|Mikki and Steph settle in||03.29.09 at 10:54 pm ET|
Mikki Moore had just checked into the game when Paul Pierce hit him for an easy dunk. It was as if the light had switched on for the veteran forward. Twenty-seven minutes later, Moore had his best game as Celtic with 12 points and 10 rebounds in their win over the Thunder Sunday (click here for a recap) and he allowed himself a smile when asked about it afterward.
“It felt pretty good,” Moore said. “My teammates have been great. They’ve been real supportive. They just said, ‘Relax and play.’ I let the game come to me.”
Stephon Marbury had his own breakout game the other night against Atlanta, and while he scored only two points against Oklahoma City, he had seven assists and continued to impress as a facilitator, particularly to Eddie House who dropped in 16 points. “I love playing with guys who can shoot,” Marbury said. “I played with Allan Houston (in New York) and I made it my business to get him the ball.”
Slowly, but surely it’s starting to come together for the Celtics late-season additions and with injuries holding back Kevin Garnett it couldn’t have come at a better time as the C’s try to stay ahead of Orlando for the second spot in the East. But finishing ahead of the Magic is less important to Doc Rivers then getting his team healthy and ready for the playoffs. To that end the coach is encouraged by what he’s seen of Moore and Marbury.
“Slowly, but it’s coming,” Rivers said. “The only thing I told Steph at halftime is I thought he had open shots and he was thinking pass. Even the one, you remember when he bobbled it out of bounds, that was a layup but you could see him. He was catching the ball to pass. He has great instincts and I thought he did that in the second half. And Mikki’s starting to understand when he’s open, shoot the ball, because he can really shoot the ball. Honestly, I thought he didn’t think he was worthy. It’s an adjustment when you’re on the floor with Paul, Ray (Allen) and Kevin (Garnett). You’re open and you think that there’s no way I should shoot the ball.”
Adjusting to the Celtics way has been tricky for Moore. Not only is he learning to be more aggressive offensively, he’s also learning to adjust to the way the Celtics play defense. It’s a different kind of strategy then most teams play, and after his experiences in Sacramento (not exactly a defense-first team), he’s had to unlearn some bad habits.
“Letting go,” Moore said. “Knowing that if I leave my man somebody will help me. That’s the biggest thing. When I got here my reaction time was slow. I was worried about leaving my man. Everybody was telling me, your man is not your man anymore.”
That’s been the interesting thing with this group of additions. Unlike last year when PJ Brown arrived with a career’s worth of defensive training and unselfish mindset, Moore and Marbury have had a little bit more of an adjustment. With the Celtics it’s not just being unselfish, it’s being willing to do what is necessary, be it looking for your shot or finding the open man.
Marbury noted that his game was not to be a high-volume shooter in the past. “I shoot when I feel it,” he said. “I like to take shots that I think I can make.”
But playing with the second unit requires Marbury to not just facilitate, but to take the offense by the throat on occasion, and to that end he feels like his legs are finally starting to come around.
“I’m definitely more comfortable with the system,” Marbury said. “I feel like I’m turning the corner on the pick and roll and trying to get guys open shots.”
The guy Sunday night was House who was a high-volume shooter (15 shots to get 16 points), but after starting the game 1-for-5, House heated up in the second half when the Celtics made their move. The two have fit in better as the backup backcourt than anyone could have expected. “He told me a few games back that he likes to get the ball in the open court because that’s when he’s at his best,” House said of Marbury. “If I get a rebound or somebody kicks it to me I look for him immediately. He’s going to make something happen.”
There’s still work to be done. Moore noted in the locker room that he was looking forward to some practice time this week because both he and Marbury have had to learn their roles in games. Looking forward to practice? Definitely spoken like a true Celtic.
|Celtics teach history lesson||03.29.09 at 10:37 pm ET|
On paper the biggest difference between the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder is their records. The Celtics are atop the Atlantic Division with 60 wins while the Thunder have 40 less. But the Celtics also have an advantage that the Thunder cannot attain in a single season ‘ one of the deepest histories in the NBA.
On Sunday the Thunder made the first trip of their inaugural season the TD BankNorth Garden. (Click here for the recap of the Celtics 103-84 win.) The Celtics legacy was not lost on the Thunder squad.
‘Inspirational,’ Jeff Green said of playing in the Garden. ‘That’s the point we want to get at. They won championships and that’s what we want to do. But it takes a lot of focus. You’ve got to play defense. This is our first season. It’s going to take some time. We’ve got to be patient, we’ve got to continue to work hard to get to the point where stuff is working.’
Green was drafted by the Celtics in 2007 and traded to the then-Seattle SuperSonics as part of the Ray Allen deal. He played in Boston last season but this time it was different in a Thunder uniform.
‘We have to establish who we want to be,’ he said. ‘As of right now, we’re working on that. But we want to be a defensive-minded team. We want to be able to stop people when it counts. We want to be able to make our opportunities count when we get those stops. And I think right now we’re in the process of forming our identity but we’ve just got to continue to work at it.’
Rookie Russell Westbrook also has his own ties to the Celtics. The Lawndale, California native, and former UCLA Bruin, grew up as a Los Angeles Lakers fan. Even though he rooted against the Celtics, he appreciates their tradition.
‘It’s kind of like a dream come true growing up, watching the Celtics and Lakers play,’ Westbrook said of his first game in Boston. ‘I’ve seen the old games and things like that. It’s kind of where you planned on being announced.’
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks hopes his young team will learn a thing or two from the Celtics victory.
‘One of things that we will learn is, pick up from this team, is there is a reason why they are a championship team,’ he said. ‘They compete every time they are on the court. They execute throughout the game. They don’t just do it in spurts. It’s something that we have to continue to get better at — play 48 minutes of execution and do a better job of just playing with toughness down the stretch.’
Xs and Os aside, the Thunder can take more than a loss away with them.
‘It motivates you to want to get better, to want to be at that championship level,’ Green said. ‘It’s an honor to play in a building where some of the greats, Bill Russell, who have banners hanging up, Larry Bird, Parish, all those guys. They paved the way and made it possible to do what we do today. But we’ve got to build our own type of history. We have to start somewhere. And I think the more that we work, the better and better we get and the closer we wil get to that championship level.’
|Reflections on that other trade||03.29.09 at 10:27 pm ET|
For all the ink spilled over the Kevin Garnett trade, the move that brought Ray Allen to the Celtics on draft night in 2007 has received considerably far less scrutiny. But when the Celtics acquired Allen from the Seattle Sonics (may they rest in peace) it set the stage for everything that was to follow. Not only did it remove one obstacle to acquiring Garnett (ahem, Wally Szczerbiak) it also opened KG’s eyes to the possibilities of coming to Boston.
Allen has been as good as the Celtics could have hoped for. Not only did he bounce back from an injury-plagued 2006-07 with Seattle to help the Celtics win a championship, he is in the midst of one of the most productive and efficient seasons of his career. His True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage are both the highest of his illustrative career, and his defense has remained solid. Certainly better than people expected.
Interestingly, the deal has also paid off for what is now the Oklahoma City Thunder, for while Delonte West and Szczerbiak were traded to Cleveland before the end of last season, young Jeff Green who was acquired with the Celtics first round draft pick, has begun to make a name for himself. After a rookie year that was decent, if unspectacular, Green has raised his numbers across the board in his second season.
A 27 percent 3-point shooter last year, Green has quietly become a very capable shooter from distance, raising his average to .395. That’s not a surprise to OKC interim coach Scott Brooks who challenged him to work on that aspect of his game last summer, particularly from the corners.
“Last summer, he worked,” Brooks said. “He was committed to getting better and not take time off. He’s a playmaker. He’s not just a shooter. He likes to make plays for others. He’s a guy who wants to get better.”
Green has teamed with Kevin Durant to give the Thunder one of the better young forwards combinations in the league. While the Thunder messed around playing Durant at the off-guard position last year, the two have flourished under Brooks who feels that the next step for Green is to become a better rebounder and possibly a facilitator for the offense.
That’s an interesting step for OKC to take because Green received extensive experience playing in a passing offense at Georgetown, and young guard Russell Westbrook, while exciting, is not a classic point guard. “(Green) has that ability,” Brooks said. “That can be a luxury as a four-man.”
There was, of course, one other component to the Allen deal and that was the second round pick the Celtics acquired and used on Big Baby Davis. Despite receiving 10 stitches above his eye after getting hit by Durant on a loose ball, Davis scored 19 points and had 10 rebounds Sunday night.
This was truly the proverbial trade that helped both teams and one both would do again.
|Another injury for Celts||03.29.09 at 8:39 pm ET|
Midway through the third quarter Glen Davis was hit in the head, inadvertently, by Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and taken back to the locker room. He was replaced by Mikki Moore. The Celtics are playing tonight with only three available big men.
UPDATE: Davis returned to the Celtics bench toward the end of the third quarter. The Celtics had a lineup on the floor with Bill Walker essentially playing the four spot. Davis received 10 stitches.
|Tony Allen gets closer||03.29.09 at 7:22 pm ET|
Tony Allen is going to see a hand specialist Monday and if all goes well he could be ready to play next Wednesday, April 8, when the Celtics host New Jersey. It’s possible, but not likely, that Allen could return even sooner but for now the plan is to let him get a few practices under his belt. “Our practices are like game speed anyway,” Allen said before Sunday’s game with Oklahoma City.
Allen has been encouraged by his progress, which has included him taking part in pregame shootarounds. He did concede that the thumb is still a little sore. His original prognosis was six-to-eight weeks and he is just now coming up on six weeks.
When Allen does return he will likely wear a modified cast to protect his thumb and he noted that won’t be sure how it will hold up to contact until he goes through it. With JR Giddens in the D-League, the Celtics are down to 10 healthy bodies.
|A Friday return for Kevin Garnett?||03.29.09 at 7:08 pm ET|
Kevin Garnett was not in the lineup for the second straight game, and he’s probably out for Wednesday’s game against Charlotte, as well. “It depends on how he moves in practice,” said Doc Rivers who added that it was “likely” that Garnett would return Friday when the Celtics host Atlanta.
Rivers also said they haven’t discussed how his minutes would go when he does return, but that the coach was looking for, “better movement (and) less soreness,” from Garnett. “I go by his gait,” Rivers said. “It’s not hard, really. Just watch him run.”
|Scal growing stir crazy||03.29.09 at 7:08 pm ET|
Brian Scalabrine is getting stir crazy.
The Boston Celtics forward has been out of commission with post concussion syndrome since February 19. In an attempt to speed up his recovery, he pushed himself too far. Scalabrine is still suffering from lingering headaches in the morning and evening. However his doctors discourage him from taking Tylenol because the medication could mask his symptoms.
‘I was going too hard. I was doing too many things,’ he said prior to the Celtics game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. ‘I was trying to get back and you’re limited in what you can do. You can ride a bike, you can lift weights, but I was lifting weights really hard, riding the bike really hard. We’re not going to tone that down because they (headaches) could just go away and your body could get used to it. But more so April 1 will be the time that we’ll know from the doctors.’
In the meantime, he is itching to get back on the court. In addition to supporting his teammates, attending Celtics home games is a much needed escape.
‘For me it’s about getting out of the house,’ Scalabrine, a hunting enthusiast, laughed. ‘A man can only be home so long before he needs to go hunt and gather … I’ve got to do a lot more than the dishes if I stay home. We’re just not built that way … Men are not built to stay home and do stuff at home … We’re not good like that.’
Scalabrine keeps a journal three times a day to record his progress. He will meet with doctors on April 1.