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Celtics-Rockets Game Blog: First Quarter 01.07.09 at 5:38 pm ET
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We are live from the Garden for tonight’s highly-anticipated matchup between the suddenly reeling Celtics and the banged-up Rockets. That’s not the NBA version of the promo, but this is a big game for both teams. The C’s, as we know, are reeling a bit. Losing three out of four on the West Coast and then dropping back-to-back games against the Knicks and Bobcats of all people, have put them on edge a bit.

Tony Allen is out again and might not be ready until next week. Kevin Garnett is also feeling the effects of just about everything. But that’s nothing compared to what the Rockets are going through. Tracy McGrady is not in the starting lineup and not expected to play, and Huston has dropped three in a row and six of its last eight.

So, what will it be? Which team will get itself right tonight? Let’s find out… Read the rest of this entry »

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Celts Drop Another 01.04.09 at 7:29 pm ET
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The Celtics have played 23 games against the Eastern Conference and they have lost twice. The first came against Indiana, a way, way back in early November. If there was any game the Celtics played this year that made no sense it was that one. Well, they have a second “what was that?” game for the 2008-09 season now, after getting dumped by the Knicks, 100-88 at Madison Square Garden. (Recap here)

The Knicks, who had lost seven of eight, did just about everything right. They only shot 41 percent, but they made 9-of-22 3-pointers and were 23-for-28 from the free throw line, with only 10 turnovers. Al Harrington (30 points and 7 boards) and Wilson Chandler (31 points and 8 rebounds) both had career nights.

For the C’s, there was Paul Pierce and there was everyone else. Pierce was sensational with 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Captain destroyed Quentin Richardson in this round of their rivalry, but Rajon Rondo did not have a good night (1-for-7, 3 assists, 24 minutes), Ray Allen missed all nine of his 3-point shots and Kevin Garnett was limited to just 28 minutes (6 points and 9 rebounds) thanks to some early foul trouble and what looked like an ankle injury.

The Celtics have now lost four out of their last six, and four of their last five on the road. They have a tough week in front of them with Charlotte on Tuesday, the tough Houston Rockets on Wednesday, the huge matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and then Toronto on Sunday. (The Raptors have been playing better lately).

Speaking of the Cavs, the Celtics caught a break because Cleveland lost to Washington, 80-77 Sunday afternoon in a game that was as ugly as the score. Boston (29-6) and Cleveland (27-6) are still tied in the loss column for the best record in the East race.

A few more quick observations on a Sunday evening:

1. The Celtics got great looks, but they just didn’t go down. The Knicks made more than a few tough shots. It happens. That’s why it’s so hard to win 70 games, or go on 19-game winning streaks. There’s a reason things like that are historic, and it’s also why the reporters got frustrated when the players wouldn’t acknowledge the accomplishments.

Forget winning 70, the Celtics have to get themselves straightened out. There’s no reason to think they won’t, but let’s hold off on the rest of that for now, considering they were to this point stastically not as good as the team that won 66 games last year.

2. Because it was the Knicks, one can’t help think about Stephon Marbury tonight. This one wasn’t the bench’s fault–the decisive run came early in the third quarter–but the bench has been much maligned over the last few weeks and seems to be in need of a shakeup. Marbury makes sense for a number of reasons, namely:

A. The second unit needs a creator. They need someone who can break down his man and get to the basket. The best person off the bench right now is Tony Allen, and his jumper isn’t good enough to allow him to do that with any kind of consistency. That is Marbury’s biggest strength.

B. Eddie House would feast off Marbury drive-and-kicks (provided that smallish backcourt wouldn’t get eaten alive defensively).

C. Rondo is too good, and too far along, to be bothered by somebody like Marbury playing behind him.

D. Marbury could be what they’ve wanted Sam Cassell to be.

E. All of that assumes that Marbury had his screwed on straight if he got here. And if he didn’t, he’d be gone. That is an assumption, also.

3. OK, speaking of the second unit: Brian Scalabrine has to make wide-open jump shots. Yes, he played good defense and it’s really a treat to watch him play with the starters because he does such a good job of moving without the ball, but when he has that much open space, he has to knock them down.

4. Pierce has been playing his best basketball of the season. Over the last 10 games he is averaging 23 points on 53 percent shooting (56 percent on 3-pointers and 87 percent free throw shooting).

What’s been fascinating about his season is that Pierce has been incredibly restrained this year. Earlier in the season, when his shot wasn’t going down he rarely forced the action. Even when he has played with the second unit, he has been fine blending into the action. He’s going with the flow, as he said the other night. He’s not going to win any MVP awards playing like that, but he is the team’s ballast, more so than even Kevin Garnett this year.

5. The Celtics are fine, but it really wouldn’t hurt their cause if they got a big win in Charlotte, Tuesday.

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Celtics-Wizards Passing Analysis 01.02.09 at 9:12 pm ET
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The number for tonight, boys and girls, is twenty. As in assists. In their loss to Golden State, the Celtics had 18 assists, and only two from the bench. Against Portland, the number was 13, and only one came from a reserve. On Friday night against Washington (go here for the recap), the Celtics had 31 assists, with seven coming from the second unit.

“The big thing,” Brian Scalabrine said, “is that we passed the ball so well.”

The Celtics have so many weapons offensively, but it’s both a blessing and a curse that they don’t take advantage of those weapons if they don’t share the ball. The Celtics are so well-conditioned to not exert their individual personalities on the offensive end that there are times when the offense breaks down and gets muddled when the passes aren’t moving and the cuts aren’t being made.

This goes against the prevailing Alpha Male wisdom that has permeated the NBA since the rise of Michael Jordan. That is, the great player is the great player because he is unstoppable one-on-one. That was fine for MJ, who was the greatest of them all, and it worked out well for Hakeem Olajuwon, as well, but for 40 some-odd years before Jordan great teams worked because they played as a team.

Certainly other teams of recent vintage have played like that (Detroit in 2004 being the best example), but what makes the Celtics so unique is that they have three certain Hall of Famers who willingly share the ball and the responsibility, sometimes to a fault.

“We play against ourselves,” Scalabrine said, and what he meant is on the rare occasions when the Celtics actually lose, it’s generally because they don’t play well together as a team.

The starting five has figured that part out. Paul Pierce was at his best against Washington, taking advantage of a hideous mismatch against young Dominic McGuire who has neither the size nor the experience to play Pierce.

Pierce dropped in 26 of the most effortless points you will ever see him score, and he so mystified McGuire that Washington coach Ed Tapscott was forced to put Caron Butler on Pierce, and Butler is coming back from an ankle injury.

“Paul was terrific,” Tapscott said. “They are a very good team. They share the ball. They don’t seem who to care who scores.”

They don’t just seem to not care who scores, they really don’t care. “I was just playing in the flow of the game,” Pierce said. “We moved the ball and spaced the floor and I was just taking advantage of my opportunities.”

But here was the difference Friday. The second unit came in and did the same thing. The reserves racked up seven assists, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a whole lot better than what they managed on the road. “That’s more like how we’ve been playing,” Doc Rivers said. “Both units.”

The reward, as Kevin Garnett termed it, for the bench’s play was a short night for the starters. Ray Allen played 30 minutes and everyone else was in the 20′s. That’s exactly the blueprint for the Celtics as they enter the dog days of their schedule. They have road games at New York (Sunday) and Charlotte (Tuesday), a home game against Houston Wednesday, and then two more on the road, Cleveland Friday and Toronto Sunday.

“Great night,” Rivers said referring to the short minutes. The fine line that Rivers has to walk for the next few months is keeping the minutes down for Garnett, Pierce and Allen, while developing the second unit that clearly has some flaws, and finding a way to win games.

“We need some practice,” Rivers said almost wistfully. “We need to work these things out, but we don’t want to lose while we’re working them out. We want to win.”

Post-script: Normally it’s Garnett who gets off the great one-liner, but Pierce took home the honors when he was asked about tying Danny Ainge’s team record for most 3-pointers in a game without a miss. Pierce made his first five, but missed the sixth, his only misfire of the night.

“Hmmm, I’ve got to think about it,” Pierce said. “Records and Danny Ainge? I guess so because he doesn’t hold that many records. It would have been nice to erase his name. Just messing with you Danny.”

Just to illustrate the point, all five of Pierce’s 3-pointers came on assists.

****

For a complete breakdown of Friday’s game against the Wizards, visit the Celtics Game Day Blog.

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Celtics-Wizards Game Blog: Third Quarter 01.02.09 at 6:50 pm ET
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In my time watching the NBA I have seen many a team blow 20-point halftime leads. But this doesn’t feel like one of those nights. For starters, the Celtics are motivated to put the unpleasantness of their west coast trip behind them. For seconders, the Wizards are just not any good. The Celtics shot 60 percent in the first half and had assists on 18 of their 23 field goals. Washington countered with 15-for-42 from the floor and Antawn Jamison was 4-for-15. Not good.

Will we get a Patrick O’Bryant sighting early? Let’s find out…

THIRD QUARTER WRAP: The Wizards are the NBA’s version of a slump-buster. This is just brutal tonight. After three, it’s 86-55. Ouch. Pierce has 26, Garnett 10 and 8, Perkins, 9 and 10, Rondo 10 and 14 assists and Ray Allen knocked down a 3 at the end of the frame to give him a tidy 11 points.

One would think that’s all for them tonight. Me too. Take it away Jess.

Third Quarter Observations

– The onslaught continues. Look, this is a really good sign for the C’s. Regardless of Washington’s record, or their talent level or anything else, for the Celtics to put the hammer down to start the third quarter shows they’re into this.

– Hey Matt Cassel is here.

– I’m trying to discern the Wizards offense, and I’m not having much luck. Neither are they for that matter.

– Not that it matters all that much, but the Wiz put Butler on Pierce.

– Butler is not having much success either. Pierce is 9-for-9 for 24 points. That will help the shooting average a bit. Somewhat ironically he does have a miss from the free throw line. Is that irony? I’m not sure anymore. Blowouts mess with your mind sometimes.

– You know, Darius Songalia plays hard. He’s basically having to play center, which is ridiculous, but he competes.

– Who is having a worse night? The Wizards, or Alabama? Roll Tide.

– Garnett is out, probably for the rest of the night. 10 points, 8 rebounds and 25 minutes. That last number makes Doc happy. He’s the only other guy in double figures besides Pierce who has 26 points.

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Celtics-Wizards Game Blog: First Quarter 01.02.09 at 5:38 pm ET
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Way before tonight’s game began, a Wizard was out on the court measuring jump shots. The shots were from 25, 30 feet away and most of them were going down with barely a ripple. That player was Gilbert Arenas, obviously, (What, you thought Etan Thomas was draining 30 footers?).

With Arenas the Wizards were one of the entertaining and dangerous teams in the league. Without Arenas they were still entertaining, but much less dangerous. Without Arenas and Brendan Haywood they’re just bad, and not all that much fun either.

That’s a shame for us, but the Celtics don’t need much fun. They need a win, although it must be said that they seemed looser than usual before top-off tonight.

As for the Stephon Marbury talk, all we got was this from Doc Rivers, “You know I can’t talk about it,” which was certainly not a No and also not what he said about Dikembe Mutombo, which was more along the lines of yes, we’d like to have Mutombo. So they take that for what it’s worth.

But that’s for another day. What will it be tonight? Will it be the start of a new streak for 2009? Let’s find out…

FIRST QUARTER WRAP: The halfcourt shot by Caron Butler doesn’t count after all. Man that team can’t catch a break. So, after one the Wiz are down 14 and their starting center, Andray Blatche who went back to the locker room with what looked like an ankle injury.

The wager on press row: Over-under on minutes for the starters in the fourth quarter. The number is four. I’ve got the under. Over to you Jess.

First Quarter Observations

– That pretty much sums up Washington in a nutshell. The Celtics run Perkins backdoor, he gets swatted, the refs take a couple of minutes to figure out who should have the ball, the Celtics run the EXACT SAME PLAY and Perkins gets a layup.

– Interesting. The Wizards have Caron Butler on Ray Allen, which leaves Dominic McGuire on Paul Pierce. Pierce just dusted McGuire who can’t possibly be expected to be able to hang with Pierce for the whole game. There are serious mismatches available to the C’s right now (Mike James on Rondo, Andray Blatche on Kevin Garnett), but McGuire on Pierce may be the biggest.

– Blatche is hurt. He’s holding what looks like his ankle. This is really bad for Washington. The only good thing about being 6-24 is that the Wiz get an extended look at players like Blatche (and McGuire
and Javarris Crittenton, etc). Blatche is going back to the locker room.

– The only question tonight is, how much?

– Pierce 13, Washington 12.

– Doc is going to the bench a little bit early tonight. He’s got Baby, Leon and Scal in there already. I think this is the right play, even if Washington comes back a little bit. He’s got to manage some minutes over the next 30 games or so.

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Marbury Speculation Heats Up 01.02.09 at 8:08 am ET
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Readers of weei.com already know that the Celtics have had interest in wayward point guard Stephon Marbury, and now everyone else does too. Marc Stein has a report on espn.com that the Celtics are very interested in acquiring Marbury and that basically all that’s left is for the ink to dry on his Knicks buyout.

There are a few details to work out, of course, such as the actual buyout, and both Marbury and the Knicks have been playing the weirdest game of chicken since Kevin Bacon went one-on-one with a tractor combine in Footloose. The Knicks want Marbury gone. Everybody knows that, but they want him gone at their price. Marbury, as is his right, wants to get paid what’s on his contract and since he’s been operating without an agent, negotiations–if they can be called that–have been slow.

Assuming Marbury gets out of New York, and assuming the Celtics do indeed bring him aboard, what does that mean?

For starters, the Celtics will have to clear a roster spot. They are carrying the full allotment of 15 players, which means somebody would have to go, probably from among the Gabe Pruitt, Bill Walker, Sam Cassell trio. Pruitt has shown flashes and Danny Ainge is a fan, Walker has been learning his craft in the D-League, while Cassell has kept busy playing one-on-one with Brian Scalabrine and serving as a de-facto assistant coach. We won’t speculate further on the roster until we actually know what’s happening.

Marbury, if he’s in shape, would fill a need as a scorer and ballhandler off the bench. The Celtics have been using Eddie House at the off-guard position more and more lately, and the second unit is in major need of someone who can create.

The issues with Marbury are numerous. Will he adapt to the Celtics culture? Will he accept playing 10-15 minutes a night behind Rajon Rondo? Are he and Kevin Garnett cool?

That said, it is entirely in Marbury’s interest to be a good teammate if this comes to pass. A clean run with the C’s would help him rehabilitate his image and earn him another deal when his current one is bought out/expires.

We’ll have much more from the Garden tonight when the C’s play the Wizards so do stay tuned.

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Celtics-Blazers Instant Analysis 12.30.08 at 10:57 pm ET
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After losing 91-86 to Portland (recap can be found here), there is only one big picture thing you need to know about this one: For the first time all year the Celtics will have questions to answer. Questions about the bench, questions about the offense in the fourth quarter, questions about playing teams in the Western Conference, questions about playing on the road, questions about the minutes, etc.

Now, at 28-5 those aren’t terribly difficult questions, but with Cleveland giving the C’s very little wiggle room in the race for the best record in the East, they will have to find answers to a few of them. This is the first difficult moment Boston has encountered this year, and it will be fascinating to see the response.

Now, here’s one more. Will the Celtics protest the game? I haven’t been able to find, or hear, a coherent breakdown of the ruling for what happens when you allow six guys to be on the floor and a team scores a basket, as happened at the end of the second quarter, when the Blazers scored a bucket with an extra man on the court, despite the wild protestations of Kevin Garnett. Could the refs have replayed it? Could they have simply disallowed the basket? I’m still finding it hard to believe that allowing it to count was the correct call in that situation, but we’ll find out.

The Celtics head home, a little chastened perhaps, and probably a bit more ticked off. Jess and I will be back on Friday when the Wizards come to town. Until then, Happy New Year everyone.

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