|Fast Break: Deer in the Celtics headlights||03.22.12 at 10:22 pm ET|
Based on ESPN.com writer/mathematician John Hollinger’s latest NBA playoff odds, the Celtics (25-21) are the odd team out in the Eastern Conference playoff race — behind the Knicks (23-24) and Bucks (21-25), winners of five and six straight, respectively. Of course, that projection jibes with the most recent Irish Coffee breakdown.
Regardless, Thursday night’s matchup between the seventh-seeded Celtics and ninth-place Bucks was the biggest thing to hit Milwaukee since the filming of “Bridesmaids.” But only the Celtics showed up, cruising 100-91.
Paul Pierce (25 points, 9 rebounds) led the charge. Rajon Rondo (10 points, 14 assists) Kevin Garnett (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (12 points, 10 rebounds) all recorded double-doubles. And Greg Stiemsma (6 points, 5 blocks, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists) filled up the stat sheet during his first NBA game in his home state.
The Celtics travel to Philadelphia on Friday night, trailing the 76ers by just 0.5 games for the Atlantic Division lead (and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference). But first, let’s get to the Fast Break.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Pushing for the cushion: The Celtics shot 58 percent from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, in the first quarter, taking an early 35-29 lead. Pierce scored 11 points in the frame, and Rondo added six. Whenever those two get involved early, good things happen for the C’s. At least for the first 12 minutes, they showed they could match Milwaukee’s newfound fast-paced offensive style of play. Obviously, it helps when the opposing team doesn’t play defense.
Oui, Oui, Oui: It’s no revelation at this point, but Mickael Pietrus‘ ability to make 3-pointers coming cold off the bench is remarkable. He knocked down a trio of triples in the first half, walking the walk after talking the talk. On top of his long-range shooting, a couple tough Pietrus (13 points) takes to the hoop in the fourth quarter helped the Celtics stretch their lead to double digits.
The Bucks stop here: On a nightly basis during this road trip, it seems Doc Rivers has said something to the tune of, “We’ve got to grind out games.” It didn’t appear Thursday night’s game would play out that way, as the two teams combined for 114 first-half points, but Stiemsma and Avery Bradley led an inspired defensive effort in the second half that turned the style-of-play tide in the Celtics favor.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Turkish terror: For the second straight meeting, Bucks 6-foot-10 power forward Ersan Ilyasova burned the Celtics, totaling 12 points and eight rebounds by halftime (he had 25 and 10 against the Celtics last month). Ilysasova (12 points, 14 rebounds) entered the game averaging 12.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in 27.0 minutes a night. For the record, he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season (cc: Danny Ainge).
Oh, shoot: It wasn’t Ray Allen‘s night. He finished just 1-of-8 from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3-point range. And it’s not like he wasn’t getting good looks. Even wide open attempts weren’t falling for Allen. Luckily, the C’s held Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings (12-of-32 combined field goals) relatively in check.
Paint by numbers: Despite matching the Bucks on the glass for much of the night, Milwaukee owned a decided advantage in points in the paint (50-36). And that was on a night that Drew Gooden played awful basketball. The Celtics can get themselves in trouble when they settle for jumpers while the other team gets to the bucket, but even that didn’t seem to matter in Beertown.
Size, power and quickness. Toughness, fearlessness and the ability to rebound.
The Celtics won’t be in the lottery this season so scouts like Ryan McDonough will be searching long and hard in the college and amateur ranks for someone who might fall through the cracks and be available in the NBA Draft this June.
Meet Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates.
At 6-9, 260 pounds, he’s certainly powerful. He can rebound, currently ranked ninth all-time on Cincinnati’s all-time rebound list with 911. He is one of only six players in the school’s illustrious history with at least 1,400 points and 900 rebounds.
He’s a senior who’s been through the wars.
Oh yeah, about that last line. Arguably the ugliest moment in Cincinnati’s basketball history came on Dec. 10 at the Cintas Center against the archrival Xavier Musketeers.
With just 9.4 seconds remaining in a 23-point loss, Gates was in the middle of college basketball’s ugliest chapter of the season. He threw a right cross that landed flush on the left eye brow of Xavier big man Kenny Frease. It opened a gash and dropped him to the ground. Frease was then stomped on by Cheikh Mbodj and blood started flowing from above Frease’s eye.
To his credit, he served a six-game suspension handed down by the school and expressed remorse. It was a complete loss of self-control and judgment. But in saying that, he has showed something else in the following three months – competitive fire.
While inconsistent at times, Gates has been the backbone of the interior game for the Bearcats, rebounding and playing defense, as coach Mick Cronin directed the team not to rely on his offense but the other things he brings to the table, like nine rebounds a game in the Big East, still considered the toughest in college basketball.
“Defense and rebounding,” Cronin said Wednesday. “We lost Ibrahima Thomas and Yancy really had to change his basketball personality from an offensive player to an all-around player. He needed to be our defensive anchor this year because we’re small in the other areas. It took him time. When he came back [from suspension] he realized here’s what I have to do to help this team win – I have to be an anchor on defense.
“These guys are scoring, they’re running around, hitting shots, beating their man off the dribble. ‘I have to finish plays around the rim, fit in and give these guys an anchor inside.’ And he’s done that. Maybe I should’ve been using him more in that capacity. So, sometimes as a coach, you stumble on to some things.”
With his presence in the middle, he led the team to road wins over Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Connecticut and home wins over Louisville and Marquette. Then, in the Big East, the Bearcats did it again to Georgetown and sent No. 2 Syracuse packing before their offense was a no-show against Louisville in the Big East championship.
Fast-forward to the tournament, they handled Texas and eliminated No. 10 Florida State, the team that beat North Carolina in the ACC title game.
This is a Bearcats team tournament-tested, and ready to take on Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes. This is a great chance for NBA scouts to see how Gates does against a big-man who projects as a potential lottery pick. And the Celtics will be watching Gates very closely. You can count on it.
|Celtics’ big man search: Boris Diaw||03.21.12 at 10:09 am ET|
As the Celtics search to replace Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox, relieve Kevin Garnett and aid an ailing Greg Stiemsma (sprained right foot), add Bobcats power forward Boris Diaw to a list of available free agent big man targets that already includes Ronny Turiaf, J.J. Hickson and Ryan Hollins.
The Bobcats and the 6-foot-8, 235-pound (yeah, right) Diaw have reached a buyout agreement on what remains of his $9 million salary this season, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Diaw played a franchise record 258 straight games since being traded from the Suns in 2008 before a conflict with coach Paul Silas led to his benching in seven of their nine games since March 6, the report said.
Naturally, the disconnect resulted from the coach’s perception of Diaw as, in a word, lazy. After all, the NBA’s 2005-06 Most Improved Player entered the league weighing 203 pounds and has since watched his waistline grow considerably in recent years.
Still, he’s averaged 7.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 27.5 minutes a night this season. Playing in all 82 games a a season ago, the eight-year veteran produced 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Diaw ranks last in rebounding rate among power forwards who play 25 minutes a night, according to Hoop Data, but the hope from the Celtics would be that an engaged Diaw could add defense and playmaking.
At least two respected reporters in the field — ESPN’s John Hollinger and Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe — suggested the Celtics as a likely destination for Diaw on Twitter.
|Irish Coffee: How will this strange Celtics trip end?||03.20.12 at 4:32 pm ET|
The NBA lockout ended. Rajon Rondo nearly got traded for Chris Paul during a frenzied training camp. Paul Pierce has played his way into shape, Kevin Garnett has enjoyed a vintage Kevin Garnett season and Ray Allen is shooting better than ever because he’s wearing bigger shoes.
And that’s not all. Jermaine O’Neal played all of 25 games. Heart problems ended both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox‘s seasons. Mickael Pietrus came on board, guaranteeing an NBA title. The Celtics lost five straight games — twice. They’ve also had two separate 10-game stretches where they’ve won nine and eight games.
Now, with one third left of this long, strange trip that has been the Celtics regular season, they sit in the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff spot. Trailing the Bulls (38-10) and Heat (33-11) by a respective 12.5 and 9.5 games with 21 games left, the Celtics (24-21) can forget about catching either for the No. 1 or 2 seed.
Catching the Magic (29-18), owners of a four-game lead on the C’s for the No. 3 seed, isn’t inconceivable, but more likely the Celtics will vie with the 76ers (26-20), Pacers (25-18) and Hawks (26-20) for the No. 4 seed. All are within 1.5 games of each other. The Knicks (21-24) and Bucks (20-24) are battling for the final playoff spot.
Three division winners and the conference’s next best team are seeded 1-4 based on records, so the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers are slotted fourth, even though the Pacers own a better record. The remaining teams are ranked 5-8 based on record, but division winners are not guaranteed a home series. So, should a lower seed own the better record, they’d still play four road contests in a seven-game series — negating the seeding advantage.
For example, should the Celtics win the division but have a worse record than the Pacers, they’d still be playing the first two games of their playoff series on the road. With all that said, let’s see who has the best shot of getting those three and four seeds based on how the strength of their remaining schedules.
|Irish Coffee: Bill Walton’s St. Patrick’s Day revisited||03.17.12 at 11:17 am ET|
The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year as a member of the 1985-86 Celtics that finished 67-15 during the regular season — and 41-1 at home in the Boston Garden — on their way to winning 15-of-18 playoff games and the franchise’s 16th NBA title, Bill Walton can wish you a St. Patrick’s Day far better than I can.
So, without further ado, I give you Walton uncensored, about five or six Guinesses deep most likely (from his appearance on the Big Show a year ago):
“Go Green. Go Guinness. I’m popping one right now. Ten million pints poured every day around this great globe of ours — the globe, the most perfect orb, just like the basketball. The basketball by itself does nothing, but when you make it an extension of your mind the way that [Rajon] Rondo does, the way that Danny Ainge did and DJ [Dennis Johnson] and Larry [Bird] and Kevin [McHale] and Chief [Robert Parish] and Jerry [Sichting] and Rick [Carlisle] and Scotty [Wedman] and all the guys did — but when you’re able to make an extension of your mind, of what it is you’re doing in life, whether it’s drinking a Guinness responsibly, whether you’re bouncing that magic basketball for the Celtic Green, you can make a difference, and that’s what we’re calling everybody to do on St. Patrick’s Day, the start of the college tournament, the most perfect harmonic convergence ever. Be bold, stand tall, quit your job and chase your dreams. …
“I only drink Guinness, the holy water falling from the sky, delivering spiritual guidance. We’re blessed. We’re so blessed. We’re on record pace, and we’re having the time of our life. …
“When this morning started, and it started more than 24 hours ago, the call to action was to take the day off. Who wants to lead a watered down life? C’mon. Let’s get up and be bold. Forget just taking the day off, just quit your job. Make your dream your job, and that’s what I was able to do. My parents ask me to this very day, ‘So, Billy, did you ever get a job?’ I’m closer than ever to being able to say yes. It’s so special. The remarkable thing about Guinness in our world is that in the mother country, Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday. In Canada, St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday. Somewhere, we got lost along the path, along the golden road to unlimited devotion. …
|Fast Break: Kevin Garnett’s heroics slay Warriors||03.15.12 at 1:04 am ET|
Unable to get a defensive stop down the stretch, tied 93-93 with the Warriors after old friend Nate Robinson tied the game on yet another drive to an open basket, the Celtics turned to Kevin Garnett, who sunk a 20-footer with 5.1 seconds remaining to help the C’s survive 105-103 and improve to 2-1 on the West Coast road trip.
Garnett finished with 24 points (12 in the fourth quarter), seven rebounds and five assists, as the Celtics (23-19) moved within 1.5 games of the 76ers in the Atlantic Division. Brandon Bass added 22 points and nine rebounds, Mickael Pietrus scored 15 points off the bench and Rajon Rondo dished out 14 assists.
Robinson totaled 20 points and 11 assists, Klay Thompson scored a career-high 26 points and David Lee had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Warriors in the losing effort.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Hanging tough: Playing their third game in four nights, 3,000 miles from home, the Celtics started slow (shooting just 8-of-21 from the floor in the first quarter), and watching Robinson get to the rim with regularity didn’t help matters. Still, the Celtics managed to stay within 25-21 after the first quarter — setting the tone for a tight game the remainder of the night.
The French quota: Just 3-of-18 from long distance in the month of March, Pietrus connected on his first four 3-pointers of the night and finished 5-of-6 from downtown, giving the Celtics some much needed offense (and minutes) off the bench. Whispers suggested his knee may be the reason for the recent struggles, but it didn’t seem to bother him in Oakland.
Full Stiem ahead: Without a trade deadline deal, the Celtics will rely more and more on Greg Stiemsma, and the former D-League Defensive Player of the Year responded with eight points and eight rebounds. He’s still got plenty of work to do, especially on the defensive end, but he’s already given the C’s more than they could’ve expected when they invited him to training camp in December.
Sharing is caring: Facing the younger, more athletic Warriors, the Celtics had to rely on ball movement and execution to keep up with them. Check and check. The C’s assisted on 32 of their 40 field goals, making the extra pass time and time again to get buckets down the stretch — with the exception of a possession that resulted in the classic Paul Pierce fadeaway elbow jumper with 36.7 seconds left.
|Trade Rumor: Celtics offered Paul Pierce to Blazers||03.14.12 at 11:01 pm ET|
What exactly team president Danny Ainge wanted in return for Pierce and the $32 million remaining on his contract is unclear, as LaMarcus Aldridge ($12.9 million) is essentially untouchable, Marcus Camby ($11.2 million) is a week from his 38th birthday and Raymond Felton ($7.6 million) would be an expensive backup.
That would leave some combination of Gerald Wallace ($9.5 million), Wesley Matthews ($6.1 million), Jamal Crawford ($5 million) and Nicolas Batum ($2.2 million). Of that group, Crawford is the only one rumored on the market, and regardless Portland shot down Ainge’s offer, if the report is more than rumor.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears, Ainge & Co. also reportedly joined the Lakers, Spurs and Knicks in expressing interest in Josh Howard as a boost to their wing depth, but the Jazz aren’t willing to part with 31-year-old ($3 million) with a history of issues, on and off the court.
Finally, Fox Sports writer Sam Amico tweeted that the Celtics have engaged the Kings in discussions about acquiring J.J. Hickson, a 23-year-old big making just $2.4 million. After averaging 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Cavaliers a season ago, Hickson is struggling mightily in Sacramento. Then again, who isn’t struggling mightily in Sacramento?
Whether or not any of these rumors come to fruition, one thing is clear: Ainge is ringing up quite the phone bill.
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