pierce both play well at the same time, the Celtics can play with anybody, and, as Garnett might say, the Hawks were a bunch of nobodies on Sunday night. Rondo had 13 assists by halftime, or four more than the Hawks as a team. Heck, even jump shots and 3-pointers were falling for the C’s floor general. Meanwhile, Pierce made 8-of-11 first-half attempts for 18 points by the break. Whether it was the headbands or not, it’s no wonder the Celtics enjoyed their most complete performance of the series (and the season, for that matter).
Bench production: The Celtics built a 13-point lead in the first quarter, and the second-quarter starting lineup of Garnett, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels and Greg Stiemsma didn’t squander it. When Pierce, Rondo and Bass returned almost four minutes into the second quarter, the C’s still owned that 13-point advantage, and the rested starters closed out the half on a 25-15 run. In all, the Celtics bench scored 28 points, led by Allen’s 12 in 19 minutes. The reserves also closed out the fourth quarter, allowing Rivers to rest the stars he’s relied so heavily upon in the first three games of the series.
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m more of an R&B guy’||05.04.12 at 8:15 am ET|
Just when you think Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo couldn’t ever become more of an enigma, he announces he’s coming out with an R&B track with an unknown singer he dubs “the female Drake” (h/t SLAM). Perhaps a cover of “Return of the Mack” played on the Jumbotron prior to his Game 3 reinstatement after the suspension? Or “48 Minute Man”? “Celtics Nation Under A Groove”? Oh, the possibilities. Just no “Bump & Grind” please.
Also, Rondo on women: “You know a good one when you see one.” Well played, Rondo. Well played.
|Irish Coffee: How Hawks play without Josh Smith||05.03.12 at 1:56 pm ET|
If the Hawks are forced to play Game 3 without forward Josh Smith, as expected, or even with him in a limited capacity, they’ll enter new territory this season. His 2,329 minutes rank ninth in the NBA this season, and he’s one of the 7.5 percent of players who played all 66 games of this lockout-shortened year.
While the Hawks listed Smith as day-to-day with a strained left knee, the inflammation as a result of patellar tendinitis leaves him doubtful for Friday night’s game in Boston, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“It’s getting better and better each and every day,” said Smith via the AJC’s Michael Cunningham on Twitter. “I will see how it feels at shootaround [Friday]. “I have a high threshold for pain. If I feel like I can go a little bit I’m going to step out on the floor. At shootaround I will probably try to go a little bit harder than normal and see how it feels.”
Unlike the Celtics, who have become accustomed to playing without Ray Allen and a host of others all season long, the Hawks simply aren’t used to playing without Smith, Al Horford (torn pectoral) and Zaza Pachulia (strained left foot). And there are less obvious ramifications beyond that fact.
Smith’s usage rate (defined as the percentage of offensive possessions used by a player during his floor time) of 28.1 percent is the highest on the Hawks and ranks behind only Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki and DeMarcus Cousins among the league’s regular bigs. In other words, Atlanta’s offense runs through Smith.
He can score spotting up, posting up, in transition and (lord knows) in isolation. You name it, he does it. As Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe noted, “the Hawks have averaged about 104 points per 100 possessions when Smith plays, a borderline top-five mark, and a putrid 97 points per 100 possessions when he sits.” In their two playoff games, Atlanta has scored 90.6 points per 100 possessions with Smith, a stat that only stands to get worse.
|Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce’s Top 5 Celtics playoff moments||05.02.12 at 11:36 am ET|
Pierce became the only Celtics player in the last 25 years to total 36 points and 14 rebounds in a playoff game, bringing the Celtics back from the dead, erasing an 11-point Hawks lead and avoiding an 0-2 postseason hole. In the absence of Rajon Rondo (suspension) and Ray Allen (ankle), everyone in Atlanta knew the C’s playoff hopes rested on Pierce’s shoulders — and he delivered a game for the ages, one of his many in Celtics lore.
Like Tebow’s completion percentage last season, Pierce shot 46 percent from the field, and his eight turnovers were every bit as bad as the new Jets quarterback’s pass attempts, but the inexplicable happened and the fourth quarter became Truth Time, so Pierce earned the right to Tebow at midcourt of Philips Arena.
Where does that performance rank among the Celtics captain’s Top 5 all-time great playoff moments?
|Fast Break: Truth be told, Celtics even Hawks series||05.01.12 at 10:17 pm ET|
Calling what the Celtics played without point guard Rajon Rondo “offense” is being kind, but Paul Pierce and a ridiculous defensive effort in the fourth quarter stole a Game 2 victory against the Hawks, 87-80.
Pierce finished with 36 points on 12-for-26 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds and four assists (and eight turnovers), and the defense held the Hawks to 14 points and 4-for-19 shooting in the final 12 minutes to even the series 1-1 entering Friday’s Game 3. All that was left for Pierce was to Tebow in victory.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Captain, obvious: In the absence of Rondo, the Celtics needed Pierce to be heavily involved. And he was early. Pierce scored on a layup just six seconds ion the game, the first of his nine straight C’s points to open the game. Through the first 4:45, Pierce played the Hawks even, 9-9, establishing himself as the best player on the floor and setting an early tone for a Celtics offense desperately in need of a leader. He finished strong, too, scoring 13 fourth-quarter points.
Depth perception: Believe it or not, the Celtics built a lead with Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling all on the floor. After the C’s battled the Hawks to a 24-24 deadlock through the first quarter, they started the second with that trio, Garnett and Bradley. Even Marquis Daniels made an appearance. When Pierce returned to the floor three minutes into the second quarter, his team led, 28-27. It was just a one-point advantage, but the Celtics captain got some much-needed rest even when Doc Rivers had limited resources.
Hanging tough: Through three quarters, the Celtics played perhaps their worst basketball after the All-Star break, shooting 21-for-54 from the field (38.9 FG%) and 2-for-11 from beyond the arc (18.2 3P%) while committing double-digit turnovers. They had no business being in the game, but somehow, even after defensive mental lapses that led to uncontested dunks and wide-open 3-pointers, the Celtics trailed just 66-61 entering the fourth quarter — thanks to the Hawks’ 39.1 percent shooting (25-64 FG).
|Irish Coffee: Celtics, with or without Rondo||05.01.12 at 12:37 pm ET|
In the wake of Rondo’s suspension for Tuesday night’s game in Atlanta (7:30 p.m., NBA TV), perhaps a look at how other Celtics performed in the point guard’s 13-game absence this season will answer that question.
For starters, we’ll examine how the void left by Rondo affects the other … um … well … the starters.
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