|Fast Break: Nothing Cavalier about Celtics victory||02.28.12 at 9:44 pm ET|
In a battle between two teams vying for eighth in the Eastern Conference (yup, you read that right), the Celtics blew a 16-point lead but salvaged the night when Ray Allen sandwiched a fast-break layup and two free throws around a big Kevin Garnett offensive rebound in the final minute to secure an 86-83 win over the Cavaliers.
Allen (22) and Garnett (18) combined for 40 points to help the Celtics (16-17) avoid the first six-game losing streak of the new Big Three era and stretch their lead over the Cavs (13-19) to 2.5 games for the eighth seed.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Welcome back Bass: The Celtics finished 1-5 in Bass’ recent six-game absence, and it didn’t take long for the consistent big man to demonstrate his value on the court, scoring 10 points on six shots by halftime. Bass brings a combination of scoring and toughness that the C’s simply don’t have outside of Garnett. If the Celtics have any hope for success in the second half of the season, they need a healthy Bass contributing like this.
Nothing but Garnett: Garnett reportedly called a team meeting prior to the All-Star break, and even if the entire team didn’t respond in its first game since, at least KG came to play. Wincing at times, possibly still battling the hip injury that kept him out of a game before the break, Garnett totaled 18 points and eight boards while playing his usual staunch defense. In the final seconds with the C’s leading by one, Garnett willed an offensive rebound off his own miss, got fouled and made both foul shots.
Jumping the run: Perhaps the result of an aging team benefiting from the five-day NBA All-Star break, the Celtics rattled off runs of 9-0 and 13-0 in the first quarter to establish a rare double-digit lead early (28-15 after one). Rondo recorded six assists in the first 12 minutes, including one on another fast break with his new running mate Chris Wilcox. The have only led after the first quarter in 16 of their 33 games, accumulating a 12-4 record.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics midseason report card||02.24.12 at 1:58 pm ET|
If Danny Ainge shook a Magic 8-Ball right now, the odds of “outlook not so good” coming up are probably even. After losing seven of their past eight games for the first time since he acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen prior to the 2007-08 NBA season, Ainge’s aging Celtics are 15-17 entering the All-Star break.
It’s an uphill battle the rest of the season, but it might be all downhill from here for Doc Rivers & Co. Needless to say, based on the expectations they’ve set the past four years, this Celtics group isn’t making the grade. Let’s take a look at how the C’s have stacked up individually this year.
MICKAEL PIETRUS: A-
Last Grade: A
When the news broke that Jeff Green would undergo heart surgery for an aortic aneurysm, the Celtics once again had a hole to fill behind Paul Pierce at the small forward position. Pietrus has bridged that gap, and then some. Charged with 3-point shooting and bringing energy defensively, he has shot 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and defended vigorously (at the end of the blowout loss to the Thunder, Pietrus was one of few C’s who played to the buzzer). In an attempt to improve the team’s terrible rebounding, Pietrus has also begun to assert himself on the glass, grabbing 19 rebounds in his last two games.
KEVIN GARNETT: A-
Last Grade: B+
Of the aging Big Three, the one with the most mileage and the worst knees has enjoyed the best season. Garnett entered the NBA All-Star break by recording 23 points and 13 rebounds for the first time since December 2008. That marked his ninth double-double of the season, bringing his averages to 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in only 30.8 minutes. Paired with his usual defensive prowess, he’s played all but three games — missing only one due to a tweaked hip and two for personal reasons — and it’s no surprise the Celtics are 0-3 in those contests.
|Irish Coffee: 5 awful Celtics statistics, 1 good one||02.21.12 at 12:55 pm ET|
Following a 89-73 loss to the Mavericks, the Celtics dropped to 15-16 and the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed (just two games ahead of the lowly Cavaliers) — the worst start to any season of the Kevin Garnett era.
Facing the Thunder on Wednesday night without the suspended Rajon Rondo and possibly sans KG (personal reasons), things don’t stand to get any better, especially with injuries to bigs Jermaine O’Neal (wrist), Chris Wilcox (adductor) and Brandon Bass (knee).
Should all be unavailable in the team’s final game before the All-Star break, the C’s starting center midway through the 2011-12 season will come down to a choice between rookies Greg Stiemsma and JaJuan Johnson. Generally, that’s the kind of thing that happens when a team enters the year with an injury-plagued 15-year veteran as its only established center. Not to mention Kendrick Perkins will be starting for the opposing team.
In some respect Celtics president Danny Ainge had to see this coming, although nobody could have expected them to be this bad. Here are five shockingly awful statistics the 2011-12 Celtics have produced.
|Irish Coffee: Dichotomy of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce||02.17.12 at 1:52 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo couldn’t be hotter, averaging 28.0 points, 9.7 assists and 7.3 boards in the past three games.
Paul Pierce couldn’t be colder, averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds in his past four games.
And the Celtics are 1-4 in their past five games. So goes the 2011-12 NBA season for the aging champions.
Whether it’s the result of Rondo’s wrist injury coming on the heels of Pierce’s heel injury to start the season, compounded by whatever Pierce is going through the past handful of games (Charles Barkley credited age during Thursday night’s TNT broadcast), the C’s two best players haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 15-14 record, which only stands to get worse if the trend continues in Dallas and Oklahoma City.
Just how poorly have Rondo and Pierce meshed on the court? Besides the fact that the two have yet to both exceed 15 points in the same game this season, take a look at their overall numbers with and without each other.
|Greg Stiemsma: ‘I’d love to pick Bill Russell’s brain’||02.16.12 at 1:50 pm ET|
BOSTON — Celtics rookie Greg Stiemsma won three Wisconsin high school Division 4 state championships in four seasons. Celtics legend Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. Needless to say, they’re worlds apart.
However, for one night at least, those worlds collided, as the two sat courtside to start Wednesday night’s Celtics loss to the Pistons — Stiemsma on the C’s bench and Russell next to team owner Stephen Pagliuca.
Of course, the the Development League project and the greatest winner in sports are forever linked after Celtics announcer and former Russell teammate Tommy Heinsohn compared Stiemsma to Russell earlier this season.
‘His timing and how he goes about blocking shots does remind me of Russell,’’ said Heinsohn. ‘He makes guys commit, he’s quick to his leap, and he gets his hand up there right when the ball is leaving the shooter’s hand.’’
While Stiemsma has 22 blocks in 176 minutes this season for an average of 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes, Russell is considered the game’s greatest shot blocker, so even the Celtics rookie laughed off the comparison.
“I mean, I heard it. Like I said before, that’s pretty far out of my realm. I would never imagine that,” he said, adding, “It was an honor to get that reference. And then, for it to come full circle, for him to be in the arena, it’s all part of the experience, all part of this journey that’s brought me here, so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”
|In glorious defeat, Rajon Rondo faces media music||02.16.12 at 1:10 am ET|
BOSTON — Give Rajon Rondo credit. Three days earlier, the Celtics point guard ducked out of the locker room without speaking to reporters after a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. On Wednesday night, he faced the media music following a 98-88 loss to the Central Division-worst Pistons.
Silent in victory, vocal in defeat. Not that he really said all that much. So goes the enigma that is Rajon Rondo.
Upon scoring a career-high 35 points against Detroit three days after equaling his career best against Chicago, Rondo simply said, “I made some, I missed some.” For the record, he made 15 field goals and four free throws, missing 12 field goals and five free throws.
On Sunday, Rondo became the fourth player in NBA history to record 32 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and two steals in a single game, joining Magic Johnson (thrice), LeBron James and Reggie Theus. Wednesday’s performance brought his totals for the last two games to 67 points, 21 assists, 15 rebounds and six steals.
Rondo’s reaction? “The main thing is our record is 1-1 in these last two games,” he said.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Celtics trailed the Pistons, 73-72. Detroit’s lead grew to six as Rondo sat the first 3:33 of the final frame, and even after his return the Pistons stretched the lead to 13 with just over five minutes remaining. The C’s never recovered, as just four of Rondo’s 35 points came in the final quarter.
|Fast Break: Not enough horsepower for C’s against Pistons||02.15.12 at 10:07 pm ET|
BOSTON — Rajon Rondo scored a career-high 35 points, but only four of those came in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons built a 13-point lead the Celtics couldn’t erase in a 98-88 defeat — their third loss in four games.
Rondo’s 35 points came on 15-of-27 field goals and came with six assists and five rebounds as the C’s drop to 15-13. While Kevin Garnett (hip) missed his first game of the season, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen didn’t show up either, combining for just 20 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Where’s the Truth: Thrown off by Bill Russell‘s presence courtside or just plain having an off night, Pierce looked as though his mind was elsewhere. He finished just 3-of-11 from the field, and while he didn’t record a turnover in 37 minutes, he seemed to juggle the ball each time he touched it and generally be a step behind in the early going.
JO vs. Monroe: Returning from a two-game absence, Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal (knee) appeared overmatched at times by the younger, left-handed Greg Monroe (22 points, 11-14 FG, 9 rebounds). Of course, it didn’t help that O’Neal picked up five fouls in his first 18 minutes on the floor.
What the Stuckey? As Rondo’s point total increased, lost in the shuffle was Rodney Stuckey, who totaled 25 points (including 11-11 FT), four assists and three rebounds. He led four Pistons in double figures and helped keep Detroit in a game they had no business hanging around for three quarters, let alone pulling away in the fourth quarter.