|Fast Break: Celtics lose No. 2 seed, Delonte West||04.11.11 at 10:19 pm ET|
Celtics coach Doc Rivers rested the Big Four to keep them healthy for the playoffs, Delonte West re-injured his right ankle and the Celtics officially dropped to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs after an ugly 95-94 overtime road loss to the Wizards on Monday.
When Wizards center JaVale McGee trampled West at midcourt in the third quarter, the Celtics guard sprained his right ankle again and did not return after producing 11 points and five assists in 23 minutes. Meanwhile, the Celtics (55-26) clinched the No. 3 seed and will face the Knicks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Resting the starters: Despite owning an identical record to the Lakers and trailing the Heat by one game for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, Celtics coach Doc Rivers elected to start a lineup of Delonte West, Von Wafer, Jeff Green, Glen Davis and Jermaine O’Neal. Rivers said the value of physical and — more importantly — mental rest outweighed foregoing rest to play for potential homecourt advantages against the Lakers and Heat.
Delonte West re-injuring his ankle: West missed 57 of the team’s first 80 games with a 10-game suspension, a broken right wrist and a right ankle sprain that he initially suffered during a late February practice. And now it appears as if he’s going to miss at least one more, as he left Monday night’s game against the Wizards in the third quarter after spraining his right ankle again when McGee ran him over at midcourt. Even after initially returning on March 16, West admitted he had a chipped bone in that same right ankle, which could signal a dependency on Carlos Arroyo at the backup point guard position.
Not so sweet 16-point run: After taking an early 11-point lead in the first quarter, the Celtics gave up a 16-0 run that spanned 5:25 between the first and second quarters while delivering a 28-23 lead to the Wizards. For the most part, Nenad Krstic‘s presence coincided with that run. The C’s led 12-3 when Krstic entered for O’Neal and trailed 25-23 when O’Neal subbed back in. Once Krstic exited, the Celtics finished the first half on a 21-14 run, taking a 44-37 lead into the break and making it a game for the remainder of the night.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
A healthy Jermaine O’Neal: Because of Krstic’s inability to contribute defensively, Rivers was forced to play Jermaine O’Neal more minutes than he had indicated he would prior to the game. And O’Neal responded. He nearly reached a double-double by hafltime and finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in 36 minutes of action. He entered the game averaging 5.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 17.1 minutes a night.
Jeff Green’s monster night: Insterted back into a role he had become accustomed to with the Thunder, Green started and proved to be the best player on the court for either team. He totaled 20 points — albeit on 8-of-20 shooting — a season-high 15 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Prior to Monday night, Green hadn’t had a 20-point night since March 4 and had not reached double-digits rebounds in a Celtics uniform. The C’s can only hope that he can translate that effort into effectiveness off the bench moving forward.
Replacements starting well: Behind the aggressive play of Jermaine O’Neal, West and Green, the Celtics jumped out to a 23-12 lead. During that stretch, Green scored six points in the first 9:37, West assisted on four of the C’s first nine field goals and O’Neal grabbed four rebounds in his first-quarter minutes. Those four boards gave O’Neal more rebounds in 5:37 against the Wizards than he had totaled in his three previous games combined — against the Heat, Bulls and 76ers.
|Report: Shaquille O’Neal should play Game 1||at 6:09 pm ET|
“Celtics president Danny Ainge said Shaquille O’Neal unlikely to play Wed, but expected to practice Thursday and be ready for Game 1,” Globe reporter Gary Washburn wrote.
O’Neal has played once since Feb. 1, missing 26 games with an inflamed Achilles tendon before returning on April 3 — when he strained his calf against the Pistons after just five minutes on the floor. The 15-time NBA All-Star has averaged 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 37 games for the Celtics this season.
As it stands now, the Celtics would be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and face the Knicks in Round 1 of the playoffs (date, time TBA).
In other Celtics news, multiple reports indicate that Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen will not play against the Wizards in Washington on Monday night. Glen Davis, Delonte West and Jeff Green are expected to start in their place.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics’ individual titles slipping away||at 12:38 pm ET|
After Sunday’s poor showing in Miami, Rondo trails Suns point guard Steve Nash for the NBA’s assist crown and Hornets point guard Chris Paul for the steals title. Meanwhile, Allen is still chasing Spurs forward Matt Bonner for the league lead in 3-point shooting percentage.
For much of the season, Rondo led the league in assists, but his numbers have dipped in recent weeks and Nash slid into the top spot. With two games left, Nash is averaging 11.4 assists (829 in 73 games), while Rondo is producing 11.2 (760 in 68). In all likelihood, that crown is out of reach for Rondo, considering he would need 35 assists in the final two games if Nash maintains his current 11.356 assists per game average.
The NBA’s returning steals leader, Rondo has trailed Paul by a slim margin for the majority of this year. Paul is averaging 2.36 steals (184 in 78 games), while Rondo is producing 2.25 (153 in 68 games). The C’s point guard would need 13 steals in his last two games to surpass Paul’s current 2.359 steals per game average.
Despite being the NBA’s all-time career 3-point leader, Allen has never won a single-season 3-point shooting title. Making 168-of-378 3-point attempts — producing the highest percentage (.444) of his career –Allen made a push for the crown this year. But Bonner has connected on 102-of-224 treys (.455), so Allen would need to make his next eight 3-point attempts to surpass Bonner’s current 3-point shooting percentage.
|Kevin Garnett: ‘Fatigue’s not an option’||04.09.11 at 12:16 am ET|
On the second night of a back-to-back, following a letdown loss against the Bulls, in the 79th installment of an 82-game season, the Celtics had plenty of excuses to pack it in against the sub-.300 Wizards — a routine they’ve fallen prey to countless times in the past two seasons.
“At the end of the day, it’s competitive, and both sides are going to have competitive players who want to win,” said Garnett, who totaled 15 points and 11 rebounds against the Wizards. “It doesn’t matter who we play. You take the court, you suit up, and that’s what you’re expecting. Whether you’re playing lesser teams or below .500 teams or above .500 teams, you’ve got to anticipate that a team is trying to beat you.”
Thursday night, an above .500 team not only tried to beat the Celtics but succeeded with flying colors. And while Pierce quickly downplayed a question about the blowout loss to the Bulls — issuing a curt “We’re past that” response — the defeat has clearly stuck with Garnett.
“We want to keep that fresh in our mind,” said Garnett. “It’s motivating. We played like trash, and they played great. You want that to motivate you. We’ve got a really good Heat team coming up, and we’ll be tested again.”
The Celtics face the Heat on Sunday in a game that could decide the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, as a C’s win would put them one game up on the Heat with the tiebreaker in hand and two games left.
“We’re just trying to gather some momentum with these games that we have left and be aggressive,” added Garnett. “[Friday], after the performance of [Thursday], it was probably more of an emphasis on being aggressive and for the most part we did that. I think we’re looking for that consistency. We’ll see. If we decide as a team to come into that, then that’s what we’ll be. If not, we’ll have problems.”
The injuries have placed a greater burden on this year’s stars than Celtics coach Doc Rivers had anticipated, and the team’s three aging stars will all have played more minutes this season than they did during the 2009-10 regular season. Still, Garnett isn’t using that as an excuse to explain the team’s lackluster performance since the All-Star break.
“Fatigue’s not an option right now,” he said. “It’s not an option. But we are trying to get better, and we’re doing it with hard work and effort, as usual. … A lot of [fatigue] is mental.”
|Fast Break: Celtics rebound against Wizards||04.08.11 at 10:00 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo (20 points, 14 assists), Kevin Garnett (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (22 points, 12 rebounds) all recorded double-doubles, and Ray Allen (13 points) showed signs of coming out of his recent slump, making 5-of-10 shots (but only 1-of-6 3-pointers). The Celtics (55-24) did their part in the race against the Heat for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.
Andray Blatche led the Wizards (21-58) with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon Rondo’s fast start: One night after reportedly asking coach Doc Rivers for a 1-on-1 meeting, the Celtics point guard came out of the gates with a full head of steam, recording more assists in the first quarter against the Wizards (7) than he did all night against the Bulls (6). By the third quarter, he had already recorded a double-double. As a side note, Rondo continued to incite concerns about his aggressiveness around the basket, passing up easy shots to create more difficult ones.
Kevin Garnett came to play: It’s no surprise that a showdown with Blatche brought out the best in Garnett, as the two have a long history of back-and-forth bickering. Knocking down six of his first eight shots, the Celtics forward registered his 28th double-double of the season by the third quarter. Of course, Blatche wasn’t so bad himself, producing a double-double of his own.
Back to the basics: Of course, it helped that they were playing the Wizards. The Celtics totaled only 22 points in the paint and 14 assists (on 28 field goals) against the Bulls. Against Washington, they nearly doubled their output from the previous night in both areas (48 points in the paint and 25 assists), as all five starters reached double figures and each of the Big Four had at least three assists.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Just when you think they’re out of it … the Celtics let them back in. After building a lead as big as 12 points and appearing to be in total command during the first 6:39 of the game, the C’s predictably — as they have all season — let the Wizards close the gap to 59-56 at the half. As the season nears a close, Rivers would love to be able to rest his stars, but the bench hasn’t been productive enough and the starters haven’t been aggressive enough to put bad teams away.
Will Troy Murphy ever contribute consistently? The C’s waiver wire acquisition saw some rare early playing time against the Wizards. Offensively, he committed a turnover and seemed lost for many of his 14 minutes on the floor, although he made a couple layups. Defensively, he got burned by unstoppable force JaVale McGee and immovable object Andray Blatche. All in all, not a great showing by Murphy, who’s in desperate need of good showings if he wants to see playoff minutes.
Delonte West gets the heave ho: The team’s best point guard against the Bulls Thursday night, Delonte West didn’t even make it through the second quarter Friday. Playing tough defense but scoring just two points in less than six minutes of play, West picked up Washington point guard John Wall on full-court pressure, only to be whistled for a cheap foul. He didn’t complain. Instead, he picked up Wall again, defending all the way up the court until another, worse whistle 14 seconds later.
After two separate verbal exchanges between West and referee Josh Tiven, the Celtics backup point guard picked up two technical fouls and, as a result, the ejection. West quietly walked off the court, leaving the C’s with Carlos Arroyo and Avery Bradley as their options off the bench.
|NBA Power Rankings, 4/8||at 6:41 pm ET|
1. Chicago (58-20): The good news: With their 16-point victory against the Celtics on Thursday night, the Bulls emphatically proved they have the best player in the NBA, the best coach in the NBA and, most importantly, the best team in the NBA. The bad news: They also ensured that Chicago fans will be forced to awkwardly walk past a weird half-bust/half-statue thing of Scottie Pippen.
2. LA Lakers (55-23): In a fantastic profile of Lakers coach Phil Jackson, we learned three important facts: 1) He really is retiring at season’s end; 2) Upon meeting Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant told his idol, “I can take you 1-on-1″; and 3) A full-bearded man should never wear shorts this short. If two three-peats with Kobe and the Lakers to go along with the six titles with Jordan and the Bulls would be a perfect symmetry to Jackson’s career, how much sweeter would a Celtics title be for Boston fans?
3. Boston (54-24): The Bulls embarrassed the Celtics Thursday night, but the C’s are still 8-3 against the top-five NBA teams, 6-1 against their potential first-round opponents (76ers and Knicks) and 3-0 against their probable second-round opponent (Heat). As Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics also lost to the Cavaliers by 29 in the home stretch of the 2009-10 regular season. If that’s not cause for optimism, then maybe Rick Pitino was right about the negativity in this town.
4. San Antonio (60-19): Are the Spurs the team that started the season 57-13 or the squad that lost six straight from March 25 to Arpil 1? Does anybody still have confidence that San Antonio can knock off the Lakers in the Western Conference finals? Will Eva Longoria get a cut of Tony Parker‘s playoff share as part of their divorce? So many questions still for this team.
5. Miami (54-24): After Derrick Rose and the Bulls obliterated the Celtics for their 17th victory in 19 games and the Heat lost to the Cavaliers and Bucks in a span of eight days, don’t hold your breath for a response from anyone who believed LeBron James deserved this season’s MVP honor.
|Irish Coffee: The Rajon Rondo roller coaster||at 12:16 pm ET|
Make no mistake: The Celtics’ 97-81 loss to the Bulls falls on Rajon Rondo‘s shoulders.
To say he got outplayed by Derrick Rose is like saying the seas got a little choppy during “The Perfect Storm.” Rose obliterated Rondo, tying a neat little bow around his NBA Most Valuable Player trophy and effectively clinching the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the process.
The box score tells you plenty. Rose outscored Rondo by 23 points on just six more shots. He got to the free-throw line seven more times (making nine more foul shots). He knocked down as many 3-pointers on Thursday night as Rondo has totaled in his last 33 games. He recorded more steals than the league’s second-best theft. He produced more assists than a guy who had averaged 3.3 more dimes per game. And the most damning statistic: In terms of plus/minus, Rose (+24) owned a 38-point edge over Rondo (-14).
But the box score doesn’t tell the entire story. Offensively, Rose blew by Rondo at will, wreaking havoc on the league’s best defense. Kevin Garnett and another Celtics defender constantly provided help, leaving Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and just about every other Bulls big wide open on the weakside to put back rare Rose misses.
Remember when Rose stormed by Rondo and lost the ball underneath the basket, only to fire the ball out to Luol Deng for a wide open 3-pointer to put the Bulls up, 44-37? Those are the kinds of things that happen when a point guard walks into the lane as easily as my mother walks along Bay Lane. And those are the kinds of things that Rondo failed to do for the Celtics all night.
You wonder why Keith friggin’ Bogans played Ray Allen to a standstill, and then you realize that Rondo failed to create open shots for the game’s greatest shooter. When’s the last time the Big Three were all held to 15 points or fewer? Oh, that’s right, it was an awful 93-77 loss to the Rockets on March 18, when Rondo (4 points, 6 assists) got torched by Kyle Lowry (20 points, 9 assists).
It’s fairly simple: When the Celtics have more assists than their opponent, they’re 50-11; when they don’t, they’re 4-13. And who’s “the head of the monster” who steers the C’s ship, as Allen said on Mut & Merloni? That’s right, Rondo.
If Rondo succeeds, the Celtics succeed. When he produces 10 or more assists, the Celtics are 35-6, and that .854 winning percentage only climbs higher as his assist totals sore. When Rondo gets to 13 assists, the Celtics are 13-2 (an .867 winning percentage). In the 10 games he’s reached 16 assists, the C’s are a perfect 10-0.
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