|The Three-Pointer: Backup Bigs Boost C’s||11.02.10 at 10:43 pm ET|
And they responded.
Getting his first start of the season, Jermaine O’Neal totaled 12 points in 21 minutes during last night’s 109-86 win over the Detroit Pistons, despite dealing with a few nagging injuries that kept him out of Friday night’s game against the New York Knicks.
From the start, J.O. set an early tone with aggressive defense — blocking two first-quarter shots while also picking up a pair of fouls that kept him from completely getting into a rhythm.
As a result, O’Neal started slow offensively, but kept finding open spots. Eventually, his knack to find the right place was rewarded by Rajon Rondo at the right times — leading to a 5-of-8 shooting night.
In O’Neal’s absence, Erden also blocked a pair of Pistons attempts, picked up three rebounds and ran the floor for a wide-open dunk. The latter was a shining example of the energy the Turk played with throughout his 15 minutes on the floor.
Most importantly, Erden looked as though he belonged on an NBA floor.
The first-half play of Erden could be the best sign for the Celtics future, as he showed that the potential to spell both O’Neals — who, as we know, will need their share of spelling. That leaves Glen Davis to continue giving Kevin Garnett his rest, limiting minutes for all three veteran big men over the course of the 82-game season.
Of course, any excitement over the play of J.O. and Semih last night can be tempered by the fact that they played the Pistons, who by the looks of things should be one of the worst five teams in the league.
It’s important to note, too, that both bigs faded as the game went on. Erden did all of his damage in the first half, and O’Neal grabbed only two rebounds in his time on the floor. It’s no coincidence that Shaq’s absence led to the Celtics getting out-rebounded for the first time all season.
But it was a start — literally, a start in place of Perkins and Shaq. And any time the C’s can win without those two, it’s a good sign. After all, that’s what they’re here for.
WHAT IS RONDO’S CEILING?
In the last 28 seasons, only nine players have led the NBA in assists: John Stockton (9 seasons), Jason Kidd (5 seasons), Steve Nash (4 seasons), Magic Johnson (4 seasons), Chris Paul (2 seasons) Isaiah Thomas (once), Mark Jackson (once), Rod Strickland (once) and Andre Miller (once).
Of those nine players, only Stockton managed to average 12 assists or more. Through the first four games, Rondo has totaled 67 assists, and nobody in the history of the league has done that. He totaled 17 assists last night, and his average only moved from 16.5 to 16.8 per game.
Currently, only one other player in the NBA is averaging more than 10 assists, and that’s Kidd at 11.7. There’s no doubt that Rondo’s departure from the USA team and all the talk about who’s the best point guard in the league -Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose – lit a fire under the Celtics point guard.
And did anybody else notice Rondo’s pull-up, knock-down, 17-foot jumper in the first half? If he ever gets that going, there’s no telling how good he’ll be this season. I’m talking MVP consideration. Even without the scoring — just 10.8 points per game — he’s already the story of this NBA season (unless you count the off-the-court hype of the Miami Heat).
WANTED: DELONTE WEST
The Celtics got little to nothing from their backup guards behind Rondo and Ray Allen. The starting duo combined for 25 points and 20 assists. Von Wafer and Nate Robinson? They combined for a whopping four points in 27 minutes between them.
Marquis Daniels has really been the lone bright spot at guard from the bench. He totaled nine points and four rebounds, but Doc has used him mainly at the 3 in smaller lineups this season.
Simply based on their play, we should’ve known better than to think Danny Ainge might cut Delonte West after his reported scuffle with Wafer late last week. I’m sure Doc is counting the games until West can return to the lineup. He’s now served four games of the 10-game suspension.
|Fast Break: Rondo, C’s pound Pistons||11.02.10 at 10:04 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo became the only player in NBA history to record 67 assists through four games, leading the Celtics to a 109-86, wire-to-wire victory over the winless Detroit Pistons. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce scored 22 and 21 points for the C’s (3-1), respectively, as five Boston players reached double figures.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT
1. Taking care of the ball: After averaging 19 turnovers in their first three games, the Celtics committed just two turnovers in the first half and eight for the entire game.
Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett had been the C’s biggest culprits, averaging nine giveaways between them through three contests. Last night, though, neither committed a turnover in a total of 69 minutes on the floor.
2. Spread the wealth: The Celtics totaled 33 assists on 42 field goals in the victory. Rondo, of course, led the way with 17 dishes, while Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson each chipped in three dimes.
By contrast, the Pistons managed just 11 assists on 35 field goals for the game. Detroit’s starting point guard, Rodney Stuckey, had just two assists in 38 minutes on the floor.
3. They played the Pistons: Facing little to nothing in the way of defense, the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field, scoring 67 of their 109 points in the paint. KG and Pierce combined to shoot 17-of-25 from the floor (68 percent), getting open look after open look around the basket. Of course, it also helped that the Celtics made all 18 of their free throws on the night.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG
1. Technical difficulty: While Glen Davis played well – totaling 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes – he picked up a technical midway through the first quarter. Doc Rivers was noticeably upset, as the C’s are attempting to make a concerted effort not to pick up cheap techs as a result of the new rules.
2. Getting out-rebounded: Rivers has made rebounding a focus for the Celtics early in the season, and they had owned a plus-six margin entering last night’s game. However, the Pistons out-rebounded the Celtics, 38-36. No Celtics reached double digits in rebounds, as KG led the team with six.
3. Bench depth: Big contributions from Big Baby off the bench have become an expectation, and he delivered again. But other than a few bright spots from Semih Erden, the C’s got very little from the rest of their reserves – as Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, Luke Harangody and Erden combined for 19 points in 61 total minutes.
The lack of contribution from the bench led to the Pistons nearly bringing a 20-point lead to single digits – forcing Rivers to bring the starters back in for the majority of the fourth quarter.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics lack killer instinct||11.02.10 at 11:05 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
We know they love Halloween, but does this Celtics team have a killer instinct?
And Dime Magazine’s Austin Burton raised it again just three games into the 2010-11 NBA season — suggesting Boston has played to its competition through the first three games.
The Celtics did it last season, when they were just average down the stretch before bouncing back to find their rhythm in the playoffs and get with a few possessions of winning another NBA championship. But for a veteran team – led by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and the playoff-experienced Rajon Rondo -- that has been through the wars and knows the importance of staying focused and consistent, it’s a red flag.
The Celtics had the killer instinct in 2007-08, when they won 66 regular-season games and the NBA title. A whopping 21 of those victories came by margins of 20 points or more.
They simply didn’t let many games slip away, as they did in Game 2 against Cleveland — dissolving a double-digit lead in the second half against one of the worst teams in the league.
The 2007-08 C’s started 20-2, winning by an average of 16 points and losing only to a pair of teams that reached the second round of the playoffs that season (the Orlando Magic and the LeBron James-led Cavaliers).
Meanwhile, this year’s edition of the Celtics has led all three of its games by double digits late in the third quarter, only to be playing meaningful minutes down to the buzzer.
Against the Heat, an 83-70 lead with four minutes to play dwindled to an 83-80 advantage in the final minute. Against the Cavs, the C’s turned a 66-55 third-quarter advantage into a 95-87 loss. And against the Knicks, Boston owned a 101-90 lead with two minutes left, only to be clinging to a 103-101 advantage in the final minute.
To further the issue, Burton points to tonight’s game as a potential defining moment for this season’s Celtics, especially considering they haven’t played since Friday night.
The Celtics will get another test of their focus on Tuesday, when they visit the Pistons on the road. A fierce playoff rival for the C’s as recently as 2008, Detroit was in the Lottery last year and aren’t expected to do much this year. Ben Gordon‘s and Co. are 0-3 right now, but two of those losses were down-to-the-wire games against playoff teams in Oklahoma City and Chicago. If the Celtics overlook Detroit – perhaps eyeing an upcoming stretch that has them home for the Bucks and Bulls before playing at OKC, Dallas and Miami – Gordon and Rodney Stuckey and the Pistons’ talented scorers will hand Doc Rivers another unexpected L.
Losses piling up are certainly a concern, but as the Celtics showed last year: For this team, what happens in the regular season stays in the regular season. The more concerning number — other than a potentially lower playoff seed — could be the mounting meaningful minutes.
The more games the Celtics are able to demonstrate a killer instinct — turning second-half, double-digit leads into certifiable blowouts down the stretch — the fewer minutes Rivers has to trot out his aged starters.
“I love sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter when you’ve got a blowout,” Ray Allen said in the preseason. “That means everybody as a team gets the opportunity to play. Everybody works hard throughout the week, so when you know guys get a chance to play that’s when you know you’ve got it.”
Which only stresses the killer instinct question: Do this season’s Celtics have IT?
MAGIC DON’T MATCH UP
What the Celtics do have — according to Orlando Sentinel‘s George Diaz — is a considerable matchup advantage against the Magic. In fact, the columnist essentially threw in the towel against the C’s and Heat just a few games into the season. Here’s a glimpse:
The Magic don’t have any players who can break down a defense by going one-on-one, unless Vince Carter steps into a Hot Tub Time Machine and it’s 1997 all over again.
Without one, they won’t have a prayer of beating the Celtics or the Heat in a playoff series.
It may sound like one man’s opinion, but it’s not. Even Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy owned up to that discrepancy after getting blown out by the Heat on Friday.
“Against a good defensive team we have trouble a little bit,” Van Gundy told the Sentinel. “We don’t have — and this isn’t to put down anybody in our locker room — but we don’t have the great one-on-one players. We don’t have Dwyane Wade and James and Pierce and Kobe Bryant.”
That’s got to be fairly eye-opening for any Orlando fan. I had my doubts about the Magic from the start, relaying recently a conversation I overheard at the Garden:
“How come you don’t believe in the Magic?” one guy said to another.
To which the other guy replied, “They still have Vince Carter, don’t they?”
|Irish Coffee: Celtics Halloween||11.01.10 at 10:39 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
1. Shaquille O’Neal as “Shaqeeta”
2. Jermaine O’Neal as “Mr. T”
4. David Ortiz as “Wolverine”
5. Ray Allen as “Retro Ray”
6. Marquis Daniels as “Reverend Daniels”
10. Glen Davis as “Big Baby”
Over the weekend, Celtics Blog’s Jimmy Toscano provided us with a look back through the eyes of the Celtics at the ghost of Halloween past. He treated us to some sweet morsels …
- Ray Allen: “I went anywhere that had those little Smarties candies in the plastic. You got so many of them. That’s what I ended up eating all the time. Then I got older and we just started throwing eggs at people’s houses.”
- Glen Davis: “I was thinking about being Kazaam. That would be funny.”
- Nate Robinson: “Then we used to snatch kids’ bags sometimes back in the day. Like kids that we knew would go out. I was young. I was like 10. I remember one time my friend snatched a kid’s bag and the dude’s dad chased him for so long. We were laughing.”
- Kendrick Perkins: “Got to be Snickers. Snickers, man. Ain’t nothing else. Nate’s a weirdo saying Candy Corn.”
- Shaquille O’Neal: “My thing with Halloween was every time I used to go out, people used to look at me like, ‘You’re too big to be trick-or-treating.’ So I stopped at age 10, seriously.”
|The Delonte West Timeline||10.29.10 at 4:34 pm ET|
Following HoopsWorld’s report that Delonte West and Von Wafer exchanged blows during a practice before tonight’s 7:30 p.m. game against the New York Knicks at the TD Garden, we put together a simple timeline of an offseason that explains a little why the Celtics may be considering dumping West even before he fulfills the 10-game suspension levied upon him this summer …
- July 15: On trial for six weapons charges from a 2009 traffic stop in Maryland, West pleaded guilty to carrying an eight-inch bowie knife and transporting a handgun on his motorcycle. He was sentenced to eight months of home detention, two months of probation and 40 hours of community service. As a result, NBA commissioner David Stern suspended West for the first 10 games of the 2010-11 season.
The Washington Post reported: “Three guns were found — a 9mm Beretta in West’s waistband, a Ruger .357 Magnum strapped to his leg, and a 12-gauge shotgun in a guitar case slung over his back, authorities said. West also had additional shotgun shells in a backpack, investigators said.”
- July 26: In the wake of “The Decision,” the Cleveland Cavaliers traded West — along with Sebastian Telfair — for Ramon Sessions and Ryan Hollins.
- August 3: In order to save $4.1 million in salary, the T-Wolves released West.
- September 1: The Celtics signed West to a non-guaranteed deal for the veteran minimum.
- September 27: Officially donning a Celtics uniform again on Media Day, West denied rumors that sufraced during the 2010 NBA Playoffs that he and LeBron James‘ mother, Gloria, had engaged in a relationship.
“Not at all,” he told reporters. “I come from an era where you don’t say nothing bad about someone’s parent, so not at all.”
- October 11: In an open diary to the public on ESPN.com, West praised the camaraderie of this veteran Celtics team. He also commented on his past:
“People make mistakes but that’s what life is,” West wrote. “You’ve got to learn from them and keep going. This team is here to win. The unselfishness stands out. Everyone is just submerging themselves within the team. It’s all about team here. That’s the type of player I am anyway, I’m always about the team. I put the team before my individual goals my whole career. It’s good to be on a team like this.”
- October 13: On a preseason road trip, the Celtics sent West back to Boston from New York to undergo testing for the back spasms that had been ailing him throughout training camp.
- October 22: Still healing from his lower back injury, West returned to practice in a limited fashion.
- October 24: In a game of 2-on-2 (West and Semih Erden vs. Wafer and Luke Harangody), West and Wafer exchanged words after West drove hard to the basket and scored consecutive baskets against Wafer — with West telling Wafer to “do something about it.”
- October 26: Shaquille O’Neal told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that he encouraged Celtics vice president Danny Ainge to sign West, because the two had respect for each other as teammates in Cleveland.
“I know he won’t get out of line,” O’Neal told Windhorst. “There’s five or six guys that he truly respects here. Last year I don’t think he respected anybody but me on that team. So I was able to talk to him.”
“He got out of control a lot of times and usually when people get out of control they shut their buttons off to somebody they respect,” O’Neal added. “I know he respected me because I can get out of control too. I had to yoke (sic) him up once or twice, tell him to let it go bro.”
- October 26: In an interview with WEEI’s Big Show, Ainge admitted that the team considered the risks of re-signing West.
“I think everybody is aware that Delonte has had challenges off the court,” Ainge told The Big Show. We are trying to give him the support that he needs. The players that were with him before, our coach that was with him before and myself and ownership I think we were aware of that risk and I think we were comfortable with that risk.”
- October 29: Following a physical game of 3-on-3 in practice, Wafer returned to the locker room as West taunted him with obscenities, according to HoopsWorld. West allegedly threw a punch at Wafer in the locker room, leading to a scuffle. Now, Ainge is reportedly considering terminating West’s deal.
|Irish Coffee: Vin Baker Comes Clean||10.29.10 at 10:37 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Six years after the Boston Celtics terminated him for violating his alcohol treatment program, a near-broke Vin Baker has come to terms with how alcoholism and depression squandered a 13-year career — and an $87 million contract.
While promoting a book he’s written about his ordeal, Baker admitted in an appearance on Connecticut’s Stan Simpson Show that he began to recognize the existence of a problem before the 2002 trade that sent him from the Seattle SuperSonics to the Celtics.
“Towards the end of my Seattle career, when I was traded to Boston, I knew something was going on that I had to change,” Baker told Simpson. “At the time, I really couldn’t change it, because it’s a disease. It affects 18 million Americans. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on. I had to fix it. It was a situation where the support system around me was tough.”
Irish coffee, indeed.
One season removed from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2001-02, the Celtics had hoped Baker could return to some semblance of the player that made four straight All-Star Games from 1995-98 and won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.
In Boston, Baker sunk deeper into the diseases that had already derailed a promising career. In just 89 games over two seasons, he averaged only 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds before being suspended from the team when coach Jim O’Brien smelled alcohol on his breath during a practice. Baker said he wanted to change, but couldn’t.
“I had to figure out a way to make it right,” Baker said in his appearance on the Connecticut FOX affiliate. “I couldn’t make it right. The Celtics – a great organization – they worked with me, but with my issues I didn’t take the time I needed to take to make it right.”
It’s a shame Baker’s career fell off so sharply and abruptly, considering that four-year stretch — averaging 19.7 points and 9.6 rebounds — before a 1998-99 NBA lockout that saw the New England native balloon to 300 pounds.
“When you’re doing certain things on the court, a lot of times people just trust your talents,” Baker added in the interview. “They don’t know what’s going on inside your heart and your mind, and it becomes very difficult to relay to people that, you know, I might be struggling with something. Entertainers, basketball players, NFL players – sometimes it gets to a point where they don’t understand who you are as a person. They just look at the money, the power, the fame.”
SCALABRINE ON THIBODEAU
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Brian Scalabrine revealed what made Tom Thibodeau such a valuable asset in Celtic practices over the last few seasons: The C’s assistant coach and defensive guru wasn’t afraid of anybody, including Kevin Garnett.
“He likes KG, and KG loves Thibodeau, but he stared right at Garnett and said, ‘We’re doing it this way, you have to do it better, do it harder, and do it more together or I’m going to have to make a change,’” Scalabrine told the Tribune. “If coach Thibodeau can do that to Kevin Garnett, he can do that to anybody.”
The question moving forward is — when this year’s Celtics suffer defensive lapses — can Lawrence Frank do the same to guys like KG and the O’Neal brothers? Time will tell.
By the way, if you’re wondering how Scalabrine is performing in Chicago, the answer is: Just fine, thank you very much. He’s shooting 100 percent from the field. Of course, he’s only taken one shot in 11 minutes.
Oh, and my new favorite Twitter personality to follow is @FakeScalabrine. Over the last few days, he’s given us gems like: “Shaq is picking up my slack with the missed layups,” and, “Watching Nate clank threes and just thinking, ‘Man, that could be me.’”
SI: GARNETT GOING STRONG
Speaking of Garnett, Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Mannix details just how much KG’s knee problems affected his play last year — and how far he’s come since.
One Eastern Conference scout told Mannix that he thought KG was “finished” last season after seeing Andray Blatche score 23 points on the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year.
“Offensively, he understood what he could or couldn’t do,” Doc Rivers told Mannix of last season. “He had become a pick-and-pop player. It frustrated him that he couldn’t post more. He couldn’t get his balance. Defensively, guys were driving by him, beating him off the dribble. He couldn’t get blocked shots.”
“Watching Kevin now is like night and day from last season,” Rivers added in the interview. “In camp last year, I thought he was physically healthy, but mentally he wasn’t sure. He was scared to do things.”
One of the driving forces behind KG’s return to the old KG was Pau Gasol’s 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in the 2010 NBA Finals.
“Gasol having that good series,” Rivers added, “really ticked Kevin off.”
RONDO’S NEW SHOE
Nike revealed a new shoe: Zoom Hyperfuse Rajon Rondo PE. What do you think?
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)
|NBA Power Rankings, 10/28||10.28.10 at 2:40 pm ET|
1. LA Lakers: After receiving their championship rings, the Lakers started 1-0, thanks to new addition Steve Blake, who nailed a last-second 3-pointer to defeat the Rockets — on an assist from Kobe Bryant. Wait a second, Kobe trusted a teammate? And a new teammate to boot? I must have read that wrong.
2. Boston: The Celtics made their statement on opening night: When they’re up for a game, they can beat anybody in the league, including the LeBron-led Heat. Then they made another statement last night: When they’re not up for a game, they can lose to anybody in the league, including the LeBron-less Cavaliers.
3. Miami: LeBron was right when he said after the loss to the Celtics that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In reality, it was built over the course of 870 years. I don’t think it’ll take that long for the Heat to start jelling. They played pretty poorly in the opener — and still almost beat our No. 2-ranked team on the road.
4. Oklahoma City: Kevin Durant took his first step towards claiming his MVP trophy, totaling 30 points and seven rebounds in a season-opening win over a team that will probably be one of the league’s best defensive squads (the Bulls). So, what’s in store when he plays against the Pistons tomorrow night? Watch out.
5. Orlando: I overheard a conversation at the TD Garden the other night. One guy said to another, “Hey, how come you don’t like Orlando’s chances this year?” The other guy’s reply? “They still have Vince Carter, don’t they?” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why — no matter how impressive their preseason was — they’re not higher.