|Kris Humphries and the faces of Celtics death||01.30.14 at 1:23 am ET|
The Celtics hit a new low with a buzzer-beating loss to the 76ers. They’ve lost four in a row, wrapping up January with a 2-15 record after losing to the only team that stood between them and the Atlantic Division basement.
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
On the bright side, the Celtics have three days off before traveling to Orlando to take on one of two teams that owns a worse record than them in the entire NBA, and somehow they’re only 5.5 games behind the hapless Eastern Conference’s eighth-seeded Bobcats (THE EIGHTH-SEEDED BOBCATS!). Oh, and the C’s possess a 15.6 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, a 46.9 percent at a top-three pick and a 96.4 percent chance at a top-five pick on the night Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins scored a season-high 29 points on 16 shots. So, there’s that.
Here’s how various Celtics are dealing with their dire situation heading into the final 10 weeks of the season.
|Fast Break: Evan Turner buzzer-beater sinks Celtics||01.29.14 at 9:59 pm ET|
Neither team seemed all that interested in winning — as the Celtics and Sixers combined for six missed free throws down the stretch before Hamilton product Michael Carter-Williams finally made one to tie the game at 92-92 in the final minute — but another free throw and Evan Turner‘s running layup at the buzzer negated a Kris Humphries jumper and put an end to a 95-94 Philadelphia victory that sunk the C’s to the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 24 points and 17 rebounds while Jeff Green (18 points), Humphries (13), Brandon Bass (11) and Jerryd Bayless (10) all reached double figures, but the C’s (15-33) dropped their 19th game in 22 tries. Here’s what went right and wrong in another loss loss.
WHAT WENT WRONG
No-go Rondo: For the second straight back-to-back, the Celtics rested Rajon Rondo in the second game, and the timing of both seemed a bit odd, particularly Wednesday. Not because Rondo should have played twice in two days, since he’s still experiencing some swelling in his knee, but because the second game (at Wizards and hosting 76ers) appeared infinitely more winnable than the first (in both Miami and New York) with him in the lineup. The C’s actually beat the Wizards without Rondo, but his presence against Philly would’ve a) helped counter the length of Michael Carter-Williams and b) given Boston fans another chance to see the All-Star point guard.
Worst first: The Celtics scored 26 first-quarter points, led by a baker’s dozen from Green, and held the Sixers to 29.6 percent shooting in the opening 12 points — yet only led by three after one. The C’s allowed five offensive boards and committed seven turnovers in the frame, leading to 10 of Philadelphia’s 23 points.
Phil pressing: After totaling 20 points and four assists in a victory against the Wizards in his previous start, rookie point guard Phil Pressey didn’t have the same luck opposite the 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams. Pressey finished just 1-of-7 from the floor (2 points) and committed five turnovers before Stevens yanked him for Bayless down the stretch.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Green with envy: For whatever reason, the self-described “[expletive]-hole Jeff Green showed up against the 76ers. Both Green and Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young were mentioned as potential trade chips in the Omer Asik discussions earlier this season, and a lot of folks were pegging Young as the more valuable chip. It’s unclear whether that was Green’s motivation or not, but it sure seemed like it.
Sully bully: Soon after the pregame announcement that both Sullinger and rookie Kelly Olynyk were selected to the Rising Stars Challenge, Celtics coach Brad Stevens called his sophomore forward to the mat. “One thing I challenged him on is not accepting being a 22-year-old in the league,” he said. “We’re in a unique situation where we’re asking some of our young guys to be leaders. My thing to him is for our team to grow, you almost have to play a few years ahead of where you are.” Despite an injury to his shooting hand that limited him to an average of 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds over his previous three games, Sullinger responded with his first double-double in a week.
Nice Johnson: On his second 10-day contract, Chris Johnson continues to earn what should be a minimum salary contract for the remainder of the season. On what seems like sheer effort alone, he’s made an impact in just about ever game in which he’s appeared. His first fourth-quarter triple drew the Celtics even for the first time since early in the second quarter; in the next two minutes, he assisted on a Green 3-pointer that gave the C’s a three-point lead and drilled another 3 that doubled it. He also added a handful of assists and rebounds.
|Celtics sign Chris Johnson to second 10-day contract||01.28.14 at 11:01 am ET|
In four appearances for the undermanned C’s, Johnson has impressed, averaging 10.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 26.8 minutes while filling in for Avery Bradley (ankle), Jerryd Bayless (toe) and Keith Bogans (just chilling). Bayless is expected to return to the Celtics lineup on Tuesday.
Johnson’s first 10-day contract expired after Sunday’s loss to the Nets, and his signing to a second such deal prior to Tuesday’s game will keep him on the roster for the next four games against New York, Philadelphia (twice) and the Magic.
On Feb. 6, the Celtics will be faced with a decision on whether to sign the Dayton product for the remainder of the season or let him walk, since players are limited to two consecutive 10-day contracts for the same organization.
|Video: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett come home||01.27.14 at 3:33 pm ET|
“I think we’ll always bleed green as long as we’re playing basketball and as long as we’re living. Even when they bury us six feet, this is what it’s going to be.”
When it comes to covering basketball in Boston, it doesn’t get much better than Sunday night. I could wax poetically about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and their legacies as Celtics, which I attempted to do in this column, but this 15-minute video sums it up better than any words I could put together on a page. Enjoy.
|Fast Break: Nets cut down Celtics in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett homecoming||01.26.14 at 9:09 pm ET|
Pierce and Garnett combined for 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a 85-79 Brooklyn victory, handing the Celtics (15-31) a 17th loss in their last 20 tries. Meanwhile, the Nets (20-22) moved within 1.5 games of the division-leading Raptors.
Rondo (13 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds) engineered a Celtics comeback that brought the Celtics within three points in the final minute, but a Garnett dunk off one of the C’s 16 turnovers put the game out of reach. Brandon Bass led the Celtics with 17 points and eight rebounds, Chris Johnson netted 12 points on the night his first 10-day contract is set to expire and Gerald Wallace also added a dozen.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Sweet emotions: It’s almost as if everyone forgot they had to actually play a basketball game. Pierce and Garnett finished scoreless in the first quarter (0-3 FG), and the Nets were 4-of-18 in the opening 12 minutes. The Celtics weren’t any better, as Brooklyn took a 35-34 halftime lead. (Fitting, the C’s had 34 first-half points, by the way.) Pierce didn’t score his first points until the third quarter, when he sunk a pair of free throws 1:08 into the frame.
Oh, shoot: After Brad Stevens ripped his team for settling for too many jumpers against the Thunder, the Celtics fell into the same trap in the third quarter against Brooklyn, taking 12 of their 18 shots outside the paint and making just three in the frame. Meanwhile, the Nets built a six-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
Sully-Green: While Rondo and Bass enjoyed stellar games against their former teammates, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger struggled offensively opposite the two C’s legends. Through three quarters, the pair was a combined 3-for-18 from the floor, and Stevens actually gave more crunch-time minutes to Gerald Wallace and Humphries.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paying tribute: As usual, the folks behind the video tributes did a masterful job putting together pieces for both Pierce and Garnett. Likewise, the crowd responded accordingly, chanting “Paul. Pierce.” before the Nets lineup was introduced, cheering their introductions and tearing the roof off the Garden when the Garnett and Pierce tributes were played on the Jumbotron during the second timeout and following the first quarter, respectively.
National TV Rondo: Whether it was the bright lights or just a natural progression, Rondo enjoyed his best game since returning from ACL surgery. He played 14 first-half minutes, also his most this season, producing eight points, five rebounds and four assists by the break. Whether he meant his “just another game” comment about his former teammates’ return or not, Rondo showed little emotion as he remained focused on his comeback.
Bass swishing: Only a handful of the current Celtics were on the roster with Truth and Ticket, and Bass was one of them, getting the start over Kris Humphries. Like Rondo, he responded with a solid game against his former mates, even driving past both of them for a dunk at one point. After failing to grab more than five rebounds since Jan. 15, he asserted himself on the glass, leading a solid team rebounding effort that included double-digit offensive boards.
|Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett: ‘Some things are forever, man’||01.25.14 at 2:09 am ET|
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett spoke at length to Nets media about their Boston homecoming. Here’s a sample of what they said leading up to Sunday’s game, their first against the Celtics in the Garden.
Garnett: “I’m gonna embrace it for whatever it is. The emotions are gonna be very high, and I’ll react accordingly.”
Pierce: “It’s going to be special. I don’t know how I’ll react, what emotions are going to be going through my head.”
Garnett: “I think anybody who’s part of that run and part of that era will always be remembered. Bostonians, New Englanders, they understand that and they never forget their favorites. We was fortunate to be part of that whole transformation … and some things are forever, man. I’m happy to say I’m part of that era.”
Pierce: “Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of emotions. You play your whole life there, you won a championship there. I mean, being the first time coming [back] … I never thought it would happen, but it is and it’ll be here Sunday.”
Garnett: “I think they saw the appreciation and the hard work that we put into that, the effort more than anything. It’s funny, they have a little pregame thing they used to always say, and in the pregame, I used to always hear Larry Bird. I would never look up, but I would hear it. Larry said, ‘You can’t fool the people of Boston. They know when you’re working hard, they know pure basketball.’ And that’s right. When you go all out, they understand that, they root for that, and that’s what they remember.”
|Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett from enemy’s perspective||01.25.14 at 1:53 am ET|
As the Celtics prepare to welcome Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett back to Boston on Sunday, one member of the new-look franchise knows the two legends of the game all too well from the opposite side of the ball. Joel Anthony endured three straight playoff meetings against the Celtics from 2010-12 as a member of the Heat.
“More than anything, you just wanted to beat them,” said Anthony, who entered the league the same year Garnett came to Boston. “You really, really wanted to beat them. They made you want to be like that because of how they played and how they competed. It’s really the beauty of the game, the beauty of basketball — the whole competition aspect and what you love about the game – to be able to have those type of moments, those battles, those types of feelings and emotions. That’s what it’s all about — to be able to have those battles with that team was special.”
Particularly after a brutal loss to an undermanned Thunder team, Anthony’s reminiscence of those series — a five-game Celtics win before LeBron James‘ arrival during the magical 2010 run, the five-game Heat victory when Rondo dislocated his elbow in 2011 and the epic seven-game Eastern Conference finals in 2012 — will make any basketball fan long for one more matchup between those grit and balls C’s and King James ascending to his throne.
“You respected who they were, what type of team they were and how good of a team that they were,” Anthony said. “Those were the games that guys really got up for, because we knew we were going to be in a battle with those guys every single night and every single minute on the floor. That was just the biggest thing, knowing that they were such competitors — that team was such a tough team to play against every single night.”
As Pierce and Garnett’s arrival in Nets uniforms will attest on Sunday, those days of meaningful Celtics-Lakers and Celtics-Heat playoff meetings are long gone — a chapter in NBA history that will be remembered the same way Larry Bird‘s Celtics and Magic Johnson‘s Lakers ultimately made way for Michael Jordan‘s Bulls.
There were a lot of tough battles for LeBron when he was in Cleveland and with us in Miami, a lot of pain from losing to that team,” added Anthony. “They were an extremely good basketball team, and so to be able to win those games was big, because it was really a huge step for us to be able to get that monkey off our back in terms of surpassing a team that you struggled against and that you respected, but that you wanted to beat more than anything.”
Was it really mutual respect, or was there more to it than that? Because it sure seemed like there was more to it than that. “I think there was some dislike in there,” said Anthony. “Yeah, there was some dislike in there.”
Regardless, Anthony remembers Pierce and Garnett the way most everyone does.
“KG’s intensity and demeanor,” he said. “Defensively, especially, he changed how that team was. They kind of took on his identity. And, in terms of Paul, his ability to hit those big shots. They’d find a way to keep it close, and Paul would end up getting the ball in some kind of iso and find a way to always make big shots.”
Yup, that’s Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a nutshell. Even Rajon Rondo, who called their homecoming “just another game,” knows deep down Sunday will be special. There are too many memories for it not to be.