|Mickael Pietrus guarantees Celtics championship||03.02.12 at 11:20 pm ET|
Even after their third straight victory, a 107-94 win over the visiting Nets, the Celtics (18-17) are ranked just seventh in the Eastern Conference and face a first-round playoff matchup against the Bulls if the standings remain the same. But that didn’t stop Mickael Pietrus from guaranteeing the franchise’s 18th NBA championship.
“I know that you guys say we’re older and all that stuff,” said Pietrus, pointing his finger at each camera surrounding his locker. “We’re going to win the championship, Ok?”
It’s difficult to tell just how serious the always playful Pietrus is when he makes that claim, as he’s made similar remarks at various times since first suiting up in Boston on Jan. 11.
Still, even in jest, there is an important nugget in Pietrus’ postgame vow: The Celtics are becoming a formidable team once again thanks to a return to Ubuntu of sorts. And that’s a welcome notion to anybody who watched this Celtics group suffer through a 1-7 stretch before the All-Star Game.
|Fast Break: Rondo, headband of brothers take down Nets||03.02.12 at 9:57 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo has rarely worn a headband since NBA commissioner David Stern issued a rule against wearing the logo upside down (a slight to Lakers legend Jerry West) at the start of last season, but the Celtics point guard sported his good luck charm backwards against the Nets in a 107-94 win over the Nets.
Perhaps Rondo needed a change of scenery after all the recent talk of him maybe getting … well, a change of scenery before the March 15 trade deadline (a notion C’s president Danny Ainge denied on Thursday). Whatever the case, the three-time All-Star floor general submitted his second straight sublime performance, amassing 14 points, 13 assists, five steals and two rebounds just two nights after recording his third triple-double of the season.
Likewise, Kevin Garnett (20 points, 10 rebounds) — one of the few Celtics regulars sans headband — continued his productive stretch, dropping at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in two straight games for the first time in exactly one year. Paul Pierce (27 points) led five C’s scorers in double figures.
The win marked the third straight for the Celtics (18-17), who had dropped seven of eight previously. Brook Lopez led the Nets with 28 points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Meet the press: As the Celtics outscored the Nets 29-20 in each of the first two quarters, they showed a different look — albeit one most middle school teams run on a regular basis. Still, the C’s 2-1-2 and 2-2-1 fullcourt presses confused New Jersey to no end, resulting in five first-half Rondo steals and a 14-0 advantage in fast break points by the break.
Seeing Green: There’s nothing like a little Gerald Green defense to help Pierce bust out of his recent offensive struggles (39.5 FG% in February). The captain abused the former Celtics first-round draft pick — and any other Nets wing who guarded him — in the early going, finishing the first quarter with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting (1-2 3P) and four assists. When Pierce plays well, generally so do the Celtics, and Friday night was no different.
Ball protection: The Celtics committed just two turnovers in the first half. Repeat: Two, leading to zero Nets points. Considering his team entered the game averaging 15.6 turnovers (good for 23rd in the NBA), coach Doc Rivers had to be pleased his team finally cleaned up an issue he’s had to address after most of its 17 losses.
|Irish Coffee: Rating ridiculous Celtics rumors||03.02.12 at 2:59 pm ET|
So many trade rumors, so little time.
On Thursday, NBA teams could officially deal players signed this past offseason, and March 15 is the deadline, so Celtics president Danny Ainge‘s phone bill is probably higher than Lindsay Lohan‘s attorney fees at this point.
While Ainge denied actively shopping Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo in an interview on WEEI’s Big Show, he’s made it clear Rondo, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and everybody else — including captain Paul Pierce — are available for the right package. So far, the price hasn’t been right.
We’d be remiss not to mention the current rumors, but let’s be serious about the possibilities. Here goes.
|Kevin Garnett: ‘Sometimes you need a swift kick in the [gluteus maximus]’||03.01.12 at 11:54 am ET|
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett entered the locker room after receiving his massage, coming back down to earth or whatever it is that takes him an hour following each game to conduct his postgame interview, sporting a pair of Chrome Hearts glasses (approximately $2,000) he found around the house during the NBA All-Star break.
When a reporter jokingly suggested KG’s specs looked similar to his, the former MVP who has made a quarter of a billion dollars in his career and models himself after no one reminded everyone, “There’s only one Garnett.”
To remind yourself just how true that statement is, take the time to read Paul Flannery’s column after the C’s 102-96 victory against the Bucks, entitled, “The under-the-radar greatness of Kevin Garnett.” Note the rarefied company of possibly none KG joins in the eyes of veteran teammate Keyon Dooling and coach Doc Rivers.
There are glue guys, and then there is Kevin Garnett. Rarely will you hear that from the 14-time NBA All-Star, but it’s there if you read between the lines of Wednesday night’s postgame press conference.
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m at my best when I’m in transition’||03.01.12 at 1:36 am ET|
For whatever reason, 26-year-old Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo and the aging Big Three haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 17-17 record. Whether that’s the result of the All-Star point guard’s stubbornness or the unwillingness of three Hall of Famers to follow a younger, better leader or any number of other reasons is free to debate.
But one thing is certain: When Rondo plays the way he did in a 102-96 win over the Bucks Wednesday, recording his third double-double of the season while orchestrating the offense to near perfection, these Celtics might actually have a chance to salvage this season.
“We did a better job executing offensively tonight,” said Rondo (15 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), as usual simplifying the game to its most basic elements. “We got into our sets, and we executed — and we scored.”
“He got us organized earlier,” said Rivers. “The second half, he called 12 different sets, and we got to the first option, second option, and it just looked organized and good. And that’s who we were, and that’s who we have to be. And I thought it was Rondo’s doing.”
|Fast Break: Celtics Buck trend, win two straight||02.29.12 at 9:58 pm ET|
In the lockout-shorteneded season, the NBA has seen nine triple-doubles, and Rajon Rondo now has three of them.
It had been 22 days since the Celtics last won two straight games and the same time span since they won a game by double digits. At least Rondo’s 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists helped erase one of those streaks and bring the Celtics back to .500 at 17-17. The C’s let a 17-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to two in the final 20 seconds, but four Kevin Garnett free throws sealed the deal, 102-96.
Garnett (25 points, 10 rebounds), Chris Wilcox (7 points, 13 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (16 points, 7 rebounds) combined for 48 points and 30 rebounds to lead a rare inspired effort on the glass in the victory.
Drew Gooden (23 points, 8 rebounds) and Ersan Ilyasova (25 points, 10 rebounds) carried the Bucks (14-21).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Good Rondo: With 13 points, six assists and five turnovers midway through the third quarter, the triple-double watch binoculars for Rondo got dusted off early. The point guard seemed capable of working his way into the lane at will, and generally that produces good things for the Celtics. He finished with 15, 11 and 10, but made it look easy in the flow of the offense.
Quarter barreling: Over a six-minute period in the third quarter, the Celtics turned a 60-55 deficit into a 77-64 lead (that’s a 22-4 run for those counting at home). While Pierce struggled for much of that stretch, everyone else picked up the slack, led by nine third-quarter points from Brandon Bass.
Board to death: Despite giving up 11 offensive rebounds, the Celtics managed to grab 12 of their own on their way to a 52-49 rebounding advantage. Wilcox led the way with 13 off the bench, while Rondo, Garnett, Bass and Pierce all chipped in at least six.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Sad Truth:In the first four minutes of the third quarter, Pierce started 0-for-6 and committed two turnovers. He’s had his share of sloppy play this year, but that may have been his worst stretch of this roller coaster season. He finished the game with 10 points (5-12 FG), six rebounds, five rebounds and four turnovers.
Turkish terror: Ilyasova entered the game averaging 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds, and he closed out February in style, totaling 10 points in the first quarter alone to keep the Bucks in the game early. His 15 second-half points helped the Bucks get back into the game late, as the C’s let a 17-point lead dwindle to two in the final 20 seconds.
Glass backwards: Same old story. While Garnett was busy jawing at various Bucks, Gooden and the Larry Sanders show combined for seven first-half offensive rebounds, totaling 22 points and 10 boards between them by halftime. Milwaukee’s 13 offensive boards marked the 10th straight game the C’s have given up double-digit o-rebounds.
|Irish Coffee: When will Celtics develop a scorer?||02.29.12 at 12:17 pm ET|
Whether it’s Gerald Green‘s glorious return to the NBA, the sight of Semih Erden facing them as a starting center or the team’s woeful offensive production, a number of factors led me to this question: When is the last time Celtics president Danny Ainge or coach Doc Rivers has either drafted or developed a scorer?
Clearly, Rajon Rondo is the best player cultivated under the Ainge-Rivers regime, but I don’t think anybody would argue Rondo has markedly improved in the scoring department. His scoring averages per 36 minutes in his rookie season (9.9 points) and last season (10.3) are nearly identical, and we all know about that jump shot.
The best scorer drafted by Ainge has to be Al Jefferson, but even his 36-minute averages didn’t improve much under Rivers, crawling from 16.3 as a rookie to 17.2 in his final Celtics season. Not until he was traded to the Timberwolves did those averages climb into the 20s. Of course Ainge and Rivers deserve credit for molding Big Al into bait to land Kevin Garnett, but the fact remains Jefferson made a leap offensively once he left the Celtics.
The same goes for Tony Allen, Ryan Gomes, Leon Powe and Bill Walker, all of whose 36-minute scoring averages barely budged in either direction on the Celtics, and then saw those numbers rise once they left Boston.
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