|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|
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.
|Irish Coffee: 10 things we learned from Celtics-Heat||04.25.12 at 2:44 pm ET|
It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. The end of the NBA’s lockout-shortened season is upon us, forcing TNT to broadcast marquee matchups like Ryan Hollins vs. Dexter Pittman and Sasha Pavlovic vs. Mike Miller rather than Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James. But that doesn’t mean there was nothing to learn from Tuesday night’s game between the Celtics and Heat at the Garden. Here are 10 things.
10. Thanks to Pavlovic’s heroics, the Celtics still have a shot at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Two things must happen Thursday: 1) Celtics defeat the Bucks, and 2) Hawks lose to the Mavericks.
“Our seeding is important as well,” said Celtics reserve guard Keyon Dooling, who scored seven points in the win over the Heat. “So, if we have to get that win, we’re coming in here trying to tear their head off.”
The hunch within the C’s organization is that if Atlanta hosts Game 1, it’ll be played on Saturday night; however, if it’s in Boston, the series will likely start Sunday. Of course, all that assumes the Bruins beat the Capitals in Game 7 and host Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday.
9. After their loss, while casually dressed Heat stars Dwayne Wade and James poked fun at second-year center Dexter Pittman‘s feet and socks, teammate Chris Bosh sat in the corner of the locker room, donning a suit and reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” A different bird, I guess.
8. Heat swingman Shane Battier‘s take on a game that featured 39 turnovers: “In my 11 years, that’s the worst game I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve already taken a shower. You guys should all take a shower to get the stink of this game off you. It’s not fun for anybody … but, hey, it’s the NBA, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.”
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to lockout basketball. It’s FAN-tastic!
|Fast Break: Celtics topple Heat on starless night||04.24.12 at 10:42 pm ET|
Of the seven current or former NBA All-Stars on the Celtics and Heat rosters, only Paul Pierce graced the Garden parquet on Tuesday night, and even he only played 18 minutes. That left major minutes for guys like Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic, the only C’s to reach double figures in an ugly 78-66 victory against the Heat.
Pavlovic (16 points) and Daniels (13 points) helped the Celtics (38-27) outscore Miami 28-16 in the fourth quarter and finish the season 3-1 against the Heat. With only a home game against the Bucks on Thursday remaining, the Celtics trail the Hawks (39-26) — 109-102 winners over the Clippers — by a game. As division winners, the Celtics own the tiebreaker for home court advantage in their first-round playoff series, but they would have to beat Milwaukee and hope Atlanta loses to the Mavericks.
Dexter Pittman (12 points) led the Heat (46-19), who officially conceded the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed to the Bulls.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Quis to the game: From the season opener on Christmas Day to April 19, Daniels never reached double digits in scoring or grabbed more than six rebounds in a single night. He almost exceeded both those benchmarks in the last two games. After totaling 12 points and eight boards against the Hawks on Friday night, he amassed 13 points and five rebounds against the Heat. He’s not likely to see much, if any, playing time in the playoffs, but at least something other than his shoes did the shining.
Block party: With the Celtics clinging to a 54-52 lead in the fourth quarter (yes, the fourth quarter), rookie JaJuan Johnson blocked a Juwan Howard layup attempt. Just 42 seconds later, newly signed Boston College product Sean Williams blocked Howard’s 10-foot baseline jumper, sending it into the stands for a 24-second violation. Williams sandwiched a four points around his rejection to help the C’s establish a six-point lead.
Heroic Herren: Each home game, the Celtics honor a member of the community who goes to extraordinary lengths to help those in need with a “Heroes Among Us” ceremony. Tuesday, the C’s recognized a member of their own community: Chris Herren. The Fall River native and Durfee High graduate battled substance abuse issues throughout a career that led the former McDonald’s All-American to Boston College, Fresno State, the Nuggets (No. 33 overall pick in 1999 NBA Draft) and the Celtics before several destinations abroad. Since recovering from addiction, a journey detailed in the ESPN Films production “Unguarded,” Herren founded Project Purple to fight drug abuse. As a result, he found himself back on the Garden parquet, the recipient of a rousing standing ovation — this time in a suit, clean and sober.
|Irish Coffee: How Celtics re-match up against Hawks||04.23.12 at 4:27 pm ET|
UPDATE: Since Al Horford‘s original claim that playing against the Celtics in their first-round series was unrealistic, the Hawks center has changed his tune. A consultation with his surgeon resulted in a prognosis that he could return to the court on Thursday in a limited role, according to the most recent Yahoo! Sports report.
“It remains to be seen what I can bring,” Horford told reporter Marc J. Spears. “But I hope to bring some scoring. They can’t expect a lot from me defensively because it’s been a while since I’ve even played. That’s one of the things that will hold me back, but scoring I can help. And also with presence with the team in general.”
It’s official. When the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs begin at month’s end, the Celtics will face the Hawks — the same team that in 2008 took them to seven games in the first round. That was then, when the championship nucleus of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was just finding its groove. This is now, five years later.
The first four of this core’s 43 playoff wins came against Atlanta, but will its last also come against the Hawks?
|Irish Coffee: Avery Bradley ‘beautiful’ in Kevin Garnett’s eyes||04.19.12 at 2:10 pm ET|
Twice after their division-clinching victory against the Magic, Kevin Garnett made his case to the Celtics organization for rewarding Avery Bradley financially after his successful sophomore campaign.
“I love seeing young guys who work hard and it pays off,” said Garnett. “I love young guys who listen and actually put in the work. Just from seeing where he’s come from to where he’s at now is just beautiful, man. I hope they’re able to reward him with some longevity and some loyalty — something long-term. I’ve always said to him, ‘Continue to work, because that’s what’s got you here,’ so I’m happy for him.”
The problem is Bradley isn’t slated to become an unrestricted free agent until the 2015-16 NBA season. He’ll make $1.6 million next season, $2.5 million in 2013-14 and at least the qualifying offer of $3.6 million in 2014-15, facts that may have escaped Garnett, who has made at least $14 million in each of his last 14 seasons.
It’s a great problem for the Celtics, because Bradley has established himself as one of the best bargains in basketball. With Rajon Rondo also locked up through 2014-15 at an average of $12 million over the three years, the C’s have one of the youngest, most affordable starting backcourts and two of the best trade chips in the NBA.
“Avery’s emerging,” said Keyon Dooling, “so we might have to give him like a Big Five or something.”
|Glen Davis: Magic ‘capable of beating’ Celtics in playoffs||04.19.12 at 2:26 am ET|
Since being traded from the Celtics to the Magic prior to the season, Glen Davis is now 0-3 against his former team. Yet, Big Baby believes his new squad is fully prepared to defeat the C’s should they meet in the playoffs — even without the injured Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu.
“I think we’re capable of beating them,” said Davis, who totaled 27 points in the Magic’s 102-98 loss in Boston.
If the playoffs started today, the Celtics (37-26) — who clinched a fifth straight Atlantic Division title and the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed — would face the Hawks (37-25) in the first round, but the Magic (36-26) still have a shot at the fifth seed and a date with the C’s. However, Orlando may have to do it without Howard (herniated disc) or Turkoglu (fractured face), both of whom remain doubtful until the playoffs and questionable beyond.
Which is why those in the Magic locker room viewed their four-point loss in Boston as a positive, even if the Celtics were also without two stars in Rajon Rondo (back) and Ray Allen (Allen) as well as a key role player in Mickael Pietrus (knee) — all of whom are expected back for the playoffs.
“Today, we didn’t even have two of our guys,” said Davis. “They didn’t have two of their guys, but at the same time we had a big missing piece today, and we still came out there and played the right way and was in the game. So, whatever happens, happens. Whoever we play, Indiana or Boston, we are going to bring energy, and we are going to play hard, and that’s all that matters.”