|NBA Power Rankings, 3/24||03.24.11 at 6:47 pm ET|
1. San Antonio (57-14): How is it possible that a team has played better than .800 basketball for pretty much the entire season has flown so far underneath the radar? The Spurs are five games better than every other team in the NBA. Sure, Tim Duncan is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, but underestimating any team coached by Gregg Popovich would be a serious mistake.
2. LA Lakers (51-20): Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have reeled off a 13-1 stretch and begged for attention at every turn. After the lone loss, suffered in Miami, Kobe Bryant was so upset that he decided to start firing up shots in front of TV cameras. Lamar Odom has incessantly publicized his upcoming reality show with wife Khloe Kardashian. And Ron Artest performed his new single “Go Loco” alongside such dignitaries as Fat Joe and B-Real of Cypress Hill on “Lopez Tonight.”
3. Boston (50-20): The Celtics are 9-6 since the dreaded Kendrick Perkins trade, and panic has set in from Stockbridge to Boston. They’ve lost their toughness! Rajon Rondo is lonely without his friend! Where’s Shaquille O’Neal?! Relax. You know what the C’s record was in the first 15 games after the 2010 trade deadline? 9-6. And, more importantly, they have a healthy Kevin Garnett.
4. Chicago (51-19): “Hey, the Bulls lead the Eastern Conference, what gives?” Is that what you’re thinking? Well, consider this: The Celtics have won eight more playoff series as a group than Derrick Rose & Co. — not to mention the fact that they’ve defeated Chicago in 2-of-3 meetings and play in a much tougher division.
5. Dallas (49-21): Is Dirk Nowitzki in the MVP conversation? I know he’s got Cedric Maxwell‘s vote. The giant German is threatening to join Ray Allen‘s “holy trinity of shooting” (the 50-40-90 club), as he’s draining shots at a 53.0 clip from the field, 41.8 from 3-point range and 89.0 from the free-throw line. Read the rest of this entry »
|Irish Coffee: Celtics failing first quarter||at 2:30 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
The Celtics are 4-5 since March 9, and in seven of those games they’ve trailed at the end of the first quarter. As Celtics Hub pointed out in a nice breakdown, the C’s have averaged 18.8 points in the first quarter during that stretch — 5.4 fewer than their season average of 24.2.
Playing from behind is never a good thing. After all, the Celtics are 34-8 after winning the first quarter and 16-12 after losing it. That’s absolutely significant. So, what’s the problem?
Considering the Big Four plays the large majority of the first-quarter minutes, this is on them. Are Rajon Rondo‘s struggles at fault? Should Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — the team’s top two scorers — be getting more touches in the first 12 minutes? Yes, yes and yes.
If I had 10,000 hours to dedicate to this particular blog, I’d calculate the average first-quarter field-goal attempts, points and assists for Rondo, Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett. But I don’t. So, the most recent quarter-by-quarter breakdown by 82games.com — from the 2008-09 season — will have to do. And that’s not a bad year to pick, considering the Big Four had one season under their belt together and were coming off an NBA title run.
The Big Four averaged 20.9 points on 16.5 field-goal attempts and 5.2 assists as a group in the first quarter during that 2008-09 season, according to 82games.com. Over the last nine games, they’ve produced 12.4 points on 12.9 field-goal attempts and 4.3 assists in the opening 12 minutes. Something’s not clicking. That’s 8.5 fewer points, and considering the Celtics have lost their last five games by an average of 7.2 points — there’s your difference.
Sometimes Paul Pierce can display a misleading, almost nervous, smile after a befuddling loss.
Wednesday night was such a case.
Pierce was asked whether he would like to get his hands on the ball more down the stretch, especially when the Celtics were trailing by three and his team needed a big basket. Pierce did get the ball but with 4.2 seconds left, leaving the C’s captain to fire a desperate trey that fell short.
‘We ran some stuff,” Pierce said. “We had the turnover right there down the stretch. For the most part I liked the looks we got. We got Big Baby with a nice shot. Less than 30 seconds we get Rondo right in the paint, going up for a shot that he takes all the time and makes. I’ll take that for a game winner. It just didn’t go our way today.’
Yes, Pierce would like to have touched the ball a little more but he said he didn’t want the team forcing the ball to him.
‘Probably a little bit more, but I play within the framework of the offense,” Pierce said. “I’m not going to make that an issue. We’ve been winning the way we play all year long and the last four years. I’m not going to make that an issue.’
Doc Rivers had a different take.
“We’ve got to score more points,” Rivers said. “I thought in the second half we went through that one stretch where we didn’t even start our offense until like seven seconds on the clock. Milking the clock; I thought the ball just was bounced and didn’t move. Whenever we do that. You know, listen, I think as a whole, our team, we’ve got to get back to understanding ‘ you know Paul is pretty good. And he’s got to get more touches in games. And I think we go back and forth on movement and we want that, but we’ve also got to get Paul involved. That’s on me; I’ve got to get Paul involved more.’
Pierce and the Celtics were also cautioned by their coaches before the game that the Grizzlies were one of the best offensive teams they’ll see in the paint this season. Despite all the pleading and prodding during film sessions, the Grizzlies came out and doubled the C’s 52-26 in the paint.
‘I am surprised because the whole emphasis of today was they are one of the best, if not the best in the league at points in the paint,” Pierce said. “The emphasis was to pack the paint, they aren’t a great three point shooting team so there is no excuse for all that. We should have done a better job in there, make them kick it out and make them knock down a couple of jumpers.
“I thought overall, for the most part we played pretty good defense. We held them to what, 90 points. Especially Zach Randolph, he has been playing out of his mind. A lot of these guys have been playing well. I thought it was a pretty strong defensive game.”
The Celtics also committed 20 turnovers on their home court, which they haven’t exactly been defending that well, especially against teams from the West.
Are the C’s tired? Sure, but as they themselves admitted, who isn’t at this time of the season?
‘The light is at the end of the tunnel, only a few more games left,” Pierce said. “It should be a better sense of urgency I believe around here. Especially finishing off the season on a good note and trying to get that home court advantage in the East.’
Doc Rivers admitted before Wednesday’s game the Celtics were very interested in acquiring Leon Powe at the trade deadline on Feb. 24. But concerns about Powe’s chronic knee problems scared the Celtics away.
After the game, after Powe led the Grizzlies with 13 points, Rivers called Powe the ‘baddest man on the planet’ in Memphis’ 90-87 win over the Celtics at TD Garden. The second-guessing was only natural. Couldn’t the Celtics use that kind of low post offensive threat and defensive toughness right now? Kendrick Perkins is in Oklahoma City, both O’Neals are out and there’s no timetable for either’s return, and Nenad Krstic still fighting what Rivers called ‘ghosts’ on the court.
Truth be told, Powe did not drab a single rebound. And further truth be told, Powe admitted afterward that he could read the writing on the wall after the Celtics acquired Troy Murphy that Boston would not be his landing spot in any deal from Cleveland.
‘I feel good, I appreciate Cleveland, they let me out of my contract and you know, they gave me an opportunity over there, I just appreciate all they did for me,” Powe said of the Cavaliers giving Powe a chance in the summer of 2009, after reconstructive knee surgery. “Just got to this team and they play my style of ball too. It’s a post-up team, they like to go to the post and be strong with the ball, like to play defense. It’s a young team too, I can call some of them young fellas, I’m young still too, but they my young fellas. Yeah I’m a veteran, I’m veteran Powe now.’
Veteran Powe, afterall, is looking out for his best interests, which include a multi-year contract offer next season. He knows he has to show some value to a playoff-bound team to show other teams he still has game.
Powe’s game on Wednesday was all about attacking the Celtics’ depleted low post presence. And he did that with regularity from the moment he checked in with 39.1 seconds left in the first quarter. He made 5-of-6 from the field, all on the low post.
‘Oh man it’s great, it’s fun, especially when you get a win,” Powe said. “This is a great team over there, a great team, and when you can come on the road and beat a great team like that. And do it on the defensive end, like I thought we did, it’s huge for a young, up and coming team, it’s huge, and that just adds fuel to our confidence.’
Powe was arguably the second-most important bench player behind James Posey on the 2008 Celtics world championship team. He brings defensive toughness to the Grizzlies that he did to the Celtics in that championship season.
‘I just try to bring over our help side defense, clogging up the paint,” Powe said. “I’m just making sure that when there’s a pick and roll set, what we learned from the Celtics is, sometimes you pre-rotate, take that away and let other guys sink in, sink and feel. And I thought that was what we did all night tonight, and when we got away from that they got back in the game, got the lead, and then we got back to it on the defensive end and that’s how we pulled it out, with some good tough defense.’
The Celtics had few answers for the second-most important Celtics bench player behind James Posey on the 2008 world champions.
“He was the baddest man on the planet tonight,” Rivers said.
|Grizzlies guard Tony Allen: ‘I’m a Celtic’||at 12:26 am ET|
Tony Allen spent the first six seasons of his career in a Celtics uniform and the last six months as a member of the Grizzlies, so forgive him if he blurred the lines of his allegiance following his new team’s 90-87 victory against his old team. Or don’t.
“I’m a Celtic, but unfortunately, I wear a Grizzlies jersey right now,” said Allen, who was the only member of the Memphis starting five to receive a positive response from the Garden crowd during Wednesday night’s game. “It was a nice reaction. I liked it.”
Allen signed a three-year, $9.5 million deal with the Grizzlies this past offseason. The Celtics reportedly offered Allen two years and $5.2 million to remain in Boston.
“Yeah, it’s strange, but most importantly I was just happy about the victory and how our guys stuck together and focused for 48 minutes,” said Allen. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Celtics fans weren’t cheering when Allen’s night was done, as his eight points and seven rebounds helped the Grizzlies drop the C’s a full game behind the Bulls in the standings.
“I wanted this win more than anything,” he said. “We got it.”
Following his first game in Boston wearing any other color than Celtics’ green — the Grizzlies only appearance at the Garden this season — Allen exchanged kind words with former teammate Kevin Garnett after the final whistle.
“He said, ”Good luck the rest of the way. I miss you,'” said Allen. “He showed me love. It was an emotional day, but I’m happy with the win.”
Another former Celtic, Leon Powe, joined Allen in Memphis after the Cavaliers bought out the remainder of his contract after the trade deadline. Prior to the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted that the Celtics expressed interest in Powe, but ultimately decided his knee concerns were too big a risk. Powe’s 13 points on Wednesday night begged to differ.
“Leon is a presence down there,” said Allen. “He’s a little undersized, but he’s strong. The more he puts in his work on that block, it kind of lightens the load for us. Leon’s just gotta keep being Leon.”
So, did their combined experience as members of the 2007-08 Celtics team that won the NBA title help aid the Grizzlies victory?
“I felt like I was in practice,” added Allen. “I knew all they’re plays. I knew everything they were going to run. It felt good. It was nice to see Doc with those nice suits that he wears. And it was a good overall experience coming here to Boston.”
|Fast Break: Grizzlies attack Celtics||03.23.11 at 10:06 pm ET|
Leon Powe and Tony Allen combined for 21 points and seven rebounds against their old team, and the Celtics fell a full game behind the Bulls in the race for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed after a 90-87 loss to the Grizzlies (40-32) Wednesday night at the Garden.
Rajon Rondo missed 10 of his 12 shots from the field — including what would have been the go-ahead runner with 19 seconds left — but managed 11 assists and 11 rebounds for the Celtics (50-20). The C’s had two more chances to tie the game trailing 90-87 with 13 seconds remaining, but the first attempt ended up in a Glen Davis missed a 3-pointer. Memphis’ Marc Gasol missed both free throws on the other end, and Paul Pierce (game-high 22 points) had a chance for a triple — but that fell short, too.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Slow shooting start: The Celtics shot just 5-of-15 (0-for-2 from 3-point range) from the field in the first quarter, and the Big Four were to blame, making only 2-of-11 attempts. In fact, Tony Allen had more points in the opening 12 minutes as Pierce and Ray Allen combined. Of course, anybody with two points could’ve made that claim. As a result, the Celtics trailed 20-15 and found themselves once again playing from behind in the early going.
Leon Powe: Prior to the game, Doc Rivers said the Celtics had interest in Powe as a buyout option, but hesitated based on the condition of his knee. Well, the knee appeared just fine against the C’s, as Powe (at one point) led all scorers on Wednesday. He finished with 13 points.
Taking care of the ball: The Celtics committed 20 turnovers — leading to 16 Grizzlies’ points — and the biggest culprit was their center, Nenad Krstic. After a 2-for-2 start from the field, it wasn’t a good night for Krstic overall. The C’s big man committed four of those turnovers, missed his final four shots and committed more fouls (5) than he grabbed rebounds (2).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon Rondo attacking the basket: With the Celtics falling behind by 10 early in the second quarter, Rondo sliced to the basket, took on a defender and wrapped a layup underneath him. The C’s closed out the half on a 21-10 run that included a nice give-and-go between Rondo and Delonte West, a nifty Rondo pick that resulted in an and-one for Glen Davis, and a heads-up play in which Rondo fired a ball off a Grizzly to prevent a turnover.
At the break, Rondo had already accumulated six points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, prompting some early triple-double whispers throughout the Garden.
Free-throw shooting: Entering the game, the Celtics ranked in the middle of the pack (16th) in terms of team free-throw percentage (76.4), but they’ve picked it up of late, shooting a combined 63-of-78 (80.8 percent) in their last three victories. Wednesday night was no different, as the Celtics made 22-of-23 free-throw attempts (95.7 percent) in defeat.
3-point shooting … until the final seconds: After starting 0-for-2 from beyond the arc, the Celtics made seven of their next 11 longballs. Two back-to-back treys from Allen in the second quarter helped the Celtics draw within two points. And a Pierce triple late in the fourth quarter brought the C’s within one at 86-85 with three minutes remaining in the game. But the Celtics missed those two game-tying attempts in the final 13 seconds.
|Preview: Grizzlies at Celtics, Game 70||at 2:55 pm ET|
In advance of Wednesday night’s game between the Celtics (50-19) and Grizzlies (39-32) at the TD Garden (7:30 p.m.), we caught up with Chip Crain at the ‘3 Shades of Blue‘ blog. He answered our five most pressing questions on the Western Conference’s current eighth seed (He did the same for a preview of November’s 116-110 C’s overtime victory) ‘¦
1. In the wake of the Tony Allen-O.J. Mayo brawl fiasco, has the team dynamic or chemistry changed?
Yes and No. The fight is one of those things that should never have reached the media first of all. “What happens on the team plane stays on the team plane,” so to speak.
I imagine players get into scraps from time to time during an 82-game season. What made this one so newsworthy was that it involved a well-known player (Mayo), the man who recently took his starting job (Allen) and the severity of the beating (Mayo had a black eye for over a week).
What happened was that Mayo was upset over not being the starting shooting guard once Xavier Henry, who originally started in place of Mayo, was hurt. Instead, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins turned to Allen.
Allen is not a quiet personality. His talking probably irritated Mayo long before the plane flight, but the gambling debt was the last straw. Mayo was pouting and completely in the wrong, and the beating he received was likely justified.
It was unfortunate that it happened, embarrassing that it was reported in the media but it did have a silver lining. The team bonded together after it. Instead of the battle splitting the team apart, they became more focused and united on the team goals. The Grizzlies were 15-19 at the time of the disagreement. They are 24-13 since.
2. What led to Tony Allen getting a starting spot, and why has he been so successful?
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