|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.”
Say this for Doc Rivers — he’s not going to order any blank white banners with green trim just because his team systematically dismantled one of the best teams in the NBA on Sunday at TD Garden. The Celtics outscored the Heat, 31-12, in the third quarter, taking the heart right out Miami en route to a 91-72 blowout over the second-place team in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics could very well see Miami in the playoffs. And if they do, does Sunday’s performance give Rivers a baseline of what it’s going to take to have a chance?
“It’s going to take this, and better because they’re going to be better,” Rivers said. “Miami didn’t play well today. We had something to do with it but they didn’t play well. They’re better than that. We know that.”
A boxing fan growing up in Chicago, Rivers used a pugilistic metaphor to a get a message across to his team.
“I’ve always laughed when people say it’s going to be a boxing match and then when you get hit, you’re shocked,” Rivers said. “I told them, ‘When you go into a boxing match you actually get hit.’ It doesn’t mean you’re not going to win but you go in prepared to get hit. I thought our guys had that mentality and it showed in the second quarter. When they made their run, we showed some resolve.
“I said, ‘Guys, they’re supposed to hit you. You’re in a boxing match.’ You just have to keep punching. That’s how the playoffs are to me. You’ve got to be prepared to get hit hard and then hit back and hit harder.”
Hit back is exactly what the Celtics did Sunday, throwing a body blow when the Heat got to within one on a 10-0 run in the second quarter. But the knockout came in the third quarter, when they opened on a 23-8 spurt to open the second half.
One of the toughest young fighters on the Celtics is Avery Bradley, who got the message loud and clear.
‘Every game’s a boxing match for us,” Bradley said. “Doc did come out and say your going to him them first and they’re going to hit you back.’
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I just tried to go out there and be great’||04.01.12 at 11:23 pm ET|
More and more, Rajon Rondo looks like a hit man carrying out his mission.
And more and more, he is looking really comfortable taking his orders from Doc Rivers.
Sunday, he scored 10 points in the first six minutes, making all four field goals he attempted, grabbing four rebounds and four assists. As a matter of fact, the Celtics led Miami, 21-10, midway through and Rondo had accounted for all 21 points. He scored 10, assisted on seven and fed Brandon Bass twice on plays that results in four free throws.
‘Coach ordered it, I was just trying to get it done,” Rondo said, sounding just like a hit man.
Did Rondo and the C’s make a statement?
‘Statement or not, we did what we’re supposed to do tonight, which is get a win on our home court,” Rondo said. “We’re playing pretty good as of late. Avery Bradley is playing tremendous. He’s changing the game right now with his defensive energy, and the way he’s playing offensively as well.’
After his fifth triple-double of the season and 18th career, Rondo spoke like a point guard who feels confident he can lead his team deep in the NBA playoffs, even against the powerhouses like the Heat and Bulls.
“I think when we have at least four or five guys healthy, we follow the game plan,” Rondo said after his 16-point, 14-assist and 11-rebound performance in Boston’s 91-72 spanking of Miami Sunday at the Garden. “But when I’m healthy, I think we can probably beat anybody.”
Last year, Rondo suffered a grotesque dislocation of his left elbow in Game 3 against the Heat. The Celtics won that game but lost the Eastern semifinals four games to one.
Rondo said he does not pay particular attention to the national spotlight, despite the fact that 14 of his career 18 triple-doubles have come on national TV.
“I think my teammates put a spotlight on me more than the media or the televised games,” Rondo said. “Four or five guys came up to me today and told me to be aggressive and show what a great point guard is. So I just tried to go out there and just be great.”
‘Yeah, we’re just going to tell him we’re playing on ABC every day,” Rivers joked. “One of the things going in the game today: we told Rondo that we needed him to be a scorer. Not necessarily a playmaker; a scorer. And I thought he set the tone at the beginning of the game by doing that, and I thought that loosened it up for everybody else to get into the game. He was terrific.
“I thought everyone played well. I thought [Kevin Garnett] defensively was unbelievable tonight. And it’s good. That’s where we’re making our hay right now. We’re still struggling on the glass, even though today we held our own by the end they had 15 offensive rebounds. But they had them because they were missing a lot of shots; they had more offensive rebound opportunities.’
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s triple-double beats Heat||at 6:02 pm ET|
Nobody else in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season. Rajon Rondo now has five.
Dominating the first and third quarters of Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised game against the Heat (37-14), Rondo recorded 16 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds in a 91-72 dismantling of the Eastern Conference’s current No. 2 seed.
The Celtics (30-22) move a full game up on the 76ers for the Atlantic Division lead and within two games of the third-seeded Magic, who were scheduled to play the Nuggets without Dwight Howard (back spasms) later Sunday afternoon.
All five starters reached double figures, including Bass (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Bradley (13 points), while Pierce and LeBron James canceled each other out with 23 points apiece, as the C’s led by as many as 29 points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
A nation awaits: Rondo amassed seven points and three rebounds in the game’s first 3:43, sparking a 9-4 Celtics run (he assisted Kevin Garnett on the only other field goal) to start the game and forcing a Heat timeout less than four minutes into the game. Apparently, Rondo remembered Sunday’s game was nationally televised (like 14 of his 18 career triple-doubles). He finished the first quarter with 10 points, four assists and four rebounds, giving the C’s a 29-19 advantage. The third quarter was more of the same, as Rondo totaled six points and eight assists in that frame to stake the Celtics to an 80-56 lead.
No Wade out: With Ray Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (concussion) still out of the Celtics lineup, all eyes were on Avery Bradley as he drew the defensive assignment on Wade. Further earning his reputation already as one of the game’s great defenders, Bradley held Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, including this ridiculous second-quarter block. Conversely, Bradley’s knack for cutting to the basket offensively paid dividends against the gambling Wade.
All glass Bass: Considering the stage, this might have been the best Bass performance of the season. He registered his fourth double-double of the year, giving the Celtics the advantage on the defensive glass (44-32) and getting to the line offensively. He made all 10 of his free throw attempts, totaling his 16 points on five official field goal attempts. Rarely do the Celtics get to the line as frequently as the Heat, but on Sunday they owned a 22-17 advantage in free throws.
|Kevin Garnett: ‘I have nothing positive to say’ about Minnesota Timberwolves||03.30.12 at 2:36 pm ET|
On Friday night, the Celtics are shooting for their fourth straight victory and a sixth win in their last seven games when they travel to Minneapolis, the city Kevin Garnett called home for his first 12 NBA seasons.
Loyalty means everything to Garnett, and as we learned following Wednesday’s defeat of the Jazz, that devotion moved to Boston from Minnesota when the Timberwolves sent him to the Celtics in 2007 for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations, their 2009 first-round draft pick and Minnesota’s 2009 first-round pick that they had traded to Boston in the Ricky Davis–Wally Szczerbiak deal.
“It’s always special to come back to true fans and sort of your foundation, but as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say, so I’ll just let it be that,” said Garnett. “I think Kevin Love is playing at a high level. I think he’s rejuvenated the city as far as basketball goes. Other than that, nothing else.”
To say Love is playing at a high level might be an understatement, as he’s averaging 37.3 points and 16.3 rebounds over his last four games and playing himself into the MVP discussion. There’s been plenty of comparisons between Garnett vs. Love, but recently Garnett has guarded opposing centers, so it will be interesting to see if the two actually square off head-to-head in Friday night’s matchup.
Speaking of Garnett at the five position, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, he could be the perfect fill-in for the Celtics at center for the next two or three years. That would allow the Celtics to remain competitive with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and whoever else while maintaining some flexibility for the next round of superstar free agents in two or three years, when the C’s could make a run at someone like — you guessed it — Love.
|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.
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m in a rhythm of finding guys’||at 11:17 am ET|
Take care of the rock.
It’s the simplest of principles in basketball yet sometimes the most challenging.
No one knows this more than Rajon Rondo.
His 14 assists Wednesday gave him double-digit assist totals for 11 straight games, the first player with such a string since Steve Nash went on his remarkable run in 2009. But in those 11 games, he’s committed six turnovers three times and four turnovers twice. Doc Rivers challenged him after the All-Star break to cut down on the turnovers and see what happens.
‘Well it’s been down since All-Star break and we’ve had a couple of them, but overall our numbers are down and that’s huge,” Rivers said Wednesday. “We made some changes, which I probably should have made earlier in the year and since we’ve made those our turnovers have been way down.
‘The only big we throw it to is [Kevin Garnett], above the elbow, basically its that simple,” Rivers added. “Before we were running all the elbow offense, but it was any big and we realized that maybe Kevin should be the only ball handler above the circle.’
And the change from Rondo?
“He’s probably talking about me,” Rondo said. “When I take care of the ball, we take care of the ball as a team so I try to go in with that focus. It starts with the point guard. I have the ball in my hands a lot of the time on the floor. So, if I can take care of the ball, we tend to follow.”
The turnover ratio can explain so much. It can explain why a team that has trouble taking care of the ball possession after possession allows its opponent to get easy buckets in transition.
In the college game, we’ve seen what the University of Kentucky has done turning teams over with its pressure defense. Close games become blowouts in the blink of an eye.
In the NBA this season, we’ve seen a Philadelphia team overachieve and lead its division for most of the season because they are hardly turning the ball over at all. They are on pace to commit fewer than 11 turnovers a game, breaking the previous record of the 2006 Detroit Pistons.
And now we’re seeing the benefit of taking care of the ball from Rondo and the Celtics.
The Celtics have been beaten on the glass by an average of 10 rebounds per game over a stretch in which they’ve gone 4-2. Why? Because they’re committing fewer and fewer turnovers. Take Wednesday night for example.
The rebounding tote board read 43-25 at one point in favor of Utah. But the Celtics committed just six turnovers three quarters while Utah had committed 13, leading to 18 Celtics points. The final numbers were 49-38 and 12-15, respectively.
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