|Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce’s Top 5 Celtics playoff moments||05.02.12 at 11:36 am ET|
Jesus Shuttlesworth wasn’t available, so Paul Pierce channeled sports spirituality’s next best thing: Tim Tebow.
Pierce became the only Celtics player in the last 25 years to total 36 points and 14 rebounds in a playoff game, bringing the Celtics back from the dead, erasing an 11-point Hawks lead and avoiding an 0-2 postseason hole. In the absence of Rajon Rondo (suspension) and Ray Allen (ankle), everyone in Atlanta knew the C’s playoff hopes rested on Pierce’s shoulders — and he delivered a game for the ages, one of his many in Celtics lore.
Like Tebow’s completion percentage last season, Pierce shot 46 percent from the field, and his eight turnovers were every bit as bad as the new Jets quarterback’s pass attempts, but the inexplicable happened and the fourth quarter became Truth Time, so Pierce earned the right to Tebow at midcourt of Philips Arena.
Where does that performance rank among the Celtics captain’s Top 5 all-time great playoff moments?
|Fast Break: Truth be told, Celtics even Hawks series||05.01.12 at 10:17 pm ET|
Calling what the Celtics played without point guard Rajon Rondo “offense” is being kind, but Paul Pierce and a ridiculous defensive effort in the fourth quarter stole a Game 2 victory against the Hawks, 87-80.
Pierce finished with 36 points on 12-for-26 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds and four assists (and eight turnovers), and the defense held the Hawks to 14 points and 4-for-19 shooting in the final 12 minutes to even the series 1-1 entering Friday’s Game 3. All that was left for Pierce was to Tebow in victory.
Kevin Garnett (15 points, 12 rebounds) also finished with a double-double, and Avery Bradley (14 points) was the only other Celtic to reach double figures as they shot 42.6 percent as a team.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Captain, obvious: In the absence of Rondo, the Celtics needed Pierce to be heavily involved. And he was early. Pierce scored on a layup just six seconds ion the game, the first of his nine straight C’s points to open the game. Through the first 4:45, Pierce played the Hawks even, 9-9, establishing himself as the best player on the floor and setting an early tone for a Celtics offense desperately in need of a leader. He finished strong, too, scoring 13 fourth-quarter points.
Depth perception: Believe it or not, the Celtics built a lead with Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling all on the floor. After the C’s battled the Hawks to a 24-24 deadlock through the first quarter, they started the second with that trio, Garnett and Bradley. Even Marquis Daniels made an appearance. When Pierce returned to the floor three minutes into the second quarter, his team led, 28-27. It was just a one-point advantage, but the Celtics captain got some much-needed rest even when Doc Rivers had limited resources.
Hanging tough: Through three quarters, the Celtics played perhaps their worst basketball after the All-Star break, shooting 21-for-54 from the field (38.9 FG%) and 2-for-11 from beyond the arc (18.2 3P%) while committing double-digit turnovers. They had no business being in the game, but somehow, even after defensive mental lapses that led to uncontested dunks and wide-open 3-pointers, the Celtics trailed just 66-61 entering the fourth quarter — thanks to the Hawks’ 39.1 percent shooting (25-64 FG).
|Irish Coffee: Celtics, with or without Rondo||05.01.12 at 12:37 pm ET|
Gone for Game 2 are Rajon Rondo‘s averages of 11.9 points, 11.7 assists and 4.8 boards in 36.9 minutes a night, so who can the Celtics count on to replace his scoring, distribution and rebounding?
In the wake of Rondo’s suspension for Tuesday night’s game in Atlanta (7:30 p.m., NBA TV), perhaps a look at how other Celtics performed in the point guard’s 13-game absence this season will answer that question.
For starters, we’ll examine how the void left by Rondo affects the other … um … well … the starters.
|Irish Coffee: All you need to know about Marc Davis||04.30.12 at 1:47 pm ET|
Don’t believe everything Tim Donaghy says, but at least the disgraced NBA referee is right about one thing.
“It’s not the first time Marc Davis has had problems with some of the Boston players,” said Donaghy, a one-time official who pled guilty in 2007 for his role in a gambling scandal, in his appearance on Dennis & Callahan. “I’m sure, again, that there’s a history there. This isn’t the first time something like this has come up with him.”
Davis, of course, is the official who, in a span of about 90 seconds from 2:14 to 0:41, handed the ball to the Hawks on a ball that clearly went off Atlanta‘s Josh Smith, whistled Brandon Bass for a foul on an apparent jump ball and subsequently called Rajon Rondo for a pair of technical fouls — the first for arguing on Bass’ behalf and the second for the infamous chest bump stumble.
“Davis is one of those guys that has rabbit ears for certain people,” said Donaghy. “He’s a referee that thinks people pay for their tickets to come and see him. He’s one of those guys that has a little bit of an ego. So, I’m sure it’s not the first time that he’s had a problem with Rondo, or something else happened in that game for Rondo to go after him and bump him over that call right there during that point of the game. Something else triggered that.”
|Irish Coffee: Banged-up Celtics ‘hoping everybody is’||04.27.12 at 1:12 pm ET|
He might not be a real doctor, but he must feel like one after all the injuries he’s seen in the past four months.
“We’ve got to be careful with them, even in the playoffs,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “It just doesn’t take much, it seems like, right now, for a guy to not be able to play the next night. So we have to be very careful.”
Take Paul Pierce as Exhibit A. The Celtics captain began this lockout-shortened regular season with a bone bruise in his right heel and ended it with a sprained big left toe. The original plan was to rest Pierce’s ailing feet for the final two games, but his desire to stay in rhythm won out, so Rivers played him 18 minutes on Tuesday and just 2:18 on Thursday before March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month limped back to the locker room.
“He hurt it,” said Rivers, referencing the toe that led the C’s to list Pierce as likely unable to return. “That’s why he’s been sitting. And then he wanted to play. We’re not sure if it was the tape, or whatever, because when he wanted to come back, he just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose.’ So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in, but he really wanted to play a couple minutes just to get up and down the floor.”
The Celtics dodged a bullet, as Pierce returned for the final 4:24 of the first half to score seven quick points and ease fans’ fears. The same can’t be said for Ray Allen, who missed his ninth straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. On Thursday, Rivers dubbed him probable for Game 1 against the Hawks, but the Celtics announced via Twitter on Friday, “Allen will not practice today and his status for Game 1 on Sunday is still unknown.”
|Kevin Garnett: ‘Together, Celtics play hard as sh*t’||04.27.12 at 1:27 am ET|
It wasn’t pretty. Not the NBA lockout. Not the 0-3 start. Not the losses of Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to heart surgeries. Not the two five-game losing streaks. Not the way Paul Pierce started the season, Ray Allen ended it or everything in between that involved Jermaine O’Neal. But it’s over.
The 2011-12 Celtics regular season is in the books, resulting in another Atlantic Division title to toss into the supply closet along with the franchise’s 21 others that mean little compared to the 17 NBA championship banners hanging from the rafters. All in four months work for Kevin Garnett.
“We’re a very, very motivated group,” said Garnett. “Individually, we have a lot of pride. Together, we play hard as sh*t. Like I said, we’re a very prideful team. Like I always said, man, when you come in here and put that jersey on, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that, and we don’t take that lightly in here.”
The Celtics finished 39-27, capturing the fourth seed as the division winner, but finishing a game behind the Hawks (40-26), who will host Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday at 7 p.m. on TNT (full schedule here), presumably without injured centers Al Horford and Garnett’s personal favorite Zaza Pachulia.
“This Atlanta team is a very exciting team — athletic, a better team since we’ve seen them, a more mature team,” said KG. “Smooth, Josh Smith, has played to me some of his best basketball. Joe Johnson is classic Joe Johnson. And they’re coming together as a team. … They’re feeling good about themselves, and that’s a thing we have to reckon with. And we’re going to prepare for them starting tomorrow.”
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics stop Bucks season here||04.26.12 at 10:11 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Mickael Pietrus all returned to the lineup, and the Celtics cruised to an 87-74 victory against the Bucks in their regular-season finale.
The trio combined for just 13 points, but Rondo dished out 15 assists despite taking just one shot. Avery Bradley (14 points) and Paul Pierce (12 points) were the only Celtics to reach double digits, but the Celtics (39-27) cruised nonetheless.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Recovery act: At times, Rondo ran the floor like, well, a guy with a bad back, but it appeared more like an act than anything worth concern. He toyed with defenders at will, improving his streak of games with at least 10 assists to 24 by halftime. Meanwhile, Pietrus returned from his four-game absence to register nine points off the bench. Garnett only played 11 first-half minutes, but he showed no signs of the sore hip flexor that kept him out against the Heat. All in all, the trio of walking Celtics wounded appeared ready to go for the playoffs.
S’Moore: After totaling seven points and seven rebounds against the Heat on Tuesday night, rookie E’Twaun Moore put together another nice performance. At one point against the Bucks, he was a plus-18 in his time on the floor. Moore finished with eight points, five assists and four rebounds.
Hollins of Fame: It took all of 51 seconds for Ryan Hollins to put together his most productive stretch of the season. He scored seven points in just under a minute, including a pair of dunks — one of which even came on a putback after a rebound — that helped the Celtics establish a double-digit advantage early in the second quarter. After a month of discouragement, Thursday night was an encouraging sign for Hollins.
WHAT WENT WRONG
My left big toe: Just minutes into the game, Pierce limped back to the Celtics locker room accompanied by team Dr. Brian McKeon — a scary sight for a Celtics team hobbled by injuries entering the playoffs. Scarier still was the Celtics diagnosis that Pierce had sprained his left big toe and was “probably not likely to return.” Naturally, the C’s captain returned before halftime, scoring seven of the team’s final 11 points before the break. The feet have been an issue for Pierce ever since his heel injury during training camp, but on a night he accept an Eastern Conference Player of the Month trophy, his injuries don’t appear too serious.
Ray of hope: While Rondo, Pietrus and Garnett all returned, Ray Allen missed his ninth consecutive game — and 15th in his last 20 — with bone spurs in his right ankle. Celtics coach Doc Rivers pronounced Allen “probable” to play Game 1 of the Hawks series, but even if he does play, there has to be some doubt about his effectiveness after such a long absence. As for Greg Stiemsma, his foot problems shouldn’t keep him from his first career playoff game, even if he missed a second straight game on Thursday.
On the road again: With the Hawks holding a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, they appeared well on their way to claiming home court advantage in their first-round series against the Celtics. The C’s will own the fourth seed as the Atlantic Division winners, but will have to travel to Atlanta for Game 1 (on Sunday). The Celtics finished 2-1 against the Hawks (1-1 in the ATL) this season, but 2-0 when they weren’t missing five of their top eight rotation players.