|NBA Power Rankings, 12/9||12.09.10 at 6:37 pm ET|
1. Boston (17-4): The Celtics have the best top six in the NBA and the best defense in the league. They’re the best shooting team in the league, and they’ve won eight consecutive games despite not having Rajon Rondo at full strength. With five All-Star candidates, they’ve been the most complete team.
2. San Antonio (18-3): The Spurs won another three games this week, and Manu Ginobili (20.1 points, 5.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds) has played his way into the MVP conversation. Oh, and New Hampshire’s own Matt Bonner is making two 3′s a game while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc.
3. LA Lakers (16-6): After losing four straight, the Lakers are back on track with three consecutive victories. This whole Andrew Bynum situation is strange. Phil Jackson seems to call him out on a daily basis, but why rush him back? The guy is like Mr. Glass. Don’t you want him healthy for the playoffs?
4. Dallas (17-4): The Mavericks have the longest winning streak in the league at 10 games. Even Ian Mahinmi is contributing double-doubles. Why did this team all of a sudden decide to start playing defense? This team could’ve won multiple titles if they were playing defense like this in the mid-2000s.
5. Orlando (15-6): You can’t really blame the Magic for losing two straight games to Atlanta and Milwaukee. Dwight Howard, J.J. Redick, Mickael Pietrus and Jameer Nelson have all been hit by the flu. With them, they’ve been able to keep pace with the C’s. Without them? Not so much.
|Irish Coffee: The Celtics’ homecourt advantage||12.09.10 at 11:24 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Asked, simply, if the Celtics enjoy a true homecourt advantage in Boston, Ray Allen responded, even more simply, “Always.”
Which is why last season’s 24-17 home record is all the more puzzling. After Wednesday’s victory against the Nuggets, the Celtics are 10-1 in the Garden. Their best 11-game stretch last year was 8-3 (also to start the season). Whatever the reason, the Celtics have regained the homecourt advantage they enjoyed when they finished 35-6 in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
“I think we do [have an advantage], just because our fans are the best in the world,” Nate Robinson said. “Other teams know when they’re coming here, they’re going to get the best of our fans every time they come.”
In theory, or at least in my theory, the Celtics benefit from fan support in the first quarter (when fans are fired up for the tip) and second half (when the game is more interesting — and important). A second-quarter letdown is understandble, considering the Celtics, their fans and opponents are getting comfortable at that point.
The stats certainly support that theory. Take a look at the team’s plus/minus in each quarter this season:
HOME: +54 (Q1), -2 (Q2), +30 (Q3), +18 (Q4)
ROAD: +51 (Q1), +44 (Q2), +12 (Q3), -8 (Q4)
|Fast Break: Celtics drop the Nuggets||12.08.10 at 9:41 pm ET|
Kevin Garnett added 17 points and nine rebounds, Paul Pierce also poured in 17 and Glen Davis contributed 16 points off the bench, as the Celtics won their eight straight and improved to 17-4 (10 of 11 at home).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Hot start: The Celtics went 7-for-7 in the first 3:20, jumping out to a 16-4 lead and forcing the Nuggets to call timeout in hopes of cooling them off. It never happened. While Denver cut the lead to one late in the second quarter, the C’s never relinquished that lead and shot 55.9 percent for the game.
For the first quarter, the Celtics shot 68.4 percent as a team to take a 35-21 lead (their second-highest first-quarter output of the season). And the Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen led the way, shooting a combined 12-of-16 from the floor in the opening 12 minutes.
Sharing the wealth: The Celtics assisted on 17 of their 21 first-half field goals. That pace cooled off a bit as the lead got comfortable, and the C’s finished with 26 assists on 38 field goals.
Rajon Rondo, of course, led the way with 13 dimes in 30 minutes, while Allen and Pierce chipped in with four apiece. The C’s entered the game averaging more assists than any other team in the league. Rondo’s sensational season, along with the team’s knack for making the extra pass, is the reason the Celtics are also best shooting team in the NBA.
Interior offense: Taking advantage of the Nuggets’ lack of a 7-footer underneath, the Celtics pounded the ball into the post. That led to two positives: a ton of points in the paint, and a ton of free-throw attempts. The C’s outscored the Nuggets 38-28 in the paint, while Allen, Pierce, Davis and Shaquille O’Neal each got to the line at least five times.
In all, the Celtics shot 36 free throws, making 25 of them. They entered the game averaging 23.2 free-throw attempts, while their opponents averaged 25.2 foul shots per game.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Stopping Lawson: As good as Rondo looked in the passing game, he appeared equally as poor defensively. Whether it was his hamstring or feet bothering him, Rondo appeared a step slower than usual. As a result, Nuggets backup point guard Ty Lawson took advantage — totaling 24 points and seven assists. On multiple occasions, he took it right at Rondo, and the C’s point guard put up little defense.
Sloppy second quarter: In a span of 6:52 in the second quarter, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Pierce, O’Neal and Rondo all committed turnovers. During that same span, the Nuggets cut what was an 18-point Celtics lead to a 52-51 C’s advantage with three minutes to play in the first half.
Star watch: In the first 11 home games of the season, Celtics fans have already missed out on three of the league’s biggest draws, as Kevin Durant, John Wall and — on Wednesday night — Anthony didn’t play due to injury when their teams visited the Garden.
The Thunder and Nuggets visit Boston just once all season, so the C’s faithful will have to wait until the 2011-12 season to catch two of the NBA’s biggest established stars in person. Fortunately, the Wizards play in Boston again on April 8, so Rookie of the Year candidate Wall has another shot at a Boston debut.
|Is Shaquille O’Neal Turkey-bound?||12.08.10 at 12:54 pm ET|
“Besiktas Cola Turka management has rolled up their sleeves to bring another NBA superstar to Istanbul. Besiktas fans and management, who are very pleased with the arrival of Allen Iverson, have now set their sights on luring Boston Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal overseas.”
According to the story, Iverson’s manager Gary Moore, who is also in “constant contact” with Shaq, “could be an intermediary in securing an agreement” for next season.
I, for one, am not buying it. Sure, this Turkish team might want Shaq on its team. Why wouldn’t they? It would mean millions of dollars in business for them. They probably want LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant to play for them, too.
But Shaq will be under contract for the Celtics next season, and his entire mantra since he arrived in Boston has revolved around getting a fifth — or even sixth — championship ring to cement his legacy. He can’t do that as a member of Besiktas Cola Turka.
UPDATE: Besiktas general manager Seref Yalcin is claiming that Shaq told him, “I want to be champion this season with Boston. But I’m coming to Turkey next year,” according to a website called Hoopsnotes.
Still not buying it. Shaq says al lot of things with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, and I’m guessing something got lost in translation here.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics Quarterly Report Card||12.08.10 at 12:02 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Nuggets, the Celtics have played 20 games and are a quarter of the way through the NBA regular season. It’s time for a report card …
- Grade: A
- Comments: He’s been on a season-long rampage to prove each and every doubter wrong. A season removed from being considered done, cooked, finito, Garnett’s field goal and free throw percentages, points, rebounds and steals are all up. Even more importantly, he’s back to his 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year form.
- Grade: A
- Comments: Since entering camp in impressive shape, he’s been remarkably efficient so far. Pierce’s true shooting percentage (62.1 percent) ranks third in the league at his position, and his rebounding numbers are up. Not to mention the fact that — according to Doc Rivers — he’s assumed a larger vocal leadership role.
- Grade: A
- Comments: Emerging as a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate, his numbers have increased in every single category. His knockdown jump shot has forced opponents to spread the floor, opening things up for his teammates. And his propensity for drawing charges has been both invaluable and highly entertaining.
- Grade: A-minus
- Comments: Two reasons he’s not an A: 1) He’s already missed more games this season (four) than he did in the previous two seasons combined; and 2) he’s shooting 44.4 percent from the free-throw line. Otherwise, he’s been phenomenal — threatening John Stockton’s single-season NBA assist record.
- Grade: A-minus
- Comments: His scoring average may have dipped from last season, but he’s back to doing what he does best: Burying 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip. He’s also dishing out assists at his highest rate since arriving in Boston. My one gripe? I’ve seen him play better defensively (Exhibit A: Wesley Matthews‘ 23 points).
|Happy 54th birthday, Larry Bird!||12.07.10 at 5:30 pm ET|
Happy 54th birthday to one of the greatest basketball players — and worst actors — of all-time: Larry Bird! The Celtics legend and current Pacers president only eclipsed 54 points once in his career, scoring 60 against the Hawks on March 12, 1985.
|Irish Coffee: Bill Russell on the NBA, Celtics & more||12.07.10 at 10:35 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
It’s not every day you get the sage advice of Bill Russell, so when it happens, don’t miss it. The Celtics legend needs no introduction, so let’s get to his latest interview, with SLAM Magazine …
RUSSELL on winning: “I think I know a lot about the subject. My college team has the second-longest winning streak in history. My Olympic team still holds the record for greatest margin of victory. And the Celtics were perhaps the best team in the history of American sports. We won eight straight titles and nine of 10 in the decade of the ’60s. To do that against the best basketball players on the planet is remarkable.”
RUSSELL on offense: “To me, I was a better offensive player than a defensive player. By the end of my first year, I always put the offense in motion, and after a year or two almost all the plays went through me. In fact, [John] Havlicek said after I left, he missed me more on offense than on defense.”
RUSSELL on Wilt Chamberlain: “Wilt was an enormously talented man and I wasn’t going to do things that would inspire him to play harder, even if that meant giving him an easy basket here and there. You have to understand, this was a great, great player. And you had to keep things in perspective. He was a guy you couldn’t dominate physically or mentally. You can’t play somebody else’s game and have a chance to win. We had a style when he arrived, and the idea was to maintain that style, because it was successful.
“Wilt’s numbers speak for themselves: 100 points in a game, 27 rebounds averaged in a season! But after he did all these things, Wilt kept on not winning, and people never understood that, so they started criticizing him. But I never did. I thought he was great. Basically, I saw it as he had an agenda and I had an agenda. And we both fulfilled our agendas.”
RUSSELL on racism: “Fans all over the country were racist and obnoxious, some places more and some less, but I never permitted that to have an adverse effect on my playing, and within the Celtics that did not exist.”
RUSSELL on player/coaching: “Red [Auerbach] offered me the job first and I said I wasn’t interested. So he asked if I had any recommendations and said that he would not hire anyone who I didn’t approve of 100 percent, because I had meant too much to the franchise. I had some ideas, but we couldn’t work out a deal. Frank Ramsey, who was my first choice, couldn’t leave home. Bob Cousy couldn’t get out of his contract at Boston College and so on. Red came up with one last name, and I just wasn’t going to play for that person, so I decided that I would, in fact, do it.”
RUSSELL on the dynasty: “Last year’s championship is only important in how other teams fear you; you still have to go out and beat everyone again. People say there were better teams than the Celtics, but we set the standard. A given team might come up for a year, but only we could sustain it.”
RUSSELL on mentoring: “When a new big man came into the league, I wanted to make sure they knew I was around, and to establish that there were boundaries that should not be crossed. But I also wanted every player in the league playing as well as possible, because I wanted the league to be totally elite. It always made me feel good to hear people say, “The greatest athletes in the world play in the NBA.’”
RUSSELL on Bob Cousy: “Not only was he a great player, but the things he did were completely in sync with what I did. He would transition from defense to offense as his guy went to the basket, because he knew I’d take care of him. I knew which way he’d force him, and I’d be there waiting while also cutting off his passing lanes. Meanwhile, Bob was heading downcourt, so we’d take control of the offense while the other team still had the ball. Nobody had done that before, because they didn’t have the ingredients, namely a great rebounder and defender to grab the ball and turn it around, and a fast, in-control guard to throw to.”
RUSSELL on his legacy: “Maybe it’s egotism, but I have never seen another player who even approached the way I played the game in terms of depth. I’ve never seen anyone do the number of things I do well.”
So, yeah, I could pretty much sit and listen to Bill Russell talk about how he folds laundry and be completely enthralled. In fact, I might go buy his “Russell Rules” and “Red and Me” audio books on iTunes right now. Paul Flannery was absolutely right: Give Bill Russell a damn statue!
SQUASHING THE INJURY BUG
The Celtics aren’t setting any timetables for the returns of Rajon Rondo, Jermaine O’Neal, Delonte West and Kendrick Perkins from injuries that range from minor to major. Here’s a quick rundown of the latest updates on all four guys …
“We get a two-day break after [Sunday's Nets game], and that’s one of the things that went into this [thinking]. We’re just going to try to get through it.”
Jermaine O’Neal (pre-Christmas return via NECN.com): Considering he hasn’t played in a game since Nov. 8, being off his game [during Monday's practice] was a given. But just being able to run up the floor, and feel little to no pain afterwards, was yet another indication that he is moving past the left knee injury that has sidelined him for the last 12 games.
“Hopefully in the next week-in-a-half to two weeks, I’ll be playing no problem,” he said.
West (1-2 months away via CSNNE.com): Following surgery on Nov. 30, the outlook for his return has picked up considerably. West said the wrist is healing up so well, there won’t be any need for it to be placed in a hard cast.
“Just stimulate it with treatments, and I’ll be back to working out within the next two weeks,” said West, who added that he’ll have it in a soft cast when he resumes working out.
Perkins (eyeing late February via the Boston Herald): “It can be real,” Perk said of playing sometime late next month, “but I think if I play it smart I’ll wait to come back until after All-Star break. That’ll give me more time. I think, what’s one more month, right?”
SHAQ-A-CLAUS BRINGS HIS ELVES
According to the Inside Track, all of the Celtics showed up at Children’s Hospital Boston and Boston Medical Center on Monday to deliver some Christmas cheer.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett took another group with Santa to the Top of the Hub, where they spent some time with the Boston Medical Center’s pediatric hematology program.
Santa hats off to those guys. They’re not just winning on the court.
DOC RIVERS LOSES A MENTOR
Doc Rivers‘ college basketball coach, Hank Raymonds, 86, died of cancer on Monday morning. Raymonds coached Marquette from 1977-83, mentoring Rivers throughout his life — starting from his time as a player at Marquette from ’80-83 and continuing through last year’s Celtics run.
Rivers expressed his grief with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Here are some nuggets:
“I use Hank’s lines all the time. The line I always use that he used on me a lot is, ‘I’m never going to coach you for who you are today. I’m going to coach you for who you should be someday, and what you should be someday.’ I use that on my players, I use that on my kids, and I think it’s a great thing. To me, that sums Hank up as much as anything.”
“Hank called me every time we would have a bad turnover game or a bad rebounding game. Then when I went to see him [over the summer] the first thing he said was, ‘Oh my gosh, the rebounding — the Lakers killed you guys on the glass.’ I loved to hear it. It’s funny. It’s not what you want to hear, but the one guy who can tell you that is Hank.”
“Hank has had a profound impact. And the thing about Hank is he never let go. It’s not like when I left he stopped. … I look at him, he’s a basketball treasure that really not enough people know about. I’m glad I do. I always laugh and say, ‘He’s my little secret.’ And I’m fine by that.”
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)