|Celtics take care of business||03.26.12 at 10:05 am ET|
When analyzing the Celtics‘ schedule in the lockout-shortened season, their eight-game road trip in the middle of March stood out like like an Avery Bradley 19-point first half. The stretch took on new meaning and appeared even more daunting as it drew nearer. The veteran squad had struggled all season long with a combination of ill-timed injuries, rumors of possible trades and overall inconsistent play.
On paper the end results weren’t flawless, or even impressive — the Celtics finished 4-4 — but sans a woeful second half against a bad Kings team, the performances were proof the Celtics could still make noise come playoff time. Doc Rivers wanted his team to maintain the intensity upon returning home Sunday night against an inferior Wizards team.
“We told them we are not at home,” Rivers said. “We are on the road still. The road trip ends after the next game is the way we look at it.”
Empirical evidence suggests the Celtics could perform up to their potential in a dominating performance, like they did against the Blazers just before the road tip, or drop a game they should win like they did losing both games of a home-and-home series against a lottery-bound Pistons team in February. Fortunately for the C’s, the former occurred as they shot 65 percent and built a 19-point lead at halftime they would never surrender.
Pierce is not being arrogant or presumptuous in his statement; he is being truthful (no pun intended). The Celtics should post victories against teams out of contention like the Wizards. However, even though the road trip is over, in the final 18 games only four are against teams with no playoff aspirations. Additionally, Boston faces the Heat three times, has matchups against the Knicks and Bucks — each of whom are battling the Celtics for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference — and has a trip to conference-leading Chicago.
“There are a lot of expectations,” Greg Stiemsma said. “We step on the floor and expect to win every night, and we’ve got big plans the rest of the year.”
If any plans are to come to fruition, games like Monday’s in Charlotte no longer can be chalked up to an off night due to back-to-back games. Schedule losses don’t happen to championship-caliber teams in April while gearing up for the playoffs.
|Randy Wittman aside, Avery Bradley had a pretty awesome game for the Celtics||03.25.12 at 10:52 pm ET|
When your entire team is outscored by a back-up point guard in the first quarter of a regulation NBA game, you’d think you’d be a little more tactful and respectful.
“I could have scored those lay-ups,” Wittman said. “I am being serious. We didn’t have anybody guarding him. When I was a player if you gave me four lay-ups o start the game. I’d have a pretty good groove on to make some jump shots. He ought to send us a postcard of thank-yous or something for allowing him to score. I’m sure he thought it was lay-up lines before the game.”
But Wittman was more frustrated at his own team’s incompetence than he was really cutting on Avery Bradley‘s 15 first quarter points on Sunday night.
To Wittman’s point, Bradley hit an 18-foot jumper and then two layups before a 3-points, another three layups. He started the game 7-for-7 en route to a career-high 23 points.
‘My main focus is to play hard on the defensive end,” Bradley said. “I was fortunate enough that my teammates could find me in transition.
‘I think that it’s just a confidence thing. I’m feeling more confident out there. My teammates make me feel more confident, more comfortable, so then I am knocking down more shots.’
Doc Rivers said he was glad Bradley finally proved what he’d been saying all season – that Bradley can shoot.
“Like I said it’s all about confidence,” Bradley said. “Sometimes I will go into the game being hesitant about shooting. Now if I go into the game if I’m open, I’m open. I’ve been shooting and I’ve been making.
‘I just have to keep improving. Doc tells me things I need to improve on, not only him but my teammates, and I’m just hoping to learn whatever I need to get better.’
Now, with Ray Allen out again on Monday, he’ll be asked to do it again on Monday night in Charlotte. But he’ll have to do so nursing the sprained left ankle suffered Friday in Philadelphia.
“It was a little sore, it’s sore now, but I’m just going to get treatment,’ Bradley said.
As a result, the Celtics find themselves just a half-game out of first in the Atlantic Division again, with a chance to make further hay when they take on the 7-39 Bobcats Monday night in Charlotte.
If the Celtics can take care of business, they could actually find themselves in the No. 4 seed in the East despite the mounting injuries to Ray Allen (ankle), Mickael Pietrus (concussion), Avery Bradley (ankle) and Greg Steimsma (both feet).
But for one night – against the 11-win Wizards – the Celtics looked re-energized if not refreshed after dropping their contest in Philly on Friday night.
‘I was actually kind of tired to start the game,” said Paul Pierce, whose 21 points finished just behind Bradley’s game-high 23 points. “You know usually that first game is a rough one but you just try to get your body back adjusted to the time zone, to our home court. When you haven’t played on this court in two weeks it feels like an away game. But our crowd did a good job of keeping us in it, and we got off to a great start. That was the key, especially coming off such a big trip when you have a lot of let downs and lulls, but we responded well.’
As for Bradley, Pierce was grateful for the pick-me-up in the first half since he had just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in the first half.
“It was great,” Pierce said. “He carried us in the first half. All the great teams and all the champions always have that player who can step up outside the stars and that’s what makes the team, even a better team. And each night we got to have guys, and tonight was Avery. And if that’s something we can have consistently throughout the rest of the year, no matter who it is we are going to be a tough team to beat come playoff time.’
Pierce wasn’t making excuses for beating an 11-win Washington team.
‘This is definitely a game we were suppose to win,” Pierce said. “The Washington Wizards are in a rebuilding phase, they traded away a lot of their players, but its just nice to get a win, especially coming off a tough loss and losing Mickael Pietrus.’
|Fast Break: Celtics call curtains on Wizards of loss||at 8:19 pm ET|
Starting in place of the injured Allen (ankle), Bradley emerged as the unlikely offensive hero in a lopsided 88-76 victory against the lowly Wizards (11-37), tallying a career-high 23 points to help the C’s (26-22) climb back to within a game of the 76ers (27-21) for first place in the Atlantic Division (depending on how Philadelphia fared against the Spurs later Sunday night).
Held scoreless for the first quarter, Paul Pierce added 21 points and eight rebounds.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Avery Shuttlesworth: Bradley outscored the Wizards 15-12 all by himself in the first quarter. The same Avery Bradley who had only reached double digits six times all year and entered the game shooting 47 percent from the field. He set a season-high in scoring, and did it by totaling 13 points just 5:15 into the game. By first quarter’s end, Bradley had totaled 15 points on perfect 7-for-7 shooting.
Stieming up: Like Bradley, Greg Stiemsma also started perfect from the floor (4-for-4), totaling 10 points and seven boards by halftime — seemingly on his way to his first career double-double (although he recorded neither a point nor a board after the break). Raise your hand if you had Bradley and Stiemsma as the leading scorers for the Celtics at halftime of a game they led 53-34 through the first 24 minutes.
Stoppable: Whether it was good defense or bad offense — or more likely a combination of the two — the Wizards started an atrocious 3-for-25 from the field, as the Celtics built a 33-12 advantage only 3:20 into the second quarter. The team’s leading scorer, John Wall, missed his first five shots and didn’t score until the final minute of the first half. In fact, Washington didn’t match Bradley’s 15 first-quarter points for the game’s first 16 minutes.
|JaJuan Johnson makes the most of his opportunity||02.02.12 at 1:33 am ET|
After the Celtics‘ 100-64 thrashing of the Raptors Wednesday night, Mickael Pietrus directed the media to JaJuan Johnson‘s locker. “He’s ready for you guys,” Pietrus said. The reticent Johnson nervously laughed.
“This is only one game,” said Johnson. “It’s definitely good for me personally to have a game like this. I definitely want to be a contributor to this team.”
Johnson had been used only sparingly this season, seeing a grand total of 28 minutes going into Wednesday night’s game. In those brief stints Johnson has shown flashes of why the Celtics took him in the first round of the draft. However, the most amount of time he had logged in a game was just over 5 1/2 minutes.
“Like I told someone earlier, you just have to see the bigger picture,” Johnson said. “I understand my time will come. You have to be ready at all times, and that’s what I try to do.”
|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 »
Latest from Bleacher Report
- Why Celtics Will Be Better Than Expected in 2014-15
- Should Celtics Fans Buy or Sell Rondo's Hot Start?
- Lessons Learned from Celtics so Far
- Why Green Will Finally Succeed in Boston
- C's Big Offense Showing a Sign of Things to Come?
- Green's Transition to PF Could Reshape NBA Career Arc
- Could Rondo's Play Increase the Chances He's Dealt?