|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.
|Irish Coffee: Danny Ainge’s dreams of Celtics future||03.12.12 at 12:10 pm ET|
We’re three days from the NBA trade deadline, and still no serious sign of a blockbuster deal involving the Celtics. Then again, the same could’ve been said last season, when Danny Ainge shipped Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the Clippers’ 2012 first-round draft pick.
All that remains from that deal is the top-10 protected No. 1 pick, which currently slots into the low-to-mid 20s. That’s still not a bad haul for a center who is currently averaging 4.4 points (45.1 FG%) and 4.6 rebounds in 26.7 minutes, but considering the negative hype surrounding that trade it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Ainge gets cold feet on dealing any of the Old Three or Rajon Rondo.
Do I believe Ainge would ever let public perception stop him from making a deal that improves the Celtics moving forward? Not really, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it made him think twice about pulling the trigger on a deal that only marginally improves his team.
Over the next three days, teams will likely call about Rondo, which is probably the case in the latest Pau Gasol rumor in the Los Angeles Times after the Lakers beat the Celtics 97-94 (Rondo: 24 points, 10 assists; Gasol: 13 points, 13 rebounds). The same speculation was floated a couple weeks ago by HoopsWorld’s Eric Pincus.
|Kevin Garnett and Celtics respond to Doc Rivers and his bitter ‘beer face’||03.10.12 at 10:49 am ET|
Everyone associated with the Celtics – from players and coaches to support staff – was embarrassed by Wednesday’s 32-point loss to the Sixers Wednesday night.
“That didn’t sit well with anybody,” Kevin Garnett said after Friday’s 104-86 redemption at the hands of the Blazers. “Tough schedule. Philly, they kicked our ass, plain and simple. This was about getting on the right track, taking care of home, and more importantly, creating that momentum going on this long road trip.”
That’s why no one was particularly surprised to see Doc Rivers with a special edge Friday morning during the team’s shootaround.
“Doc comes in, and you can tell how he’s looking, like he’s had no sleep and his hair standing on top of his head and he has the beer face,” Garnett said. “What happened in Philly wasn’t us but it happens and we accept it.
“[Friday] was a defensive mindset all the way through. A team we’re going to see only once, it was important for us to start the game with a force. Paul kept saying in the huddle, before we went out [to start the game] that it was important that we get this game to start the road trip. I’ve always said for the momentum, you’ve got to get games like this. This is kind of like playing on the road because we are going to be away from home for a while so this game was very important.”
As for this eight-game haul, a haul that began early Saturday morning with a cross-country flight, and will include a walk-through when the team lands in LA, Garnett said it’s important not to be overwhelmed.
“One game at a time,” he began. “When you look at it, it’s actually kind of quite scary, just because of the lack of rest, the back-to-backs, the travel. But when you take it a game at a time… it’s still what it is, actually.
“I was going to dress that up like it was something else. Nah, it’s all messed up, it’s all messed up. It is. I want to use another word but I won’t. It’s difficult but we’re going to take it a game at a time. This is the longest I can remember.”
Certainly the longest in his head coach’s career as Rivers said he can never remember a trip like the one the Celtics are about to embark on.
‘In my career, I’ve been in the league for 26 years,” Rivers said, when asked if it’s the longest one in several years. “It’s a long road trip but I do think there’s rest in it. The first two games are tough because of the long flight, you play and then you play the next day. But then after that, there’s days off in between. I think the other one is the last, the Denver game before we go back East, that’s a hard game. Whenever you play Denver on a back-to-back, that’s a hard game because there’s no oxygen.’
The Celtics hope they aren’t grasping for too much air by the time they return home on March 25 to battle the Wizards.
Maybe it was the effect of getting poked in the eye by Marcus Camby in the opening minutes Friday, leaving him with a nasty blood blister in his right eye, but Rajon Rondo just wasn’t himself after Boston’s 104-86 rout of the Blazers at TD Garden.
Before talking about his own night, which was pretty routine by his standards (eight points, five assists in 26 minutes), Rondo decided to become a character actor.
What could Rondo learn from a veteran like Sasha? ‘You’ll have to ask Rondo,” Rondo said, speaking in a very bizarre third-person manner.
What would Sasha say about the upcoming road trip? ‘He would probably say that we want to win every game possible, we have to have great focus, and get our proper rest, and stay together through adversity.’
“It’s an honor to play in that many games, only three have reached that level,” Rondo said, speaking this time for Pierce. He later added this on a serious tone, “It’s rare. You don’t take it for granted. I don’t think he takes it for granted, playing for one organization for his entire career. He’s one of the guys who’s going to probably retire with the Celtics. It’s an honor to play with him.”
As for his own thoughts from his own mind about where the Celtics are now, standing 21-18 and heading out on an eight-game road trip.
On jumping all over the Blazers and building a 43-point lead: “I just wanted to start with ball movement. I think it was kind of contagious. I was trying to advance the pass up the court a little bit and let guys create their own shots before guys were set [on defense].
On rebounding from a 32-point loss in Philly Wednesday night: “Regardless of the loss or the deficit we lost in Philly, we wanted to come out and get this West Coast swing off to a good start. We didn’t want to go off with two losses. We’ve been playing pretty good at home of late so it just kind of trickled down and we wanted to continue to get off to a good start.
On whether not playing the fourth quarter Wednesday and Friday will help this team as it goes on the road: “It’s our job. I don’t know if it plays a factor but having an older team, I think it’ll help us. But other than that, we’ll be ready to go. We have some big games ahead of us. We’re battling for seeding so we’re trying to capitalize on every game we can.”
On the trade deadline coming up this Wednesday: “I don’t think anyone is really worried about it, honestly. Whatever happens, happens. No one is really focused on all the trade talk. We’ve done a pretty good job through all this trade talk of just getting wins. We’ve done a pretty good job. We’re professionals. Trades happen.”
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