|Fast Break: 76ers sink Celtics in final preseason game||10.21.12 at 10:02 pm ET|
Dorell Wright (20 points) and Nick Young (15 points) led the 76ers in scoring, and no member of the Celtics scored more than 12 points. It was that kind of night at the Garden in the C’s eighth and final preseason game — an 88-79 loss to Philadelphia.
The Celtics finished 3-5 during the preseason (2-4 against NBA teams), but more importantly emerged from those eight games with a healthy Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett entering their final week of training camp before facing the Heat on opening night.
Rondo (12 points, 10 assists) and Jeff Green (12 points, 10 rebounds) each notched a double-double, but the rest of the Celtics shot a combined 17-of-44 (38.6%). Here’s what else went wrong (and a few things that went right, too).
WHAT WENT WRONG
Captain lost at sea: With all the attention that Rondo, Garnett and even Ray Allen garnered this past offseason, Pierce has been somewhat of a forgotten star entering this year — as much as the franchise fixture can be. Still, over his previous three games, he shot 58 percent and scored 63 points on 36 shots. Last night? Not so much. Pierce finished his night 3-for-12 from the field and missed all three of his 3-point attempts.
Sloppy second: Despite sticking to an eight-man rotation that included the usual suspects (except for Jason Terry), the Celtics got completely outplayed by an undermanned Sixers squad in the second quarter. Pierce, Green and Courtney Lee shot a combined 3-for-13, and the C’s shot 33.3 percent as a group. Suddenly, a 22-21 Celtics lead transformed into a 51-41 halftime hole from which they couldn’t escape.
Turnovers: For all that’s changed from last Celtics season to this one, one aspect certainly hasn’t. The turnover bug continues to plague these C’s, as they racked up 21 turnovers that led to 19 76ers points. Pierce was the biggest culprit, committing five, but multiple giveaways by Green and Brandon Bass didn’t help, either.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Pointed in the right direction: After the summer of Rondo, when he declared himself the game’s best point guard, the C’s floor general has emboldened the belief that he’ll enjoy a career year — no small feat for a 26-year-old with four All-Defensive bids and three All-Star nods in addition to an All-NBA selection, an assist crown, a steals title and an NBA championship. Once again, he looked sharp, collecting 12 points, 10 assists and four rebounds against just one turnover.
Two’s a crowd: With a wealth of options at his disposal — including Terry, Lee and eventually both Avery Bradley and Leandro Barbosa — Celtics coach Doc Rivers continued to try just about anything and everything, opting for Green as his starting shooting guard. As he’s done in just about every role he’s been asked to play this preseason, Green produced at the 2, totaling four points, five rebounds, two steals and a pair of blocks in the opening quarter. The logjam at the off-guard spot isn’t such a bad problem for a coach to have.
Lee from 3: Shooting just 4-for-17 from 3-point range in his first seven preseason games, Lee had yet to knock down multiple triples in a single game. This from a career 39 percent 3-point shooter. In his final attempt before the regular season begins on Oct. 30, Lee connected on 2-of-3 long-balls. He also reached double-digit scoring (10 points) for the fifth time in eight games.
|Irish Coffee: Limiting Doc Rivers’ Celtics lineup options||10.19.12 at 5:21 pm ET|
Celtics coach Doc Rivers has options. Kind of like Leonardo DiCaprio has options. It’s hard to choose from the depth and versatility of talent at his disposal, so he tries every combination at his disposal. Eventually, the cream rises to the top, and that appears to be what has happened over the C’s past two preseason games against the Nets. In other words, Rivers may have found his Gisele Bundchen, Bar Rafaeli and Blake Lively of lineups.
In the first three-plus quarters of the two games against Brooklyn — before Micah Downs, Kris Joseph, Robert Kurz or Fab Melo made obligatory fourth-quarter appearances — Rivers used 23 different lineups. Other than starters Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Kevin Garnett, no unit played longer than 8:36 together. Before making any observations, here are the combinations, playing time and plus/minus statistics.
|Irish Coffee: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee still searching for magic potion in Celtics’ backcourt chemistry experiment||10.17.12 at 12:08 pm ET|
If you look at their production during the preseason, newest Celtics guards Courtney Lee and Jason Terry appear headed in different directions in terms of adjusting to their new team, but both are confident they’ll end up in the same place when the NBA season starts on Oct. 30 — meshing their strengths into an established system.
“We’re not worried about that,” said Terry. “Right now, we’re just trying to execute what [Celtics coach] Doc [Rivers] lays out there for us, and we know that part of our game will come here shortly. We’ve got three games in a short amount of time to get right and get ready and prepare.”
After struggling in the C’s 97-91 loss to Istanbul’s Fenerbahce Ulker to start the preseason, Lee’s comfort level has steadily progressed, culminating in his most extended minutes (33) and most complete performance (13 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 block) during a 97-96 loss to the Nets on Tuesday night. It marked his third start in five preseason games and his third double-digit scoring output in the four games since the opener.
“I was trying too hard to fit in,” Lee said of his early struggles. Obviously, a collision with Fab Melo‘s shoulder that left him with a deep right thigh contusion and kept him out of the C’s unofficial practices from Sept. 6 to the start of training camp didn’t help. “I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t being aggressive at all.
“Doc came to me and said that hurts the team. He needs me to play my game, be aggressive and make the right plays. The more practice we get and the more games we play, I’m getting more and more comfortable with that.”
|Fast Break: Paul Pierce ends this Celtics-Nets debate||10.16.12 at 10:00 pm ET|
Even Celtics coach Doc Rivers couldn’t watch a full preseason game against a Nets team that didn’t send any of its starting five out for the opening tip. Conveniently, the second half of the C’s 97-96 loss coincided with the start of the presidential debate, and that’s when Rivers — an ardent support of President Barack Obama, a fellow former Chicagoan — excused himself, “allowing his assistant coaches to handle the bench duties.”
At least Paul Pierce stayed for the second half, capping a 29-point night on 10-of-17 shooting (6-8 3P) in 27 efficient minutes. Jeff Green (14 points) and Courtney Lee (13 points) also stuck around until the end of the C’s bench eventually coughed up a double-digit lead in the final minutes. Here’s what else Rivers missed.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Sharp Pierce: After entering training camp out of shape and suffering a foot injury that lingered long past the three games he missed to start the 2011-12 NBA season, Pierce seems prepared to begin this season in much better shape, showing no ill effects of the knee injury that hobbled during the playoffs. The Celtics captain connected on four of his first seven shots against the Nets, scoring 10 of the C’s 14 points in the opening seven minutes.
Green party: After struggling for the first time all preseason against the 76ers, Green turned in another aggressive performance, recapturing his leadership role on the second unit. After falling hard to the floor early in the second quarter, he shook off the trainer and even drew a charge on the other end. If there were any lingering questions about Green’s hesitance after returning from heart surgery, he answered them in that stretch.
On guard: Lee’s outside shot wasn’t dropping (1-4 3P), but the C’s starting shooting guard once again demonstrated the athleticism and defensive ability that made him so coveted. Also, his chemistry with backcourt mate Rajon Rondo is clearly developing, as Lee found open spots on the perimeter and Rondo naturally found him with a few nice crosscourt passes. Eventually, the career 39 percent 3-point shooter’s stroke will connect.
|Fast Break: Spencer Hawes, 76ers slap Celtics silly||10.15.12 at 9:30 pm ET|
The Celtics started Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic, marking the fourth different Doc Rivers starting lineup in as many preseason games. In Philadelphia, few showed up — namely Sixers fans, centers Kevin Garnett and Andrew Bynum, and the C’s cohesiveness.
When all was said and done after an atrocious 107-75 C’s loss, only Pierce (16 points) and Brandon Bass (11 points) reached double figures, six different Celtics committed at least two of the team’s 20 turnovers and Milicic left in the second half with a sore wrist. All that said, let’s sort through the ugliness.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Turnovers and turnover: As analyst Tommy Heinsohn said at halftime, when the C’s had already coughed the ball up 14 times (Pierce 4, Milicic 3, Rondo 3, Sullinger 2) and experimented with roughly 9,736 different lineups, “There was no chemistry. It was boiling over into turnovers.” Few if any lineups appeared to have any continuity. Given the Celtics are only midway through the preseason, it’s probably too early to be concerned about excessive experimentation, but the earlier Rivers can discover which units work best together, the better.
Off center: Without Kevin Garnett, who would normally treat Spencer Hawes like Hulk treated Loki in “The Avengers,” Rivers turned to Sullinger and Milicic to guard the Sixers center. Often, the former proved too small and the latter too slow to challenge the rangy 7-footer. Understandably, the Celtics didn’t want to play Garnett in back-to-back nights, and Rivers likely wanted to experiment with his big Garnett/Milicic lineup against Brook Lopez and the Nets on Tuesday night. Still, Monday was further evidence how important KG is to the C’s chemistry.
Project Green light: Green may have guarded everywhere from the 2-4, but that didn’t mean he did it successfully. While NBA plus/minus statistics aren’t always the best indicator, he was a team-worst minus-28 against the 76ers. After reaching double digits and shooting better than 50 percent in his first three preseason games, Green made just 3-of-9 attempts, missed all three of his long-distance attempts and committed two turnovers. Outside of an unchallenged slam dunk, he failed to take advantage of a matchup against offensive-minded Nick Young.
|Brian Scalabrine: Black Mamba vs. White Mamba||10.11.12 at 4:52 pm ET|
“The black mamba is the world’s most deadliest snake: One bite and you’re dead. The white mamba is the world’s most dormant snake: He just chills; he just watches and chills.” Clearly, Brian Scalabrine is the Kobe Bryant of broadcasting. It’s about time someone starts breaking down real NBA issues like this. (h/t Beyond the Buzzer)
|Irish Coffee: Grooming Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger||10.11.12 at 8:00 am ET|
Jared Sullinger isn’t easily fazed. Not even when they called him and the other Celtics rookies in front of the entire organization during a team dinner and made him sing his favorite song: Jay-Z‘s “Public Service Announcement.”
Check out my swag’ yo, peep the way I wear it
No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change, but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here
Fitting. Sullinger isn’t intimidated by a team full of headstrong veterans whose system has produced one championship, two NBA finals appearances and three Eastern Conference finals showings in the past five years, and that’s because his basketball journey started almost from the day he was born.