|Irish Coffee: Celtics sign Saleh, add frontcourt depth||04.01.11 at 12:07 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
With the concerns about the health of all three of their potential starting centers — Nenad Krstic, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal — the Celtics have added depth at the position by signing former Winabi Parish School standout power forward Saleh, according to Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation.
“Do the names [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Manute Bol or Dikembe Mutombo mean anything to you?” said Jimmy Dolan, a former assistant coach at Saint Joe’s College who represents Saleh.
Dolan discovered Saleh at a 1994 faculty dinner while watching a film about Saint Joe’s missionary efforts in Africa. Also a member of Saint Joe’s 1981 NCAA title team, Dolan represented the 35-year-old Saleh in the C’s negotiations of a $40,000 deal — or the equivalent of 40 cows — with the 6-foot-9 post who possesses a “vertical leap that’s off the charts.”
“I would like to play for the Celtics very, very much,” said Saleh, who learned about the NBA in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. “My father is a stubborn man. He says I have a lot to learn before I’m a leader.”Asked if he’s ready for the NBA, Saleh added, “Does a zebra have stripes?”
Saleh agreed to sign with the Celtics after leading his Winabi squad to a comeback victory against rival Mingori, 57-56. Without their starting point guard, his team trailed by 10 with a little more than two minutes to play, but Saleh sparked an 11-0 run, capped by his game-winning windmill dunk as time expired — a move he dubbed “The Jimmy Dolan Shake and Bake.”
|Three-Pointer: Rajon Rondo and ‘coach’s porn’||04.01.11 at 12:34 am ET|
What a difference a game makes.
The Celtics had been reeling, losing seven of their last 12 games and nearly falling to third place behind the Bulls and Heat in the Eastern Conference — inspiring concerns about everything from the physical health of both O’Neals to the mental health of their start point guard.
But the Celtics also hadn’t played a contender in the last 12 games, or since Feb. 13 for that matter. The Celtics have proven themselves plenty over the last four seasons — as NBA champions in 2008 and as underdog runners-up in 2010 – but entering Thursday night’s game in San Antonio they found themselves needing to prove themselves once again.
After the trade of Kendrick Perkins and following a 5-7 record with the East’s No. 1 seed on the line, can the Celtics still compete with the NBA’s best? After a 107-97 victory against the league-leading Spurs (57-18) on the road without a healthy center, the answer was clear. (The complete game recap can be found here.)
Among the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, Bulls and Heat, only Chicago can match the Celtics’ performance against the NBA elite. Here are their records in games against each other:
- Celtics: 8-4
- Bulls: 8-4
- Spurs: 7-6
- Mavericks: 6-6
- Lakers: 4-7
- Heat: 3-9
The Celtics now boast a .667 winning percentage against the league’s five other major NBA title contenders, and two of their four losses to those teams came against a Mavericks team that the C’s likely won’t face again, even if they were to return to the NBA Finals.
There’s plenty of points to take from Thursday night’s Celtics victory. Here are three of them:
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics kick Spurs||03.31.11 at 10:38 pm ET|
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also eclipsed 20 points and Glen Davis netted 16 points off the bench for the Celtics (52-22). While Jermaine O’Neal returned after nearly three months to score five points in 11 minutes, Celtics starting center Nenad Krstic left the game with a “right knee injury” and did not return.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Pierce and Rondo asserting themselves: Pierce scored 12 first-quarter points to keep the Celtics competitive despite allowing 33 first-quarter points, and Rondo sparked a 14-3 run to close the third quarter as the C’s established a 77-70 lead entering the fourth quarter. In all, Pierce and Rondo took 36 shots, making 19 of them. Rondo was so good, even his jump shots were falling, causing the Spurs coaching staff to toss their hands up in disgust.
Buckling down on defense: After the Spurs made 12-of-24 shots and scored 33 points in the first quarter, the Celtics held them to 15-of-44 shooting and 37 points over the next two quarters. Entering the game as the league’s sixth-leading scoring team, the Spurs controlled the (quick) pace in the early going, but the Celtics put a stop to that in the second quarter.
The return of Jermaine O’Neal: In limited action, O’Neal played with surprising energy and range of movement, considering he hadn’t seen the court since Jan. 10. He knocked down his only two shots, including an impressive turnaround over Matt Bonner in the first quarter. Should Krstic’s injury be severe, the Celtics will be relying more heavily on O’Neal than they ever expected, and Thursday night’s performance was a positive sign.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Celtics’ bigs problem gets bigger: Just as Jermaine O’Neal got back into the fold, and as Shaquille O’Neal gets closer and closer to his return, Krstic’s leg bent the wrong way in the second quarter. He left the game clutching his right knee. Krstic did not return, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers told TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge, “We don’t know for sure, but it does not look good.” In 2006, Krstic tore his left ACL.
Defending the paint: The Celtics gave up 26 points in the paint in the first half and 50 total. Spurs point guard Tony Parker got to the rim at will early, leading all scorers with 14 points in the opening 24 minutes. His ability to penetrate opened things up for the Spurs inside. Of course, Garnett’s two quick first-quarter fouls left the Celtics without their best interior defender in that span for more minutes than they would have liked.
Second-chance opportunities: The Celtics shot 48 percent in the first half, and the Spurs made just 40 percent of their attempts, yet the two teams were tied at the half. The C’s allowed eight offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points in the first half alone.
|NBA Power Rankings, 3/31||03.31.11 at 7:41 pm ET|
1. LA Lakers (53-20): Kobe Bryant recently said if he weren’t a basketball player, he’d be a bum. The rest of the league wishes he were the latter right about now. The Lakers are 15-1 since the All-Star break.
2. Chicago (54-20): The Bulls are one of two teams that haven’t lost three straight games all season. The other? The Celtics. The difference is that the Bulls have been better bottom feeders, recording a 31-6 record against lottery-bound teams.
3. San Antonio (57-17): With Tim Duncan in the lineup, the Spurs are 56-13 (.812 winning percentage). Without him, they’re 1-4 (.200). The guy’s still got it, and he should be in the lineup on Thursday night against the Celtics.
4. Dallas (53-21): While the surging Bulls and Lakers get all the attention, the Mavericks have quietly reeled off another five-game winning streak. Meanwhile, owner Mark Cuban not-so-quietly explained how to beat the Lakers: “Anything that puts the ball in Ron Artest‘s hands is always a good thing.” Except when its Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
5. Boston (51-22): I maintain that the Celtics are better than the Mavericks, Spurs or Bulls – and should still be the favorites to win the East – but I can’t slot them any higher simply because of that atrocious loss to the Bobcats. Until they start trying again, this is where they’ll sit. While they’re at it, they should ponder why their record against playoff teams (25-11) is nearly identical to their record against non-playoff teams (Hint: effort).
|Isiah Thomas rips Larry Bird again||03.31.11 at 2:26 pm ET|
“I have no problem saying this at all,” he says. “They’re all 6-(feet)-9 and Jordan was 6-6 and a half. If they were all 6-1, it wouldn’t even be a question. They wouldn’t even f—ing rate. If they were all my size, s—, they wouldn’t even be talked about.
“I beat the s— out of them when they were that big. If we were all the same size, f—.” He stops to laugh good-naturedly. “Make them 6-1 and let’s go on the court.”
For the record, Thomas retired with two NBA titles as a player. Jordan (6), Magic (5) and Bird (3) all finished their careers with more, but who’s counting?
Thomas has been accused of freezing out Jordan at the 1985 All-Star Game, questioning Magic’s sexuality in the wake of his former friend’s HIV diagnosis, bankrupting the Continental Basketball Association and sexually harrassing a coworker as Knicks GM.
And he wonders why he’s been exiled from the NBA. Hmm, I wonder …
|Irish Coffee: Jermaine O’Neal’s Celtics impact||03.31.11 at 12:02 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
On Feb. 1, when the Celtics began a two-month-plus stretch without either of the O’Neal “brothers,” if you had to put your life savings on which one would return first, how many people would’ve put money on Jermaine O’Neal?
Not many, me included. I know I would’ve put my $47 on Shaquille O’Neal. And, as Dale Arnold might say, if you gave Doc Rivers Sodium Pentothal, he’d probably admit that he would’ve rather had Shaq back first. But that’s not the case.
Jermaine O’Neal is returning to the Celtics lineup for the first time since Jan. 10, when his knee swelled to the point of no return. In 17 games this season, he had averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes.
So, what, exactly, can we expect from Jermaine O’Neal? If we can agree that all the Celtics need to replace Kendrick Perkins‘ minutes are guys who can defend bigs, rebound the basketball and knock down open shots created by the Big Four, then J.O. can give you plenty. Not as much as Shaq, but it’s something, right?
Let’s start with defense. Here are the points per possession (PPP) and field-goal percentages allowed by Perkins, Shaq, J.O. and Nenad Krstic on man-to-man defense in their limited time as Celtics this season:
- Kendrick Perkins (7 games): 0.81 PPP on 41.0 percent shooting
- Shaquille O’Neal (36 games): 0.77 PPP on 37.6 percent shooting
- Jermaine O’Neal (17 games): 0.76 PPP on 35.2 percent shooting
- Nenad Krstic (17 games): 0.90 PPP on 44.2 percent shooting
In a limited sample size, Jermaine O’Neal actually gave the Celtics the best defense of all four guys. Even if he can give them 15 minutes a night, that might limit Krstic’s ineffectiveness on the defensive end. When Shaquille O’Neal returns, the C’s should finally have the defensive depth at center that can fill the void left by Perkins.
Now, let’s look at rebounding. Here are the rebounding rates — or the percentage of missed shots corraled by a player in his time on the floor — for those same bigs:
|Irish Coffee: Celtics should stop making excuses||03.30.11 at 2:24 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
The Celtics are 5-7 in their last 12 games. You know that. I know that. And they know that. There’s nothing you and I can do about it, but there’s plenty they can — starting with taking some responsibility for coughing wins up to teams like the Nets and undermanned Bobcats.
Just listen to the comments from Celtics veterans in a recent HoopsWorld story …
Ray Allen: “I’m not comfortable, and I think even if we didn’t make trades we still had injuries where we were still playing catch up. I’m not comfortable.”
Was he more comfortable taking the same amount of shots per game in January (11.9), when the C’s finished 12-4 without Kendrick Perkins while Allen averaged more points, rebounds and assists than he did this month?
Paul Pierce: “It’s hard when you got pieces missing every other week, it seems like. In another week, we’re going to be a whole new team.”
Was it hard when the Celtics went 33-10 without Perkins for the first 43 games of the season, or when they finished 19-6 in their first 25 games without Shaquille O’Neal — or did it get exponentially harder over the last 12 games against powerhouses like the Nets and Bobcats?
And then listen to the comments from the newest Celtics in that same HoopsWorld story …