|Celtics-Raptors: Statement Game||01.11.09 at 2:26 pm ET|
Two weeks ago, Doc Rivers wouldn’t have rushed the starters back on to the floor after a 20-point lead became fourteen following a couple of quick baskets. As early as last week, Rivers wouldn’t have left Kevin Garnett out on the floor for 39 minutes. But a lot has changed in the last 15 days or so for the Celtics, and so Doc took a page from the KC Jones circa 1987 playbook and employed the last option he had left: Ride the starters until they dropped.
The Celtics had to win Sunday’s game against the Raptors. (Go here for a recap). It didn’t matter that they’ll play again tomorrow night or that the Celtics were on their fourth game in the last seven days. When they got up by 20 points after three quarters, a win became even more imperative. There was no way they could drag themselves back to Boston after getting hammered by the Cavs on Friday and then blowing a 20-point fourth quarter lead.
So Doc called on Garnett, Ray Allen and Brian Scalabrine a mere two and a half minutes into the fourth quarter. He brought Rajon Rondo back a few minutes later and he left Paul Pierce in for the entire second half. Doc watched the final quarter with his arms folded like a man being fitted for a straitjacket. Really, what else could he do?
Kendrick Perkins didn’t play because his achy shoulder acted up again after getting whacked by Ben Wallace. Brian Scalabrine fouled out after 25 energetic minutes. Big Baby Davis was active, but set an unofficial record for most misses within two feet, and Doc must have been unhappy with Leon Powe’s defense, because he barely had time to break a sweat.
Doc has been reluctant to use the KC option, and for good reason. The Celtics best players aren’t pups anymore, and after Sunday’s game they have now played 147 times in 14 and a half months. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so we had this:
Rajon Rondo: 38 minutes
Ray Allen: 43 minutes
Paul PIerce: 41 minutes
Kevin Garnett: 39 minutes.
The Celtics had to make a stand Sunday. For 36 minutes they were aggressive and nasty defensively and, if not entirely pretty, then at least efficient on offense. If the final 12, just surviving was enough.
A few more observations on a snowy Sunday afternoon:
1. People have been shoveling dirt on the career of Walter Ray Allen for so long, you think they would have learned by now. Please, the next time he goes in a shooting slump could everyone just take a deep breath and exhale?
Allen bailed the Celtics out all afternoon, and it wasn’t like he was getting wide open looks either. The other day in mentioning that Allen had passed the 900-game mark for his career, I noted that his improved field goal shooting was directly related to a huge jump in his two-point field goal percentage. In fact, Allen is down from 39 percent last year to 36 percent in 3-point shooting.
Credit him with making an adjustment in his game. He has worked the pump-fake, two dribble pull-up jumper into his arsenal with obvious benefits. But a 36-percent 3-point shooter is still a darned good shooter. Allen went 8-for-10 from distance and made two huge three’s in the fourth quarter. Whatever ails the Celtics, Allen’s occasional slumps are about ninth on the list.
2. Kevin Garnett was 3-for-16 from the floor and he was awesome. Garnett stayed outside for most of the game, drawing Chris Bosh out with him and leaving the middle wide open for Rajon Rondo to drive at will. Consequentially he took a ton of 20 footers.
That he only made one shot from outside the paint is far less important than the defense he played on Bosh, who has been killing people lately. Bosh was 5-for-14 and so obviously flustered by KG that he spent most of the Raptors hell-bent fourth quarter run on the bench. In 39 minutes, Garnett made one noticeable mistake when he bodied up on Bosh and got beat, but that was about it.
KG’s crazy-man persona sometimes obscures the fact that he is an excellent defensive technician. Witness the way he overplayed Bosh and gave him the baseline with his right hand. Bosh is about as comfortable going to his right as Big Baby is around the basket. It was a phenomenal display by Garnett.
3. Rajon Rondo has to shoot. Has to. Everyone wants him to make open jump shots, but that’s not as important as simply finishing in the lane once in a while. It wasn’t until he took the hand-off from Pierce and went baseline and dunked at the end of the second quarter when it finally dawned on Rondo that he could score. Fourteen points are great, 12 shots are even better.
4. If Big Baby Davis could have made a layup, the Celtics would have won by 20, but it’s hard to fault the guy after he gave them 30 minutes, 11 rebounds and tons of energy. OK, it’s not that hard.
Like Kendrick Perkins, Baby has one major mechanical flaw in his game. In Perk’s case it’s his insistence on putting the ball down on the floor. For Baby it’s when he worries more about drawing contact than making the basket. Because he is a physically, let’s just say, odd player, Baby rarely gets the benefit of the doubt from the officials when he goes to the basket. If he concentrated more on the finish than the contact, the calls would go his way.
Still, an inspired effort by Davis defensively.
5. Loved the decision by Doc to start Brian Scalabrine. As soon as Andrea Bargnani saw Scal opposite him instead of Perkins he wanted to play a post-up game. Thing is, Bargnani has been playing some of the best ball of his career lately by hanging out at the 3-point line. It took him until late in the game to get back to that.
Scal did more than mess with Bargnani. He also made his shots, spaced the floor, played solid defense and got in the face of Raptor tough guy Joey Graham.
There is a thought that the Celtics are frontrunners, classic bullies who talk the talk when they’re up 20, but fall apart when things get tough. Charlotte rookie DJ Augustin said as much last week. Graham, who looks like he is chiseled out of marble, tried to punk Scal, who looks like he is chiseled out of fluff, and Scal not only didn’t back down, he got right back in his face. It’s time the Celtics got ornery again.
6. Graham is what the Celtics hope Tony Allen can be.
7. Don’t sleep on the Raptors in the second half. Bosh is a legit star and if Jose Calderon can get himself healthy that’s a great 1-2 punch. Now, do they make a move with Jermaine O’Neal, and, are they any takers?
8. Paul Pierce’s jumper that made it 90-83 was the biggest shot of the game and KG was the guy who set it up with a Zaza Pachulia-esque screen.
9. Been meaning to get to this. The problem with the Stephon Marbury thing is that it doesn’t look like the Knicks are in any hurry to do him any favors, and really, why should they?
The reason there’s so much focus on Marbury is that the Celtics are really hamstrung from a roster standpoint. They don’t have any big expiring contracts, and while their young guys might have some value they don’t make enough to have any trade value.
If the Celtics are going to make a move it’s looking more and more like it will have to be a street free agent, which is why no one has given up on the idea of wooing PJ Brown back to the fold. Joe Smith would of course make a lot of sense, but OKC GM Sam Presti is no dummy and he’s not going to cut him just so a contender can be happy.
10. So, free BIll Walker?
|What If: Tony Allen||01.10.09 at 1:56 pm ET|
On January 10, 2007 Tony Allen blew out his left knee in a post-whistle slam dunk. Two years later, he still isn’t the same player.
At the time of his injury Allen was one of the few bright spots on a dismal Boston Celtics team. He had stepped up in the absence of Paul Pierce and was doing his best to lead his team with explosiveness and defensive hustle. He was also averaging a career high 11.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and shooting 51.4% from the field. In an instant, it was gone.
Reminders of Allen’s injury have come to mind with the recent struggles of the Celtics bench. He has missed the last three games with an ankle strain and has been inconsistent when healthy. Allen, who turns 27 on Sunday, has learned to accept his role as a defensive specialist. At times there are flashes of the old TA, slashing to the basket, getting up for a dunk, or attacking the hoop for a rebound. But those highlights have been few and far between.
On the date of his injury it’s easy to wonder, what if Tony Allen never went up for that dunk?
If Allen had continued his breakout season, he most likely would have been packaged in the Ray Allen trade instead of Delonte West. If not, the Minnesota Timberwolves probably would have pushed for him in the Kevin Garnett deal. Allen was playing too well to stay on a team desperate to make moves.
There would be no need to wonder what if. Chances are Tony Allen wouldn’t be on the Celtics.
|900 Games for Ray Allen||01.09.09 at 9:57 am ET|
If there’s one thing the Celtics never have to worry about it’s the availability of Walter Ray Allen. It’s almost taken as an article of faith that when the ball goes up, Allen will be there. For the first five years of his career Allen never missed a game, and since coming to the Celtics the 33-year-old Allen has been logging 36 minutes consistently every night, which is remarkable when one considers that the primary objection to the Allen trade was his health.
Allen played in the 900th game of his career the other night against Houston and it’s a testament to his career that such an accomplishment happened with very little fanfare. (Kobe Bryant is the only other player from the 1996 draft class to appear in 900 games to date, and Allen ranks 10th on the list of active players for games played).
Allen’s career is a study in consistency, which is easily explained by his tremendous conditioning and his legendary pre-game shooting routine. There is no wasted motion with Ray. He is the smoothest robotic player in the game, and that’s meant as a compliment of the highest order.
A lot has been made about Allen’s revitalized play this year. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field (up from 44 percent last year) and just seems to be more integrated offensively with the Celtics system. There is an interesting quirk in Allen’s numbers, however.
While it’s true that his FG shooting is up, his 3-point shooting has actually gone down (from 39 to 36 percent), which brings up something Kevin Pelton from Basketball Prospectus mentioned to me about a month ago. That is that Allen’s shooting on 2-point shots has gone up dramatically (from .486 in 2007-08 to .579 this season). Pelton feels that sort of trend is usually not sustainable, so it’s something to keep an eye on as 2009 develops.
Still, by any measure Allen is enjoying a very successful year. He has the highest adjusted +/- rating on the team, according to 82games.com (which in layman’s terms means the Celtics are more effective with him on the court than off it than any other player) and the highest Offensive Rating, as well. Allen also remains the best starter option when Doc Rivers subs in the second unit, which is both a blessing and a curse, since Doc would love to manage Allen’s minutes in the second half of the season.
Beyond the bench’s issues, of which there are many, keeping Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett healthy and somewhat rested remains Rivers’ primary challenge for the rest of the season.
|Cs to be challenged by one of their own||01.08.09 at 11:42 pm ET|
Before Rajon Rondo was taking hard spills on the court, it was Delonte West who was sacrificing his body for the Boston Celtics. Two years after leaving the Cs as part of the Ray Allen deal, West has brought his hustle to the Cleveland where it has sparked LeBron James and the streaking Cavaliers. Those who played with West early in his career are not surprised by his success.
“There’s no doubt that I thought before Delonte even went there, I thought Delonte was a perfect fit for LeBron James,” said Brian Scalabrine, a teammate of two seasons. “When he got traded to Seattle and he wasn’t playing for whatever, it’s just all about the place you go and where you fit in.”
West has fit in perfectly since being dealt from the Seattle SuperSonics last season. The addition of West, along with Mo Williams, is an upgrade to the Cavaliers backcourt that once relied heavily on James’ long-range game. Rather than compensating for the inconsistencies of Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic, James can play closer to the basket without worrying about their guards.
West’s gritty defense is also a factor in the Cavs’ NBA-low 89.1 points allowed per game (down from 96.7 last season). His intensity will be challenging for the Celtics to contain when they take on the Cavaliers on Friday night.
“D-West has helped them a lot,” said Kendrick Perkins, who played three seasons with West. “He puts another shooter out there on the court for LeBron to pass it to when he drives and penetrates. D-West can make plays. He’s a defender, he’s very feisty, and D-West helps their team a lot. We’ve just got to make sure we go out there and try to keep him under control, keep him off the offensive rebounding, try to get in his aspects a little bit, and just go from there.”
After losing for three years in Boston and inexplicably riding the bench in Seattle, West inked a multi-year deal last summer to stay in Cleveland. Even though his tough play could burn the Celtics this season, his former teammates know he’s in the right place.
Said Scalabrine, “I told him when he came here (with the Cavs), ‘Listen, you’re in a place where you can be, as long as LeBron is there, you can be there for the rest of your career and you can thrive in that situation.’”
|LeBron isn’t Celtics biggest competition||01.08.09 at 9:54 pm ET|
Ask the Boston Celtics who their toughest competition in the East is and they won’t say LeBron James. They’ll tell you it is themselves who stand in their way of another title, that only they can control the fate of their season. On Friday night when the suddenly skidding Celtics take the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers, their biggest challenge is not stopping King James. It is simply not getting beat by their own mistakes.
“I really don’t care who we play next,” Ray Allen said. “It’s just, I look at it personally as an opportunity to get back on track to do what I need to do to help this team. Every little thing that I look at that has my input or my stamp individually for this team, I’ve got to find out ways to do it better, to make it better out there.”
After winning 19-straight, the Celtics are on a three-game losing streak and have dropped six of their last eight contests. At this point they aren’t seeing Friday as a chance to beat an Eastern Conference rival but rather an opportunity to get back on track.
“The thing about our team is that we don’t ever look ahead. Now that we’ve got Cleveland, we’re concentrating on Cleveland. But we never once had just talked about beating Cleveland,” Kendrick Perkins said. “We need a win. We’re desperate for one right now.”
Even though winning on the road has been a struggle for the Celtics this season, spoiling the Cavs perfect home record is a test they are up for.
“We have an opportunity to go in down there playing one of the best teams in the league,” Leon Powe said. “They’re real hot at home too. I think they’ve won about 18 straight in their house. Man, it’s going to be a challenge. But we’ve got a wonderful opportunity to go in there and play well and hopefully pull out a win to give us a big confidence boost.”
A win in Cleveland would do more than get the Celtics back on the winning side. The Eastern Conference standings are so close this season that an early January victory could pay dividends in the playoffs.
“Really, we’re just trying to win all the games we possibly can and get homecourt advantage,” Perkins said. “That just would make it a little bit easier for us in the playoffs. But if we don’t get homecourt advantage I’m not saying we won’t win he championship, but it’d really be a whole lot harder.”
With an electrified crowd behind them, the Cavs will also look to avenge last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals elimination. The biggest key is matching their intensity.
“It has the same sense of urgency,” Powe said. “We’ve got to go out there, play hard, it’s going to be just like a Game 7. They’re going to come at us and try to hit us in the mouth first. We’ve got to take it and then respond back. We haven’t been doing that as of lately but I think we should be alright going out there. Our captains and everybody on this team know what we’ve got to do to win the game.”
Playing hard is one thing, but the Celtics don’t have a panicked attitude toward the game. Allen added the team has not reached the point of frustration yet, and Sam Cassell, the only member of the Celtics who has won back-to-back titles, explained there’s no need to get flustered this early in January.
“When you’re repeating you’ve got all that stuff with big matchups, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “You want to win every game possible but it doesn’t make you or break you. A team that got its rhythm in April going into the playoffs is a team that can win a championship … Why should we [worry]? We aren’t breaking .500. When I won a championship we were 10 games over .500, that’s all.”
The Celtics won 19 straight by focusing on one day at a time. After Friday night they have 44 more regular season games left and each one is just as important as a match up against LeBron James. It doesn’t matter who’s on the opposite side of the court. The Celtics have to take care of the five guys in green first.
“It wouldn’t have made a difference if it were Cleveland or Sacramento,” Allen said. “It wouldn’t have made a difference. We lost three in a row and that’s the mentality we have to have going into the game.”
|Celtics Recall Giddens, Walker from D-League||01.08.09 at 2:31 pm ET|
In the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Boston Celtics have recalled rookies J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker from the NBDL’s Utah Flash. Giddens (17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds) and Walker (18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds) have been standouts on the Flash given the playing time to develop. Both players welcomed the assignment and have been preparing for their recall since October.
Some players would rather forgo playing time to stay in the NBA, but you seemed to embrace the D-League. What was your reaction when you found out you were assigned to the Utah Flash?
JG: Well I was excited because I had an idea that I was going down there. My brother and some of my closest people talked about it, how it was going to be a good opportunity to go down there and get into game shape and just gain confidence and become better every day. So whenever I do get the chance from the Celtics to play, then I’ll be in the best shape possible and I’ll be able to take a good swing at it.
BW: I was excited to have a chance to be able to play again, so I was excited about going. J.R. was already down there and I just welcomed it.
It took no time for you to become the leading scorers on the Flash. What kind of improvements have you seen in your game already?
JG: I’m just trying to be efficient and attacking the basket and finding teammates who are open and using my size to rebound and doing just more of whatever I can, whether it’s enhance or defense or make somebody better by running the court. Just doing whatever I can to help the team win.
BW: Just trying to cut down on my turnovers right now, pass out of double teams, so that’s the only difference. Just learning how to play in a 48 minute game, learning how to play hard but still pace yourself where you have enough to finish the game out.
When you get called back up to the Celtics, which versions of Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens can we expect?
JG: I know I’ll be a lot more confident and feel more fluid with my movements on the court and I’ll feel like I’m in better shape. Being an athlete I feel like being in games in crucial because you use a certain amount of energy when you’re playing. When you’re not in game shape you’re not as quick and you’re not as on point as you normally would be.
BW: Probably a more confident Bill Walker. Just having some game experience on this level and knowing what I can do and what I can’t do, so I’m learning the ropes.
This is the first time Giddens and Walker have been recalled. The Boston Celtics roster stands at the league-maximum 15.
|All-Star Voting Update||01.08.09 at 12:53 pm ET|
With less than two weeks left to vote, Rajon Rondo still struggles to crack the top 10 among all guards. Dwight Howard leads all players while LeBron James is catching up. Paper ballots close on January 11 and fans may vote online at www.nba.com through January 19. The 2009 NBA All-Stars will be announced on January 22.
2009 NBA ALL-STAR BALLOTING EASTERN CONFERENCE
Forwards: LeBron James (Clev) 1,940,162; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 1,375,814; Yi Jianlian (NJ) 1,216,348; Chris Bosh (Tor) 751,927; Paul Pierce (Bos) 486,656; Hedo Turkoglu (Orl) 366,174; Shawn Marion (Mia) 264,888; Danny Granger (Ind) 199,200; Josh Smith (Atl) 163,145; Michael Beasley (Mia) 157,286; Tayshaun Prince (Det) 144,337.
Guards: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 1,818,717; Allen Iverson (Det) 1,278,600; Vince Carter (NJ) 856,498; Ray Allen (Bos) 552,094; Devin Harris (NJ) 474,637; Gilbert Arenas (Wash) 403,577; Luke Ridnour (Mil) 379,806; Derrick Rose (Chi) 293,483; Jose Calderon (Tor) 274,509; Joe Johnson (Atl) 236,993; Jameer Nelson (Orl) 227,226.
Centers: Dwight Howard (Orl) 2,102,368; Samuel Dalembert (Phi) 257,527; Rasheed Wallace (Det) 255,950; Jermaine O’Neal (Tor) 224,583; Andrew Bogut (Mil) 198,811; Al Horford (Atl) 191,105; Brendan Haywood (Wash) 178,868; Ben Wallace (Clev) 159,132; Emeka Okafor (Char) 133,501; Zyrdrunas Ilgauskas (Cle) 122,607; Kendrick Perkins (Bos) 85,855.