|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agents to watch in ’15||05.14.14 at 11:02 am ET|
In my last column, I wrote about some free agents who potentially could catch Danny Ainge‘s eye this summer. However, if you expect a 2007-ish rebuild to happen overnight again, I’m afraid your expectations are too high. The Celtics are going to take a couple of years to build back up, making 2015 an equally important offseason.
A lot can happen between now and next summer, but a strong free agent class is anticipated. Much like the last column, not all of the names may look like fits now, but under the right circumstances could be in the future. Following is a handful of names that should be on Ainge’s radar for 2015.
Brook Lopez – First and foremost, Lopez needs to prove he can stay healthy. He’s had serious foot issues so far in the NBA, but he also is one of the best scoring centers in the league when healthy. Lopez is a legit 7-footer, something Ainge is looking for in his next big man.
Lopez signed a four-year extension in 2012, but 2015-16 is a player option, so he could choose to opt out if the Nets begin to fade from contention. The Nets have the potential to implode over the next couple of seasons due to age and bad contracts. Even as players begin to come off the books, Brooklyn still should be over the cap for years to come, making the team’s future a delicate situation.
This signing would be a risk, but if the price is right, Lopez could be the perfect fit next to Jared Sullinger … on offense, that is. Defensively Ainge still would need to find a solution. That said, a frontcourt that features and healthy Lopez and Sullinger is scary for any team to face.
Robin Lopez – For twin brothers, Robin and Brook sure have different games. Robin is much more of a low-post defender and shot-blocker than his brother, but he is nowhere near as developed on offense.
With the scoring ability of Sullinger, Robin would be just as good a fit as his brother in Boston. Robin would not be leaned upon to score, allowing him to do what he does best — defend and rebound. He has had a ton of success in Portland this season playing alongside scorers, including in the playoffs. The more I think about it, despite Brook’s All-Star appearance; Robin is the Lopez brother to watch in 2015.
|Fast Break: Celtics (barely) avenge loss to Cavaliers||01.31.12 at 9:47 pm ET|
If you thought Sunday’s loss to the Cavaliers was bad, Tuesday’s win might have been worse.
After blowing a 12-point lead in the final five minutes at home in the first meeting of their home-and-home series, the C’s let a 22-point lead dwindle to two with 1:18 remaining in Cleveland. Luckily, Kevin Garnett dropped a turnaround jumper and Paul Pierce made a pair of free throws in the waning seconds to on for a 93-90 win.
Pierce finished with a team-high 20 points as well six assists and four rebounds, lifting the Celtics (10-10) to .500 once again. Brandon Bass chipped in 13 points to lead a 28-point effort by the C’s bench.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
In his defense: Cavs rookie Kyrie Irving beat the Celtics with his offense on Sunday night, but his porous defense helped the C’s return the favor two days later. Avery Bradley (8 points) beat him through the back door, making himself an easy target underneath the basket for open layups, and E’Twaun Moore (5 points) took advantage of Irving’s tendency to cheat by knocking down open shots on the perimeter.
Riding the pine: Led once again by Bass (13 points) and Mickael Pietrus (6 points, 2 treys), the Celtics bench dominated the Cavaliers reserves in the early going, outscoring their counterparts 23-5 in the first half alone. Moore and Sasha Pavlovic also lended a helping hand as the C’s established a double-digit lead by halftime.
Protecting the rock (for the most part): Without Rajon Rondo for the seventh straight game, the Celtics assisted on 19 of their first 26 field goals while committing only six turnovers as they built the lead to 22 in the third quarter. The C’s finished with 25 assists on 37 FGs, but their turnovers climbed to 14 — allowing the Cavaliers to climb back into the game.
|C’s plan to stop Varejao’s ‘dirty work’||05.05.10 at 1:32 pm ET|
Anderson Varejao is far from a Celtics fan favorite. He isn’t a flashy scorer, nor is he a finesse player. But that’s not what his game is about.
‘The man does one thing, and he does it well, and that’s what he gets paid for,’ Kevin Garnett told WEEI’s Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell following the C’s Game 2 victory (listen to the audio here). ‘And you know what? He doesn’t score a lot, he feeds off LeBron [James], he picks up the garbage, he does the dirty work. He’s out here trying to get guys rattled, trying to get technicals, the dumb stuff. You know, the stuff that shouldn’t even be in basketball, but it is.’
Even though Varejao does the dirty work for the Cavs, he still makes an impact on the scoreboard. He entered the series averaging 13 points and nine boards against the Celtics during the regular season, including a 17-point, 10-rebound performance in March.
In response, the C’s have turned to their bigs to combat Varejao’s energy and keep him away from the glass. They have limited him to a total of 12 points and 13 rebounds in Games 1 and 2 combined. Half of those points have come at the line.
‘We watched a lot of tape, we focused, we understand we’ve got to block him out,’ Garnett said. ‘He’s pure energy, he is a momentum changer, and we understand that. Baby is our momentum changer. And I think not just Kevin Garnett, but Rasheed Wallace, Big Baby Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Shelden Williams, everybody’s been getting a body on him, we’ve been conscious of where he is. And we’ve been helping and trying to foul him and make him score at the free throw line. And it’s been working so far. Knock on wood.’
|Cavs don’t rest on off day||05.04.10 at 9:47 pm ET|
The team elected to watch film in Cleveland Tuesday, even though they had a scheduled off day. Cavs coach Mike Brown ripped his team’s effort after Game 2 in which the Celtics evened the series with a decisive 104-86 victory.
“We have to decide if we are going to take the fight to them and take these games,” Brown said. “Ain’t a [expletive] thing is going to be given to us at all in this series. Plain and simple, they kicked our behind. This series is one to one. We are going to see what we’re made of in Game 3.’
The bigger story, however, is that LeBron James is scheduled to have another MRI on right elbow before Friday’s Game 3. He had one last week before the Cavs closed out the Bulls in their first-round series that revealed a bone bruise and a sprained elbow. James admitted that he started Game 1 tentatively and he faced questions after Game 2 when he attempted 15 shots (he also had 15 free throws).
Also, Anderson Varejao was examined by the team’s physician after back spasms took him out of Game 2. He is listed as day to day.Varejao was one of the few Cavs big men who played well in Game 2 and he was doing his best to try to rile up the Celtics.
[Go here to listen to Kevin Garnett's post-game interview with WEEI in which he talked about Varejao's play, as well as calling our Rasheed Wallace after Game 1]
This is a potentially huge problem for the Cavs who are getting minimal production out of Shaquille O’Neal and are also looking at big matchup problem with Antawn Jamison guarding Garnett. The Celtics believe they can exploit this matchup throughout the series and they have made a concerted effort to isolate Garnett on the left block against Jamison.
Rivers wants Garnett to look for his own offense more, which runs counter to his nature.
“He’s got to stay on that,” Rivers said between games. “He fights his own self because people don’t get that. They criticize him for being unselfish which is the craziest thing on earth, but that is who he is.”
Garnett has been aggressive. He tied a season-high with 20 shot attempts in Game 1 and shook off a slow first-half in Game 2 in which he went 2-for-9, by making his first three shots in the third quarter when the Celtics dominated play.
“Kevin was playing way too fast in the first half but he was still a concern on the post,” Rivers said after Game 2. “They’re trapping. They’re worried about him right now.”
Varejao is the key to the Cavs multiple frontcourt lineups because he can play both the four and five spots and is a much better defender than J.J. Hickson. Without him in the lineup, the Cavs have to either play small with James and either Jamison or Hickson up front, or go big with either O’Neal or Zydrunas Ilgauskus, which makes them much slower.
For their part, the Celtics took the day off and are scheduled to resume practice Wednesday.
|Varejao day to day with back spasms||at 7:54 pm ET|
Celtics antagonist Anderson Varejao left Monday’s Game 2 with back spasms and didn’t return to the game. He was examined at the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health on Tuesday by Cavs Physician Dr. Richard Parker, who confirmed the diagnosis after an MRI and X-Ray were negative.
The team said he is receiving treatment and is currently listed as day-to-day.
|The Varejao factor||04.29.10 at 5:22 pm ET|
WALTHAM – In three games against the Celtics this season, Anderson Varejao averaged 13 points, nine rebounds ( with half of them coming on the offensive glass) and about a hundred different migraines. His energy seemed to overwhelm the Celtics and he was a huge key in Cleveland’s 20-point win over the Celtics at the Garden.
“They’re only good because they play hard with a high basketball IQ,” Rivers said. “I can give you a bunch of guys who can play hard but don’t think. They do it intelligently. That’s what made Dennis Rodman so good because his IQ on the floor was ridiculous. Varejao’s just a smart, crafty, hard-playing 7-footer.”
Davis will play a large role in this series. The Celtics are counting on him and Rasheed Wallace to match Varejao’s energy off the bench as well as the other big men options the Cavs can throw at the Celtics.
“Our bench has to play well,” Rivers said. “It doesn’t have to be all of them. The combination of Baby and Rasheed, we need one of them and we would prefer two. They have to play well. We need somebody to match Varejao’s energy. The two games they won he was the best player. He dominated those games with his energy and his effort.”
Varejao has also been known as an irritant, which is part of his job. He’s the kind of player only the hometown fans can love, even though all give him grudging respect. Davis is also an emotional player, but Rivers doesn’t think that will be an issue, at least not for him.
“I’m not worried about him getting under Baby’s skin,” Rivers said. “I am more concerned about the Kevin [Garnett's] and the Rasheed’s because that’s what he wants to do. Baby’s pretty good with that. Baby will just keep competing back. Baby actually has the ability to get under people’s skin himself. The other guys, they know it. Listen, if I’m Varejao and I can get under their skin, I’m going to try.”
|Perkins: Cavs better without Shaq||03.13.10 at 3:37 pm ET|
There is no denying that Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most challenging big men to go up against in the NBA. But in the case of the Cavaliers, Kendrick Perkins thinks they are better suited without him.
The Cavaliers are 6-1 since O’Neal suffered a sprained thumb on February 25 against the Celtics. While it should be noted that wins during that stretch came against the sub-.500 Knicks, Nets, Pistons, and 76ers, Perkins believes that the Cavaliers have more options and speed without O’Neal.
‘In my opinion, I think they’re better,’ he said after practice on Saturday. ‘They can run more, you’ve got Anderson Varejao who’s more of an active body, he gets LeBron open a lot, opens up the paint for him, so I think they’re a better team. I mean obviously Shaq could help them, but I think they’re a better, more fast-paced team.’
Even without O’Neal on the court, Perkins will still have hands full in the paint. Anderson Varejao isn’t as big as O’Neal, but he causes problems for opponents in his own way.
‘You’ve just got to take him out of the game,’ said Perkins. ‘I think you’ve got to, all the time he’s more of the instigator. I think you’ve got to be more of the instigator when you’re playing against him. You’ve got to hit him first. He’s a guy who flops, gets a lot of calls, takes charges, offensive rebounds, so I think you’ve just got to keep a body on him and play against him hard.’
Varejao is averaging 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two games against the Celtics this season, compared to 8.0 points and 6.0 rebounds from O’Neal.