|The Three-Pointer: One Celtics play says so much||12.10.10 at 12:29 am ET|
It was just one play, lasting 5.2 seconds, yet it said so much about the 2010-11 Celtics.
Not many coaches have the smarts (or the cojones) to draw up a game-winning alley-oop with 6.6 seconds left. But the Celtics have Doc Rivers ‘ one of the best coaches in the business at designing plays following a timeout ‘ and he had the script that resulted in a 102-101 Celtics win over the 76ers in his back pocket all along.
“We worked on the whole timing of it last week,” Rivers told reporters. “We tried to run it earlier in the year, and we had bad timing, so it’s just funny how things worked out. It’s a low-clock play, the ball is in the best passer’s hands, and you have shooters on the floor. … It worked.”
Not many point guards can throw a perfect blind lob over a taller defender in the final moments of a game. But the Celtics have Rajon Rondo, who picked up his 14th assist of the night with 1.4 seconds left when he dropped a pretty pass over the heads of Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday that led to the basket that resulted in his team’s ninth consecutive victory.
Not many post players have the length and athleticism to get from the top of the key to the rim in a blink of an eye. But the Celtics have a healthy Kevin Garnett, who rolled to the basket, caught the lob pass and converted it all in one fluid motion to improve the C’s Eastern Conference-best record to 18-4.
“Last year, Kevin would’ve missed the lob,” Rivers added. “Actually, we wouldn’t have thrown it. We can do it now.”
And not many teams have three deadly shooters who opponents absolutely have to respect in the waning seconds of a one-point game. But the Celtics have Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson, who all hovered around the 3-point line ‘ drawing Andre Iguadola, Jodie Meeks and Louis Williams from the basket and allowing Rivers’ design to play out on the floor.
|Fast Break: Celtics, Kevin Garnett sink Sixers||12.09.10 at 11:04 pm ET|
Ray Allen (game-high 23 points) and Glen Davis (16 points, 7 rebounds) also hit shots that put the Celtics up one in the final 1:04, but the Sixers regained the lead each time — until Garnett sealed the deal.
Rondo finished with 19 points and 14 assists.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo’s offense: He might have been hobbled by a sore hamstring and sore feet, but even at 85 percent Rondo is better than anybody the 76ers have to defend him. And he took advantage of that, assuming the bulk of the C’s offensive load.
Rondo put up a double-double … through the first three quarters. When all was said and done, he finished with 19 points and 14 assists, including the game-clinching lob pass to Garnett with 1.4 seconds left.
3-Point shooting: As if the Celtics’ 56 percent shooting clip wasn’t impressive enough, their 3-point percentage was even better at 58 percent (7-of-12).
Energy off the bench: In 11 first-half minutes off the bench, Robinson scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting. While the rest of the team looked somewhat disinterested and more than a step slow, he provided the necessary boost to keep the veteran Celtics in the ballgame on the second night of a back-to-back.
As usual, Glen Davis picked up where Robinson left off, totaling 16 points and seven rebounds by the end of the night — including a jump shot with 27 seconds remaining that put the Celtics up 100-99.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Crash the boards: The 76ers outrebounded the Celtics, 39-33, and 15 of those 33 Philadelphia boards came on the offensive glass. The C’s showed little interest in boxing out in the opening 24 minutes, as Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes combined for 14 first-half boards. That’s how the C’s entered the locker room with just a one-point lead, despite shooting 58 percent.
Transition defense: The Celtics showed just as much interest early in getting back on defense as they did in boxing out, allowing the 76ers to pile up 16 fast-break points in the first half. The pace slowed in the second half, as Philadelphia finished the game with 22 fast-break points.
The athleticism of Jrue Holiday (12 points, 6 assists) and Andre Iguadola (14 points, 11 assists), in particular, caused the C’s problems.
Under the weather: Paul Pierce wasn’t feeling well before the game, and it showed throughout. He shot just 3-of-8 from the field and appeared a step slow on the defensive end. Somehow, though, Pierce still managed to play 40 minutes and post a near double-double (10 points, 8 rebounds).
|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).
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