|Eastern Conference trades begin||02.13.09 at 1:44 pm ET|
ESPN the Magazine‘s Ric Bucher has reported the Miami Heat have agreed to trade Shawn Marion and former Boston Celtic Marcus Banks to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon. According to Bucher, the deal is pending league approval and would be announced Friday afternoon if it goes through.
So what could this mean for the Celtics?
This move could get the Raptors back to the playoffs, potentially as a first round match up for the Celtics. Even though they have the second worst record in the East (21-34), they are only five games out of the eighth spot. The problem was O’Neal could not figure out how to play a secondary role to Chris Bosh (as he told WEEI.com in November). Rather than clogging the post, Marion can spread the floor with his outside shot. This balances the Raptors lineup, one that certainly has the potential to make a push in the East.
The Heat (28-24) currently hold the fifth spot in the East. The addition of O’Neal gives them the big body they have been missing since Shaq left and a reliable option for Dwyane Wade to find down low. Suddently the Heat have a solid 1-2 punch.
The Celtics swept the Raptors 4-0 this season. They are 1-0 against the Heat and will face them next on March 11 in Miami.
|Celtics-Mavs Instant Analysis||02.13.09 at 1:01 am ET|
OK, let’s be honest: The Celtics had no business beating Dallas Thursday. They had played a grueling game the night before in New Orleans, and they have played the busiest, if not the most arduous, schedule in the NBA during the first half of the season. (Click here for the recap).
For two and a half quarters against the Mavs, they weren’t very good. They were bad offensively in the first quarter, and bad defensively in the second. Doc Rivers got thrown out, making it two games in two days that he has received technicals. Kevin Garnett played the whole game in foul trouble, and lost his cool with Dirk Nowitzki who had a huge night with a lot of it coming at his expense. Ray Allen was coming back from his thumb injury and didn’t look right, at least to start the game, and Paul Pierce was in one of his circa 2006-07 funks.
So, when the Mavs got up by 15 points things didn’t look real good. For some reason, and maybe it’s the playoff comebacks from a year ago, the Celtics seem to turn it on just when you think it’s not going to happen. And so Allen made a couple of shots, and then Pierce went nuts in the fourth quarter and before you knew it, Dallas was a ghost town and Mark Cuban wasn’t giving anyone in green high fives on the way off the floor like he gave Rivers after he got the gate.
With that emphatic exclamation point, the Celtics closed out the first half of the season with the best record in the league and the second-best point-differential (behind Cleveland) and the second-best efficiency-differential (also behind Cleveland).
Getting there hasn’t been as neat and orderly as one might have thought, but that’s where they are.
Six more observations from the final game before the break:
1. Rajon Rondo didn’t make the All-Star team. There are lots and lots of numbers and analytical arguments that say he got robbed. But the moment LeBron James said it wasn’t fair that his guy, Mo Williams, didn’t make it ahead of Ray Allen there was never any question about whom would be called next. Williams is a very good player having a very good season but he hasn’t made the kind of impact that Rondo has.
Playing against Jason Kidd, a big guard (remember when those were supposed to be the kiss of death for him?) with a great defensive reputation, Rondo dominated with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists for his second triple-double.
Pierce was the man of the hour, but Rondo was the player of the game.
2. Speaking of Pierce… At this point in his season, one can usually tell when Pierce is about to go off. We’ve seen it so many times where he just decides (and yes that seems to be the right word) it’s time to take over, and everything changes. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t see this one coming.
He wasn’t just struggling, he was frustrated, which is usually not a great combination for him. But once Garnett got into his skirmish with Nowitzki it seemed like Pierce realized that if he didn’t calm everybody down, then bad things were about to happen.
Once the Celtics got control in the fourth there was no way Dallas was going to stop him.
3. Leon Powe was on the floor in crunch time because of his defense.
That is not a usual occurrence but credit assistant Tom Thibodeau with calling on him to match up with Nowitzki. Powe is quicker than Kendrick Perkins, but almost as strong, and he at least made Dirk work for it down the final stretch. Plus, it kept Garnett away from both his sixth foul and possibly going Hasselhoff on the big German.
4. Gabe Pruitt played seven of the most innocuous minutes you will ever see. A long time ago I heard a great phrase for a guy who gets in the game for a minute and then doesn’t fill up anything else on the stat sheet: A trillion. As in, Kevin Ollie leads the league in recording trillions. With seven minutes and one rebound, Pruitt came very close to a seven trillion.
Pruitt can play and it seems likely that he’s going to have an NBA career of some import. But he’s still making the adjustment from starter, which he has been his entire hoops life, to reserve, and there are times when he is too passive with the time he has had.
He didn’t do anything wrong, but to make an impact off the bench he has to start making things happen.
5. The NBA is buzzing with all kinds of trade scenarios, mainly involving Amare Stoudemire, who has been rumored to be going to Miami, Chicago and even Memphis. The Celtics are not involved in anything of that size, and don’t seem likely to be involved in much of anything at the trade deadline.
Where they could be active though, is the window between the Feb. 19 deadline and the March 1 deadline for adding players who would then be eligible for the playoff roster. Presumably a few people are going to get waived if they can’t be traded.
People like Stephon Marbury–stop us if you’ve heard that one before–or maybe Joe Smith if Oklahoma City can’t move him at the deadline. Danny Ainge told the Herald the other day that he was fine with the roster and didn’t feel the need to do anything. But he didn’t rule it out either.
The one guy who is actually available, PJ Brown, said last night that he is retired, and I’m inclined to believe him. Winning a championship was always his exit strategy. You never say never but…
6. Ray Allen’s toughness is not usually spoken of in hushed tones the way people talk about Pierce or Garnett. And it’s not like he has anything to prove either, but for him to play 24 hours after spraining his thumb, and play well, says a lot about him.
As a programming note, I’ll be live-blogging the All-Star game, so please check back Sunday night.
|Powe making a comeback||02.12.09 at 12:03 am ET|
It’s not often that an NBA power forward can be compared to a Major League pitcher, but in this case, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers thought it was fitting. For two seasons, Leon Powe was a relative unknown in the league. A breakout performance in last year’s NBA Finals changed that. Since then, opponents have been paying more attention when scouting the low post player.
With that comes struggles, said Rivers, who has not been overly concerned by Powe’s inconsistency in his third NBA season. The better an opponent knows a player, the more effective they can be in slowing him down. After a cold streak during January in which he went scoreless in three consecutive games, Powe is finding his place again on the court.
“I told myself to be aggressive,” he said. “Sometimes in the past, I wasn’t that aggressive when I got it because I missed a couple shots. So then I stopped being aggressive and became a little passive. Then, the coaches told me the other day, ‘If you’re going to go out there on the floor, just go out there and play and be aggressive.’”
Powe did just that on Wednesday night against the New Orleans Hornets. With Ray Allen sidelined in the first half by a hyperextended thumb, the Celtics needed the bench to step up. Powe offered a fourth quarter surge, scoring seven of his 11 points in just under eight minutes. His hustle at the basket (5-for-6 from the line) helped the Celtics defeat the Hornets, 89-77 (RECAP HERE).
In the first six games of February, Powe is averaging 19.3 minutes, 8.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and shooting 62.1 percent from the field. It’s an improvement after averaging 14.6 minutes, 4.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 38.3 percent from the field in 15 games last month.
“I just wasn’t making my hook shots,” Powe said. “My hook’s been off a little bit from game to game. But I work on it every day and that’s one thing I had to get better. I think that’s why coach said they’ve probably been scouting me harder. But my hook’s been off.”
The Celtics, though, cannot afford for anyone’s shot to be off. In a tight race for homecourt advantage where every game counts, Powe has been watching from the bench while Glen Davis has been getting the minutes. But he doesn’t compare his playing time to Big Baby’s. His best motivation is his next opportunity.
“I’ve just been doing the same exact thing, just trying to work on my game and get my game better,” Powe said. “[I'm working on] stuff on the block, one-on-one on the post moves, and just trying to keep my game in tact while I’m sitting down. Sometimes I get the minutes, sometimes I don’t, and I’ve got to make sure my stuff is sharp.”
Just because he is scouted doesn’t mean he can be stopped.
|Nike All-Star Kicks||02.10.09 at 8:33 pm ET|
Nike is rolling out a special line of sneakers for the 2009 NBA All-Star Game, including a pair for Paul Pierce. The shoes will be red and blue to match the Eastern and Western Conference uniforms. There will also be artwork to represent the host city of Phoenix, Arizona. Check out the shoes and a list the players who will be wearing them, from NiceKicks.com.
Eastern Conference: Chris Bosh (Nike Huarache 09), Danny Granger (Nike Zoom Phenom, not pictured), LeBron James (Nike Zoom LeBron VI), Rashard Lewis (Nike Hyperdunk), Paul Pierce (Nike MAX P2 V, not pictured)
Western Conference: Kobe Bryant (Nike Zoom Kobe IV), Pau Gasol (Nike Hyperdunk), Dirk Nowitzki (Nike MAX Spot Up), Brandon Roy (Nike Zoom Phenom), Tony Parker (Nike Huarache 09), Amare Stoudemire (Nike Foamposite Lite), David West (Nike Foamposite Lite)
|Big Al tears ACL||02.09.09 at 2:54 pm ET|
Former Boston Celtic/Minnesota Timberwolves big man Al Jefferson is out indefinitely after tearing his ACL during Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Hornets, according to multiple reports. An MRI revealed the extent of the injury on Monday. Jefferson, who received a standing ovation at the Garden earlier this month, was having a breakthrough season. He was averaging 23.1 points and 11.0 rebounds through 50 games. No date for surgery has been set. Jefferson was the centerpiece for the Kevin Garnett trade in 2007.
In a statement on Timberwolves.com, head coach Kevin McHale said, “This is an unfortunate situation for Al and we wish him a quick recovery. Al has been playing at an all-star level all season and has been our go-to-guy on the court. Knowing Al, he will work hard in his rehab efforts to get back on the court as soon as possible.”
|Twelve minutes to make it count||02.08.09 at 5:40 pm ET|
Ray Allen knew what to expect days before playing the San Antonio Spurs.
“It comes down to a fourth-quarter battle,” he said on Friday. “They’re not going to come in and make small mistakes. They’re going to operate their offense. Defensively they’re going to know what they’ve got to do.”
Allen was exactly right. On Sunday, the Celtics entered the fourth quarter with a two-point lead and were outscored 31-23 by the Spurs. They lost 105-99 (RECAP HERE). It was the second time in two games the defending champs fell in the final 12 minutes. Last week they started the fourth quarter up by four on the Los Angeles Lakers before losing 110-109 in overtime.
“When you play the top teams in the league it comes down to the little things,” said Paul Pierce. “And I just thought last couple of games at home it was one or two-point games. It’s the little things — defensive transition late in the game, covering for one another, one possession. It’s like the playoffs, one play can kill you. Every possession counts and we got to understand that when we play against the top tier teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers.”
The Celtics have hit cold streaks in their last two losses. Up six with eight minutes to go against the Lakers, the C’s failed to build on their lead. The Lakers went on an 11-5 run during a five minute stretch to tie it up, eventually winning in OT.
On Sunday the Celtics allowed an 11-4 Spurs run in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. Later in the game they watched a 93-90 lead slip away to a 101-93 deficit.
“You’ve got to get stops, everybody’s got to be on the same page,” said Kendrick Perkins. “Besides getting stops, on the offense you’ve got to execute, you’ve got to throw the extra pass when guys are open. Usually a team like San Antonio, you can’t beat them with the dribble. You’ve got to beat them with the pass. You can’t turn the ball over at all against San Antonio. So I just thought in stretches we played together and stretches we didn’t move the ball and that was the key.”
The Celtics have allowed a total of 215 points in their last two games at home. It is an overwhelming difference for a team who has held their opponents to just 92 points per game over the season. Nonetheless, head coach Doc Rivers was able to see a silver lining in the losses.
“Well it tells me that we’re really good, because we’ve not played with our A-game, as Tiger Woods would say, I guess,” he said. “And we still had a chance to win both. Both games we had the lead and gave it up. Gave up points, which is not like us. In a sick way I guess I’d rather be down and not be able to score than up and give up baskets, because we’re a defensive team. But we clearly have to improve. Our bench has to be more consistent. They gave up an 8-1 run to start the fourth. You know, that hurts you. It’s tough to recover from that.”
The Celtics will have two days to regroup before facing the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday. They are aware of their mistakes; now it is a matter of fixing them.
“In general, you can’t turn the ball over,” Allen said. “You have to execute on both ends down the floor in the fourth quarter.”
The Celtics know what to expect down the stretch. Lucky for them, there’s another 12 minutes to prove they can take care of business.
|Let’s do it again this spring||02.08.09 at 5:34 pm ET|
There were about 20 seconds left in the game when Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan emerged from their respective huddles and began eying each other down. Garnett, slightly frantic as always, was talking to himself about something. More than likely he was berating himself about his 20-footer that rimmed out and gave the Spurs an opening. Duncan, slightly bemused as always, said nothing.
They came together near the elbow. Fourteen feet or so of NBA Hall of Fame basketball talent ready for one more skirmish. The superficial approaches couldn’t be more different–kinetic vs. cerebral, Rated R for language vs. a silent movie–but deep down Garnett and Duncan and the two teams they represent are like fraternal twins.
As it turned out, it never got that far. Manu Ginobli made a huge play to intercept Ray Allen’s inbound pass and Paul Pierce got called for a clean path foul, which effectively meant this one was all over.
(Click here for a recap).
It’s a shame, really, that this one didn’t come down to a final possession and a final shot, but as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “It’s a 48-minute game, and in the NBA things can change very quickly.”
The Spurs defy change. Oh they have rolled with personnel moves over the year–neatly transitioning from the David Robinson era to the Duncan years, incorporating Tony Parker and Ginobli into star roles and moving from Big Shot Bob Horry to Unstoppable Matt Bonner. At least yesterday anyway when Bonner torched the Celtics for 23 points.
But for the 10 years since Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls, the Spurs have been the gold standard in the NBA. They are accused so often of being boring that it’s become their preferred trademark. They like being called boring. It saves them from answering questions about themselves.
“They have great players and they have great character,” is how Doc Rivers put it. “Everything is about winning.” If that’s boring then sign the Celtics up for boring. What the Celtics have been able to accomplish in one and a half years might be the envy of the league right now, but what the Spurs have done for a decade is what every franchise aspires to become.
The parallels between the two teams are striking both on the court and off. There is rarely, if ever, any controversy coming from anonymous corners of their respective locker rooms and the matchups are compelling because they are similar in many ways, but also different.
“Kevin is a very different player than Tim Duncan,” Popovich said. “Manu and Ray Allen are different players. Paul Pierce and Tony Parker, they’re just different.” And that’s what makes it all so interesting.
Way back in November, I called for a Celtics-Spurs Finals and while it might not be great theater, it would be great basketball. The difference between a Celtics-Spurs Final, as opposed to say Celtics-Lakers, would be roughly the same as the difference between the Red Sox playing the Angels, or the Yankees. On the one had you’d get terrific baseball. On the other, you’d get a psychological melodrama in seven acts.
What it would lack in terms of age-old blood feud would be more than made up for within the matchups.
Rajon Rondo vs. Tony Parker
Outside of having a celebrity wife, Rondo and Parker are eerily similar. Both are fast. Both are great decision-makers. Neither is known as a great shooter.
“They both have a great proclivity for finishing near the rim,” Popovich said. “They both work on their jump shots all the time. If either shot 40 percent from three, they’d be impossible to guard. Hopefully our guy learns how to do it before the other guy does.”
Early in the Spurs run, Parker’s inability to make jump shots consistently forced Pop to use players like Speedy Claxton to finish off games. It’s the same sort of thing with Rondo where everyone fears that at the end of a game he will become a liability because of his shot.
But both players have learned to be effective without a reliable jumper. Against the Spurs Sunday, Rondo got the better of things with 16 assists and only one turnover, as compared to Parker going for seven assists. Neither shot the lights out–Parker went 3-for-12, Rondo went 3-for-11.
Both are the catalysts for their teams. The difference might be on the bench where the Spurs have settled on rookie George Hill as the primary backup, while the Celtics are still weighing their options. Oh, and Hill? The Celtics really liked him coming out of the draft and Rivers made note that if he were still available the C’s might have gone that way. Even their scouting is similar.
Ray Allen vs. Manu Ginobli vs. Paul Pierce vs. et al
There is simply no one in the NBA like Manu. A lefthanded slasher with a good shot, Ginobli needs just a sliver of room to get it off. He is quick and agile where Pierce is strong, feisty where Allen is smooth and controlled.
Although he comes off the bench, Ginobli is the Spurs second-best player behind Duncan. He is the one they go to at the end of games when they need a score, much like Pierce is the Celtics best one-on-one option and Allen is the designated end-of-game shooter.
Where the Spurs have flexibility, and Popovich is great at this, is mixing and matching Ginobli with players like Roger Mason, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen. Depending on who is with him on the floor, Ginobli can play off either Pierce or Allen. While matched up with Pierce, Ginobli was able to frustrate him defensively, but he had a better time of it offensively against Allen.
The bench is the biggest edge the Spurs have against the Celtics.
Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett
Kobe and LeBron may be more visceral, but for the last 10 years there has been no more intriguing philosophical matchup than Garnett and Duncan. To most, this is a no-brainer. Duncan has won more championships and more MVP awards, and his back-to-the-basket game is more reliable than KG’s jumpers and fadeaways.
Of course, Duncan has had far better teammates in his career than Garnett had before he came to Boston. Depending on whichever kind of analytical study you prefer, Garnett routinely comes out slightly ahead of Duncan. Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus recently concluded that over the last decade KG came out ahead of Duncan based on his number, WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player). David Berri, author of the Wages of Wins, raised his first eyebrow when he concluded the same thing with his numbers.
It’s close enough that you can make an entirely credible argument for Duncan based on his superior career achievements, but the truly interesting thing is that the two players are head and shoulders above their peers.
On Sunday, Garnett rarely matched up with Duncan. The Celtics preferred to have him on Matt Bonner, who is more of a perimeter player, and Bonner routinely burned the Celtics, and Garnett, on high pick and rolls when Garnett rolled to help on Parker. It’s the same dynamic when the Celtics play the Lakers and Garnett takes Lamar Odom instead of Pau Gasol and Kendrick Perkins takes the low-post player. (That was something Doc Rivers fretted about before the Laker game when asked about Andrew Bynum’s absence. Yes, it removes a tough low-post defender, but it also spreads the floor).
And, of course, Duncan and Garnett couldn’t be more different in terms of temperament. Garnett, who sometimes seems to be living on the edge of sanity while he is on the court and Duncan, who rarely betrays anything. Yet Duncan’s legacy has suffered from the lack of a true kindred spirit in the Finals. He has not a had Magic to his Larry or a Wilt to his Russell.
That is what he would get with Garnett in a Finals matchup. For one 20-second stretch Sunday it was denied again. It would be a shame if it didn’t happen in June.