|Opinion: Danny Ainge correct to sound alarm for Celtics||12.21.12 at 7:21 am ET|
The Celtics no longer are one of the toughest teams to play in the NBA, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge does not appear content with that reality. After watching his team play mediocre defense over a 25-game sampling, Ainge on Thursday criticized the players’ collective play on The Big Show.
“We’ve got to prevent those runs by other teams and those droughts that we have at the offensive end and giving up so many lay-ins on the defensive end,” Ainge said. “There’s just no excuse for the way we’re playing. Yeah, you need to take time to find out who we are, but there’s no excuse for giving up 32 points in the paint in a half against Chicago, and there’s no excuse for giving up a 17-0 run to Cleveland.”
Last year’s Celtics delivered the template for a veteran NBA team looking to flip the proverbial switch in season. A five-game losing streak just before the All-Star break put the team’s record at 15-17. The Celtics went 24-10 after the break and eventually made a run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
So why is Ainge sounding the alarm in December? From a distance, the Celtics’ 13-12 start to this season appears to follow the same trend — a veteran team going through the motions some nights, saving its collective legs for the second half and postseason.
A closer look proves that this year’s team is much different than last year’s team, and perhaps not due the same measure of patience from Ainge.
The most glaring difference between this year’s Celtics and last year’s is their inability to play strong team defense. Even when last year’s team slogged through the first half of the season, it ranked as one of the top two teams in the NBA defensively. Before the break, the 2011-12 C’s held opposing teams to 89.4 points per game and a field goal percentage of 41.9. Those numbers increased slightly after the break to 90.1 points per game and a field goal percentage of 42.1. Despite the slight increases, the Celtics still finished the season as the second-ranked team in the NBA in points allowed, behind only the Bulls, and they ranked first in opponents’ field goal percentage.
The Celtics’ most marked improvements last season took place on the offensive end. The C’s scoring average jumped from 89.4 before the break to 94.1 in the 34 games after. Their field goal percentage improved from 45.8 to 46.5.
|Opinion: Is Danny Ainge the problem?||12.07.12 at 8:51 am ET|
Danny Ainge always will be invincible in his executive role for the Celtics, riding on the goodwill that he earned from serving as the architect of the 2007-08 championship team. Ainge is the man who effectively swapped Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and three first-round draft picks for Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and a second-round pick that turned into Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
Ainge earned the NBA’s Executive of the Year award for the 2007-08 season, and looking back, his acquisitions look just as good as they did when he received that distinction more than four years ago.
Ainge hit on just about every transaction that offseason. First, he made the trade for Allen on draft day for Jeff Green, West and Szczerbiak. The throw-in to the trade was Seattle’s second-round pick, Davis, who arguably has had a better career than Green.
Ainge’s entire offseason followed the same trend. He pulled off the Garnett trade on July 31, nearly depleting the C’s roster with the goal of building a team around Garnett, Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Ainge began filling out the roster with complementary pieces such as Eddie House and James Posey that offseason. During the season, he acquired P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell, rounding out a championship roster from top to bottom.
Four-plus years after the Celtics’ championship run, Ainge has failed in repeating that feat with nearly the same exact core. Dissecting the president of basketball operations’ track record over the last four seasons, it is fair to say Ainge has missed more than he’s hit since the Celtics hoisted the championship trophy.
2008-09 season: Ainge kicked off the Celtics’ bid to repeat as champions by drafting J.R. Giddens with the 30th pick of the 2008 draft. Giddens played 38 games in his NBA career, only six for the Celtics. Of course, picking at the bottom of the first round is never an exact science for an NBA general manager. That being said, Giddens was the 30th pick. The 31st pick was Nikola Pekovic, who is averaging 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Timberwolves this season. Picks 34 through 36 included Mario Chalmers by the Heat, DeAndre Jordan by the Clippers, and Omer Asik by the Trail Blazers. Chalmers was the starting point guard for the NBA champion Heat last season. Jordan is averaging 10.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in his career. Asik is averaging 10.9 points and 12.1 rebounds this season for the Rockets.
|Opinion: Appreciate Rajon Rondo while you can||11.30.12 at 7:37 am ET|
No Celtics player has been the topic of more discussion this season. The man with the assist streak has been a lightning rod for Boston sports fans. Reading the blogs and listening to talk radio before the game, one heard that Rondo either was the best point guard in the NBA or a mercurial, self-serving diva who never could be the centerpiece of a championship team.
Then the game started. These days, at the Garden, a fan’s attention is locked in two places. The first is the video scoreboard, where the fan cam runs on an endless loop. The second is Rajon Rondo.
Like any special player in the NBA, Rondo captivates an audience. He sees the court differently, and plays with a style completely unique to the NBA. For each of Rondo’s strengths — his handle, his ability to get to wherever he wants on the floor, his vision, and his passing — he has a weakness. Both the strengths and weaknesses are discussed with equal enthusiasm.
In the first half, the best and worst of Rondo was on full display. He had no trouble getting deep into the lane on a Brooklyn team that had Brook Lopez at center and Kris Humphries at power forward. On one fast-break sequence, Rondo went coast-to-coast before leaving his feet for a layup under the basket, only to wrap the ball around a defender to an unsuspecting Brandon Bass. A potential dunk ended up as a turnover, and talk of Rondo’s predisposition to pass rather than shoot could be heard throughout the arena. On another possession, Rondo attempted to beat the shot clock by driving the lane, only to get his shot blocked by Humphries. On a later defensive possession, Rondo played his typical turnstile man-to-man defense as Deron Williams drove the lane. Rondo slapped at the opposing point guard’s hands after he was beat, putting Williams on the line.
The tough part for Rondo was the entire first half played out that way. He set up teammates for shots, and they missed. He struggled on the defensive end. With about four minutes left in the half, Rondo had three assists. He was off pace in his quest for his 38th consecutive game with 10 or more assists.
Then Humphries fouled Kevin Garnett under the basket. Then Rondo snapped.
There is no bigger disparity in the opinions of Rondo than in the people who attend Celtics games and those who watch on TV — or perhaps don’t watch at all.
When Rondo pushed Humphries under the basket and the confrontation spilled into the seats, the arena erupted. It wasn’t much of a fight, but it was the first time a Celtic had pushed back all night. As tough as Garnett has been throughout his career, he now is a veteran who gets calls by absorbing contact and jerking away suddenly. For much of the first half, the Nets initiated contact, and the Celtics got the calls. Often, Nets players shook their heads, almost surprised that this is how the Celtics want to play now.
But Rondo woke up the crowd. At the conclusion of the scuffle, fans rose to their feet and started a “Let’s go Celtics” chant. They cheered when Humphries and Gerald Wallace were ejected. They booed when Rondo was ejected. There wasn’t a whole lot of discussion about Rondo’s maturity. Until the next day.
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|Opinion: Celtics have to find out what they have with Jeff Green||11.15.12 at 11:20 pm ET|
A technical foul was the perfect punctuation to Jeff Green’s dunk on Al Jefferson Wednesday night ‘ not because Green deserved the penalty, but because the stoppage in play provided the opportunity for Celtics fans to digest what they had just seen.
Up to that point this season, Green had been a bust. His contract seemed like an albatross of Carl Crawford proportions. With his four-year, $32 million deal, Green is the fourth-highest-paid player on the team, behind only Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. The problem is Green is playing like the seventh- or eighth-best player on the team, depending on where you rank Jason Terry, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and Courtney Lee.
Thursday night failed to offer any additional clarity to Green’s situation, with the forward scoring five points in 25 minutes during the Celtics’ 102-97 loss to the Nets in Brooklyn. It was a performance that made Wednesday’s heroics seem like an aberration.
Even after Green’s 16-point contribution in the win over Utah, he ranked sixth on the team in scoring (8.8 points per game) and seventh in minutes (21.6 per game). At best, he’s marginally overpaid when you consider Bass and Terry will earn $6.5 million and $5 million this year, respectively. At worst, he’s Danny Ainge‘s recurring mistake, first as the centerpiece of the trade that cost the Celtics Kendrick Perkins, and then as a $32 million version of Rashard Lewis.
The dunk of the season so far gave us a chance to see what Ainge saw in Green all along. The 6-foot-9 forward can flush on Al Jefferson in traffic. He can score 16 points in the flow of the game without having a single play run for him. And evidently, his teammates love him.
After Green threw it down on Jefferson, the ensuing scene seemed reminiscent of an And1 Mixtape Tour. Green didn’t deserve a technical; he almost seemed to be staring down Al Jefferson to make sure he did, in fact, dunk on an All-Star center. But perhaps Green’s teammates deserved the technical. Garnett followed Green around the court, cursing in his ear and pushing him in the chest. Other teammates took turns pushing Green, who typically shies away from that kind of contact.
The celebration seemed to stem from the fact that the Celtics need THAT Jeff Green. Garnett’s been saying it, and he’s right. Green needs to be meaner, more aggressive. He needs to dish out more NBA fouls, and he needs to get down low in the paint when Garnett is on the bench.