|Doc Rivers, Celtics drop Knicks, execution style||04.18.11 at 1:25 am ET|
In the days before Game 1 of his team’s first-round series against the Knicks, Celtics president Danny Ainge said, “The biggest fear I have is the respect I have for Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire finishing games.” And prior to the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers echoed that sentiment.
But after the Knicks blew a 12-point halftime lead and after the Celtics finished an 87-85 comeback victory, both teams sang a different tune. The experienced Celtics executed. And the unfamiliar Knicks didn’t.
“We had a 13-point third quarter,” said Knicks sixth man Bill Walker, who was traded from the Celtics in the Nate Robinson deal last season. “We didn’t move the ball. They loaded up their defense, and once they load up their defense, they’re pretty good. They’ve got a former Defensive Player of the Year [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen] are great defenders themselves and [Rajon] Rondo‘s a ball hawk. So, once they get set and know what you’re doing, it’s pretty hard to score. We’ve just got to keep them in transition and run them.”
Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups did their part in the first half, combining for 31 of New York’s 51 first-half points on 11-of-19 shooting. But it all fell apart in the second half.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a blowout in this series,” said Rondo, “so the team that executes down the stretch usually finds a way to win.”
In Game 1, that team was the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics.
|Fast Break: Ray Allen’s trey sinks Knicks||04.17.11 at 9:46 pm ET|
Seconds after Chauncey Billups limped to the bench with an apparent knee injury, Toney Douglas assumed the Mr. Big Shot mantle — draining a long 3-pointer from the wing with 38 seconds left to snap an 82-82 game. But an alley-oop to Kevin Garnett, a questionable offensive foul call on Carmelo Anthony and a Ray Allen 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining helped the Celtics survive, 87-85, in Game 1 of their first-round NBA Playoff series.
Allen scored a team-high 24 points, and all five Celtics starters reached double figures, including Jermaine O’Neal (12 points). Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire led all scorers with 28 points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Ray Allen asserts himself: After not attempting a field goal in the opening quarter, Allen took advantage of a matchup against Anthony Carter to score six quick second-quarter points. He added seven in the third quarter and finished with 24 for the night, capped by the game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining. He hadn’t scored 20 points since March 19.
Second-half defense: After giving up 51 points to the Knicks on 19-of-35 shooting (54.3 percent), the Celtics held New York to 5-of-28 shooting (17.9 percent) in the first 15 minutes of the second half. In that stretch, the Celtics turned a 51-39 halftime deficit into a 66-64 lead with nine minutes to play.
Jermaine O’Neal contributes: He may have only recorded one first-half rebound, but O’Neal made his presence felt in the third quarter. The Celtics’ starting center totaled six points, two rebounds and a pair of blocks that helped slice the Knicks’ 12-point halftime lead in half. His play on both sides of the ball seemed to raise the effort of his teammates as well — as the C’s held the Knicks to 13 third-quarter points. Along with his 12 points, O’Neal finished with four rebounds and four blocks.
The Rondo conundrum: Taking advantage of the fact that Chauncey Billups was playing almost 10 feet off him, Rajon Rondo took 10 first-half shots and made five of them, heading into the locker room at the break with a team-high 10 points. On the down side, in the first half he had just two assists, didn’t attempt a free throw and passed up a couple more open lanes in favor of more difficult jump shots from his teammates.
In the second half, though, Rondo returned to his primary role as distributor. While he didn’t score again, the Celtics point guard approached a triple-double with 10 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Not taking advantage of Melo’s absence: After just 88 seconds of playoff basketball, Anthony sat on the bench with a pair of quick fouls. He didn’t return in the first quarter. It was a golden opportunity for the Celtics to snare an early lead and take control of the game. Instead, they allowed old friend Bill Walker to score a team-high seven first-quarter points and stay within one at 24-23 after 12 minutes.
The second-quarter collapse: While the Celtics shot just 6-of-18 and scored 15 points in the second quarter — including only two assists — the Knicks torched the C’s defense to the tune of 28 points. After Walker had his turn against Pierce in the first quarter, Anthony took over and scored 12 second-quarter points on the captain. Meanwhile, Stoudemire put an exclamation on the Knicks’ surge into halftime by driving past Glen Davis and throwing down a monster dunk that stretched his team’s lead into double digits. Of course, prior to the game, Davis had claimed “it’s really not that hard” to guard Stoudemire.
Where’s the bench? On paper, the Celtics have the deeper team, but led by Walker the Knicks outscored the Boston bench 23-8. Glen Davis had a lot to do with the C’s struggles in that department, shooting only 1-of-8 from the field for two points. In fact, because O’Neal performed so well, he actually took the closing center reins from Davis, who had held that position for the Celtics all season. While Davis returned in the final minute, O’Neal got the bulk of the fourth-quarter minutes at center.
|Kevin Garnett doesn’t want to hear it from Chauncey Billups||04.17.11 at 5:07 pm ET|
Regular season is OVER! Now it’s time to grit and grind. The “season” now begins. We got the Knicks, so we know what we’re getting. Game’s gonna be up and down because they run, run, run. My boy Chauncey [Billups] will be in town, so gotta get him.
Don’t want to hear it from him.
Last two days of practice have been good. Guys are focused and team is working hard at getting “right.” Shaq Diesel [Shaquille O'Neal] is working hard, but can’t play tonight. Thoughts with him. Got my new playoff shoes and am geeked about them. Will post some photos later, so y’all can see them. Just finished our shoot around (go through our schemes) and gonna head home to eat and nap.
[Sunday] night’s game is big! Chicago almost lost last night, so we want to jump on the Knicks early.
|Speaking with the enemy: Celtics vs. Knicks||04.15.11 at 2:09 pm ET|
First question: Despite being 0-3 against the Celtics, the Knicks seem pretty confident. Why?
Date: Wednesday, April 13, 2:20 p.m.
Subject: RE: Celtics-Knicks
From: Seth Rosenthal
To: Ben Rohrbach
Well, a few things. First of all, the guys you hear talking are Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. They’re nothing if not confident. Amar’e unblinkingly called Pau Gasol “soft” the other day, and thought nothing of it. These guys like to talk. To some degree, they’re qualified. Those three all have meaningful playoff experience, and more or less know what it takes to win a playoff series against a good team.
Moreover, each of those three losses included some sort of silver lining. One of ‘em was tenths of a second short of being a win, and the most recent one was dominated by the Knicks until the Celtics woke up in the fourth quarter (that might actually be more foreboding than promising, but…).
Maybe it’s got something to do with the Celtics’ struggles of late. The Knicks might smell blood in the water, or some other sort of predatory analogy. What’s the deal with that, by the way? Does this strike those who know the Celtics as another late-season stretch of playing possum before a sudden surge in the playoffs, or does the slide seem to have some inertia?
|Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Knicks tale of the tape||04.15.11 at 12:28 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Ah, the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The grass is greener, and Boston is Greener. The Celtics (56-26) and Knicks (42-40) are squaring off in the postseason for the first time since the former blew a two-game lead in a best-of-five series against the latter in 1990. Boston Garden vs. Madison Square Garden. Blue collar against big dollar. Hammer. Nail. You get the picture. Let’s go to the tape …
Celtics 4, Knicks 0
107.8 … points … 101.3
9.8 … fast break points … 12.8
53.0 … points in the paint … 42.5
50.9 … FG% … 45.9
37.1 … 3P% … 33.6
79.5 … FT% … 75.8
45.3 … rebounds … 37.0
10.0 … o-rebounds … 9.8
35.3 … d-rebounds … 27.2
23.8 … assists … 21.3
8.3 … steals … 6.8
1.0 … blocks … 6.3
13.3 … turnovers … 14.0
21.0 … personal fouls … 19.3
That’s pretty lopsided, until you consider the Celtics and Knicks as currently constituted really only faced each other once. In fact, eight of the 24 guys that suited up for their first regular-season meeting are no longer playing for their respective teams. In that lone post-trades matchup — a 96-86 comeback Celtics victory — the C’s shot better, rebounded better, took care of the ball better and played better defense. They even dominated the paint (44-28) and the fast break (18-7).
Now, let’s examine how the Celtics and Knicks produced this season (league ranks in parentheses):
|NBA Power Rankings 4/15||04.14.11 at 7:30 pm ET|
1. Chicago (62-20): Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told ESPN.com Derrick Rose “will continue to get better throughout his career.” That’s a ridiculously scary thought, considering he’s a lock for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. But the real question remains, Can Rose capture NBA Finals MVP? Only five other guys under 6-foot-4 have captured that honor in NBA history: Tony Parker (2007), Chauncey Billups (’04), Isiah Thomas (’90), Joe Dumars (’89) and Jerry West (’69).
2. San Antonio (61-21): I’m not sure if Dr. Jack Ramsay prescribed himself some medical marijuana or what, but he picked Spurs guard Manu Ginobili as his MVP. I’d be surprised if Ginobili is named First Team All-NBA. Take nothing away from what the Spurs have accomplished, including a 2-1 record against the Lakers with Ginobili, Parker and Tim Duncan in the lineup.
3. LA Lakers (57-25): After losing five straight games, the Lakers got a bit of their swagger back. If you think about it, all signs point to the fact that they’re already in playoff form: They beat the Spurs in the penultimate game of the regular season, Phil Jackson is getting fined for his comments, Andrew Bynum‘s health is in question, Kobe Bryant is screaming homophobic slurs at referees and Lamar Odom wants to quit.
4. Miami (58-24): Just as Gloria James may not have thrown the first punch at a Florida valet, LeBron James & Co. didn’t deliver the first, second or third blow against the Celtics. But the Heat landed the biggest punch in the fight on Sunday, handing the Celtics their worst loss of the year during a game in which Mike Bibby actually played Rajon Rondo to a standstill.
5. Boston (56-26): Who holds the key to the Celtics’ figurative playoff switch? I’m guessing it’s not Danny Ainge. And they better hope it’s not Shaquille O’Neal. Is it Rondo? Kevin Garnett? Maybe it’s Paul Pierce, who told Mut & Merloni on Thursday, “I flipped the switch when I woke up this morning.” Whoever it is, Doc Rivers should remind him to keep it on Sunday.
|Irish Coffee: Harshing Celtics playoff buzz||04.14.11 at 12:17 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
If you don’t want your Celtics playoff buzz harshed, you might want to avoid The Wall Street Journal this week. First, Scott Cacciola wrote a Tony Allen feature, entitled, “The Most Unlikely Impact Player.” Then, WSJ reported that should Shaquille O’Neal start on Sunday the Celtics will be the sixth-oldest NBA Playoff team since 1992, and among the 20 oldest playoff squads in that span only Michael Jordan‘s 1998 Bulls took home championship rings. And then came this interview with TNT NBA analyst Steve Kerr:
“It seems to me that ever since the [Kendrick] Perkins trade, they’ve lost their soul,” Kerr said. “They’ve lost their identity and I think that team was really affected emotionally by that trade. And even though they played well early in the season without him when he was injured, I think knowing that Perkins would be back along with having Shaq playing pretty well at the time, I think that was a comforting time for them.
“Now that he’s gone, especially with the way that they’ve built that team the last couple of years and sustained their confidence through Doc [Rivers]‘ comments that we’re undefeated when we’re fully healthy, the celebrated Ubuntu philosophy, it’s like they sort of threw that out the window and I don’t see the belief in their eyes right now. …
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the East that scares the daylights out of Boston. But with that said, they’re going to have to recapture the old glory, the old spirit somehow in the next couple of weeks and I haven’t seen anything to indicate that that’s going to happen,” Kerr said. “I was convinced that Boston was the best most of the season, but that’s kind of thrown out the window now for me.”