|James took lessons learned from battles with Pierce||04.04.10 at 11:58 pm ET|
The matchup between Paul Pierce and LeBron James is one of the most competitive battles in the NBA. But before James was dominating the scoreboard, he was trying to learn from his veteran counterpart.
“When I first came into the league, he was a seasoned vet and I was a rookie just trying to learn the curve and things like that,” James said prior to the Celtics 117-113 win over the Cavaliers. “Over the years, he’s still been an All-Star, he’s still been competitive. I’m just trying to develop my game to be one of the best three’s (small forwards) in the league, to be on Paul Pierce’s level and all these other guys’ level.”
On Sunday, James outscored Pierce, 42-16 (20 of his points came in the fourth quarter alone). It’s a far cry from their first regular-season matchup seven years ago. On Nov. 13, 2003, James ‘ as a rookie ‘ scored 10 points in a 91-82 loss to the Celtics. In that one, Pierce, who was entering his sixth season, led the C’s with 19 points.
‘You learn, the game itself teaches you game after game after game,” James said. ‘But you learn when you go against the best, you see why they are considered the best at that time or still now because of the work they put into it. They never took a night off.’
James is averaging 29.9 points this season (30.6 in his last five contests) and has scored more than 20 points in all but one game since the All-Star Break. He wrapped up his regular season matchup with the Celtics averaging 36.5 points in four games.
‘I’ve been able to be recognized as one of the best three’s that we have in this league,” James added, “So it’s always fun to go against the best guys in the league, and Paul continues to be that since I was a rookie.’
|First half: Celtics – Cavs||at 2:10 pm ET|
The Celtics jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the first two minutes in never trailed in the first quarter. It was Ray Allen — not LeBron James — who led all players with 10 points. James and Mo Williams were right behind him with eight points apiece for the Cavs. Both teams shot 50 percent from the field in the first quarter.
Doc Rivers turned to his bench when Rajon Rondo picked up two early fouls. First one in: Tony Allen, who is averaging 9.25 points and 3.5 rebounds in the last four games. Interesting move as this left the unit without a true point guard. That didn’t halt the Celtics, though, as they outscored the Cavs, 33-24, after the first 12 minutes.
The Celtics continued to build their lead in the second quarter. They were up, 50-40, with 3:23 left before back-to-back fouls on Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett allowed the Cavs to chip away at the deficit. They went on a 7-2 run to get back within five. But the Celtics answered with a 5-0 run of their own, propelled by Garnett and Paul Pierce. Rondo drained a 3-pointer as time expired to give the Celtics a 64-49 halftime lead.
Williams leads all players with 15 points. James has 10. Rondo and Ray Allen scored 12 each. The Celtics are 37-17 when leading or tied at the half.
|Celtics struggle with Allen’s unexpected absence on the court||04.03.10 at 12:05 am ET|
The Celtics have played without the Big Three this season. Kevin Garnett missed 10 games with a hyperextended knee, Pierce was sidelined for another 10 games with a variety of knee, foot, and thumb ailments, and Ray Allen sat out a night with back spasms.
But it is perhaps more challenging when one of these players is unexpectedly kept off the court. On Friday, the Celtics intended on having Allen for four quarters against the Rockets. Instead, foul trouble allowed him to play just 16 minutes. He picked up two fouls in the first quarter alone and had five going into the fourth. With 2:13 left in regulation and the Celtics up, 104-101, Allen fouled out for the first time all season.
The Celtics missed their sharpshooter in a loss decided by just five points, 119-114, in overtime.
“Ray was in foul trouble the entire game,” said Doc Rivers. “That hurt us down the stretch, clearly, because it took away so many options and it took away space.”
The outcome could have been different if the Celtics hit free throws, Garnett pointed out. The C’s shot just 65 percent from the line (24-for-37) while the Rockets were a consistent 89.3 percent (25-for-28). Allen, the team’s best free throw shooter at 90.6 percent on the season, made it to the line just once. Because of foul trouble, he was forced to watch his team struggle from the same place he has had so much success.
“Any time you miss Paul or Ray or anybody who is in our starting five, it’s a big blow to us,” said Garnett. “Obviously free throws were a big key tonight. If we make or we only miss about four or five of them, we’d win the game by a pretty decent margin. But every game it’s going to be something. But any time you lose a big piece of your offense or anyone in your starting lineup, it’s a big blow.
“Not having Ray in the game, not just for free throw purposes but for offensive attention, he draws a lot of attention on offense. It gets a lot of guys easy shots and different looks and stuff. And with him not in there was big.”
The Celtics will look forward to having Allen, who is averaging 15.9 points per game, back on the court when they face the Cavaliers on Sunday.
|Halftime: Celtics – Rockets||04.02.10 at 8:41 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo made Celtics history less than five minutes into the game when he broke Bob Cousy’s 50-year-old single season assist record. Rondo dished his 716th dime of the season, an alley-oop to Kevin Garnett, to set the mark. (Earlier in the season, Rondo passed Rick Fox for the franchise mark in single-season steals.)
But back to the game. The Celtics gave up an early 11-point lead to trail the Rockets 32-30 after the first quarter. The Rockets closed the quarter on a 19-6 run, led by eight points in less than six minutes from Kyle Lowry. Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, and Aaron Brooks also scored eight in the quarter. The Celtics outshot the Rockets, 59 percent to 50 percent, but were outrebounded, 12-7.
The C’s trailed in the second quarter before Rondo sparked a comeback. Rondo leapt for a defensive rebound and threw an outlet pass as he lost his balance, which Pierce connected for a lay-in. On the next possession, he set Perkins up for a bucket. The C’s took the lead back on a dunk by Tony Allen. The Rockets fought back, though, and are up 57-53 at halftime.
Brooks leads all players with 17 points. Pierce has 14 for the Celtics. Rondo has a game-high seven assists.
|Rondo eyes matchup with Westbrook||03.31.10 at 12:36 am ET|
For the past four years, Rajon Rondo has been catching the eyes of veteran point guards around the league as he developed into an All-Star. Now there is another up-and-coming player who has caught his attention.
Rondo has been impressed by the play of Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.
‘He’s a mature guy,’ Rondo said. ‘He’s running the show, he’s getting his main guy the ball, and at times he knows when to attack.’
In just his second season in the NBA, Westbrook is averaging over 16 points and ranks eighth in the league with 7.9 assists per game. (Rondo is fourth with 9.8 apg.) Many of those have been dished to teammate Kevin Durant, the league’s second-leading scorer.
Not only is Westbrook moving the ball, he also is helping his team win. The young Thunder squad currently holds the sixth seed in the Western Conference and has just two less wins than the Celtics this season.
On Wednesday, the C’s will look to push that differential up to three wins when they face the Thunder at TD Garden. Rondo knows he will have to buckle down on defense to stop Westbrook. Both players scored 15 points in their first meeting of the season (a Celtics win) in December.
‘[I have to] try to keep him in front of me, keep him out of transition,’ Rondo said. ‘He loves to attack in transition, so just try to keep between him and the basket.’
Rondo understands how to stop Westbrook for a reason. Prior to the his first All-Star appearance, Rondo pointed out Westbrook as the player in the Rookie-Sophomore game who reminds him most of himself. He drew similarities between their quickness and aggressiveness with the ball.
If it were up to Rondo, Westbrook would have been joining him on the court in Dallas.
‘I think he could’ve gotten into the All-Star Game this year too as well,’ Rondo said. ‘Hopefully he’ll make it next year. He got overlooked, but he’s definitely a good player.’
Even though Rondo and Westbrook are only in their early 20s, Rondo believes this matchup has the potential to become one to watch over the next few seasons.
‘You know you’ll be going against him for hopefully another six or seven years,’ he said.
|Williams happy to see Duke return to Final Four||03.30.10 at 12:36 am ET|
It’s hard for Shelden Williams to believe the last time the Duke appeared in the Final Four, he was on the court.
In 2004 the Blue Devils suffered a one-point loss to the University of Connecticut Huskies, who went on to win it all. Since then, the team had not been able to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. (Interestingly enough, Williams and the Blue Devils were eliminated by Glen Davis and the LSU Tigers in 2006.) But that all changed this season.
Six years later, Williams watched Duke defeat Baylor in the Elite Eight prior to the Celtics-Spurs game. (He even boasted when the Blue Devils drained back-to-back 3-pointers.) The top-seeded Blue Devils will face the second-ranked Mountaineers of West Virginia on Saturday in a Final Four match up. It has been a long wait for Williams, who is happy to see his alma mater just one game away from the championship battle.
What was it like watching Duke advance to the Final Four?
‘It’s great. It’s kind of strange that this is the first time that we’ve been back to the Final Four since my team in ‘04. It’s been kind of crazy, but actually this year has been amazing for college basketball fans to watch. This tournament has been unbelievable with underdog teams and powerhouse teams, you never know what to expect. If you had tried to tell me after being in the tournament that a fifth seed, a fifth seed, and only one one-seed would make it, that’s crazy.’
Why do you think the Blue Devils could win it all this year?
‘Everybody on that team is playing their role. Nobody’s getting out of hands with things, nobody’s trying to doing more than what they can do. I think just everybody is playing their role and playing off of each other well. I think that’s a great thing for them to do. Whether they’re not shooting well, like [Sunday], (Kyle) Singler was 0-for-10, he’s one of the top scorers if not the top scorer on the team, and they still managed to find a way to win. That says a lot.’
Even though you are in the NBA now, what do you miss the most about playing in the NCAA Tournament?
‘Just how much every game means to you, how much the atmosphere comes into play, everybody is into it whether they love you or hate you. Basketball is like king and everything else is secondary. It’s one of the best feelings to be part of.’
For more on Williams career at Duke, where he graduated as the school’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots, check out WEEI.com’s Inside the Game series.
|Perkins expects to play on Wednesday||03.29.10 at 1:05 am ET|
On Sunday, Kendrick Perkins missed his second straight game with tendonitis in his left knee. Following the Celtics loss to the Spurs, he told WEEI.com he expects to practice on Tuesday and play on Wednesday against the Thunder.
‘I feel good,’ he said, adding, ‘[I'm getting] a lot of rest, hitting the weights, pool, so it’ll be alright.’
Even though he has his return in sight, that didn’t make the Celtics loss any easier to watch from the bench.
‘It sucked,’ he said. ‘You always want to be on the court.’
Even though the Celtics missed Perkins on the court as well — they were outrebounded 48-37 — they don’t want him to push himself either.
‘I would say [we missed] his defensive tenacity, but it’s no rush with Perk,’ said Rasheed Wallace. ‘These last few games, we’re already set. These last few games, they mean something but they don’t mean nothing, if you get what I’m saying. But our main thing is to get Perk healthy, take a couple games off, lay off them knees for a minute, and come back with some fresh legs.’