|Fast Break: Celtics get run over in Motor City||02.19.12 at 8:40 pm ET|
For brief stretches of Sunday night’s game against the Pistons, the Celtics looked like a competent basketball team. For most of the night, however, they looked like a team that would rather be anywhere but on the court.
It was hard to pick one moment that stood out as the worst in their 96-81 loss. There was the disastrous second quarter that saw them turn the ball over nine times while allowing six offensive rebounds and 16 free throws. Then there was Rajon Rondo getting thrown out late in the third quarter after a half-hearted comeback attempt had already run out of steam.
The Pistons shot a staggering 46 free throws, compared to 15 for Boston. Say what you want about the officiating — and the Celtics said plenty, picking up four technical fouls — but that speaks volumes about who was the aggressive team.
The Celtics are a .500 basketball team again and with games against the red-hot Mavs and the West-leading Thunder coming up, there’s a decent chance they will be less than that when the All-Star break mercifully happens next weekend.
WHAT WENT WRONG
– The Celtics scored 26 points and shots 65 percent in the first quarter. They had assists on eight of their 11 made baskets and the scoring load was evenly distributed between Paul Pierce, Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal. That was when Rondo went out of the game for a break, and once again the Celtics’ second unit failed to do anything offensively. It took them almost a quarter to score a basket and by that time Detroit had run up a 38-29 lead. Things were about to get worse.
– The Celtics committed 18 fouls in the first half, yielding 29 free throws. This, naturally, led to complaints about the officiating from Doc Rivers and Wilcox, who were both given technical fouls. Both men had valid complaints, but the Celtics were fouling guard Rodney Stuckey almost every time he drove to the basket because they couldn’t stay in front of him and they weren’t going to the line themselves because they once again turned into a jump-shooting team.
– Of course, the officials had nothing to do with the fact that the Celtics turned it over 13 times and yielded 10 offensive rebounds in the first half.
– Frustrated over a lack of calls, Rondo got shown the gate when he whipped the ball at referee Sean Wright late in the third quarter. The Celtics need more from their point guard.
– JaJuan Johnson got pushed around physically by the Pistons front line. He better get used to it because that’s how it’s going to be every night until he proves himself.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– The Celtics once again kept a team under 40 percent shooting. It would have helped if they had rebounded those misses.
– O’Neal had eight points, five blocks and 11 rebounds.
|Fast Break: Inconsistent Celtics lose inconsistent game to Bulls||02.16.12 at 10:54 pm ET|
The Celtics were good, bad and then good again against the Bulls on Thursday. Unfortunately for them, the game was four quarters long and by the time the C’s had pulled even with Chicago, they were out of gas. Give them credit for hanging in there against a tough team on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, but the Celtics should be way past moral victories at this point of the season.
The offensive balance returned as Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett all took between 12 and 17 shots apiece. Together, they took about 75 percent of the team’s shots. They just simply didn’t make enough. The defense also returned to previous level with the return of Garnett as they held Chicago to 40 percent shooting. But they gave up too many offensive rebounds (16) and fouled too much (the Bulls had a 28-18 edge in free throws).
It will go in the books as 89-80 loss, their fourth in the last five games and their long road trip is off to a frustrating start.
WHAT WENT WRONG
– Everything that happened in the second quarter. The Celtics were outscored 26-11, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. They shot 3-for-15 and were outrebounded 19-4. Omer Asik and Taj Gibson had seven offensive rebounds between them and played only four minutes each. They were scoreless for the first three and a half minutes of the quarter and didn’t make a basket until it was halfway over. Even all that doesn’t do justice to how poorly they played.
– Chris Wilcox and JaJuan Johnson have made their contributions by being energy players. For three quarters, their collective batteries were on low. Wilcox picked up his game in the fourth, thanks to some highlight-worthy lob passes from Rondo. The rest of the bench play was ineffective at best and disastrous at worst. Without an effective second unit to provide support, the Celtics’ starters ran out of steam.
– Speaking of Wilcox, his fourth quarter technical foul couldn’t have come at worse time. The Bulls pushed their lead from five to eight and he went to the bench in favor of Jermaine O’Neal. The momentum the Celtics had built was gone.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– Not so surprisingly, it turns out that Rondo and Pierce can co-exist when both players are aggressive. Less than 24 hours after a dismal offensive performance against Detroit, Pierce started Thursday’s game looking to score. He made three of his first four shots and while Pierce was doing his thing, Rondo stayed in the background. Once Pierce cooled off, Rondo took over. Together, they took 15 of the team’s 25 shots in the first quarter and set the tone for the rest of the night.
– Ray Allen missed his first seven shots, but caught fire at just the right time, knocking down three straight 3-pointers as the Celtics pulled to within one point by the end of the third quarter after being down by double digits.
– Rondo operating in the post continues to be an intriguing wrinkle for the Celtics. While he’s not a true scoring threat on the block, getting Rondo isolated under the basket with shooters spaced out around him practically dares opponents to try and double-team him.
– Garnett had a double-double in his return from a hip flexor with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Celtics desperately need him to stay healthy the rest of the season if they are going to have a chance.
|The JaJuan Johnson experience||02.13.12 at 11:50 pm ET|
“Not yet,” Doc Rivers replied quickly. “I think he’s getting close. You’ve got to execute when you’re on the floor. That’s an area he has to improve on. He’s talented, but there’s a level, to me, of intensity that you have to play with every night and focus and he’s inconsistent in that. But he’s getting there and he’s a great kid and he will get there.
“We want to use him, but he has to come get it,” Rivers continued. “We’re not going to give him anything.”
Johnson went and got it on Sunday against the Bulls and their talented — and huge — frontline. After a rough first few minutes, Johnson scored 12 points on 6-for-13 shooting and managed to hold his own on the boards. He was credited with just one block, but it seemed like he altered several other shots. Even when the likes of Omer Asik and Joakim Noah were playing through the generously-listed 220-pounder, Johnson kept competing.
As is his custom, Rivers handed out praise judiciously to his young player.
“Yeah, but he’s got to keep doing it,” the coach said. “You know, one game doesn’t make a star. One season doesn’t make a star. So you’ve just got to keep doing it, and he’s got to do it consistently. He will, like I keep saying, he’s a great kid and he wants to do it. He’s young and he’s still learning focus and all that. But he’s a good player.”
Johnson is the latest young player on the Celtics’ roster to get his chance at making a meaningful contribution. With Brandon Bass sidelined for up to two weeks with swelling in his knee and Jermaine O’Neal missing the last two games with an assortment of injuries, Johnson is one of three healthy frontcourt players alongside Kevin Garnett. The others are Chris Wilcox and Greg Stiemsma.
Johnson has patiently waited his turn while fellow Purdue rookie E’Twaun Moore has already made an impact as a reserve guard, and second-year player Avery Bradley has grabbed hold of the backup point guard job. Even Stiemsma, the 26-year-old veteran rookie has been ahead of the first rounder, but Johnson’s talent has been on display, albeit in only 103 minutes with most of that coming in garbage time.
With a huge small-sample size warning blaring in neon blinking lights, Johnson is shooting 55 percent and averaging 18.2 points and almost six rebounds per 36 minutes. He made 3-of-7 shots from 16-23 feet and seems comfortable taking the jumper in the halfcourt. Johnson also got out on the break and finished at the rim, including a highlight-reel alley-oop lob from Rajon Rondo late in the fourth quarter.
Johnson’s breakout performance followed a forgettable seven-minute stint against the Raptors on Friday when he seemed hesitant and confused on the court. Rivers called two quick timeouts and let Johnson — and the rest of the team — have it. Still, without much practice time to work on his game, Johnson has drawn praise from Rivers for his mature approach.
As with the other young players, the hard part starts now. Johnson must perform consistently, night in and night out, while Bass and O’Neal are injured. One game does not a career make, but for the other rookie from Purdue, Sunday afternoon was a positive step.
|Fast Break: Celtics get crushed by Raptors||02.10.12 at 9:39 pm ET|
Oddly enough, the Celtics have not been that bad in back-to-backs this season. Coming into Friday’s game against the Raptors, they had won four of six on the second night and each of the last three.
However, all four of those wins had been at the Garden and their two losses — at New Orleans and Indiana — ranked as two of the worst losses of the season. You can add Friday night’s 86-74 loss in Toronto to the list as the Celtics looked not only old and tired, but disorganized and ineffective.
They scored 14 points in the first quarter and 17 in the third, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the starting five.
WHAT WENT WRONG
– Rajon Rondo put together perhaps his most ineffective nine minutes as a Celtic, taking two shots, missing both and turning the ball over four times with no assists. He wasn’t much better in the second quarter, either. Or the third, or the fourth. In what was Rondo’s worst game of the season, he scored five points on 2-for-10 shooting, while allowing Jose Calderon to score 17 points and hand out 13 assists.
– Jermaine O’Neal joined Keyon Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic on the injured list. O’Neal has somewhat remarkably missed only five games this season and has already played 49 more regular season minutes than he did all of last season. Somehow, someway the Celtics have to get through the rest of the season with O’Neal playing 75 percent of the games.
– The Celtics switched to a zone to get more shooting on the floor, but they didn’t play it well. The Raptors made just 1-of-11 3-pointers through the first three quarters, but buried 4-of-8 in the fourth.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– Avery Bradley, on the other hand, did what Avery Bradley does. He caused havoc on the defensive end, brought the ball up the court without incident on the offensive end and then got out of the way. Unfortunately, Bradley could only give them seven minutes because of an injured shoulder.
– Kevin Garnett scored 17 points and had eight rebounds, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
|The All-Star cases for Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo||02.09.12 at 12:33 am ET|
Through his first 11 games of the season, Paul Pierce averaged less than 15 points a game and shot 37 percent from the floor. He also averaged fewer than five rebounds and a little more than four assists.
The Celtics lost six of those 11 games, including the first-ever five-game losing streak in the new Big Three era, and when that was combined with an 0-3 start without Pierce while he was recovering from a bone bruise in his heel, there were naturally questions about whether it was all over for this group of Celtics.
Then Pierce scored 34 points against the Wizards to go with eight rebounds and 10 assists, and that kickstarted a remarkable renaissance. Over the next 10 games, Pierce averaged 22.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists and the Celtics went 9-1 with Pierce leading the way.
Are those 10 games enough to make Pierce an All-Star?
Through the first 13 games of the Celtics season, Rajon Rondo essentially carried the offense. With Pierce injured and then working his way back into game condition and Kevin Garnett off to a slow start, the Celtics asked Rondo to take on more of an aggressive role and he attempted almost 200 shots (making 52 percent of them) while handing out 122 assists.
The Celtics weren’t good, but Rondo was, rebuilding his reputation after a late-season swoon in 2011 and an offseason of trade rumors. Then Rondo fell awkwardly on his right wrist and missed eight games. The Celtics went 6-2 and when he came back he was able to return to his preferred playmaking role, racking up 28 assists in his last two games.
Are 16 games enough to make the All-Star team?
After the starters are chosen by the fans, the reserves are selected by the coaches who vote for two guards, two forwards, a center and two wild-card choices. They will be announced before the Celtics play the Lakers on TNT on Thursday night. There are roughly 20 players in the East who could be considered for the honor, but only a few truly stand out. Compare that to the West where the competition is tighter, but also much tougher.
It says more about the Eastern Conference than it does the seasons that Pierce and Rondo are having that the answer is yes — although there is more of a debate in Rondo’s case.
With the obvious exception of LeBron James — who is the clear front-runner for MVP — Pierce has been the most productive small forward in the East. Among players at his position in the Eastern Conference, Pierce ranks second in true shooting and assist percentage behind LeBron and he grabs rebounds at roughly the same rate as Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng.
That’s including the first 11 games when even considering Pierce for an All-Star berth would have been laughable. His last 10 make his selection an obvious choice.
Rondo’s competition among point guards comes from the trio of Brandon Jennings, Deron Williams and rookie Kyrie Irving. In Rondo’s favor he has the highest True Shooting, assist percentage and rebound rate among the four guards. Working against him is the simple fact that he’s missed a third of the team’s games in this condensed schedule.
It should also be noted that picking an All-Star team after 24 games of a season like this essentially comes down to subjective arguments. Does Rondo get credit for picking up his game when his team needed him, or penalized for not winning more games? Without Williams, are the Nets the Bobcats? The argument here is that Rondo has been statistically the second-best point guard in the East after Derrick Rose, but the margin is thin.
Here are my selections for both the East and Western Conference All-Stars.
Guards: Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson
Forwards: Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh
Center: Tyson Chandler (narrowly over Anderson Varejao)
Wild cards: Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith
Toughest omissions: Deron Williams, Greg Monroe, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, somebody from the Pacers
Forwards: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge
Center: Marc Gasol
Wild cards: Tony Parker, Paul Millsap
Toughest omission by far: James Harden
|Sean Grande reflects on a thousand games with Max||02.02.12 at 7:38 pm ET|
It was during the preseason, just a handful of games into their partnership as the radio voices of the Celtics, when Sean Grande realized that working with Cedric Maxwell was going to click. The Celtics were on a road trip, playing exhibitions in a series of small towns. It was the kind of atmosphere that calls for something, anything, to break up the monotony and keep the listeners tuned in and entertained.
So, they started talking about music. Michael Jackson, hip-hop, whatever. It was there.
“I was like OK, we’ve got something here,” Grande said. “I do what I do and I’ve done it in many different venues and he does what he does, but it has to work together.”
On Friday, Grande and Max will worth their 1,000th game together. At first glance, it’s an odd pair: Grande, the smooth play-by-play man and Max, who is prone to say just about anything about any subject. But Grande loves to work in a mix of pop culture and current NBA events and Max has a keen eye for what’s happening on the parquet.
“It’s the longest relationship Max and I have ever had, either one of us, so we’re very proud of that,” Grande said. “It’s rare. You don’t plan to be with somebody for 1,000 games or whatever it is. Mike [Gorman] and Tommy [Heinsohn] have done something like 1,600 games. When you’re doing games you don’t think like that, the business is so transitional. That’s something that’s unique to the Celtics.”
|Avery Bradley’s new offensive role model: Andre Miller||02.02.12 at 12:08 am ET|
Avery Bradley scored his first points against Toronto on an awkward-looking pull-up jumper from just outside the lane. That is not his game. Bradley made four more shots, missing just once, and all of his shots were at the rim. That is his game and the fact the Bradley has something that can be called an identifiable offensive game is one of the most intriguing developments of this season for the Celtics.
“It’s something you can always hang your hat on,” said Ray Allen, who knows a thing or two about offense. “Coming into the game you know where you’re going to score, what you’re working on before the game. Knowing that when the game starts when we run certain plays this is where the ball may come in certain situations, so he’s always ready. His mind is ready and his body is ready.”
Bradley’s jump shot is shaky. He’s made just 30 percent of his jump shots beyond 16 feet this season. Both Doc Rivers and team president Danny Ainge believe that Bradley’s outside shot will come around when he gets more confidence and experience. But while that develops, they have found something that gives Bradley the chance to be a productive offense player so they can utilize his vast defensive potential as an on-the-ball defender.