|KG makes a statement: ‘I can shoot 3′s, OK?’||02.05.12 at 4:49 pm ET|
In the Celtics’ 98-80 victory over the Grizzlies Sunday, Kevin Garnett made a 3-point field goal for the third straight game.
In theory, that would not be the notable takeaway from a game in which the veteran poured in 24 points and made 9-of-12 shots. But Garnett is a career 28.5 percent 3-point shooter and has only made seven in his five seasons since joining the Celtics.
Yet even with those statistics suggesting that his odds of hitting the lottery nearly match his ability to hit a shot from behind the arc, the 35-year-old had a different view.
“Listen, I can shoot 3′s, ok?” said Garnett. “You all are acting like I’m 50 and I’m out here on one leg.”
Coach Doc Rivers admitted Garnett’s new-found range is a nice commodity, but doesn’t want the star-player knowing it.
“It gives us another option at the end of the game,” said Rivers. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
Seeing the surprise in everyone’s eyes, Garnett paused and re-affirmed his confidence in his shooting acumen to set the record straight.
“Everybody in Boston, everybody in the world, everybody in Minnesota, LA, or wherever I’m at – Concord, Lexington, Burlington – I can shoot 3′s,” reiterated Garnett. “Let that go. I can shoot 3′s. You guys all are acting shocked like you haven’t seen a black guy hit a three before.”
|Fast Break: Celtics cruise to fourth straight||02.05.12 at 2:26 pm ET|
The Celtics won their fourth straight game — and eighth out of the last nine — Sunday against the Grizzlies, 98-80. There was a lot to like about the performance. The Celtics had five players score in double figures and maintained the lead throughout most of the game. Kevin Garnett had 24 points (9-of-12 shooting) and nine rebounds. Paul Pierce added 21 points (5-of-12 shooting).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Stepping up big: With Brandon Bass out of the lineup, the Celtics needed one of their big men to contribute off the bench. Chris Wilcox came in and did just that, scoring 12 points (5-of-5 shooting). Of Wilcox’s 12 points, 10 came in the first quarter in a variety of ways. He had a few nice finishes down low, a textbook bank shot and a hustle putback on a fast break. Rookie JaJuan Johnson also contributed 10 points (5-of-8 shooting) in his first real action (i.e., not in the fourth quarter of a blowout) of the season.
Running against the wind: It seems as though earlier in the season, the Celtics weren’t taking advantage of possible fast break opportunities. Rajon Rondo would push the ball forward with no support, which would often lead to turnovers. Now that Boston is finally healthy, the Celtics are more adept at converting on odd-man rushes. On Sunday Boston outscored a younger and more athletic Grizzles team 26-10 on fast break points.
The General is back: Rondo said he was tough on himself in his return to action in Friday night’s victory. And although he only produced five points, Rondo had 14 assists. He pushed the ball effectively on the break, and was fluent in his command of the offense, which helped create easy chances for others.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Second Quarter Blues: This is a bit picky, but the Grizzles opened the second quarter on a 16-3 run in the first 6 minutes of action. Subsequently, Boston’s eight-point first quarter lead evaporated. The Celtics regained their composure en route to a blowout victory, but these frequent lulls in their offense are still concerning.
Long Distance Woes: After shooting 22-of-44 (50 percent) from 3-point land the last two games, the Celtics started the game missing their first eight attempts. Many of these shots were set plays and wide open looks that simply weren’t falling for Boston. Once Ray Allen knocked down the first 3-pointer late in the second quarter, the Celtics found their groove and ended the game 7-of-20 from downtown. Still, the uneven performance was a reminder that the shooting from behind the arc lends itself to unpredictable outcomes.
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I beat myself up’ after first game back||02.04.12 at 5:12 pm ET|
In most sports, a player rehabs his way back from an injury gradually. Generally, they take batting practice, do hitting drills or take jump shots in their time away from the action. This is the case most of the time. If you are Rajon Rondo, and you’re coming back from missing eight games from a wrist injury, then you’re good to go after taking a few jumpers before the game.
Rondo didn’t want to aggravate or do any further damage to his injury suffered against the Raptors two weeks ago. After Saturday’s practice, the two-time All-Star said he refrained from shooting at all up until hours before his return Friday night against the Knicks.
“I was pretty critical [of myself] last night,” said Rondo. “Realistically, I haven’t touched a ball since Toronto because of the wrist. I’m a right-handed player so I couldn’t shoot free throws. I beat myself up because I missed a few free throws and some turnovers I made I wasn’t strong to make the pass, but that was the sacrifice I made to go out there and play.”
Rondo said he feels much better, and only expects to wear a protective wrist guard for a few more games because it bothers him mentally. One thing that didn’t bother Rondo Friday night was dealing with the black eye he had after taking a nasty blow in the first half from Iman Shumpert.
“I don’t think [the black eye] affected me,” he said. “It wasn’t the cause of a couple of my turnovers. It was just the timing and me trying to get back throwing regular passes.”
It certainly wasn’t a stellar performance for Rondo. He was 1-of-4 from the field, missed three of his four free throw attempts and had five turnovers. But his mere presence back in the lineup gave Boston greater offensive flexibility.
“It’s a different play-set when he’s out there, because he knows our entire playbook,” said Paul Pierce Friday night after the victory. “There are a set of plays we run when Rondo’s not in, but when he’s out there we expand our playbook a little more. So we ran plays that we haven’t ran in eight or nine games.”
Time and repetition, along with applying ice to his injured wrist, is the recipe needed for Rondo to get his game back to its desired level. Until then, however, Boston’s floor general is just happy to be back on the court.
“It felt great,” he said. “It’s a different flow. After no practice or anything for two weeks, and to get back out there in the game, you never know until you’re in the game. You can run and do cardio all you want, but you when you get on that floor and do pick and rolls, and hit the floor and get up doing transition back and forth, it’s a different type of game.”
|JaJuan Johnson makes the most of his opportunity||02.02.12 at 1:33 am ET|
After the Celtics’ 100-64 thrashing of the Raptors Wednesday night, Mickael Pietrus directed the media to JaJuan Johnson‘s locker. “He’s ready for you guys,” Pietrus said. The reticent Johnson nervously laughed.
“This is only one game,” said Johnson. “It’s definitely good for me personally to have a game like this. I definitely want to be a contributor to this team.”
Johnson had been used only sparingly this season, seeing a grand total of 28 minutes going into Wednesday night’s game. In those brief stints Johnson has shown flashes of why the Celtics took him in the first round of the draft. However, the most amount of time he had logged in a game was just over 5 1/2 minutes.
“Like I told someone earlier, you just have to see the bigger picture,” Johnson said. “I understand my time will come. You have to be ready at all times, and that’s what I try to do.”
|Kyrie Irving dominates the fourth quarter||01.30.12 at 10:48 am ET|
Down by one, on the road in front of a raucous crowd, and there was time for one last possession. In Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott’s mind, he knew exactly who to give the ball too — his rookie point guard, Kyrie Irving.
“We put the ball in the last play of the game, and told him to go with about seven seconds,” Scott said. “I didn’t want him to go quick, I wanted to go for the win. And he was able to get to the basket.”
What happened next was a revelation. Irving announced to the rest league that he was a star, and did what star players in the NBA do, finish when it matters most. The goal was simple: get to the basket or force a defender to leave a teammate open, and Irving didn’t hesitate.
“I knew I wasn’t going to settle for a jump shot, that’s for sure,” Irving said. “I just wanted to go in and get the best look possible. Whether it be finding a teammate for a three or open lay up. Once I saw an opening, I took advantage of it and made the shot.”
Irving missed a similar shot against the Pacers earlier this season, but perhaps more importantly, even at the young age of 19, Irving wanted the opportunity.
“I told him to run a high pick and roll and just see what you can get,” said Scott. “He had the look in his eyes like he wanted it anyway. At that particular time, I wasn’t thinking about his age. I was just thinking about how pretty damn good he is with the ball in his hands.”
The standout rookie’s diving layup, with just over six seconds left in the game, gave Cleveland a 88-87 victory Sunday night in Boston, snapping the Celtics four-game winning in the process. With his father, Drederick — a Boston University Hall of Famer — sitting courtside the first overall pick in last year’s draft said his first game winning basket was a special moment.
The play was representative of the entire fourth quarter. The Celtics had issues with Irving and his two-man game off high-screens with Anderson Varejao all night.
“Defensively I thought we were solid throughout the game,” said Ray Allen. “But in that fourth quarter on the ball in pick and rolls we reverted where we didn’t take the ball out of Kyrie’s hands at least make him see more pressure and make him play under duress. He got to his spots and made the plays he needed to make for his team and I don’t think at any time we recognized that.”
Irving was anything but a rookie Sunday night. He played under control for most part (only committing three turnovers), and was efficient in his offensive approach, finishing with 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Most impressively is down the stretch, with his team trailing by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, it was Irving who took his game to another level. He scored eight of the Cavaliers 26 fourth quarter points, only missing one of his four field goal attempts.
“I thought he dominated the fourth quarter,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “He single-handily in my opinion willed that win for them.”
|Chris Wilcox is gaining momentum||01.28.12 at 1:41 am ET|
The numbers didn’t jump off the page for Chris Wilcox on Thursday night in Orlando. In nearly 19 minutes of action, he only scored four points and collected one rebound during the Celtics comeback win over the Magic. But it was the type of performance coach Doc Rivers felt was critical to getting his injury-riddled big man some much-needed momentum going forward.
“He was great,” Rivers said. “I thought he was one of the unsung heroes from [Thursday] night. He’s figured out that he’s not going to beat anybody with height so he plays his defense before the guys gets the ball. I thought he had four or five deflections on Dwight [Howard], and before he could get the ball up [Wilcox] already had his hands on the ball.”
Wilcox figured out more than how to play good defense. Friday against the Pacers he started to find his offensive game as well, scoring a season-high 14 points in 22 productive minutes off the bench.
“Last night got me a little more comfortable,” said Wilcox. “Tonight, I just wanted to play hard. I was a little winded but it was a good one.”
Contributions from the nine-year veteran were vital to a win as the Celtics were playing a second night of a back-to-back, and missing Jermaine O’Neal from the lineup. Wilcox didn’t disappoint.
He came out aggressive, hitting all three of his field goal attempts in the first quarter while the Celtics jumped out to an early lead. At halftime Wilcox was the only player in double digits for either team.
“It definitely builds my confidence up more,” said Wilcox. “I got off to a slow start [this season]. Injuries held me back, and now I’m starting to get into a rhythm.”
Wilcox’s health is coming around at the right time for Boston. His slow start is attributable to signing with the team late in training camp, and missing half the games this season because of a calf injury. Now that the 6-foot-10 forward is healthy again, the Celtics can finally utilize his versatility.
“He’s huge for us, because he can guard the center position and power forward position,” said Paul Pierce. “He’s a very physical player and he’s a great finisher down low, so he’s going to be a big key for us moving forward as far as our depth at the big man position, especially with Jermaine O’Neal being out.”
It won’t come overnight. Wilcox – as are so many other NBA players – is still trying to find his legs and get in game shape. “If he could play with an oxygen tank, he’d be phenomenal,” joked Rivers. “He’s absolutely dying out there. But he’s still giving us the time and he’s doing everything for us, which is terrific.”
The Celtics hope there are more nights like Friday for Wilcox while he works himself into ideal shape. For now he’s just happy the Celtics are back to their winning ways.
“I’m definitely starting feel like I’m getting back,” said Wilcox. “I’m a little sore, but at the same time we’re all grinding. We’re all sore right now. So we’re all working together and good things are happening.”
|Avery Bradley’s successful first NBA start||01.21.12 at 1:44 am ET|
In the first quarter of Friday night’s loss against the Suns, Avery Bradley picked off a pass at midcourt and converted an easy layup. In the fourth quarter, Bradley lunged after a loose ball underneath Boston’s basket, saving a possession that led to a score.
That’s his job: Provide energy and defense.
Injuries to Rajon Rondo and Keyon Dooling gave Bradley an opportunity to make his first start in the NBA. The experience was valuable.
“It builds my confidence a lot,” said Bradley. “Every game I play I know what Doc [Rivers] and my teammates expect from me — to bring that energy every time I step on the floor.”
He was tasked with defending two-time league MVP Steve Nash. Bradley felt his best chance to combat the 37-year-old was to antagonize him with aggressive defense.
“I tried to get him tired,” Bradley said. “[I] picked him up full court to let him know I was going to bother him the whole game.”