|Irish Coffee: The Rajon Rondo roller coaster||04.08.11 at 12:16 pm ET|
Make no mistake: The Celtics’ 97-81 loss to the Bulls falls on Rajon Rondo‘s shoulders.
To say he got outplayed by Derrick Rose is like saying the seas got a little choppy during “The Perfect Storm.” Rose obliterated Rondo, tying a neat little bow around his NBA Most Valuable Player trophy and effectively clinching the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the process.
The box score tells you plenty. Rose outscored Rondo by 23 points on just six more shots. He got to the free-throw line seven more times (making nine more foul shots). He knocked down as many 3-pointers on Thursday night as Rondo has totaled in his last 33 games. He recorded more steals than the league’s second-best theft. He produced more assists than a guy who had averaged 3.3 more dimes per game. And the most damning statistic: In terms of plus/minus, Rose (+24) owned a 38-point edge over Rondo (-14).
But the box score doesn’t tell the entire story. Offensively, Rose blew by Rondo at will, wreaking havoc on the league’s best defense. Kevin Garnett and another Celtics defender constantly provided help, leaving Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and just about every other Bulls big wide open on the weakside to put back rare Rose misses.
Remember when Rose stormed by Rondo and lost the ball underneath the basket, only to fire the ball out to Luol Deng for a wide open 3-pointer to put the Bulls up, 44-37? Those are the kinds of things that happen when a point guard walks into the lane as easily as my mother walks along Bay Lane. And those are the kinds of things that Rondo failed to do for the Celtics all night.
You wonder why Keith friggin’ Bogans played Ray Allen to a standstill, and then you realize that Rondo failed to create open shots for the game’s greatest shooter. When’s the last time the Big Three were all held to 15 points or fewer? Oh, that’s right, it was an awful 93-77 loss to the Rockets on March 18, when Rondo (4 points, 6 assists) got torched by Kyle Lowry (20 points, 9 assists).
It’s fairly simple: When the Celtics have more assists than their opponent, they’re 50-11; when they don’t, they’re 4-13. And who’s “the head of the monster” who steers the C’s ship, as Allen said on Mut & Merloni? That’s right, Rondo.
If Rondo succeeds, the Celtics succeed. When he produces 10 or more assists, the Celtics are 35-6, and that .854 winning percentage only climbs higher as his assist totals sore. When Rondo gets to 13 assists, the Celtics are 13-2 (an .867 winning percentage). In the 10 games he’s reached 16 assists, the C’s are a perfect 10-0.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Bulls tale of the tape||04.07.11 at 2:42 pm ET|
In a potential Eastern Conference finals preview on Thursday night, little separates the Celtics and Bulls — head-to-head, offensively or defensively. Chicago (57-20) owns a three-game lead over the C’s (54-23) for the No. 1 seed, but Doc Rivers & Co. have won two of their three head-to-head matchups against their old assistant Tom Thibodeau. In order to determine where the advantages lie, let’s go straight to the tape …
Celtics vs. Bulls
97.7 … points … 95.7
11.0 … fast break points … 9.3
44.7 … points in the paint … 40.0
37.7-79.0 (47.7) … FGM-A (%) … 34.7-74.0 (46.9)
3.3-10.7 (31.3) … 3PM-A (%) … 4.0-10.7 (37.5)
19.0-23.0 (82.6) … FTM-A (%) … 22.3-29.0 (77.0)
34.0 … rebounds … 41.7
5.0 … o-rebounds … 9.0
29.0 … d-rebounds … 32.7
22.7 … assists … 19.7
10.0 … steals … 5.3
4.0 … blocks … 4.3
10.3 … turnovers … 17.3
22.7 … personal fouls … 20.0
Considering the Celtics were missing Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1, Jermaine O’Neal in Game 2 and Kevin Garnett in Game 3, while the Bulls missed Carlos Boozer in Game 1 and Joakim Noah in Game 3, injuries didn’t play a huge role in the overall production. So, the Celtics’ shooting (points & FG%), passing (assists) and defensive (points/percentages allowed, steals and turnovers) are legitimate, as is the Bulls’ across-the-board rebounding edge.
Now, let’s examine how well the Celtics and Bulls have produced throughout the season:
|Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett frustrated but confident||04.06.11 at 1:10 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
It’s been almost two weeks since Celtics forward Kevin Garnett posted on his Anta blog, and he’s just as disheartened about the team’s performance in back-to-back games as he has been all season. It’s roughly the 10,000th time he’s raised the concern, and the C’s have two more back-to-backs over the next five days. The highlights:
- On the Celtics: “Frustration is definitely setting in for some of the guys, but we’ll meet and get it together.”
- On Jermaine O’Neal: I “so was pumped to have him back with us.”
- On Shaquille O’Neal: “The BIG Diesel was back! It was great to have him back and seeing him ball. He was killin it, then he pulled up! Damn, hurt again! That sucks! Keep rooting for him to get right!!!”
- On the Spurs: It “was like a playoff game. We ‘hit’ each other back and forth, and both teams took the shots. Rondo was super intense and brought it! Great TEAM effort and body feeling good. The guys got me in the right spot to make shots, so I had to knock them down. Great energy in the locker room.”
- On the Hawks: The “bad part was the back-to-back in Atlanta. We started out Ok, but then started to get out of what we do. We weren’t getting stops and taking early shots.”
- On the stretch run: “This time of year we are trying to get ready for the playoffs, but it’s tough to get rest when we have seven games in the next 10 days! We gotta finish strong, so we can get right for the playoffs.”
As coach Doc Rivers has reiterated another 10,001 times, the Celtics won’t be playing any back-to-backs in the playoffs — where the team has pulled ahead of the Heat for the East’s No. 2 seed and within a game of the Lakers for homecourt in the NBA Finals.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics rotating rotations||04.04.11 at 11:48 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Unlike the last three years, when Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has had his rotation locked into place heading into the playoffs — whether Kevin Garnett was healthy (2008, 2010) or not (2009) — this postseasonseason will be a guessing game, at least for the first round.
As he said postgame — and Paul Flannery detailed when he nailed his Three-Pointer column — Rivers knows exactly what he wants it to be, and what he’s always wanted it to be this season.
‘We’re not getting that set. That’s going to be just tough. What we have to do is get everyone on the same page, rhythm-wise. As far as rotations, I know it. It’s set. But we just got to get it together. We’ll be ready. If everyone’s healthy, I can tell you, I know it. I just haven’t seen it.’
On paper, it’s written. On the court? Rivers doesn’t know what it’s actually going to be. Therein lies the problem. The Celtics will be relying on the unkown — on chemistry, rhythm, whatever you want to call it — more during this playoff run than any other over the past three seasons.
It’s not the first half of the rotation that’s a problem. The Big Four were always going to be relied on for 30-40 minutes a game in the playoffs, and that hasn’t changed. It’s the uncertainty at center, Jeff Green‘s role and the expectations for Delonte West that cause problems.
The fact remains that Rivers is relying on a rotation that’s never actually been put into action on the court. Here’s what the Celtics coach told the Chicago Sun-Times:
|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.
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