|Irish Coffee: LeBron, Heat ‘never count Celtics out’||04.02.12 at 2:57 pm ET|
Was Sunday’s Celtics blowout, as Chris Bosh suggested, “just a bad, sh#tty game” by his Heat, or was it a warning signal to potential playoff opponents flashed from Boston — one if by C’s, so to speak?
On their way to producing the NBA’s second-best record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have won five straight and seven of their last eight games, the most recent of which handed Miami its third loss in five contests. Over the past week, Doc Rivers & Co. have surged from the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed to within 1.5 games of Dwight Howard‘s Magic and the No. 3 slot. Count the Heat among those in the league taking notice.
“I’m going to say the same thing I said last year: We are one team and I am one guy that never counts the C’s out,” said NBA MVP favorite LeBron James. “I would never count them out. They’ve just got too many winners. They’ve got guys who have been in the moment before. Like I told you guys last year, when everyone was down on the C’s, I always said I’m not going to turn my back on those guys.”
Of course, those guys James referred to are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the latter of whom missed his sixth straight game on Sunday. Didn’t matter, thanks to Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass.
“It’s because we’re a great team,” said Garnett following their 91-72 win over the Heat on national television. “Our positions and personnel, it’s all about a system. You know your role in the system. You do what you’re told in the role. You carry out your role 100 percent wholeheartedly, and that’s your contribution to the team.”
|Celtics notebook: The lure of passing||03.31.12 at 9:23 am ET|
“I appreciate the way you guys play,” Hollins said. “It’s unselfish, no one cares about the points and you guys play to win. You don’t see that in the NBA. If Kevin [Garnett] has five points and 13 rebounds and we win, he’s excited. If [Rajon] Rondo has zero points and 15 assists, he’s excited. You don’t see that. I really appreciate that about the team.”
Hollins has already benefited from the passing culture. He and Rondo have hooked up for three alley-oops in the last two games and his eyes lit up when asked about playing with the point guard.
“I love playing with Rondo,” Hollins said. “The type of player I am, I’m going to complement Rondo and he’s going to complement me. If I can be at the rim, it opens up all the other shooters. The coaching staff is on me to dive and run in transition. It opens everything up.”
Hollins has played just 28 minutes in five games with the Celtics, but his testimonial lies at the heart of what has helped make the Celtics successful again. Their offensive problems have been well documented but here are the gritty numbers:
They rank 26th in points per 100 possessions, just ahead of New Orleans and just behind Toronto, 28th in free throw attempts and dead last in offensive rebounding. They’re ninth in 3-point shooting percentage, but just 23rd in attempts. While they have been making an effort to push the pace since the All-Star break, they do the majority of their scoring in the halfcourt via jump shots.
While Paul Pierce is still capable as a shot-creator and Rondo can open up space, the Celtics rely on passing and ball movement for open shots. More than 67 percent of their made baskets come off assists — the highest rate in the league — and while Rondo racks up assists, the commitment is team-wide. Pierce averages five assists per game and Garnett’s passing from the high and low post remains a unique facet of his game.
It’s a trait that’s not only contagious, it’s passed along to the new players.
“Great passer,” Avery Bradley said of Garnett. “He teaches Brandon [Bass]. When we’re watching film, passes that he makes. That just shows what kind of teammate Kevin is, because somebody could be like, nah I don’t want to tell him to help him get better, but Kevin is constantly trying to help everybody get better.”
Wait, no-pass Bass? Yes, no-pass Bass too. The shoot-first forward has a higher assist rate than at any other time in his career. (The Celtics are more than happy with Bass’ play, by the way. They want him to take his shots and he turns it over far less than the other starters, which shows a player who understands his game and his role.)
One of the primary appeals for the Celtics in free agency is the culture they’ve developed over the last five seasons that celebrates winning over individual numbers. That may not be enough to lure the top free agents, but it will surely attract some players.
SPEAKING OF THE FUTURE Read the rest of this entry »
|Irish Coffee: Doc Rivers molds Celtics bench … again||03.29.12 at 2:23 pm ET|
This version of the Celtics bench is somewhere between Version 3.0 and 893.7. I know because I’ve written each time Doc Rivers molds a different group into form, only to have that unit dismantled by injuries.
At the start of training camp, most expected Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to fill out the 2011-12 Celtics nine-man rotation. Along the way, injuries to Dooling (knee, hip), Green (heart), Wilcox (heart) and Jermaine O’Neal (knee, wrist) forced Bass into the starting lineup and left a rookie (Greg Stiemsma), a sophomore (Avery Bradley) and a guy who cleared waivers (Mickael Pietrus) to fill out the reserve unit.
Sprinkle in a way-past-his-prime Sasha Pavlovic, a guy coming off spinal surgery (Marquis Daniels), two more rookies (JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore) and a little bit of Ryan Hollins, and you’d expect a big old bowl of poop soup that might lead Padma Lakshmi to ask Danny Ainge to kindly, “Please pack your knives and go.”
Somehow, someway, Rivers & Co. are making it work … again. Of course, it helps the veteran core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and — save for a pair of ankle sprains — Ray Allen has remained intact. Those guys can make a lot of players look better, but they also set an example that leads them to play better.
|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.
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