|Mike D’Antoni on Rajon Rondo: ‘I’d like to see him play in Minnesota and see how he does’||04.24.11 at 3:09 pm ET|
NEW YORK — For as long as Rajon Rondo plays with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, people will question his place in the great point guard hierarchy. Is he a product of the environment of playing with three future Hall of Famers or a great player in his own right? Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni raised the issue prior to Game 4 of the Celtics‘ first-round playoff series with New York.
“He’s a very good player,” D’Antoni said. “I’d like to see him play in Minnesota and see how he does. Everybody’s tied together and they have three Hall of Famers playing out there. But Rondo’s a very, very good basketball player. Really good. There’s no doubt about that.”
Rondo had 20 assists against the Knicks in Game 3 and at least nine of those were on jump shots, according to Synergy Sports, which tracks every play. But Rondo also had a triple double in the game, his sixth in his postseason career.
“You play with those guys, that’s probably what you’re going to get,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t think he would trade it. I think he enjoys playing with them. If there is a negative side ‘ I guess ‘ that would be it. No matter how well you play, the question will be [that]. And someday that will be answered, too. I’ve got a feeling he’ll answer them all in the way he’s answering them now.”
Asked if this kind of talk fueled Rondo, Rivers said, “I don’t talk about it a whole bunch. He doesn’t bring it up a lot. It probably does in some way, it would bother anyone in some way and it’s probably good for him. Keep doing it. If it’s going to make him play like this, I’m all for it.”
|Celtics need more in reserve||04.23.11 at 6:44 pm ET|
NEW YORK — Step one was getting the defense in order. Step two was finding a way to make the offense function better. Step three, and possibly the final step in getting the Celtics on the right track for the rest of the playoffs is unlocking the potential of the second unit.
Delonte West, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic have all started at various times in their career. Glen Davis is practically a starter for the Celtics, so the talent is there. But for whatever reason those four have not functioned well either as a group, or individually.
The numbers are not pretty. Through three games of the postseason, those four have averaged just nine points, nine rebounds and three assists, while shooting 14-for-45 in 179 minutes.
“It’s something I’ve got to do, I know that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said on Saturday after the team had a brief walkthrough at Madison Square Garden. “I’ve got to get them playing right. We’re searching I can tell you that because we need them in this series and we need them to play well.”
No one is standing out for the bench crew right now, which has magnified the pressure on all of them. Rivers had a quiet conversation with Davis after practice and simply told him to keep playing hard.
“We need him,” Rivers said. “He can play better. I can help him play better. I told him I was going to try keeping to do that as long as he keeps his end. Baby’s an energy player for us. As Pat Riley used to tell me — and everyone else — thinking hurts the team. When you start thinking what’s wrong you usually play poorly.”
Davis has struggled shooting jumpers all season and while he’s started trying to maneuver closer to the basket in recent games, he has had a difficult time shooting over the Knicks more athletic players. Davis is the Celtics most important reserve, but they also need more from Green.
Game 3 wasn’t a breakout game for Green, but it was his best of the playoffs as he scored nine points and earned praise from Rivers for his defense.
“He played much better,” the coach said. “Defensively, he was terrific. He’s starting to cut better for us. We got him a couple of nice cuts where he got deep posts and got his spot. He’s getting there. Jeff is going to help us.”
This is Green’s first time coming off the bench since his rookie season. He has said that the adjustment is all mental and it’s something he’s still getting used to doing. He also has to be something of a go-to guy for the reserves because they lack a dominant scorer with this group. Should the Celtics advance, Green will become a very important player in their series with the Heat because they play so many unorthodox lineups.
Even with all that no one has struggled more than Krstic. He has attempted just one shot, a jumper in Game 1 when he had a clear path to the basket. He saw second-half minutes in Game 3 only because of the score and he has grabbed just three rebounds in the series.
Rivers hasn’t given up on Krstic yet, but there are other options, namely Troy Murphy.
“There’s always another guy when the other guy’s not working,” Rivers said. “Troy’s working his butt off, I can tell you that. Him and Von [Wafer], they may be guys that help us win a game.”
|The trouble with close-out games||04.23.11 at 5:10 pm ET|
NEW YORK — In the Kevin Garnett era, the Celtics have won eight playoff series and lost only two, but they have had a strange inability to close out series, especially on the road. The Celtics are 8-11 in elimination games and 1-9 on the road in those situations.
The one win came against Detroit in Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference finals and was hailed at the time as a breakthrough for a team that was still learning how to play with each other in the playoffs. That 1-9 record has cost them twice. In 2009 they lost Game 6 in Orlando and then were knocked out on the TD Garden floor in Game 7. Last season the Celtics had two chances to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles and lost them both.
They have a chance to take care of the Knicks on Sunday and the odds are in their favor, considering point guard Chauncey Billups is not likely to play and Amar’e Stoudemire is having problems with his back.
But it’s never easy. Take last season’s first round matchup against Miami. The Celtics won a dramatic Game 3 on Paul Pierce‘s last-second game-winner and the talk in South Florida was about how the Heat didn’t want to get back on a plane and take their beating in Game 5 back in Boston. Instead, they rallied from a 77-71 deficit in the fourth quarter and rode Dwyane Wade‘s incredible shooting back to Boston.
“Close-out games are difficult because it’s the one game where you tend to let your guard down,” Kevin Garnett said. “[They] make you tend to relax versus remembering the things that got you there and how you put yourself in a position to close out.”
One would think that a veteran team like the Celtics would have an advantage in these situations because of their experience, but their record shows otherwise. Either way the Celtics are confident in their approach.
“It’s not difficult for me by any means,” Ray Allen said. “I don’t look it as a close-out game. I just look at it as another game we have to play and another game we have to win. Last night we didn’t win anything. We just have to go out and do our jobs and that’s how I look at it.”
One area they want to carryover from Game 3 is their execution offensively. Obviously Pierce and Allen aren’t going to make 25 of 37 shots again, but the shots were just the end result of an offensive that functioned better than it has in months.
“I attribute that to the bigs being in good position and setting great screens and [Rajon] Rondo playing with great speed,” Allen said. “If my guy has to shift just a little bit the one way and I go the other way then he’s beat already. All those little small things help.”
Still, they pointed to their 20 turnovers and the fact that they were so perimeter oriented.
“We made shots and we’re all really smart when we make shots,” Doc Rivers said. “Paul and Ray were 14-for-18 from the 3, if they had been 3-for-18 from the 3, you would have been saying, ‘Doc why didn’t you post the ball up more.’”
SHAQ UPDATE: The Celtics didn’t have a full practice on Saturday and there was no opportunity to see if Shaquille O’Neal was ready to play, so he was ruled out of Game 4. Rivers insisted that they are not holding him out for any strategic purposes because of their 3-0 lead.
“He didn’t feel great, so I’m not taking a chance,” Rivers said. “I’d still like to use him. If he could play I’d play him because I think it would be good for him. The minute he can play he’ll be on the floor.”
THE RAY AND PAUL SHOW: After Game 3, Pierce noted that he was enjoying watching Allen light it up from the outside. Allen had the same reaction.
“I just kept seeing Paul make shots, I was like man, Paul is hot right now, keep giving him the ball,” Allen said. “I felt like I was in the meantime, keep giving Paul the ball.”
Allen was asked if this game was the antidote to all their offensive problems over the last month and a half. “I didn’t question it,” he said. “I know what we need to do and we’ve always known that. It’s just going out and doing it.”
|Fast Break: Celtics ‘play well,’ roll the Knicks in Game 3||04.22.11 at 9:36 pm ET|
For the last three days all the Celtics have been saying is that they have to play better. Their lead on the Knicks in their first round playoff series was great, but they knew they got away with uneven performances in both games. New York had something to do with that too, especially some of their role players who played above their heads, to say nothing of the tremendous individual performances by Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
But the Celtics believed that the close games had more to do with their inconsistencies. “I just want us to play well,” Doc Rivers said prior to tip-off. “[If] we play well, we will see what happens.”
They played well in Game 3. They played perhaps their best playoff game since Game 5 in Cleveland last year when they silenced LeBron James and the Cavaliers and kickstarted their run to the NBA finals. The feeling inside Madison Square Garden was eerily reminiscent. A hopped up crowd was stunned to silence early and when the Knicks tried to make a run early in the second half, the Celtics went into kill mode.
The result was a 113-96 blowout that gave them a commanding 3-0 lead. This is what the Celtics look like when they play well.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
What’s better than a great start? What the Celtics did: The pregame chatter was all about the Knicks riding the energy of the first home playoff game in seven years to a quick start. Instead it was the Celtics who established the early pace. They led 22-5, their biggest lead of the series and got center Ronny Turiaf in early foul trouble. Coming into another team’s arena and taking the crowd out of the game has always been a point of pride for the Celtics. “If you want to bother us, tell no one to come,” Doc Rivers said an hour before tipoff. “That will freak us out.”
Paul Pierce was locked in: In another quiet Celtics locker room before the game, Paul Pierce saw a couple of players engaged in small talk with a couple of reporters. “None of that,” Pierce said quietly but forcefully. He wasn’t kidding. Pierce was in his own world, all business, and he played like it, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. He took over at various times and seemed to make every big shot whenever the Knicks threatened to make a run. Ray Allen was phenomenal. Rajon Rondo had a triple double and 20 assists , but this was Pierce’s game.
The Celtics owned the 3-point line: Late in the season, the Celtics game from behind the arc went missing. It looks like they found it. Allen knocked down 8 of 11 and now has made an incredible 15-for-20 in the series. Pierce added six more and the Celtics made 14 3′s, which was a season high. They obviously won’t shoot this well again, but their success from behind the arc is a good sign for a team that has been fighting to recapture its offensive identity.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The bench was better, but still ineffective as a group: First, the bad news. The Celtics big first quarter lead evaporated as soon as Rivers went to his bench. Like clockwork it seems these days. But there was a glimmer when the second unit was able to keep the lead at five points. Not great, but it was something. There was some honest to goodness good stuff too. Jeff Green finally provided some offensive punch scoring seven first half points. But the backups have to start playing better soon.
Too many turnovers: This is nitpicking considering how well the Celtics played, but they once again turned the ball over too much. Considering the score and the way they cleaned up their work on the defensive glass, it’s perhaps asking too much for them to play a perfect game, but the turnover problem has been an issue.
|Shaq shows up at shootaround||04.22.11 at 3:24 pm ET|
When the curtain was parted at Madison Square Garden a large familiar face was on the court. Shaquille O’Neal was dressed in workout clothes with the rest of the Celtics. He won’t play in Game 3 Friday night and he’s doubtful for Game 4, but his presence was an indication that he is getting closer to returning to the lineup.
“He’s not ready to play yet,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But the fact that he’s feeling better and he’s getting closer, you just bring him on the road.”
Shaq talked briefly as he made his way off the court saying he’s “just trying to get back.”
Rivers maintains that the team isn’t holding him back for any other reason than he’s just not ready to play yet. “I’m worried about getting him right and healthy,” Rivers said. “There’s no strategic gameplan for not playing him. There’s a medical gameplan for not playing him. Once he can play he can play.”
Asked if the Shaq situation was becoming a distraction, Rivers said, “Our guys don’t care.”
As for the other O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal injured his left wrist in Game 2 when he fell awkwardly after taking a charge. He wore a brace for the last two days to prevent any further damage, but said that the swelling had gone down and that he would probably play without the brace Friday night.
|Glen Davis knows he has to choose wisely||04.19.11 at 2:54 pm ET|
Celtics forward Glen Davis takes too many jumpshots. This past season he launched 4.6 times a game from between 16 and 23 feet, which is three and a half more attempts per game than he averaged last season and almost twice as many as the 2008-09 season when he first began to fall in love with the long shot.
Shooting the jumper isn’t the problem. The Celtics offense generally takes their four men away from the post and out on to the perimeter (see: Kevin Garnett). They like to keep the floor spaced and the driving lanes open for Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce.
The problem for Davis is that he didn’t make very many of them this season, hitting at just a 35 percent clip. By way of comparison, Garnett made 47 percent of his long jump shots and was one of the best shooting big men from that range in the league.
And yet for all the criticism Davis takes for his offense, he has had a breakthrough season as the Celtics most important reserve and garnered serious attention early in the season as a top Sixth Man candidate in the league. He filled that role so well that it’s easy to remember that just last season Davis was getting only 18 minutes a night and still trying to carve out a place for himself in the NBA beyond simply as a “rotation player.”
Part of the reason Davis played so well this season is that he became far more effective inside where he upped his shooting percentage from 50 to 60 percent and increased his attempts. He was frustrated by how often he got his shot blocked last season and developed some counters, which have been successful.
But he has to get inside first. Davis took eight shots in Game 1 and missed seven of them. Half of his attempts were from 16-23 feet and he made just one. Oddly enough, some of that has to do with Amar’e Stoudemire, although not directly. The Knicks use one of three players alongside Stoudemire: Ronny Turiaf, Jared Jeffries and Shawne Williams.
Friend of Green Street, Gian Casimiro showed by way of video the effect those players, particularly Turiaf, have on the Celtics defense. Essentially, Jermaine O’Neal played way off Turiaf and protected the paint. Of the three options, Williams could cause the most damage because of his ability to shoot 3-pointers. Turiaf was also effective making four of five shots inside mainly because O’Neal was busy elsewhere, but the Celtics seem willing to make the trade.
With that in mind, I asked Davis about it after the team’s shootaround this morning.
“They’re different,” Davis said. “When you guard Amar’e, he’s hard to guard because he’s so quick. Shawne Williams puts a lot of pressure on the next guy [the help defender] because he’s stretching the floor. If a guy like me is posting on Shawne Williams that’s a negative. But you know, other teams live with that. They’ll live with me scoring if the ball is not in other player’s hands. So I’ve got to pick wisely how I play the game.”
That’s why focusing on individual matchups like Garnett and Stoudemire is too simplistic. A great player like Stoudemire causes teams to make decisions and each decision has a counter-move. Davis is crucial for the Celtics in this series because of his versatility to matchup against whomever the Knicks put on the floor with Stoudemire. As he said, he needs to choose wisely.
|Celtics hold Shaquille O’Neal out for Game 1||04.16.11 at 3:31 pm ET|
There will be no mystery when the Celtics open their first round playoff series with the Knicks on Sunday. Shaquille O’Neal will not play. Whether he will be available beyond the opener is still a day-to-day proposition, but they made the decision about Game 1 after O’Neal attempted to practice Saturday.
“We tried to get him out there to practice today to simulate the game as much as we could and he’s not ready,” team president Danny Ainge said. “We don’t know when he’ll be ready. We’ll just keep evaluating him day to day.”
In a break from standard protocol, the Celtics made Ainge and team doctor Brian McKeon available to the press while the team was practicing at their facility on Saturday. They said that O’Neal arrived at 10 a.m. and went through two hours of treatment and massage therapy. He took the floor at noon for the start of practice, but after a few minutes of running they made the decision to shut him down.
“This guy has been working his tail off. He’s been working so, so hard,” McKeon said. “Today we did like a mock trial, pregame workout and he failed. It didn’t work. It’s just too sore. We’ll get back to work tomorrow. He’s made progression every day. This is a tough injury. The blood supply in this area is so weak and so poor, it’s just time. I was telling Danny and the coaches that in the last 20 years, this is one area of medicine we’ve made no progress. Because it’s just time. It’s hard to get enough healing potential in that area.”
O’Neal is still dealing with the same Achilles strain that kept him out of the lineup for 27 games. He attempted to come back on April 3 against the Pistons, but lasted just five minutes before straining his calf. The two injuries are related, McKeon said. He added that O’Neal doesn’t need surgery and the best treatment is rest, along with the usual therapy and conditioning work. Essentially, O’Neal simply needs more time.
Asked if there was a point when the Celtics would shut him down for the rest of the playoffs, Ainge said, “When the season’s over, I guess. He may come back in three days and feel like it’s better. The longer we wait the better chance he has of being healthy.”
Shaq went through a walkthrough on Thursday, but didn’t practice Friday so this didn’t come as a surprise to the rest of the team. “We’re ready,” Doc Rivers said. “We kind of anticipated it. We didn’t really know, but we’ll be ready.”
With Shaq out, Jermaine O’Neal will become the nominal starter.
“If he doesn’t come back or Shaq, then we would have some problems,” Rivers said. “Having J.O. gives us a luxury and that’s why Danny went out and signed two guys, so we have one. Right now I’ll take it.” Asked how many minutes Jermaine O’Neal can play, Rivers said, “I think J.O. can give us as many minutes as we need.”
Nenad Krstic will see minutes at the center position, along with Glen Davis. The Celtics can also counter with Kevin Garnett matching up against Amar’e Stoudemire in some of New York’s smaller lineups. In some ways the Knicks are the perfect team for the Celtics to play without Shaq, but there’s also no question that he would help no matter the opponent.
“Bottom line is, we just want everybody healthy,” Rivers said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. The guy’s put in a lot of work. He’s extremely disappointed that he can’t go. I just told him to keep working. He’s going to play for us. We don’t know when, but he’ll be back.”