|Journey to the D-League, Part 3: The players||03.25.10 at 8:26 am ET|
(Editor’s note: Paul Flannery recently spent some time with the NBA Development League’s Main Red Claws, who are affiliated with the Celtics. He documented his observations about the organization, the players and the fans, who regularly fill to capacity the team’s home arena. Here’s Part 3 of his four-part series.)
PORTLAND, Maine ‘ They all know why they’re here, even if they don’t actually agree with the assessment. Someone, somewhere (actually 30 someones) has deemed them not worthy of a place in the NBA.
To a man, every player in the D-League believes they are good enough to play in the NBA. Some believe it’s a matter of opportunity. Others believe timing plays a crucial role. Get yourself in the right place at the right time and impress the right people, and all that the NBA has to offer is there for the taking.
They’re all right to some degree, and every D-League player can rattle off the name of some end-of-the-bench NBA vet who’s outlived his usefulness and wouldn’t be there except for that long-term guaranteed contract.
But here they are. The ones who ultimately prosper not only understand the reality of the situation, they also apply that knowledge into action on the court. This is not always easy, for when you’ve always relied on your talent and praise from others tends to come from the numbers in the box score, it can mess with your mind.
‘[Understanding that] saves them a lot of time and travel and disappointment,’ D-League vet Billy Thomas said. ‘A lot of frustrating nights. Teams want to watch guys that know how to play. You got to be able to put the ball in the hole, sure, but understand how to fit in a team. Not everyone is capable of being the guy that can average 20 points. But what are the goals of the team?’
This is the constant struggle of the D-League, along with the travel and low pay.
They all have a story to tell. Here are three of them:
Billy Thomas figures he’s going to have some fun with his visitor. Slipping on his headphones, Thomas says in all seriousness, ‘Man, I got no rap for you today. I don’t feel like talking.’
His visitor shrugs. Not the first time he’s heard that. Not even the first time this week. Then Thomas breaks into a huge grin. Of course he has time to talk. Billy Thomas loves to talk. Read the rest of this entry »
|Rondo: ‘We’re starting to put it together’||03.25.10 at 12:05 am ET|
Echoing the thoughts of his general manager Danny Ainge on WEEI earlier in the day, Rajon Rondo can feel things finally start to come together for the Celtics.
And the timing couldn’t be any better.
While Paul Pierce led the team with 27 points, it was Rondo who was the floor general with his seventh career triple-double – fourth in the regular season – in Boston’s 113-99 win over the talented Denver Nuggets Wednesday night at TD Garden.
“We’re starting to put it together. We had a little hiccup at Utah but we’ve done a pretty good job. We’re getting better each game. We’re not going to play perfect every game. We’re not going to win every game from here on out probably but at the end of the day, as long as we continue to get better and work toward our goal, we’ll be fine.
“We haven’t blown as many leads as we did early on in the season so we’re getting better.”
Rondo had 11 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds in helping the Celtics hold off Denver and clinch a playoff spot in the East.
“We got to the line tonight,” Rondo said. “Myself, I was trying to be aggressive early. I thought they had a problem getting matched up with their man so I tried to push myself or advance the ball with the pass and Paul did as well. He started off the game great, got to the line, got a couple of easy layups and got his rhythm.”
As for avenging the loss to the Nuggets in Denver on Feb. 21, Rondo said it was no big deal.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “It’s just another game.”
Perhaps the Celtics showed why they are peaking at the right time when the game got close at the end of the third quarter. Earlier in the season, when J.R. Smith’s desperation 3-pointer went through the hoop, the collective shoulders of the Celtics might have sagged.
But not on this night. When the Celtics lead was cut to 87-80 at the end of the third, Nate Robinson sank a three himself to start the fourth and the Celtics steadily built their lead back up through the teens, eventually putting the game away.
“They made a run but that’s part of the game,” Rondo said. “We knew in the second half they would make a run so during halftime we just tried to stick together. We told ourselves we have to just handle adversity better. When teams do make a run, let’s not get down or bicker amongst each other. Let’s stick together and make a run ourselves.”
The Celtics won their fourth straight at home for the first time this season and now stand 22-12 at home after losing just six at home last year.
“Whether it’s home or away, it’s about time for us to get some momentum,” Rondo said, before admitting, “It might be too late for that. We feel we’re a team where it should be that way but we’ve lost a lot of games here. Twelve and we lost only six last year but at the end of the day, the playoffs are a totally different atmosphere so we’ll be ready.”
|Doc Rivers press conference, 3/24||03.24.10 at 11:31 pm ET|
|Pierce and Garnett press conference, 3/24||03.24.10 at 11:23 pm ET|
|Fast Break: Celtics hold off Nuggets||03.24.10 at 9:47 pm ET|
One of the most overused cliches in sports is saying a regular season game had “a playoff intensity” to it, and so without going that far it’s fair to say that Wednesday night’s game between the Celtics and Nuggets was as hard-fought a regular season game as you’re likely to see in the month of March.
Despite playing the second night of a back-to-back, the Nuggets hung around and sliced a 21-point third quarter lead to seven. But the Celtics were too much for them in a 113-99 victory. With the win the Celtics clinched a playoff spot.
The news wasn’t all good for the C’s as the Hawks finally figured out a way to beat the Magic. Boston and Atlanta remain tied for third place.
Both teams did what they wanted to offensively. The Celtics pounded the ball inside and wound up outscoring the Nuggets 58-28 in the paint. Denver, meanwhile, thrives on getting to the free throw line and they shot 37 free throws. Fortunately for the Celtics, they also missed 12 of them.
There were good signs throughout for the C’s who held off several Denver runs and despite allowing the Nuggets to shoot 49 percent played good defense for most of the game.
Player of the Game: You can make a strong case for Rajon Rondo who recorded a triple double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists or Kevin Garnet (20 points, 10 rebounds), but Paul Pierce was the star of the show. Any time he plays Carmelo Anthony it’s a chance to reassert himself as one of the dominant small forwards in the league. Pierce started the game aggressively and continued to play that way throughout en route to a 27-point performance.
Turning Point: With the Nuggets down 11 early in the fourth quarter, J.R. Smith picked up an ill-advised technical foul. That, combined with a shooting foul on Ray Allen, gave the Celtics three free throws and Allen cashed them in. The Celtics pushed the lead up to 17 and were afforded some much-needed breathing room.
* The Celtics turned it over just four times in the first half, which helped them put up 46 shots. They also assisted on 19 of their 25 made field goals.
* J.R. Smith scored 10 points in the second quarter and made all four of his shots from the field, but he was 2-for-5 from the free throw line.
* Tony Allen gave the Celtics great minutes in the second quarter when Pierce picked up his third foul. Allen finished the half with 10 points including a vicious dunk off a no-look pass from Rajon Rondo and a layup just before the final buzzer. Allen also played rotation minutes in the second half in place of Marquis Daniels and was on the floor down the stretch when Doc Rivers went to a small lineup.
* Michael Finley scored seven points in just six minutes and made three of his four shots. Finley continues to be an asset off the bench.
|Halftime: Celtics vs. Nuggets||03.24.10 at 8:19 pm ET|
The exclamation point on the outstanding play was a spectacular Tony Allen dunk on a beautiful feed from Rajon Rondo with 1:23 left and a layup with 0.1 seconds remaining in the half. Allen had 10 points off the Celtics bench.
This game was played at a breakneck tempo right out of the gate, with both teams executing their offenses at a high level.
The Celtics came out and appeared ready to make a statement against a Nuggets team that is expected to be the chief competition out West to the defending champion Lakers this spring. The Celtics made 13-of-21 shots from the floor and outscored Denver 20-8 in the paint to take a 30-27 lead after one.
Paul Pierce again showed he is ready to assume leadership of the team heading into the home stretch as he poured in a game-leading 16 points. That offset an equally impressive first half from Carmelo Anthony, who had 14.
The Celtics bench again saw a significant amount of playing time, bridging the first and second quarters effectively, and even building the lead up to nine points late in the second quarter. The down side to that was foul trouble.
In addition to the three first half fouls that sent Pierce to the bench early prematurely, Marquis Daniels also picked up three and Glen Davis two as 16 fouls were called on the Green in the opening 24 minutes.
But again the ball distribution was outstanding as the Celtics racked up 19 assists, led by seven from Rondo.
|Ainge on The Big Show: We’re finally there||03.24.10 at 5:23 pm ET|
The idea of the NCAA tournament expanding to 96 teams:
“I don’t think they should. Sixty-four is good, I think it’s just right. Good the way it is.”
Why the team is playing so well at this point (won five of last seven):
“I think it’s mostly health. I feel good about this team. I think we’re finally there. Just a question of Doc getting the pieces to fit. I feel like our team … I feel that the hope is there. You can see that they really want it.”
Is he concerned about not getting the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs?
“No, no. It’s just not the focus. I follow it each day, but we aren’t talking about it internally. [We are] focusing on what we need to do to go out and play.”
Why the team has played so well on the road (second-best record in the NBA) but struggled somewhat at home (13th-best record):
“No I can’t [figure it out]. We haven’t been as good a team. We had three or four Gino games at the Garden, which we haven’t had in a while.”
On the downfall of Antoine Walker:
It’s hard to imagine. $110 million … too many guys in sports with nothing to show for it. A high percentage. With Antoine [the entourage consists of] people he chose to pay, he wanted to. He needed an entourage, wanted to show that he has this money, go gamble and party. He’s a very generous person as well. Where does $110 million go?”
If the entourage scene is still as prevalent as it was in Walker’s early years:
“A little less in the last few years. It was the thing to do. Guys parking cars, washing cars, cook. I don’t know where $100 million goes. The story of Kenny Anderson [he] made $60 [million], $70 million in his career. Rumeal Robinson living on the street, he made $20 million.”
If the Celtics talk to the young players about stories like Walker:
“We’ll make sure all the players will see that tape.”
On the highlights of Walker playing basketball in Puerto Rico:
“I’m glad he’s posting up, not shooting 3’s.”
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