|Getting the point: Avery Bradley and E’Twaun Moore||02.01.12 at 1:13 am ET|
When Rajon Rondo went down with a sprained right wrist late in the third quarter against the Raptors, those that have been predicting the Celtics’ imminent demise sensed the end creeping ever closer. How would the Celtics survive without their only true shot-creator and undoubtedly their best player this season?
Amazingly, the Celtics have not only survived, they’ve prospered, winning five of seven games to reach the .500 mark and rattling off their three most impressive wins of the season: beating the Magic twice and the Pacers on a second night of a back-to-back.
The most obvious reason for their success has been the reinvigorated play of Paul Pierce. After dropping 20 points on the Cavs in a tighter-than-it-needed-to-be-but-still-a-win performance on Thursday, Pierce has scored 155 points in the seven games without Rondo and also has 52 assists. Pierce has taken over the playmaker role and his game returned from the lockout ether at just the right time.
Offensively, the Celtics have been winning games almost in spite of Rondo’s replacements at the point: Avery Bradley and E’Twaun Moore. The young guards often bring the ball up the floor and make the first pass, but it’s been either Pierce or Kevin Garnett in the high post who then initiate the offensive sets. That formula has worked well enough for the Celtics who have generally played to their offensive efficiency of 98.9 points per 100 possessions.
Bradley and Moore have also had their moments offensively. Over the last four games, Moore has made 11-of-18 shots and gone 5-for-10 from 3-point range. Moore has been steady, if unspectacular, at the point with 10 assists and eight turnovers and has quickly gained the trust of the coaching staff, as well as his teammates.
Like Moore, Bradley has mostly kept his turnovers down. Eleven of his 15 turnovers during this stretch of games came in two contests. Limiting turnovers is no small thing for a team that has struggled mightily throughout the season in that regard.
Bradley has had success scoring at the rim where he’s shooting 64 percent. Against the Cavs, Bradley was able to duck in for layups and also had a strong move working across the lane. He has the athleticism to finish inside and is starting to figure out that he can’t bull-rush taller defenders. Where Bradley has struggled is with his jump shot. He’s made just 10-of-28 shots from 16-23 feet this season and is just 1-for-11 from 3-point range.
|Irish Coffee: It’s not the Celtics bench’s fault||01.30.12 at 7:40 pm ET|
After the Celtics blew an 11-point lead to the Cavaliers with a little more than five minutes left, Paul Pierce told reporters, “Maybe I should play a little bit more” in the fourth quarter. In so many words, the bench blew the game.
Not so. A lineup of E’Twaun Moore, Mickael Pietrus, Sasha Pavlovic, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett entered the final 12 minutes with an eight-point lead, and various combinations of four reserves and one starter played Cleveland even until Pierce re-entered the game with 3:42 remaining and the Celtics holding an 87-79 lead.
In fact, rarely has any of the 10 losses through the first third of the season fallen on the Celtics bench’s shoulders. Just the opposite. With Garnett the lone starter to play all 19 games, an argument could rather easily be made that the C’s reserves are the main reason the team hasn’t started worse than 9-10.
“The first full month has been a tough month for us, but we are a team of workers,” KG said last week. “Since I’ve been here, that’s all we’ve done. We haven’t really leaned on a lot of the talent, moreso the hard work.”
While Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Jermaine O’Neal have all nursed injuries through the first four weeks of the lockout-shortened season, the hodgepodge that includes a second-year guard, a pair of trade acquisitions, two free agent signings and three rookies has formed some semblance of a cohesive group.
THE STALWARTS Read the rest of this entry »
|Fast Break: Magic pull disappearing act vs. Celtics||01.23.12 at 10:09 pm ET|
Maybe this is the win this Celtics team needed. It was hard to see this one coming, especially with five Celtics regulars sidelined by injury against a Magic team that won 11 of its first 15 games, but the C’s put together their best stretch of basketball in a 87-56 welcome home victory against Glen Davis & Co. at the Garden on Monday.
Paul Pierce (19 points, 7 assists) once again led the offensive charge, with a little help from friends Kevin Garnett (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (19 points, 8 rebounds). Meanwhile, starting in place of the injured Rajon Rondo, guard Avery Bradley (3 steals) wreaked havoc on the defensive end to help the C’s (7-9) hold Orlando to 16-of-65 shooting (24.6%) — the best defensive effort of this Big Three era.
Davis scored just six points (2-9 FG) but grabbed 11 rebounds, and Dwight Howard led the Magic’s anemic offensive effort with 18 points (4-15 FG) and 14 boards.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Defending their life: Led by defensive-minded starters Garnett and Bradley, the Celtics put together their best defensive game of the season. They held the Magic to just 11-of-38 shooting (28.9%) before the break, and actually improved upon that in the second half (5-27; 18.5%). The C’s recorded six blocks (shockingly, none by rejection artist Greg Stiemsma) and six steals by halftime, building an early lead — something that escaped them through their 6-9 start.
Familiar foes: Lost in the drama surrounding Big Baby’s return to the Garden was the fact Bass was also facing his former team, as the two former LSU teammates were traded for each other after the lockout. One of few healthy bodies coming off the bench, Bass reached double digits by halftime and gave the C’s a much-needed boost against his old teammates.
Avery Bradley, defensive stopper: The Celtics sophomore guard gave veteran Magic point guard Jameer Nelson problems all night long, picking his pocket twice, forcing a jump ball and altering his shot — all in the third quarter. Given his third consecutive start in Rondo’s absence, this stretch might be just what the Doc ordered in building Bradley’s confidence and expediting his development in what some believed could be a breakout season for the young guard.
|Fast Break: The Truth sets Celtics free||01.22.12 at 3:37 pm ET|
The Celtics have been waiting for Paul Pierce to arrive, and the captain delivered on Sunday afternoon in a 100-94 road win over the Wizards. Pierce scored 34 points to go with seven rebounds and 10 assists and looked like the Pierce of old, as opposed to an old version of Paul Pierce.
While Pierce helped lead the Celtics’ best offensive performance in weeks, the team’s defense was routinely burned in transition by the younger, faster Wizards and a double-digit third quarter lead quickly evaporated. The Celtics were able to hold on down the stretch thanks to Pierce and solid games from Brandon Bass — 13 points and nine rebounds — and Kevin Garnett, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half.
They were once again without Rajon Rondo, who missed his second straight game with a sprained right wrist. They also lost Ray Allen to a sprained left ankle early in the second quarter. He went back to the locker room and did not return.
The Celtics had lost six of seven games heading into Sunday and are now 6-8. Half of their wins have come against Washington, but they’ll take them any way they can get them right now. They’re back in action on Monday at the Garden against the Magic as Glen Davis makes his return to Boston.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– Pierce had his breakout game for the Celtics, doing a little bit of everything. His effect on his teammates was evident by his 10 assists. When the Wizards doubled him off pick and rolls he found Bass for a jumper. He also got Garnett going in the second half with solid pick-and-pop action.
– The Celtics had assists on 13 of 16 makes in the first half and had much better ball movement and spacing than in recent games. That went away in the second half as they relied on Pierce to generate their offense, but it was a positive step.
– Mickael Pietrus had to play big minutes after Allen jammed his left ankle and the veteran swingman played well. He knocked down two 3-pointers, but he also went to the post and drew a foul and put the ball on the floor to create a jump shot. Pietrus also committed two bad fouls in the fourth quarter, but he played well in his first game with major minutes.
– Bass also had a solid game, scoring 13 points to go with nine rebounds. He looked much more comfortable in the Celtics’ sets and had a strong finish going through JaVale McGee.
WHAT WENT WRONG
– Allen began the game making three of his first four shots as the Celtics made a concerted effort to get him off screens. But Allen jammed his left ankle early in the second quarter when he ran around a screen set by the Wizards’ Jan Vesely. There was no contact on the play. Allen went back to the locker room and did not return.
– E’Twaun Moore has had his moments thus far in his rookie season, but so far that hasn’t translated into production. He’s made only one of his last 15 shots. Marquis Daniels has also struggled and beyond Bass and Pietrus, the Celtics bench has yielded few results.
– Avery Bradley remains a work in progress. He took several wild shots and careened into three Wizards on the fast break and got called for a charge. Bradley had six rebounds and seven assists, but he also was 1-for-8 from the floor and 1-for-4 from the free throw line with six turnovers. Wizards guard John Wall had his way with him on the defensive end, scoring 27 points to go with 10 rebounds and seven assists.
|Avery Bradley’s successful first NBA start||01.21.12 at 1:44 am ET|
In the first quarter of Friday night’s loss against the Suns, Avery Bradley picked off a pass at midcourt and converted an easy layup. In the fourth quarter, Bradley lunged after a loose ball underneath Boston’s basket, saving a possession that led to a score.
That’s his job: Provide energy and defense.
Injuries to Rajon Rondo and Keyon Dooling gave Bradley an opportunity to make his first start in the NBA. The experience was valuable.
“It builds my confidence a lot,” said Bradley. “Every game I play I know what Doc [Rivers] and my teammates expect from me — to bring that energy every time I step on the floor.”
He was tasked with defending two-time league MVP Steve Nash. Bradley felt his best chance to combat the 37-year-old was to antagonize him with aggressive defense.
“I tried to get him tired,” Bradley said. “[I] picked him up full court to let him know I was going to bother him the whole game.”
|Fast Break: Suns rise, Celtics fall … again||01.20.12 at 9:56 pm ET|
Friday night’s Celtics game against the Suns at the Garden was a familiar story: Get off to a slow start, fall behind by double digits, make it close and fall behind again after exerting too much energy playing from behind all night.
The final result: A 79-71 Phoenix victory in Boston.
Ray Allen led the Celtics with 14 points. Paul Pierce (12), Brandon Bass (11), Kevin Garnett (10) and Avery Bradley all reached double figures, but the C’s (5-9) lost their sixth game in seven tries.
Suns center Marcin Gortat totaled 24 points (14 in the first quarter) and 12 rebounds to lead the Suns (6-9). Steve Nash added 11 points and nine assists.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Pole position: Gortat scored almost as many points in the first quarter (14) as the Celtics (15) — on just as many field goals (7) and eight fewer shots (19-11). If Jermaine O’Neal wants to be judged on his defense, let’s just say it wasn’t so good early, and the Celtics were forced to play catch-up all night once again.
Poor paint job: The Celtics simply had nobody capable of getting to the rim and scoring. Their guards weren’t deft enough to get to the hoop, and their bigs weren’t athletic enough to get their shot off cleanly. On multiple occasions, Paul Pierce worked his way into the paint, only to be contested by a quicker defender who could simply jump higher.
Rondo a no go: Let’s face it: At this point, Rondo is the Celtics offense. Without him orchestrating and finding Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the wings or Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass for open jumpers, everything else falls apart. Even with Rondo, the Celtics offense hasn’t exactly looked pretty this season. Without him, it’s downright ugly. The Celtics succeeded in keeping their turnover total high (18), leading to 20 Phoenix points.
|Fast Break: Back to back blues continue||01.14.12 at 9:33 pm ET|
It wasn’t like anyone expected the Celtics to fly out of Indiana on the second night of a back-to-back with a victory, if you needed any more evidence that they have a long way to go, it was provided in a 97-83 loss. It’s also worth noting that the Pacers were also on the second end of a back-to-back.
The starters got off to a much better offensive start, but it was the second unit that couldn’t keep the momentum going and they had nothing left in the second half. Defensively, they let the Pacers control the paint (they allowed 20 offensive rebounds) and they couldn’t keep them off the free throw line.
The one bright spot was Kevin Garnett who had a bounceback game with 21 points and six rebounds and was much more aggressive offensively. Paul Pierce also scored 21 points by getting to the free throw line and knocking down a couple of 3-pointers.
WHAT WENT WRONG
– The bench didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus combined to shoot 3-for-10 in the first half and that was the only offense they received from the second unit. Avery Bradley was replaced by rookie E’Twaun Moore after badly bricking a jumpshot.
– Paul George is an impossible cover for Ray Allen. At 6-foot-8, there’s little that Allen can do with him and the Pacers smartly took advantage of that as George went to the free throw line six times in the first half. Pietrus came in and did a solid job defensively.
– Danny Granger is the latest small forward to have a big game on Pierce. He went for 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the first half and finished with 21.
– Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen combined to shoot 6-for-17 and finished with just 13 points. Rondo did have nine assists and Allen contributed six rebounds, but Darren Collison and George put up 34 points.
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