|Maturing Avery Bradley relishes playoff experience||05.11.12 at 10:38 am ET|
Every playoff game, as the Celtics starters are being introduced at TD Garden, fans are reminded of Avery Bradley‘s growth as a player. Over the five-year run of the new Big Three era, fans are accustomed to hearing Ray Allen‘s name, but lately it’s Bradley’s who is called.
It takes a little getting used to. After all, moving ahead of arguably the greatest 3-point shooter of all-time in the lineup is no easy feat. As Bradley gains playoff experience, his understanding of the nuances and intricacies of the game at the NBA level increases minute by minute. During the Celtics’ series-clinching 83-80 win in Game 6 Thursday night, Bradley took another step toward maturity when he requested to guard Jeff Teague.
Bradley was stuck guarding Marvin Williams — who, at 6-foot-9, has seven inches on the C’s youngster — and surrendered eight points in the first quarter. It was a tough matchup for Bradley. In the second quarter the Hawks opened up a 28-20 lead and Boston was left searching for answers on both ends of the court.
But as Williams started to cool off, the C’s guard decided to take on a player who has hurt Boston throughout the series, Teague. So, the usually reticent Bradley pitched his desire to shut down the other No. 0 to Doc Rivers.
“He had a great series,” Bradley said of Teague. “I just wanted to come in this game, and I was covering Marvin, and I told the coaches ‘let me pressure Teague a bit.’ Even [Rajon] Rondo came to me and told me to pressure him. I just wanted to make everything hard on him tonight. My main focus was just to slow him down and make things hard on him to get them out of their offense.”
|Fast Break: Celtics let one slip away, Hawks still alive||05.08.12 at 10:51 pm ET|
With the Celtics trailing by one, 87-86, and just over 10 seconds left in the game, Rajon Rondo stole the ball and frantically dribbled up the court. He would never get a shot off, however, as Al Horford and Josh Smith pressured the ball, forcing Rondo to lose control as time expired. The Celtics still have a 3-2 series lead over the Hawks, and will have another opportunity to advance to the second round in Game 6 on Thursday night at the Garden.
Horford led the way for Atlanta with 19 points and 11 rebounds in only his second game back from a pectoral injury that had sidelined him since January. For Boston, Rondo finished with 12 assists and 13 points, but shot just 6-of-17 from the field, and had five turnovers. Kevin Garnett added 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Three-dom!: The Hawks weren’t rotating on defense, the crowd was dead (except for the C’s fans), and it appeared the Hawks were fine with jump-shooting their way to a summer vacation as the Celtics lead grew to double digits midway through the second quarter.
Then Atlanta got pay back for Boston’s 3-point assault in Game 4, by knocking down four straight 3-pointers, leading to a tie game at halftime. The Hawks finished 7-of-16 from beyond the arc.
It’s easy to dismiss the run as a hot streak. That’s fair, it happens. However, the Celtics were late closing down on each of Marvin Williams‘ back-to-back 3-pointers, and even worse, no defender was within 10 feet of Joe Johnson‘s 3-pointer. Additionally, the Celtics failed to execute on the offensive end to stop the bleeding.
The Truth Hurts: Paul Pierce started Game 5 like it was simply a continuation of Game 4. He was 4-of-6 from the field and seem poised for another virtuoso performance. But the C’s captain only hit one of his next seven shot attempts, finishing the game with 16 points.
Pierce did seem to be laboring a bit which could be related to the left knee injury he suffered during shoot-around before Game 4 on Sunday. His airball that would have put the Celtics ahead by one point with less than 20 seconds left would suggest that is entirely possible.
Youth Served: It’s been an up-and-down series for Avery Bradley. Maybe his left shoulder started bothering him again, or maybe Doc Rivers just wanted to go with Ray Allen, but Bradley only saw 17 minutes of action Tuesday night. He took just two shots and had two turnovers in a forgettable night.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo’s Road Rage (The Good): It’s safe to say Rondo won’t be visiting Atlanta anytime soon. His Game 1 performance was excellent, but was overshadowed by Bump-Gate. In his return to the scene of crime Tuesday night, the floor general started 2-of-10 from the field and was largely a non-factor through 33 minutes of action.
Then Rondo went crazy (In a good-natured-I’m-taking-over-this-game kind of way).
After the dreadful start, he hit four of his next seven shots. The stats don’t justify Rondo’s impact. He took over the last three minutes of the third quarter in a stretch that saw him feed a perfect lob to Ryan Hollins, put back a Allen missed 3-pointer, steal the inbound pass, hit the ensuing jumper, and score a driving lay-up the next trip down the floor.
It was the type of play the C’s have grown accustomed to seeing from Rondo. He was the catalyst the Celtics needed, dwindling an 11-point deficit to just two at the end of the third quarter. The fourth quarter was more of the same for the All-Star point guard.
Allen’s Acclimating: Allen played his best game since being relegated to the bench. The offensive spark the sharp-shooter provided is precisely what Rivers envisioned when promoting Bradley to the starting lineup. Late in the game, with the score 83-76, the Celtics stormed back going on a 7-0 run, capped off by an Allen 3-pointer.
The 36 year-old finished with 15 points, going 5-of-10 from the field.
Forcing the Issue: Throughout the first half Boston played the aggressor. Through 20 minutes of action the Hawks had just two free-throw attempts to the Celtics nine, and Boston had only one personal foul called on them, while Atlanta had nine.
This speaks to the fact the Hawks were comfortable settling for jump shots — whether contested or not — while the Celtics forced the issue.
The Little Big Guys: The Celtics starters and Allen get the fanfare, but Keyon Dooling, Greg Stiemsma, and Hollins gave Boston solid play in the first half of Game 5. Dooling had a big 3-pointer in the second quarter, and both he and Stiemsma had highlight blocks.
Hollins’ stat line doesn’t show much, but he battled hard underneath and, remarkably, registered a plus/minus of +8. Furthermore, he was on the court during the Celtics second half comeback, stuffing home two lobs from Rondo.
|Ray Allen’s return another step forward for Celtics||05.08.12 at 8:24 am ET|
Paul Pierce was in the Zone — with a capital ‘Z’ as Kevin Garnett put it — and the Celtics were pulling away in the second quarter of their 101-79 victory Sunday night in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Hawks. The atmosphere plummeted from jovial to somber, though, when Pierce went down clutching his sprained knee. The Garden was hushed.
The stress of Pierce’s uncertain health was temporarily alleviated and the Garden was instantaneously in a frenzy once again when moments later, as he has done so many times, Ray Allen came off a screen and buried a 3-pointer. It didn’t matter that this was only Allen’s second game back from an ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup nearly all of April. Both the Celtics and their fans understand what Allen provides: Relief and security due to his unmatched preparation.
“You see what he puts into his craft,” Garnett said. “You see why he is who he is, and the reputation he has earned. I use the word earned, not given. You expect great things out of him, and that’s what he gives you.”
The reputation Allen earned had to be altered. The 36 year-old is renowned for his arduous training regimen, but coming off an injury he has stressed body maintenance over basketball form. Allen said he has cut his routine down to 40 percent of its usual length, which indicates his understanding of how imperative it is to get rest. His willingness to adjust his militant habits is paying dividends.
“I’m really managing my off days really well,” Allen said. “You have a tendency when you get back off of an injury to kind of let it slide a bit, and I haven’t been. And it’s important to me to rest up, just staying off it.”
|Paul Pierce lives at the free throw line||05.06.12 at 1:08 pm ET|
After his dreadful 5-of-19 shooting performance in the Celtics Game 1 loss to the Hawks last Sunday, Paul Pierce evaluated his play and decided that even if he was going to shoot poorly, he was still going to score. What bothered Pierce was that he only got to the foul line three times in the series opener. Since then he’s attempted 27 free throws and made 25 of them. In Game 3, he took 14 — one less than Atlanta did as a team.
“Sometimes that’s what it has to be,” Pierce said. “Every night is not going to be your night.”
Making an impact when things aren’t necessarily going your way is a lesson many young scorers struggle with. It’s easy to become complacent while watching your shot rim out. For natural scorers like Pierce, the solution revolves around staying aggressive and taking what the opponent gives you.
“Sometimes it’s tough to get rhythm,” Pierce said. “But you have other guys who can step up. I did my part and that’s what is most important. I don’t care about the shots or the touches, it’s about me doing my part and helping this ball club win.”
|Doing Time: the cost of Game 3’s victory||05.05.12 at 2:02 pm ET|
Doc Rivers knows he has a veteran squad. He knows managing his team’s minutes is a priority night-in and night-out. But he also knows he is best suited to play a short seven-man rotation. Limiting minutes becomes difficult when relying on so few players, especially as playoff games hang in the balance.
Weighing the value of rest versus victories is a complicated issue during the regular season, but when an opening to secure a playoff win appeared in Game 3 Friday night, Rivers rolled the dice.
“Sometimes, honestly, as a coach you take a gamble, ” Rivers said. “You think maybe we can get this, put this away, and get guys out.”
The coach’s gamble backfired and minutes have gone from a concern to a dilemma. Through the first two games of the series in Atlanta, Paul Pierce was averaging 42 minutes and Kevin Garnett logged 4o minutes in each contest as well. Ray Allen entered Game 3 having not seen action in a competitive game in 24 days due to an ankle injury, which will require surgery this offseason.
On Friday, Pierce played 47, Garnett logged 42 and Allen checked in with a whopping 36 minutes. Rivers is giving is team Saturday off, “Because they’re exhausted,” he said. “And I don’t want Ray in the gym because he would do something. He would shoot or something. So, that’s unusual for us in the playoffs to take a day off, but they need one.”
Leading by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter and up 80-72 with less than three minutes remaining, the Celtics let the Hawks back in the game.
“I thought we got into the habit of milking the clock,” Rivers said. “And you just can’t do that. You can do that when the other team has two bigs, but when the other team has five guards on the floor, you absolutely can’t do that. And we did that.
The Celtics may have made Friday night’s game harder than it needed to be, but Hawks coach Larry Drew had to deal with the same problem as Rivers. Atlanta was without Josh Smith on Friday night, and have also been missing Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford throughout the whole series.
“We played a lot of minutes – our starters ‘ but they did as well,” Rajon Rondo said. “So, it’s a mental effort. You can’t get tired. Down the stretch, you have to execute offensively and defensively. I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight, even though we struggled to score the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.”
Those struggles led to overtime and an extra five minutes of basketball.
“Playoffs are hard,” Pierce said. “Sometimes coaches are going to ask a lot from you. I went the whole distance again today in the second half, but it proved worth it. We were able to get the win and that’s all that matters.”
Pierce is right, results are all that matter, but the Celtics would be better-served to hit on Rivers’ gambles rather then bust.
|Fast Break: C’s hold on late against Hawks, take 2-1 series lead||05.04.12 at 10:43 pm ET|
The Celtics beat the Hawks 90-84 on Friday night. Boston had an 80-72 lead with just over four minutes left, but failed to score the rest of the way while the Hawks went on an 8-0 run to force overtime. The Celtics mustered just enough offense to secure the victory and take a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Sunday.
Rajon Rondo registered his seventh career postseason triple-double with 17 points 14 rebounds, and 12 assists. Paul Pierce scored 21 points even though he only hit 3 of his 12 shots from the field. Kevin Garnett had four blocks and added a double-double of his own with 20 points and 13 rebounds. For the Hawks, Joe Johnson scored 29 points on 11-of-28 shooting.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Wise Man: Pierce’s performance in Game 2 has been dissected and discussed to the point of nausea. That’s OK, of course, it was a clutch. But Friday night, his shot simply wasn’t falling. So what did he do? He manufactured points by getting to the charity stripe. The Truth attempted 14 freebees … and converted all of them.
Return of Rajon: Rondo’s return from his one game suspension for bumping official Marc Davis started rather spotty. On one hand, he missed all three of his first half shot attempts and, worse, had five turnovers. He showed signs of his brilliance, however, while dishing out five assists through 24 minutes.
The second half saw Rondo return to form. His shooting numbers were still spotty (he was finished 7-of-23 from the field), but he ended up dishing out 12 assists and grabbed 14 rebounds while registering his seventh career triple-double in the playoffs (and the 20th of his career). Oh yeah, and the floor general only had one turnover in the entire second half and overtime.
Ray of Sunshine: Ray Allen gave the Celtics everything they could have possibly expected while playing his first competitive basketball game in 24 days. In the first half he was 4-of-6 from the field with eight points. The Celtics continued to struggle offensively, but Rivers went to a three-guard lineup, playing Allen alongside Avery Bradley and Rondo, and Boston’s offense appeared more fluent.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Not Your Average Joe: The former Celtic — well for half his rookie season anyway — is the source of much scrutiny because of the six-year $123 million contract he signed in 2010. It’s a tough bill to live up to. In Games 1 and 2, the scoring guard struggled — shooting a combined 10-of-32 of the field — but with Josh Smith unavailable Friday night, Johnson came out aggressive, and kept the Hawks in contention for much of the night. With just over a minute left, Johnson showed some clutchness himself, knocking down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 80.
Pest Control: An underrated story line this series has been the play of Jeff Teague. Friday night he continued to flash his dribble penetration ability, slicing through the Celtics’ defense en route to 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
Small Ball: It Giveth, and taketh away: The Celtics made a run playing Pierce at power forward and were able to grab a two-point lead by halftime. Offensively, the team had more flow, but to many times the Celtics found themselves stuck in defensive mismatches. Rondo and Bradley were put in bad switches, guarding Tracy McGrady and Johnson in the post, which lead to easy baskets for Atlanta. The Hawks outscored the Celtics 28-6 in points in the paint in the first half.
Late to the Party and Early to Leave: After a dramatic Game 2 victory on the road, a raucous crowd filled the Garden smelling blood: The Celtics had seized momentum, recovered from Bump-Gate, and had Allen and Rondo returning to the lineup. How did they respond? By shooting 28.6 percent from the field and committing four turnovers in the first quarter alone. The Hawks weren’t exactly playing all-world basketball either, shooting 32 percent, but Boston was unable to step on the Hawks throat early.
Meanwhile, the Celtics held an 80-72 lead with just over four minutes left. They would remain stuck at 80 when regulation ended, while relenting an 8-0 run to the Hawks to force overtime. The scoreless drought is nothing new for Boston, but was ill-timed as the game appeared to be in hand.
Avery Ailing: Bradley left the game in the second half due to a left shoulder injury. He was initially set to return, but then was ruled out for the rest of the game. This could be a concern going forward.
|Fast Break: C’s lose their cool in Hot-Lanta||04.29.12 at 9:40 pm ET|
The Celtics fell 83-74 on Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round matchup with the Hawks. Rajon Rondo led the way for Boston with 20 points, but was ejected after arguing a call and bumping into official Marc Davis. Kevin Garnett started poorly, but finished with 20 points (8-19 FG) and 12 rebounds.
For the Hawks, Josh Smith scored 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Hit in the mouth: The Hawks shot 12-of-22 (54.5%) from the field in the first quarter. Atlanta got to the foul line, created easy transition buckets, and sustained the fervent pace that clearly gives it an advantage over the older Celtics.
The excitement and momentum of playing in front of their home crowd certainly didn’t hurt the strong start, and the Celtics rust from resting their starters didn’t help. Either way, Boston couldn’t stop the bleeding early. The C’s never got to the line and missed all seven of their 3-point attempts in the first half (they finished 0-of-11 from beyond the arc).
Tickets sold out: Garnett’s poor first half played a massive role in the team falling behind by double digits. The Big Ticket was aggressive early, which normally translates to good things for the Celtics. Sunday night, however, KG shot 1-of-9 from the field in the first half. Call it a product of rust, but it would have been wise for Garnett to position himself deeper in the paint when his jumper wasn’t falling.
Meanwhile, Garnett’s adversary, Smith, scored 15 points (7-12 FG) and grabbed 11 boards in the first half alone.
Ray of Light: Game 1 went sour rather quickly for the C’s. While that’s certainly concerning, a bigger issue is the health of Ray Allen. Last Wednesday, Doc Rivers pronounced Allen probable to play in Sunday night’s series opener, by Saturday the prognosis changed to doubtful, and when it came time to tip off the playoff run Allen was in a suit and tie.
The Celtics could very well survive this series against Atlanta and maybe beat the Derrick Rose-less Bulls without Allen, but Allen makes both of those feats easier.
Losing your cool: The Celtics undoubtedly will be holding their collective breath while awaiting the league’s ruling on Rondo bumping the official. There is a chance Boston could be without him for Game 2.