|Irish Coffee: Celtics, with or without Rondo||05.01.12 at 12:37 pm ET|
Gone for Game 2 are Rajon Rondo‘s averages of 11.9 points, 11.7 assists and 4.8 boards in 36.9 minutes a night, so who can the Celtics count on to replace his scoring, distribution and rebounding?
In the wake of Rondo’s suspension for Tuesday night’s game in Atlanta (7:30 p.m., NBA TV), perhaps a look at how other Celtics performed in the point guard’s 13-game absence this season will answer that question.
For starters, we’ll examine how the void left by Rondo affects the other … um … well … the starters.
|How the Celtics played without Rajon Rondo||04.30.12 at 5:16 pm ET|
ATLANTA — On Jan. 18, Rajon Rondo fell hard on his wrist in a game against the Raptors and missed the next eight games. His injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Celtics, who were trying to dig themselves out of a 4-8 hole to start the season. Those fears appeared justified two days later when they struggled to score 71 points in a dreadful home loss to the Suns.
But over the next seven games, the Celtics found a winning formula. While Avery Bradley shifted into Rondo’s spot at the point, they actually ran their offense through Paul Pierce as a point forward.
Bradley would often bring the ball up the floor, hand off to Pierce and disappear to the corner, allowing Pierce and Brandon Bass to run pick and pops to their hearts content. Even with Rondo, the Celtics get most of their offense from the perimeter, and without their slashing guard they moved further out and attempted more shots from outside the paint.
The C’s won six of their next seven — the lone loss came in a fourth quarter collapse against the Cavs (the Kyrie Irving game) — and their offense actually functioned better than their average in four of those games in terms of points per possession. Pierce scored almost 23 points per game in those seven contests and handed out 54 assists. Bradley had a handful of standout games in that stretch, but mainly he kept his turnovers low and tried to minimize mistakes.
It was on defense where Bradley made his mark, decimating Orlando’s Jameer Nelson in one memorable outing and establishing himself as the best on-the-ball defensive guard in the league. Most importantly, he proved that he could handle the increased responsibility and playing time.
“We had a few games that Rondo wasn’t able to play that prepared me for situations like this,” Bradley said at the team’s practice at Georgia Tech on Monday.
Rondo was suspended for Tuesday’s Game 2 by the NBA after he bumped referee Marc Davis late in Game 1. That January stretch stands out as one of the few highlights of the first half of the Celtics’ season and offers a glimpse at what life without Rondo will entail for Game 2 of their playoff series with the Hawks. Read the rest of this entry »
|Irish Coffee: All you need to know about Marc Davis||at 1:47 pm ET|
Don’t believe everything Tim Donaghy says, but at least the disgraced NBA referee is right about one thing.
“It’s not the first time Marc Davis has had problems with some of the Boston players,” said Donaghy, a one-time official who pled guilty in 2007 for his role in a gambling scandal, in his appearance on Dennis & Callahan. “I’m sure, again, that there’s a history there. This isn’t the first time something like this has come up with him.”
Davis, of course, is the official who, in a span of about 90 seconds from 2:14 to 0:41, handed the ball to the Hawks on a ball that clearly went off Atlanta‘s Josh Smith, whistled Brandon Bass for a foul on an apparent jump ball and subsequently called Rajon Rondo for a pair of technical fouls — the first for arguing on Bass’ behalf and the second for the infamous chest bump stumble.
“Davis is one of those guys that has rabbit ears for certain people,” said Donaghy. “He’s a referee that thinks people pay for their tickets to come and see him. He’s one of those guys that has a little bit of an ego. So, I’m sure it’s not the first time that he’s had a problem with Rondo, or something else happened in that game for Rondo to go after him and bump him over that call right there during that point of the game. Something else triggered that.”
|How did the Celtics lose Game 1? We’ll count the ways||at 1:35 am ET|
ATLANTA — Well before Rajon Rondo lost his cool, the damage had been done to the Celtics in their playoff opener against the Hawks. It started in the first quarter when Atlanta raced to a 20-6 lead before six minutes had gone off the clock. It continued in the next 42 minutes, when they couldn’t make shots and every offensive possession carried with it an eerie reminder of the first half of the season.
“I don’t know if we kind of eased into the game,” Paul Pierce said. “It’s hard to tell. We establish ourselves early defensively. We definitely didn’t do that. They got every loose ball. They got every 3-point shot. They got everything they wanted in the first, and then it was like in a boxing match. You sit there and you’ve got your guard up, then you take your guard down, you take a punch and you’re like, Ok, we’re in a fight. We’ve got to realize we’re in a fight from the jump.”
The Celtics realized that too late, and after an 83-74 loss they now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to make up ground without homecourt advantage to sustain them. Over the final three quarters, the Celtics actually outscored Atlanta, 56-52, playing the kind of grimy, sludge-ball everyone expected in this series.
“This is a long series,” Pierce said. “You have to win four games and we just have to learn from our mistakes. Learn from the first quarter, learn from what we did better in the second and third quarters, and we’ve got to learn to keep our composure.”
It will be much harder if Rondo is suspended (click here for more on that story), but the blueprint is there. Assuming they can shoot better than 39 percent, there’s no reason they can’t get back into the series. Still, there’s a lot to work on between now and Tuesday’s Game 2.
Among the areas that need improvement:
|Fast Break: C’s lose their cool in Hot-Lanta||04.29.12 at 9:40 pm ET|
The Celtics fell 83-74 on Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round matchup with the Hawks. Rajon Rondo led the way for Boston with 20 points, but was ejected after arguing a call and bumping into official Marc Davis. Kevin Garnett started poorly, but finished with 20 points (8-19 FG) and 12 rebounds.
For the Hawks, Josh Smith scored 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Hit in the mouth: The Hawks shot 12-of-22 (54.5%) from the field in the first quarter. Atlanta got to the foul line, created easy transition buckets, and sustained the fervent pace that clearly gives it an advantage over the older Celtics.
The excitement and momentum of playing in front of their home crowd certainly didn’t hurt the strong start, and the Celtics rust from resting their starters didn’t help. Either way, Boston couldn’t stop the bleeding early. The C’s never got to the line and missed all seven of their 3-point attempts in the first half (they finished 0-of-11 from beyond the arc).
Tickets sold out: Garnett’s poor first half played a massive role in the team falling behind by double digits. The Big Ticket was aggressive early, which normally translates to good things for the Celtics. Sunday night, however, KG shot 1-of-9 from the field in the first half. Call it a product of rust, but it would have been wise for Garnett to position himself deeper in the paint when his jumper wasn’t falling.
Meanwhile, Garnett’s adversary, Smith, scored 15 points (7-12 FG) and grabbed 11 boards in the first half alone.
Ray of Light: Game 1 went sour rather quickly for the C’s. While that’s certainly concerning, a bigger issue is the health of Ray Allen. Last Wednesday, Doc Rivers pronounced Allen probable to play in Sunday night’s series opener, by Saturday the prognosis changed to doubtful, and when it came time to tip off the playoff run Allen was in a suit and tie.
The Celtics could very well survive this series against Atlanta and maybe beat the Derrick Rose-less Bulls without Allen, but Allen makes both of those feats easier.
Losing your cool: The Celtics undoubtedly will be holding their collective breath while awaiting the league’s ruling on Rondo bumping the official. There is a chance Boston could be without him for Game 2.
|Kevin Garnett and Josh Smith: The non-center matchup||04.27.12 at 3:20 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Kevin Garnett hates being a center. He’s said it since he moved to the position after the All-Star break and he said it again on Thursday night after the Celtics beat the Bucks.
“I hate the five spot,” Garnett said, as if on autopilot. “You put me anywhere on the floor I’m going to play it to the best of my ability. It’s not a preference of mine but it’s something my team needs so I don’t think about it.”
In some ways it’s semantics. Garnett plays the four on occasion when Doc Rivers goes to his bench and he’s guarded both fours and fives since the switch. He’s taking more shots on the offensive end, increasing that number in the second half of the season, but he’s still firing away most from the perimeter with the occasional post-up thrown in for good measure. (Garnett’s passing in the low post remains an underrated strength).
Josh Smith isn’t really a center, either. He played most of his minutes at the four alongside Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, who are both injured. Like Garnett, he took a more active role in his team’s offense this season, upping his shot attempts by three per game and his usage rate up to 28 percent. Smith is a monster scoring inside and in transition and a streaky, at best, jump shooter, prone to ill-advised long jumpers and 3-pointers.
“He’s going to take the jumper and when he makes it, it’s tough,” Doc Rivers said. “When Josh is shooting the ball [well] throughout the series, it’s going to be a hard series. There’s no doubt about that. He’s going to shoot the ball. We’ve got to respect that shot. What makes him unique is he’s a four or a five that can take you off the dribble.”
There are two ways the Celtics could play Smith. They could use Brandon Bass, a rugged power forward with strength and athleticism. Or they could use Garnett, who is their best defender and a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
Matchups are going to a be a constant storyline in this series. Ordinarily, a team without a true center is a good thing for the Celtics, but they are wary of the Hawks’ big-small lineup, which features over-sized guards like Joe Johnson and Tracy McGrady, wing shooters like Marvin Williams at forward and Smith at center.
“You’ll see [Garnett] on everybody,” Rivers said. “They move Josh to the five and they go with Marvin at the four and Tracy at the three and Joe at the two. That’s a tough lineup. They do it and they do it against us more than any other team for a reason, obviously. It creates matchups and we’re going to have to deal with that.”
The Celtics will try to counter with their regular lineup and force the Hawks into matchups that are favorable to their strengths. According to Rivers, it worked half the time in their two earlier meetings. (For all intents and purposes, the most recent game was a wash tactically due to so many missing players).
Offensively, the Celtics need Garnett to provide some punch. His minutes will still be carefully monitored, but they’re expecting 15-20 shots per night.
“Kevin’s a big key in every series,” Rivers said. “He has to be aggressive. In the series that we’ve won over the years he’s been very aggressive and a go-to scorer. He has to be that for us in this series.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Garnett will live on the block.
“They’re a great trapping team,” Rivers said. “You’ve got to be careful. If you think you’re just going to post him and win, I think you’d be kidding yourself. If you look at their stats, against post teams they’ve done extremely well. Teams focus on that so much they lose the game. So, we can’t do overdo that. That’s an area that we want to attack through our regular motion. If you get caught trying to do that every time they’ll beat you.”
One of the Celtics’ main concerns is transition defense, and especially 3-pointers on the break. The Hawks had eight players who took more than 100 3-pointers this season and they shot 37 percent, the fifth-best mark in the league. No one defends the 3-point line better than the Celtics and a key will be keeping the floor spaced and getting players back, a tougher task when you’re locked up under the basket.
No matter where he plays and who he guards, Garnett will be key factor and it would be fascinating to watch him return to his roots against a dynamic player like Smith.
|Avery Bradley is ready for the playoffs||at 1:18 pm ET|
WALTHAM — When Chris Wilcox saw Avery Bradley on Thursday he gave him a big smile. “I told you your time would come,” Wilcox said.
Bradley’s time is now. His play in the second half of the season sparked a resurgence that helped the Celtics compile a 24-10 record after the All-Star break. With Bradley in the starting lineup, the Celtics were more than 18 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions, and they went from a good defensive team to downright scary.
It’s been quite a rise for the 21-year-old , who played only 162 minutes as a rookie and didn’t see the court at all in the postseason. “Yeah, it was frustrating but like I said I just took it as a learning experience,” Bradley said. “This year I’m going to be ready.”
Bradley quickly earned his teammates’ confidence. His ability to cut backdoor opened up new possibilities for their offense and his rapidly-improving jump shot enabled him to average more than 15 points per game in April. Bradley knocked down 48 percent of his attempts from 16-23 feet and he shot over 50 percent behind the arc in April.
“Avery’s proved more than enough,” Kevin Garnett said. “And I think he’s definitely more than ready.”