|Irish Coffee: Do Celtics own NBA’s best defense?||04.09.12 at 2:03 pm ET|
Over their last five games, the Celtics have held the Heat, Spurs, Bulls, Pacers and 76ers — all likely playoff-bound teams — to just 80.6 points per game. That ridiculous stretch included the lowest scoring output of the Miami Thrice era and Indiana’s worst offensive game this season (both 72 points).
The point? A case can be made, rather easily, that the C’s now own the NBA’s best defense.
This recent run vaulted the Celtics to No. 1 in points allowed per 100 possessions (95.3). Their 89.3 points allowed per game still ranks third behind the only other teams that give up fewer than 90 points a night — the Sixers (88.5) and Bulls (88.9) — but that’s dropped to an NBA best 83.4 points surrendered over the past 10 games.
In fact, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics have allowed 80 points or fewer in six of their last 12 games (including four of their last six), holding opponents to 40 percent shooting or worse in eight of those 12 contests.
For the season, the Celtics have held opponents to the league’s lowest field goal percentage (41.8%) and 3-point percentage (29.8%), both still tops in the NBA and even better over the past 10 games (38.7 FG%, 25.2 3P%). They make an offense’s life miserable everywhere on the court, ranking top-10 everywhere from at the rim (3rd) to 3-9 feet (8th) to 10-15 feet (1st) to 16-23 feet (7th) to 3-point range (1st).
|Doc Rivers: ‘Guys are locked in’||at 11:59 am ET|
Doc Rivers has preached it over and over.
The shots aren’t always going to fall but the defense will always be there.
Such was the case on Saturday night when they shot just 42 percent in Indianapolis.
But they held the Pacers to 35 percent in an 86-72 win. Sunday night, they followed that up by holding the Sixers to 38 percent in a 103-79 romp that put them on the brink of their fifth straight Atlantic Division title.
How appropriate since defense has been the backbone of everything in the Doc Rivers “Big 3” plus Rajon Rondo era.
Sunday, the Celtics held the Sixers to 6-of-22 shooting the second quarter to take command of the game.
‘The defense is really good; guys are locked in,” Rivers said after Sunday’s game that improved the Celtics to 32-24 on the season. “Your offense will fail you, you know that guys; I don’t care how well you play, your offense is going to fail you sometimes. But if you come with the right mindset your defense never should. And it’ll always give you a chance to win a game.’
Even two weeks ago it would’ve seemed far fetched that Avery Bradley would succeed Ray Allen as the starting off guard next to Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. But combine his newfound ability to cut the basket with his shutdown defense and he’s become too valuable not to start. He has seen success defensively from both sides now.
‘Its very important for the bench to come in and bring the intensity,” Bradley said. “That’s something that Doc always, we take pride in as a team so we want to come in and bring the intensity and play hard on the defensive end and that’s what we did in the second quarter.
‘It was very important for us to win this game. We want to come out and play hard and ya know coming in the second half we wanted to come out in the third quarter and we wanted to bring our intensity up even higher. That’s what Doc told us, he told us to come in the third quarter and play hard and we were making shots and we just continued to make the lead even higher.’
Part of defense is rebounding and with Paul Pierce staying home and crashing the boards, like his six first-quarter rebounds Wednesday against the Spurs, the Celtics are not giving up as many second and third-chance points. Even Sasha Pavlovic has bought in. He had four rebounds in the first half Sunday, including three in seven minutes in the second quarter.
‘Well it’s a combination of things,” Pierce said. “We got to take care of the ball definitely, but we got to rebound the ball and I thought we did a better job competing on the rebounds, especially at the guard level myself, Avery, Sasha, Rondo getting in there rebounding the ball. So its going to be important for us as we wind down the season and in playoffs, that’s what our one true weakness is and if we can address that down the stretch we will be a tough team to beat.’
|Rajon Rondo proves again: ‘It starts with me’||at 11:08 am ET|
Rajon Rondo has put up numbers this season that are pretty unreal.
At halftime Sunday night, his numbers were again staggering, but for a far different reason – five turnovers to go with six assists – and still the Celtics were cruising by 14 over the fading 76ers.
In his streak of 17 games of double-digit assist totals, Rondo has also prided himself on taking care of the ball. The first half Sunday night made Rondo really, really upset.
“He was really upset at halftime because he had the five turnovers,” Doc Rivers said. “I think he had a bet – not real money – with [assistant coach Ty Lue] that he’d have zero turnovers in the second half.”
Well, Rondo played the odds well because Rondo had the perfect second half, including nine third-quarter dimes without a turnover, and played 12 minutes in the second half without a miscue. He played so well that he got the entire fourth quarter off as the Celtics rolled, 103-79.
He finished with 15 assists but it was the zero turnovers in the second half that meant the most to Rondo after the game.
“The second half I just tried to keep it simple,” Rondo said. “We ran particular play the entire third quarter and it was good for myself and the team. It’s a good win for us. Guys got some rest for Miami.”
So how did the Celtics double their lead from 14 to 28 in the first nine minutes of the third?
“It starts with me,” Rondo said. “I had five [turnovers] in the first half. I played 12 minutes in the third and I didn’t have any turnovers and I think that’s why we were able to open up the lead on Philly and blow this game out.”
Rivers was certainly on board with Rondo’s approach, as he watched his point guard simply things.
“Keeping it simple,” Rivers said. “As simple as Rondo can.”
That doesn’t mean Rondo won’t pull of the spectacular – like when he hit a turnaround, fadeaway baseline jumper as the shot clock was expiring midway through the third.
But Rivers realizes, turnovers or not, put the ball in Rondo’s hands when he’s pushing the ball up the court and good things almost always happen.
“Guys do a great job, they know when Rondo is pushing the ball up,” Rivers said. “We’ve changed a little bit. Early in the year, we were always running toward Rondo to set a pick for him. Now we’re running away from Rondo and setting a pick on everybody else. And it’s been a good move by us and [the picks] are getting guys open.”
|Paul Pierce: With LeBron James and Heat on Tuesday, ‘it doesn’t get any easier’||04.08.12 at 10:22 pm ET|
The Celtics have earned a day in the sun on Monday in South Florida after they all but locked up their fifth straight Atlantic Division title on Sunday with a 103-79 shutdown of the fading 76ers at TD Garden.
They’ll need that rest.
LeBron James and the Heat most certainly feel they have debt to pay after the Celtics handed them their worst loss of the season on April 1 in Boston.
‘Oh yeah, I’ve looked at this since the schedule came out,” Paul Pierce admitted. “It doesn’t get any easier of course. You go to Miami, you come home and play Atlanta, then you got three in a row. Its tough, every team in the league has to deal with it, unfortunately we got to deal with it at the end of the season when teams seem to be winding down, getting tired legs. But maybe its good for us, cause it seems like we are playing our best basketball right now in this crucial stretch.’
Then the Celtics return home to play the suddenly resurgent Hawks, whom they could face in the first round – and would if the playoffs started today. Then they have Thursday off before playing three straight on the road, albeit against the Raptors, Nets and Bobcats.
It appears that the message of Doc Rivers was heeded very well in the last two games as the Celtics have allowed 72 and 79 points in wins over the Pacers and the Sixers. Doc might have been ticked off but Pierce said after Sunday’s game, he wasn’t the only one.
“He was frustrated but we all were frustrated, of course we were frustrated from losing a game that we all feel like was a very winnable game,” Pierce said. “As veterans we know how to respond, we know how to take our game up another level, you felt the frustration from the coach but we felt it ourselves. Even if Doc didn’t express it, I think we would have came out and play the way we played the last couple nights.’
The Celtics are now 32-24 and lead the Knicks and Sixers by three games with 10 left on the schedule. The division ensures no worse than a No. 4 seed and home court in the first round. But obviously, the Celtics have their sights set much higher.
|Doc Rivers: ‘I’m just so pissed at the way we played’||04.06.12 at 1:22 am ET|
Doc Rivers had seen enough.
After his team blew an 11-point halftime lead against the NBA’s top team and fell to the Bulls, 93-86, Rivers ripped into his team in a postgame press conference Thursday night in Chicago. But it wasn’t losing by seven to the best team in NBA on their home court that bothered him.
It was the lack of effort in the second half, and the lack of fight.
“I think it was the worst loss of the year for us,” Rivers said. “I think Chicago was too tough for us, tonight.”
Rivers was referring to the fact that the Bulls found a way to win without their star point guard and last year’s MVP Derrick Rose, who was missing his 12th straight game with a sore groin.
The Celtics played tough defense in the first half, holding the Bulls to 38 percent from the field, and assuming a 49-38 lead. But things fell apart quickly in the third quarter, as the Bulls outscored the Celtics, 29-17. The Celtics faded badly in the fourth and never regained the lead. They were again badly outrebound, 44-36.
“They were too tough for us tonight,” Rivers continued. “We let go of the rope. That was a crime. That was unacceptable.”
Rivers was only warming up.
“I don’t want to hear about us winning crap,” he said. “That was unacceptable. We’re not going anywhere playing like that. I’m just so pissed at the way we played. The playoffs are the furthest thing from my mind right now.
“We were the cool Boston Celtics. That’s what you could see. We were walking around. We couldn’t get the ball inbounds? We were the cool Boston Celtics. It was a joke.”
|Paul Pierce: ‘Some days they fall, some days they don’t’||04.04.12 at 11:43 pm ET|
When you have the reputation as one of the best clutch shooters in recent NBA history, you have to live with the occasional failure.
Wednesday night was that occasional moment of frustration for Paul Pierce as his shot from the right side of the free throw line extended hit the rim but never fell through, allowing the Spurs to escape with a heart-pounding 87-86 win Wednesday night at a breathless TD Garden.
Pierce was making no excuses for taking the inbounds pass from Rajon Rondo and using the last 7.9 seconds of regulation before missing the shot that would’ve dramatically extended the Celtics winning streak to six. The play called for Rondo to inbound to Pierce, facing the basket. Pierce then has the option of driving to the basket or recognizing who’s guarding him and drive to a spot to get off an open jump shot.
When he saw Tim Duncan switch to guard him, Pierce chose the second option. Kevin Garnett was open but once Pierce put the ball on the floor with a dribble there was no time to get it to him for a clean shot. Instead, Pierce, as he has before dribbled to one of his favorite spots on the court.
“You just play the game and you see what happens, you don’t know what to expect,” Pierce explained. “There are numerous possibilities of things that could have happened when I come off the pick and roll and obviously they switched, they could have trapped, Stephen Jackson could have stayed on me, but that’s not what I’m thinking about. You play a lot of this game on instinct and the things that happen, they happen on the fly and happen so quick. I like the shot that I took, but at the end of the day it came down to I thought lose balls, they got two huge offensive rebounds late for buckets and to me that killed us.’
‘We got Paul into an iso,” Doc Rivers said of the trademark isolation play that he has drawn up for Pierce many times before. “He got probably the shot he wanted. He just didn’t make it… and they had a foul to give. So most teams switch. We actually said that they probably would and we were trying to get Duncan on a Paul matchup because we thought we had the speed advantage.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Celtics are talking about practice!||04.03.12 at 9:04 pm ET|
Thanks to the compressed schedule and their ridiculously long eight-game road trip of mid-March, Tuesday marked their first practice since the All-Star break. It also marked their last – at least of the regular season.
“We might be able to squeeze one more in but I think this is it,” Rivers said after their 90-minute session Tuesday.
The Celtics are about to embark on a stretch of 11 games in 15 days, including three straight on the road April 13-15. They’re in good shape in the division but how they make it through the next two weeks will go a along way toward determine how they stand up in the playoffs – and more to the point – how long.
“Rondo reminded me – or asked – ‘I think this is our first practice since the All-Star break’, which it was. I didn’t realize that. It’s good.”
What exactly did the Celtics get out of it?
“I don’t know,” Rivers admitted openly, as he always does. “We got some pick-and-roll coverages with the new guys, and when I say new guys, I mean all the new guys, I’m talking [Keyon Dooling], all the guys. I thought that helped a little bit but you need more than one practice, honestly. [Monday] we had a meeting. We could’ve gone over 50 things so we just have to cut everything out and work on some offense, very little, and a lot of defense.”
Overall, Rivers’ last comment on his veteran team’s conditioning might have been the most telling.
“My guess is we’re in average shape, along with every other team because I think you decondition during the season, I don’t think you get in better shape,” Rivers said. “I’ve always thought that. That’s where the practices come in, where you can run and get back into stuff. I will say this – our veterans especially, they do a phenomenal job on off days.
“If we’re in a hotel on the road, they’re running on the treadmill. They do a lot of extra work because I think they know their bodies and they are conditioned. I thought in the Miami game [Sunday], we went on that one spurt in the third quarter, there were four or five guys with their hands up, ready to come out, and we couldn’t take them all out at the same time. But that was because of the pace. That tells me we still have to get in a little better shape to play the way I think we should play.”
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