|Fast Break: Celtics win 12th straight||12.16.10 at 10:42 pm ET|
If you were expecting a letdown by the Celtics after a thrilling last-second victory against the Knicks in New York on Wednesday night — followed by the news that Rajon Rondo would miss the next two weeks — guess again.
The Celtics had six players score in double figures — including Semih Erden — as they stretched their NBA-best winning streak to 12 games by disposing of the Hawks, 102-90, at the Garden on Thursday night.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Another KG double-double: Midway through the third quarter, Garnett had already notched his 14th double-double of the season. He entered the game tied with Amar’e Stoudemire for ninth in the NBA for double-doubles.
Garnett finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds on the night. On the other end, Garnett limited Josh Smith — who is a very, very good NBA player — to just one point and four rebounds. All in all, not a bad night for Garnett.
Pierce & Allen assist: With Rondo sitting out the first of what is expected to be at least two weeks of games, somebody had to make up for his 14 assists a night. Pierce and Allen exceeded that number.
They entered the game averaging a combined 5.8 assists between them. Against the Hawks, Pierce doled out nine dimes and Allen contributed another six. Not to mention their combined 33 points.
Semih-automatic: Say what you will about Semih Erden, but he finishes around the rim. It’s his soft hands. Thursday night’s starting center finished with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting — all within five feet of the basket.
His solid night even included a dunk over Smith, who is one of the top six shot blockers in the league. Still, Erden could work on his rebounding (he had zero as a 7-footer) and free-throw shooting (0-for-2).
WHAT WENT WRONG
Meanwhile, Avery Bradley actually looked pretty sharp defensively in just four minutes on the floor. Offensively? Bradley was absent, and Robinson finished with 14 points (on 6-of-16 shooting) and four assists.
Cleaning the glass: Somehow, with Smith and Al Horford combining for just 11 rebounds (they average 18 between them), the Celtics still got out-rebounded by the Hawks, 37-34.
Atlanta also snatched 10 offensive rebounds (an ongoing issue for the C’s). Of course, it helps to shoot better than 50 percent — which the Celtics did … once again (53%).
All-Star absentees: First, it was Kevin Durant. Then, it was John Wall. Then, it was Carmelo Anthony. And Thursday it was former Celtics guard Joe Johnson. The list of NBA stars who have been relegated to the bench with injuries when they visited the Garden this season grew by two.
|Irish Coffee: It’s matter over mind for Celtics||11.23.10 at 11:47 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Pundits enjoy saying things like, “Games in November don’t matter much in the NBA,” but these Celtics are more mentally prepared only when the games matter — if that makes sense. And come playoff time, as we all know, every game means something.
Exhibit A: Last Wednesday’s 31-point blowout of the Washington Wizards. If the Celtics suffer letdowns against meaningless teams, why would they care about a Wizards team without John Wall, its newest star?
“This is a team that gave us problems last year, and we haven’t forgotten that. I haven’t,” Garnett told reporters after the win. “Paul [Pierce] and I got here and could hear [Wizards assistant coach] Sam Cassell voice about how young they were and how they were going to come at us. We made note of it. We talked about it, you know, before the game and coming out here, taking care of business. I thought we stayed with that for 48 minutes.”
Exhibit B: Kevin Durant and Jeff Green‘s Oklahoma City Thunder came to town, only Durant and Green didn’t suit up. The Celtics had already quieted the Thunder with those guys in uniform, in their house, two weeks before. They’d already proven themselves against OKC. No urgency to do it again.
“I think we underestimated that team,” Shaquille O’Neal told the media following the loss. “Shot ourselves in the foot. It’s kind of hard in this league to get up for certain people. Tonight, we disrespected the basketball gods. We paid for it.”
Exhibit C: On a lazy Sunday afternoon, the Celtics faced a Toronto Raptors club that was worse than usual, playing undermanned after a trade. The C’s thought a hard-fought first quarter and a solid six-minte stretch in the second half would be just enough effort to take care of Toronto. Think again.
I figured the home loss to OKC and a day off in between would fuel the Celtics to a blowout in Toronto. I thought this team had learned something from playing to the level of their opponents last season, but perhaps what they learned is that they can play that way — and still be successful.
The guys over at Gino’s Jungle tweeted back, “I thought a lineup of KG, Pierce, Ray Allen, Shaq and Rajon Rondo could beat a Durant and Green-less OKC, so no game’s a gimme with this team.” And they were right.
“We’re a better team than those two teams,” Pierce told reporters after the defeat. “I know we are. Just mentally, I don’t think we have the right mindset coming into these games.”
Exhibit D: Monday night in Atlanta, the game once again had meaning to the Celtics, who got swept by the Hawks last season. That led to a 99-76 dominating victory against the Hawks in Atlanta.
In the aftermath, one thing became clear: These Celtics will play hard when they want to play hard, regardless of how good of a motivational speech head coach Doc Rivers delivers before the game.
“I gave that up my first year coaching,” Rivers said postgame. “This group, that’s who they are. We’re going to have those poor nights. But I just thought the loss Sunday set the tone for us. You could feel it.”
Remember all of this evidence when people are questioning how much the aged Celtics have left in the tank entering the NBA playoffs. When these C’s have something to play for, they are great — capable of wiping the floor with mere good teams like the Atlanta Hawks.
REACTIONS FROM ATLANTA
Yup, when these Celtics play hard, they can make any team question itself. And that’s exactly what the Hawks were doing on Monday night. Head coach Larry Drew thinks his team might have had a few too many Four Lokos the night before, and Mo Evans is asking, “Who am I?” like a heartbroken girl from a teenage drama.
- “I told the guys I don’t know what you are doing the night before we play,” Drew told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I don’t know what you are doing away from the floor. Something is going on that is not allowing us to play with an energy and passion that we should be playing with. As a head coach, I’ve got to find out what it is.”
- “The Celtics know who they are,” Evans added. “We don’t have an identity, unless it’s when things go bad we go the other way. Maybe that’s our identity and we don’t know it.”
The AJC also caught up with Shaquille O’Neal, who said he picked the Celtics over the Hawks because Boston gave him a better shot at a title. And it sounds like the Hawks agree with him.
“They have a blend of veteran players with the core of their team, and it’s a lot easier to fit in a vet like Shaq,” Drew added. “If we brought him in here, it would be a little tougher. I don’t think his personality would have fit with our guys. It makes more sense to have veteran guys around him.”
DELONTE WEST DISHES ON HIS DISORDER
CBS Sports.com senior writer Ken Berger wrote a fantastic piece on Delonte West’s battle with bipolar disorder.
However irresponsible West’s actions were when he was arrested on multiple weapons charges a year ago, it’s impossible not to root for a guy who is working as hard as he is to overcome his issues.
Here are a few highlights:
- “Bipolar is like, when things are bad to you, they seem worse and when things are good, they seem great,” West said. “I’m at a place where things are behind me and I’m focused on what I love to do.”
- “When you’re thinking about, ‘Am I going to go to jail after the season?’ and going through a tough divorce during the season, those things can weigh on you sometimes,” West said. “When you’re a professional athlete, you’ve got to be a robot sometimes. You’ve got to check your emotions at the door. But we’re humans. You can’t say, ‘OK, I’m not going to think about this,’ when it’s something to really think about. … When things are up in the air and all people can say to you, the courts and the lawyers, is, ‘You’ve got to wait and see,’ there’s a lot of nights when you’re not sleeping.”
- “There’s only one way it’s going to play out,” West said. “I want it to play out that way and it’s going to play out that way. And that’s holding the trophy at the end of June. Man, that’d be a strong chapter in the book or the movie I’m going to write one day.”
I love that last quote. It comes from a man who is taking hold of his own destiny.
“You’ve got to remember, this is just a game,” West told Tomasson. “Some people are die-hard fans and they paint their face and it’s all great. But you got to do unto others as you have unto yourself. People say something about your mother and drag your mother through something like that and your family, you’d be ready to do something yourself. So it’s sad that happened. But, you know, they hated Jesus, too. You got to keep going. So I wish [LeBron James] much success down there [in Miami] with his family, and I got to keep going here.”
|The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (5 of 7)||10.26.10 at 12:13 pm ET|
NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.
ON THE HAWKS: The Hawks spent the summer, once again, reinvesting in the status quo (see Johnson, Joe), which has seen them improve on their record every season since their 13-win nadir in 2004-05.
The major changes were on the bench, where the team replaced Mike Woodson with longtime assistant Larry Drew. Gone are the constant switching defensively and the heavy reliance on iso-sets offensively in favor of a motion offense and playing it straight defensively.
Such change should result in a rise in turnovers, a stat that has always kept the Hawks’ offensive efficiency near the top of the NBA but also kept their best defenders, Josh Smith and Al Horford, in better positions to help the team defensively.
The Hawks were also very fortunate last year in terms of injuries, so their lack of depth didn’t harm them in terms of their regular-season record.
Between the adjustment to new schemes and a likely injury or two to the main core, the Hawks should see the end of their annual increase in win total, but the continued improvement in their younger players (Smith, Horford, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague) should help balance that somewhat, giving them another 50-win season, fourth in the conference — and getting bounced again in the second round of the playoffs.
The true test of whether your franchise is a contender is when the regular season predictions don’t mean jack squat, and the C’s have been in that neighborhood ever since acquiring KG and Ray. It’s a great place to be, and this season is no different.
With a plethora of big men (Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis) to supplement the core roster in case of any injury up front due to age (and there is considerable age there), Boston should be able to capture home-court again, which makes them a very tough out come postseason time, as they proved so well last season.
I believe they’re a lock for the Eastern Conference Finals.
Barring a trade, they’re looking to replace them with D.J. Augustin, a young player Larry Brown seems to despise, and Nazr Mohammed, a center whose sell-by date is long-since passed (last season’s career year notwithstanding).
Even if Gerald Wallace remains an All-Star, and Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas continue playing as well as they did last season for the Cats, they’re going to struggle to get to 40 wins — and could easily finish with near 30 wins.
ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics’ window could be closed this season, given the likely continued decline of Pierce, Garnett and Allen.
There’s also no telling, really, how much Tom Thibodeau meant to the Celtics’ defensive excellence the past few years, and any kind of decline on that end of the floor might be the death knell for them as true title contenders, since no one on the team is a killer offensive threat.
So, give them 50 wins again.
ON THE HEAT: After a much ballyhooed offseason, the Heat enter the 2010-11 season as legitimate title contenders.
The additions of Chris Bosh and LeBron James along with the re-signing of Dwyane Wade has caused a seismic wave throughout the league, which could signal the beginning of a new NBA dynasty on South Beach.
Miami will have to battle through glaring holes at the 1 and 5 spots, despite their newly assembled constellation of stars.
The Heat must find a way to become a cohesive unit, within an 82-game span, leading into the playoffs. Once the postseason gets underway, expect Miami to face difficult obstacles in Boston and Orlando. Both teams have been together longer and have big edges at the center and point guard positions.
Predicting Miami’s season is difficult, because so many factors come into play. Look for the Heat to make the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston and for the series to go seven games with the decisive contest being held in Miami.
The Heat will have a stellar regular season, earning the top seed in the East, but don’t expect them to match the record-setting 72 wins that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls managed to get.
ON THE CELTICS: While Vegas odds-makers have listed the flashy names on the Heat lineup as favorites to win the Eastern Conference, one has to love the Celtics’ chances.
Boston solidified their roster this offseason with several free-agent signings. The additions only help to strengthen a team that was a Kendrick Perkins injury or a few more key rebounds away from winning an NBA title.
Boston has All-Stars at every position on the floor. While Allen declined a bit last year, Rondo’s emergence as an elite NBA player compensated for the slip in Allen’s game. KG and Shaq must be held back a bit during the regular season, so they can be healthy and rested for the playoffs.
Expect to see Boston easily win the Atlantic Division but to finish with the third seed for the playoffs. The Celtics showed last year that they don’t need to overexert themselves for 82 games in order to have postseason success.
No matter their seeding, the Celtics should be considered the Eastern Conference favorites once the playoffs begin. In the end, it will be Boston and Miami squaring off for a chance to dethrone the Lakers.
I’ve pegged them for 62 wins, because although the East got stronger this offseason, the Magic certainly didn’t decline in talent level from the last two seasons, when they won 59 games apiece.
Carter worked hard on his body this offseason and appears to be much more comfortable on the floor. His jumper has rarely even caught the rim in preseason, as he’s getting his body square and legs into the shot before firing away.
Orlando brought Quentin Richardson aboard, largely due to his 3-point shooting, which will force the Celtics to think twice about leaving him open. The Celtics exposed Orlando in the conference finals last season by utterly ignoring Matt Barnes on the perimeter, due to his unreliable outside shot, which freed them to pack the paint, stymieing Howard inside and shutting down driving lanes for Carter and Nelson. Clearly, Richardson will be one key against Boston.
Orlando will likely win far more games than the Celtics do this season, but don’t let that disparity fool you: If these teams meet for the third consecutive postseason, it’ll be anyone’s series.
ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics proved last season that they’re a tough team to peg, at least until the playoffs roll around.
Given the continuity in Boston’s locker room, at least as far as leadership is concerned, I expect another season of Doc Rivers managing his players’ minutes closely, and the players conserving their energy.
This approach worked to great effect last year, as they took the defending champion Lakers to the brink in the Finals after most basketball observers counted them out, first against the Cavaliers and then against the Magic.
Overall, I’ve pegged the Celtics for a win total in the mid-40s, likely 46-36. If that seems low, or insulting, to the Boston faithful, I think it’s instructive to point out the regular season doesn’t mean a whole lot to this team.
While I’m dubious that the Celtics can flip the switch again, so to speak, Rivers will keep that possibility open so long as he’s able to keep the veteran core fresh. And regardless of their health or engagement level, they’ll always be a tough matchup for the Magic.
The cost-effective additions of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal — along with Perkins — give Boston three of the top five Dwight Howard defenders in the league.
ON THE WIZARDS: The Wizards enter the 2010-11 season with positive energy flowing out their ears.
John Wall has already proven to be a man-child not only as an ankle-breaking wunderkind, but as a steady-handed floor marshal — unafraid to put veterans in their place, literally, on the basketball court.
But however solid Wall may be this year, the squad as a whole is perforated with imperfections. Gilbert Arenas can’t guard anyone, only a couple players can hit 3s and the Wizards’ young posts have a history of weak rebounding and late help defense.
See, this is a team full of “you know, if…”s. Because, you know, if Gilbert stays healthy and embraces the off-ball responsibilities like he did in the preseason, if 30-year-old Josh Howard returns to his near All-Star levels of play, if JaVale McGee builds on his breakout summer, if Andray Blatche plays like he did down the stretch last year (21 points a game from January to March), and if Al Thornton eschews the mid-range game and focuses on becoming Count Dunkula, this could be a pretty good team.
That’s far too many ifs for the irresponsible optimism that pervades D.C. hoops fans — but an appropriate amount for a team heading into a 35-47 season.
ON THE CELTICS: Was the Celtics’ run to last year’s Finals the last violent spasm of a dying monster, or simply proof that the beast was slumbering throughout the regular season?
Rondo is superb (Hubie Brown voice) and the East’s best point guard, but the rest of the Celtics’ starting five is declining — that is, unless The Big Ticket really is bouncing back on that right knee.
Boston’s pride won 50 games last year and is replacing Perkins with the chalk outlines of the O’Neals, a significant downgrade defensively and offensively (KP is the best screener in the league). The frontcourt is deeper, but also less effective until Perk returns, and then at what level will he play?
The Celtics should also be concerned after losing Tony Allen, the East’s best perimeter defender and resident LeBron/Wade specialist. Who fills that void? Ray, Pierce, Nate Robinson, Delonte West all fall well short defensively.
On any other team, these concerns would lead one to declare, “They will be worse than last year.” But this is the Celtics, who, like the Spurs in the West, must be taken seriously until emphatically proven otherwise. Most of the East sucks yet again, so 50-plus should be in the cards once more — 55-plus if Garnett is truly “back.”
Stay tuned for Part 6 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.
|Injuries could impact Eastern Conference standings||04.07.10 at 12:47 am ET|
Andrew Bogut’s gruesome arm injury was the first of many to hit the Eastern Conference over the last few days. Joe Johnson will miss at least two games with a sprained thumb and Chris Bosh’s status is unclear after suffering a facial fracture on Tuesday against the Cavaliers.
With just over a week left in the regular season, these injuries could impact playoff seedings, including that of the Celtics.
Aside from the Washington Wizards, whom the C’s will play on Friday, their remaining competitors are vying for postseason positions. Johnson’s injury opens the window of opportunity for the Celtics to close in on the third seed (currently held by the Hawks), but their opponents will be trying to secure their own place in the playoffs as well.
Toronto Raptors (currently 8th)
Wednesday, April 7 @ Toronto
The Raptors were dealt a devastating blow on Tuesday when Bosh suffered an unintentional elbow to the face from Antawn Jamison. According to reports, Bosh will remain in Cleveland overnight. His status is unknown.
Milwaukee Bucks (currently 5th)
Saturday, April 10 @ Milwaukee
Wednesday, April 14 @ Boston
The Bucks posed problems for the Celtics when healthy, and now this team is on a mission without Bogut. The young squad still has plenty of weapons and will challenge the Celtics even if they don’t have their big man in the middle.
Chicago Bulls (currently one game out of 8th)
Tuesday, April 13 @ Chicago
If there is any team with something to play for right now, it is the Bulls. They were already edging toward the eighth spot. Now the injury of Bosh has created an opportunity for them to grab it if they can win enough games down the stretch.
|Fast Break: Celtics vs. Hawks||01.11.10 at 10:08 pm ET|
BOSTON ‘ Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace didn’t have to be playing for fans to get their money’s worth. This game lived up to the hype and intensity that has become customary between the Celtics and Hawks since the 2008 playoffs. After leading by as many as 14, the Celtics were upset 102-96. But that wasn’t without comebacks, hard fouls, and ejections.
Player of the Game: Jamal Crawford went scoreless in the first half before scoring 17 points in the final two quarters. Even though Joe Johnson led all scorers with 36 points, Crawford hit clutch free throws and buckets to propel the Hawks down the stretch.
Turning Point: The Celtics led 67-57 with 6:16 left in the third before the chaos broke out. Here’s how it all went down ‘ Glen Davis got called for a flagrant foul on Marvin Williams (Zaza Pachulia had previously been called for a flagrant). Doc Rivers emphatically argued the ruling and got hit with two consecutive technicals, resulting in an ejection. As he walked off the court, he handed his notes over to assistant coach Armond Hill, who also got T’ed up before the clock even started again. Crawford hit three free throws and Williams knocked one down during the technical spree, cutting the Celtics lead to four. The Hawks then went on a 14-8 run to tie the game up at 75 apiece off of a Crawford trey. The Celtics never regained momentum and were outscored 25-16 in the fourth quarter.
– In a game of whistles, the Hawks made 33 trips to the free throw line (23-for-33) while the Celtics shot 14-for-18.
– Athleticsm came into play again tonight ‘ the Celtics were outscored 15-9 on fastbreak points. They were outscored 22-15 by the Hawks last Friday night.
– Brian Scalabrine got his first start since February 23, 2009 in place of Rasheed Wallace. He posted nine points, five rebounds, and four fouls in 21 minutes.
– Mike Bibby continues to be booed by Celtics fans on every possession. He played just 18 minutes (5 points, 2-for-3 FG) and did not play the entire fourth quarter.
– The Celtics will play the Hawks again on January 29 in Atlanta.
|Hawks explain Celtics keys to postseason success||04.03.09 at 11:07 pm ET|
Despite looking unstoppable heading into the playoffs last season, the Celtics needed seven games to fend off the eighth-seeded Hawks. This season they are even more vulnerable, with injuries hampering their lineup. If the Celtics came dangerously close to elimination with a healthy squad, what do they have to do this season to avoid another first round scare?
‘They just have to come out to try to keep focused throughout the whole series,’ said Al Horford prior to the Celtics-Hawks game (RECAP HERE). ‘I think that after them beating us the first two games here (Boston), they thought that they could just go into Atlanta and take care of it. But they didn’t realize what was ahead of them. I think they know this by now. They know they have to come in and they have to bring their A-game on the road too.’
The Celtics inability to win on the road nearly cost them their title. They folded in Atlanta — ‘[They played] totally different. Totally different,’ said Horford — and it wasn’t until Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons that they finally won away from the Garden.
‘They are a lot more energetic, I would say, [at home]. They get up and down a lot more and play with a lot more confidence at home, so it makes them a much better team,’ said Joe Johnson. ‘I don’t think they run as much [on the road]. I just think that as soon as you go on the road, the atmosphere is not the same. You’re just not used to a lot of things. But at home, that’s where you’re more comfortable so you tend to play more relaxed and have a lot more confidence.’
Even if the Celtics overcome their woes on the road, there is still a bigger concern ‘ the nagging knee injury of Kevin Garnett. He averaged nearly 21 points (more than twenty percent of the Celtics total offense) and nine rebounds per game in the first round against Atlanta. But the Hawks have lost twice to Celtics this season without Garnett and think they can compensate for his absence.
‘Keep (Glen) Big Baby Davis confident in his play and keep having Mikki Moore come off the bench and play well like he’s doing,’ suggested Josh Smith. ‘I don’t think they have anything to worry about.’
In less than two weeks the Celtics will be drawing up their gameplan for the start of the postseason. While they have three first round losses to the Hawks to reflect on, they may have already learned all the lessons they need.
‘Just win, that’s what it comes down to,’ said Hawks head coach Mike Woodson. ‘I think the fact that they might not have homecourt advantage all the way through, when you win a title that doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t because these guys, they’ve been through the wars. They went seven with us, they went seven with Cleveland, Detroit gave them a good run. There’s nothing they haven’t seen so I don’t think it really matters.
‘They’re going to be there when it counts. I promise you that.’
|More boos for Bibby||at 7:51 pm ET|
Nope, Celtics fans still have not forgotten about Mike Bibby’s anti-Boston comments during last season’s playoffs. I’m waiting for the boos to die down, but six minutes into the game they are going strong. The only difference, everyone forgot their Bibby face:
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