|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.
|Keyon Dooling: ‘This team is made for the playoffs’||at 9:56 am ET|
Winning can do lots for a team. Most of all – for the Celtics – it’s brought back their swagger.
Never was that more evident than when Keyon Dooling spoke to reporters Wednesday night after his 3-pointer keyed a 7-0 run that broke a 66-66 tie midway through the fourth quarter and helped the Celtics manage a 94-82 win over the Jazz at the Garden.
The win again put them in a flatfooted tie with the Sixers atop the Atlantic Division at 28-22.
But more than that, it gave evidence to the theory held by many inside the Celtics locker room that once they get to the playoffs, they’ll be prepared for success.
“You just stay the course,” Dooling said. “We have a team that is really about us, what we do, building habits and building for the playoffs. This team is made for the playoffs, it’s built for grind-it-out games, and that’s usually how playoff games are. We’re building our habits and guys are executing their roles and starting to get back.”
Dooling is finally healthy after a mid-season bout with a nagging hip injury.
“Just the opportunity is there,” Dooling said. “Coming back from injury, you don’t feel great and you have to earn the trust of the coach and Doc is really starting to trust me and I’m starting to feel what he wants from me when I’m on the court and I’m just trying to find my niche. Each team you’re on, you have to find your niche, get your role, you try to execute it so now I’m just trying to build my role on this team.
“One night it might be diving on the floor, one night it might be making open shots. Every night it’s contributing, keeping guys’ energy up, helping guys from an execution standpoint, just being who I am every day.”
And who he was on Wednesday was a big-time shot maker. His three just over a minute into the fourth snapped a 66-66 tie and gave the Celtics the lead for good. He drilled another jumper two minutes later to put the Celtics up, 75-70.
“Anytime when a team is making a run on you, you’re looking for that slump-buster,” Dooling said. “They tightened the screws defensively, and they packed the paint on [Kevin Garnett]. Me and Sasha were able to get a couple of wide-open looks and we were able to knock them down.”
‘Keyon, he’s just coming on,” Doc Rivers added. “We don’t want to forget how much he’s been injured and now he’s starting to come on. You can see it a little bit and its nice to see him make shots.’
|Kevin Garnett: ‘I hear y’all calling me old’||at 2:11 am ET|
Perhaps it was the presence of Al Jefferson, the kid who he has enjoyed trash talking ever since the Celtics swapped them for each other five years ago. Whatever the reason, Kevin Garnett assumed Yoda’s persona.
Wednesday night, Big Al was just another patron at the Mos Eisley Cantina, at least to the masterful Garnett, who considered Jefferson an afterthought in a mind that’s clearly had plenty weighing on it this season. Rarely do we get a glimpse into KG’s consciousness, so when we do it’s best to savor it completely. Here goes.
|Fast Break: Celtics’ third straight win earns first-place tie||03.28.12 at 9:54 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo became the first player since 2009 to register double-digit assists in 11 straight games (obviously, Steve Nash was the last to accomplish that feat), as his 14 dimes on Wednesday night helped the Celtics (28-22) defeat the Jazz 94-82 and move into another tie with the idle 76ers for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Kevin Garnett submitted his 16th double-double of the season, amassing 23 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Paul Pierce (20 points, 6 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (19 points, 4 rebounds) also turned in big nights.
Meanwhile, despite 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists from old friend Al Jefferson, the Jazz (27-24) dropped into a tie with the Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
High-flying Hollins: He may not be much of a rebounder for a 7-footer, but the 27-year-old Ryan Hollins can run the floor with Rondo, and anyone who can do that will be rewarded. On consecutive plays 30 seconds apart in the waning minutes of the first half, Hollins threw down two alley-oop dunks sandwiched around a Jazz timeout.
Seconds, please: The second quarter was vintage Celtics, who outscored the Jazz 28-14 going into the break. As a team, they shot 11-for-20 (55%) from the field. Pierce scored six points in the frame while Garnett and Bradley each netted five apiece. As good as they were on offense, they might have been better on the defensive end.
Rondo tornado: Where there is vintage Celtics, there is vintage Rondo. His four points, three assists and two rebounds in the first in the first eight minutes cued the triple-double watch early. While he didn’t shoot as much as the Celtics might have liked, he kept the engine running smoothly for most of the night.
Dooling bravos: It’s been a rough season for Keyon Dooling, battling injuries and losing his role to Avery Bradley, but the veteran guard submitted his best performance of the season. He scored seven points, including a huge fourth-quarter trey that gave the Celtics the lead back after the Jazz tied it, 66-66.
|Irish Coffee: Greg Stiemsma’s March to NBA legitimacy||03.26.12 at 1:55 pm ET|
As Austin Powers reminded us, the idiom of a steamroller as an overwhelming, irresistible force isn’t exactly an apt one. Rather, the plodding machine goes about its business, transforming a bumpy road into a smooth, consistent surface. And so goes the NBA life of Greg “The Stiemroller” Stiemsma.
Since amassing 13 points and seven rebounds during his first career start just six games into his rookie season, Stiemsma became somewhat of a cult hero in Boston — Brian Scalabrine 2.0, if you will — particularly after Tommy Heinsohn compared his shot-blocking prowess to the legendary Bill Russell.
Except, the “Scal-a-bri-ne” chants that so often enveloped the Garden came in the final moments of blowout victories by a championship-contending team, a Gino-esque symbol that signaled another opponent throwing in the proverbial white flag. The opposite is true for this group of Celtics, whose lack of depth in the frontcourt requires a nightly contribution from the 7-foot Stiemsma if they hope to accomplish anything in the playoffs.
“I don’t think there’s been one real moment that it kind of all clicked in, but this whole season has been about opportunities,” said Stiemsma. “Early on, even in the preseason and the training camp, I had certain opportunities, and I got to play well in those opportunities. So, I think early on it helped me establish just in my own head that, ‘All right, I can play at this level and proved that.’
“So, even if I have a bad game or have a bad possession, whatever it is, I can just get over it and not worry about the big picture of ‘Maybe I’m not cut out for this level,'” he added. “I think I’ve proved that I am.”
|Kevin Garnett: ‘I don’t make a lot of friends’||at 12:40 am ET|
What we knew: Ryan Hollins came highly recommended to Celtics president Danny Ainge from none other than Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce after the three of them played together in the Los Angeles area over the summer.
What we didn’t know: Hollins and Garnett became fast friends.
‘I don’t make a lot of friends, but I can say I made one in him,’ said KG. ‘I like the way the kid approaches the game. He wants to be more than good. You see it in his face. You see it in his work ethic. I’m a big fan of his, so I’m glad he’s here. Like any of the other guys, whatever he wants to know, I’m here for him. So, I’m happy he’s a C.’
It might take a while before Hollins becomes ‘more than good,’ considering the 7-footer has totaled three points and one rebound in his two appearances for the Celtics — understandably appearing lost in the team’s sets on both ends of the floor.
Hollins plays with an encouraging energy, attempting to mimic Garnett’s approach.
‘I told him to be careful about my intensity,’ said KG. ‘It’ll get him kicked out of the league.’
After all, Hollins earned a technical foul 20 seconds into his Celtics debut against the 76ers on Friday night (along with a fine, according to KG) and a personal foul 10 seconds into Sunday night’s 88-76 loss to the Wizards.
‘You might want to be careful with that, you know?’ added Garnett. ‘This intensity comes with a sense of meditation and a sense of under control, but I love his intensity. The kid plays really, really hard.’
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