|Irish Coffee: How will this strange Celtics trip end?||03.20.12 at 4:32 pm ET|
The NBA lockout ended. Rajon Rondo nearly got traded for Chris Paul during a frenzied training camp. Paul Pierce has played his way into shape, Kevin Garnett has enjoyed a vintage Kevin Garnett season and Ray Allen is shooting better than ever because he’s wearing bigger shoes.
And that’s not all. Jermaine O’Neal played all of 25 games. Heart problems ended both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox‘s seasons. Mickael Pietrus came on board, guaranteeing an NBA title. The Celtics lost five straight games — twice. They’ve also had two separate 10-game stretches where they’ve won nine and eight games.
Now, with one third left of this long, strange trip that has been the Celtics regular season, they sit in the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff spot. Trailing the Bulls (38-10) and Heat (33-11) by a respective 12.5 and 9.5 games with 21 games left, the Celtics (24-21) can forget about catching either for the No. 1 or 2 seed.
Catching the Magic (29-18), owners of a four-game lead on the C’s for the No. 3 seed, isn’t inconceivable, but more likely the Celtics will vie with the 76ers (26-20), Pacers (25-18) and Hawks (26-20) for the No. 4 seed. All are within 1.5 games of each other. The Knicks (21-24) and Bucks (20-24) are battling for the final playoff spot.
Three division winners and the conference’s next best team are seeded 1-4 based on records, so the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers are slotted fourth, even though the Pacers own a better record. The remaining teams are ranked 5-8 based on record, but division winners are not guaranteed a home series. So, should a lower seed own the better record, they’d still play four road contests in a seven-game series — negating the seeding advantage.
For example, should the Celtics win the division but have a worse record than the Pacers, they’d still be playing the first two games of their playoff series on the road. With all that said, let’s see who has the best shot of getting those three and four seeds based on how the strength of their remaining schedules.
|Irish Coffee: Bill Walton’s St. Patrick’s Day revisited||03.17.12 at 11:17 am ET|
The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year as a member of the 1985-86 Celtics that finished 67-15 during the regular season — and 41-1 at home in the Boston Garden — on their way to winning 15-of-18 playoff games and the franchise’s 16th NBA title, Bill Walton can wish you a St. Patrick’s Day far better than I can.
So, without further ado, I give you Walton uncensored, about five or six Guinesses deep most likely (from his appearance on the Big Show a year ago):
“Go Green. Go Guinness. I’m popping one right now. Ten million pints poured every day around this great globe of ours — the globe, the most perfect orb, just like the basketball. The basketball by itself does nothing, but when you make it an extension of your mind the way that [Rajon] Rondo does, the way that Danny Ainge did and DJ [Dennis Johnson] and Larry [Bird] and Kevin [McHale] and Chief [Robert Parish] and Jerry [Sichting] and Rick [Carlisle] and Scotty [Wedman] and all the guys did — but when you’re able to make an extension of your mind, of what it is you’re doing in life, whether it’s drinking a Guinness responsibly, whether you’re bouncing that magic basketball for the Celtic Green, you can make a difference, and that’s what we’re calling everybody to do on St. Patrick’s Day, the start of the college tournament, the most perfect harmonic convergence ever. Be bold, stand tall, quit your job and chase your dreams. …
“I only drink Guinness, the holy water falling from the sky, delivering spiritual guidance. We’re blessed. We’re so blessed. We’re on record pace, and we’re having the time of our life. …
“When this morning started, and it started more than 24 hours ago, the call to action was to take the day off. Who wants to lead a watered down life? C’mon. Let’s get up and be bold. Forget just taking the day off, just quit your job. Make your dream your job, and that’s what I was able to do. My parents ask me to this very day, ‘So, Billy, did you ever get a job?’ I’m closer than ever to being able to say yes. It’s so special. The remarkable thing about Guinness in our world is that in the mother country, Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday. In Canada, St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday. Somewhere, we got lost along the path, along the golden road to unlimited devotion. …
|Fast Break: Kevin Garnett’s heroics slay Warriors||03.15.12 at 1:04 am ET|
Unable to get a defensive stop down the stretch, tied 93-93 with the Warriors after old friend Nate Robinson tied the game on yet another drive to an open basket, the Celtics turned to Kevin Garnett, who sunk a 20-footer with 5.1 seconds remaining to help the C’s survive 105-103 and improve to 2-1 on the West Coast road trip.
Garnett finished with 24 points (12 in the fourth quarter), seven rebounds and five assists, as the Celtics (23-19) moved within 1.5 games of the 76ers in the Atlantic Division. Brandon Bass added 22 points and nine rebounds, Mickael Pietrus scored 15 points off the bench and Rajon Rondo dished out 14 assists.
Robinson totaled 20 points and 11 assists, Klay Thompson scored a career-high 26 points and David Lee had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Warriors in the losing effort.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Hanging tough: Playing their third game in four nights, 3,000 miles from home, the Celtics started slow (shooting just 8-of-21 from the floor in the first quarter), and watching Robinson get to the rim with regularity didn’t help matters. Still, the Celtics managed to stay within 25-21 after the first quarter — setting the tone for a tight game the remainder of the night.
The French quota: Just 3-of-18 from long distance in the month of March, Pietrus connected on his first four 3-pointers of the night and finished 5-of-6 from downtown, giving the Celtics some much needed offense (and minutes) off the bench. Whispers suggested his knee may be the reason for the recent struggles, but it didn’t seem to bother him in Oakland.
Full Stiem ahead: Without a trade deadline deal, the Celtics will rely more and more on Greg Stiemsma, and the former D-League Defensive Player of the Year responded with eight points and eight rebounds. He’s still got plenty of work to do, especially on the defensive end, but he’s already given the C’s more than they could’ve expected when they invited him to training camp in December.
Sharing is caring: Facing the younger, more athletic Warriors, the Celtics had to rely on ball movement and execution to keep up with them. Check and check. The C’s assisted on 32 of their 40 field goals, making the extra pass time and time again to get buckets down the stretch — with the exception of a possession that resulted in the classic Paul Pierce fadeaway elbow jumper with 36.7 seconds left.
|Trade Rumor: Celtics offered Paul Pierce to Blazers||03.14.12 at 11:01 pm ET|
What exactly team president Danny Ainge wanted in return for Pierce and the $32 million remaining on his contract is unclear, as LaMarcus Aldridge ($12.9 million) is essentially untouchable, Marcus Camby ($11.2 million) is a week from his 38th birthday and Raymond Felton ($7.6 million) would be an expensive backup.
That would leave some combination of Gerald Wallace ($9.5 million), Wesley Matthews ($6.1 million), Jamal Crawford ($5 million) and Nicolas Batum ($2.2 million). Of that group, Crawford is the only one rumored on the market, and regardless Portland shot down Ainge’s offer, if the report is more than rumor.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears, Ainge & Co. also reportedly joined the Lakers, Spurs and Knicks in expressing interest in Josh Howard as a boost to their wing depth, but the Jazz aren’t willing to part with 31-year-old ($3 million) with a history of issues, on and off the court.
Finally, Fox Sports writer Sam Amico tweeted that the Celtics have engaged the Kings in discussions about acquiring J.J. Hickson, a 23-year-old big making just $2.4 million. After averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Cavaliers a season ago, Hickson is struggling mightily in Sacramento. Then again, who isn’t struggling mightily in Sacramento?
Whether or not any of these rumors come to fruition, one thing is clear: Ainge is ringing up quite the phone bill.
|Irish Coffee: Danny Ainge’s dreams of Celtics future||03.12.12 at 12:10 pm ET|
We’re three days from the NBA trade deadline, and still no serious sign of a blockbuster deal involving the Celtics. Then again, the same could’ve been said last season, when Danny Ainge shipped Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the Clippers’ 2012 first-round draft pick.
All that remains from that deal is the top-10 protected No. 1 pick, which currently slots into the low-to-mid 20s. That’s still not a bad haul for a center who is currently averaging 4.4 points (45.1 FG%) and 4.6 rebounds in 26.7 minutes, but considering the negative hype surrounding that trade it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Ainge gets cold feet on dealing any of the Old Three or Rajon Rondo.
Do I believe Ainge would ever let public perception stop him from making a deal that improves the Celtics moving forward? Not really, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it made him think twice about pulling the trigger on a deal that only marginally improves his team.
Over the next three days, teams will likely call about Rondo, which is probably the case in the latest Pau Gasol rumor in the Los Angeles Times after the Lakers beat the Celtics 97-94 (Rondo: 24 points, 10 assists; Gasol: 13 points, 13 rebounds). The same speculation was floated a couple weeks ago by HoopsWorld’s Eric Pincus.
|Cedric Maxwell: Celtics placed $10 bounties in NBA||03.06.12 at 12:37 pm ET|
During a discussion about the recent report that coaches for the New Orleans Saints were offering rewards between $1,000 and $1,500 for injuring opposing players, former Celtics star Cedric Maxwell claimed the NFL isn’t the only league that’s doled out bounties.
‘We did it in the NBA,” Maxwell told Steve Burton on Sunday night. “We had a guy, Len Elmore, who used to love to take charges. He’s an analyst right now for CBS. You might want to hear this Len. We had a bounty on you. If you stepped on his chest, you got paid.’
Admittedly, the stakes were much different from the allegations against the Saints. The current C’s radio analyst said he got $10 from a pool gathered by the players each time he put an imprint of his size 15 shoe on Elmore’s chest, but there was neither an intent nor reward for inflicting injury.
‘Every time he tried to take a charge and you stepped on him, you got paid,” added Maxwell. “What are they going to do, come back and fine me now?’
|Irish Coffee: Celtics’ Rajon Rondo > Knicks’ Jeremy Lin||03.05.12 at 9:01 am ET|
As crazy — sorry, Linsane — as the worldwide Jeremy Lin phenomenon has become in the NBA, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo made a profound statement against the Harvard graduate: How do you like them apples?
Rondo amassed 20 assists, 18 points and 17 rebounds for the first time since Wilt Chamberlain recorded a double triple-double in 1968, leading the C’s to a 115-111 overtime win over Lin’s Knicks on national television.
“I saved the [box score], just as a witness that I was here, and I actually got to see this up front and center,” said Kevin Garnett. “The thing about Lin is I think everybody who’s at the point guard position is going to be excited to play the kid, and Rondo was nothing short of that today. I could see it. I could tell. I’ve been around him long enough to know when he’s motivated and when he’s more than motivated, and tonight was one of those nights.”
It takes a lot to impress Garnett, but Rondo’s performance was one that’s never been seen before in KG’s 16-plus NBA seasons. It was also more than a subtle reminder where Lin ranks in the point guard pantheon.
“He’s just unconventional, but like I said before the game, he’s one of the best in the league, and so you saw a stat line tonight — there aren’t many guards, maybe no guard, who can put up something like that,” said Lin. “We didn’t do a good job of containing him, and he obviously controlled the tempo of the game.”