|NBA Power Rankings, 4/8||04.08.11 at 6:41 pm ET|
1. Chicago (58-20): The good news: With their 16-point victory against the Celtics on Thursday night, the Bulls emphatically proved they have the best player in the NBA, the best coach in the NBA and, most importantly, the best team in the NBA. The bad news: They also ensured that Chicago fans will be forced to awkwardly walk past a weird half-bust/half-statue thing of Scottie Pippen.
2. LA Lakers (55-23): In a fantastic profile of Lakers coach Phil Jackson, we learned three important facts: 1) He really is retiring at season’s end; 2) Upon meeting Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant told his idol, “I can take you 1-on-1”; and 3) A full-bearded man should never wear shorts this short. If two three-peats with Kobe and the Lakers to go along with the six titles with Jordan and the Bulls would be a perfect symmetry to Jackson’s career, how much sweeter would a Celtics title be for Boston fans?
3. Boston (54-24): The Bulls embarrassed the Celtics Thursday night, but the C’s are still 8-3 against the top-five NBA teams, 6-1 against their potential first-round opponents (76ers and Knicks) and 3-0 against their probable second-round opponent (Heat). As Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics also lost to the Cavaliers by 29 in the home stretch of the 2009-10 regular season. If that’s not cause for optimism, then maybe Rick Pitino was right about the negativity in this town.
4. San Antonio (60-19): Are the Spurs the team that started the season 57-13 or the squad that lost six straight from March 25 to Arpil 1? Does anybody still have confidence that San Antonio can knock off the Lakers in the Western Conference finals? Will Eva Longoria get a cut of Tony Parker‘s playoff share as part of their divorce? So many questions still for this team.
5. Miami (54-24): After Derrick Rose and the Bulls obliterated the Celtics for their 17th victory in 19 games and the Heat lost to the Cavaliers and Bucks in a span of eight days, don’t hold your breath for a response from anyone who believed LeBron James deserved this season’s MVP honor.
|Irish Coffee: The Rajon Rondo roller coaster||at 12:16 pm ET|
Make no mistake: The Celtics’ 97-81 loss to the Bulls falls on Rajon Rondo‘s shoulders.
To say he got outplayed by Derrick Rose is like saying the seas got a little choppy during “The Perfect Storm.” Rose obliterated Rondo, tying a neat little bow around his NBA Most Valuable Player trophy and effectively clinching the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the process.
The box score tells you plenty. Rose outscored Rondo by 23 points on just six more shots. He got to the free-throw line seven more times (making nine more foul shots). He knocked down as many 3-pointers on Thursday night as Rondo has totaled in his last 33 games. He recorded more steals than the league’s second-best theft. He produced more assists than a guy who had averaged 3.3 more dimes per game. And the most damning statistic: In terms of plus/minus, Rose (+24) owned a 38-point edge over Rondo (-14).
But the box score doesn’t tell the entire story. Offensively, Rose blew by Rondo at will, wreaking havoc on the league’s best defense. Kevin Garnett and another Celtics defender constantly provided help, leaving Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and just about every other Bulls big wide open on the weakside to put back rare Rose misses.
Remember when Rose stormed by Rondo and lost the ball underneath the basket, only to fire the ball out to Luol Deng for a wide open 3-pointer to put the Bulls up, 44-37? Those are the kinds of things that happen when a point guard walks into the lane as easily as my mother walks along Bay Lane. And those are the kinds of things that Rondo failed to do for the Celtics all night.
You wonder why Keith friggin’ Bogans played Ray Allen to a standstill, and then you realize that Rondo failed to create open shots for the game’s greatest shooter. When’s the last time the Big Three were all held to 15 points or fewer? Oh, that’s right, it was an awful 93-77 loss to the Rockets on March 18, when Rondo (4 points, 6 assists) got torched by Kyle Lowry (20 points, 9 assists).
It’s fairly simple: When the Celtics have more assists than their opponent, they’re 50-11; when they don’t, they’re 4-13. And who’s “the head of the monster” who steers the C’s ship, as Allen said on Mut & Merloni? That’s right, Rondo.
If Rondo succeeds, the Celtics succeed. When he produces 10 or more assists, the Celtics are 35-6, and that .854 winning percentage only climbs higher as his assist totals sore. When Rondo gets to 13 assists, the Celtics are 13-2 (an .867 winning percentage). In the 10 games he’s reached 16 assists, the C’s are a perfect 10-0.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Bulls tale of the tape||04.07.11 at 2:42 pm ET|
In a potential Eastern Conference finals preview on Thursday night, little separates the Celtics and Bulls — head-to-head, offensively or defensively. Chicago (57-20) owns a three-game lead over the C’s (54-23) for the No. 1 seed, but Doc Rivers & Co. have won two of their three head-to-head matchups against their old assistant Tom Thibodeau. In order to determine where the advantages lie, let’s go straight to the tape …
Celtics vs. Bulls
97.7 … points … 95.7
11.0 … fast break points … 9.3
44.7 … points in the paint … 40.0
37.7-79.0 (47.7) … FGM-A (%) … 34.7-74.0 (46.9)
3.3-10.7 (31.3) … 3PM-A (%) … 4.0-10.7 (37.5)
19.0-23.0 (82.6) … FTM-A (%) … 22.3-29.0 (77.0)
34.0 … rebounds … 41.7
5.0 … o-rebounds … 9.0
29.0 … d-rebounds … 32.7
22.7 … assists … 19.7
10.0 … steals … 5.3
4.0 … blocks … 4.3
10.3 … turnovers … 17.3
22.7 … personal fouls … 20.0
Considering the Celtics were missing Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1, Jermaine O’Neal in Game 2 and Kevin Garnett in Game 3, while the Bulls missed Carlos Boozer in Game 1 and Joakim Noah in Game 3, injuries didn’t play a huge role in the overall production. So, the Celtics’ shooting (points & FG%), passing (assists) and defensive (points/percentages allowed, steals and turnovers) are legitimate, as is the Bulls’ across-the-board rebounding edge.
Now, let’s examine how well the Celtics and Bulls have produced throughout the season:
|Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett frustrated but confident||04.06.11 at 1:10 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
It’s been almost two weeks since Celtics forward Kevin Garnett posted on his Anta blog, and he’s just as disheartened about the team’s performance in back-to-back games as he has been all season. It’s roughly the 10,000th time he’s raised the concern, and the C’s have two more back-to-backs over the next five days. The highlights:
- On the Celtics: “Frustration is definitely setting in for some of the guys, but we’ll meet and get it together.”
- On Jermaine O’Neal: I “so was pumped to have him back with us.”
- On Shaquille O’Neal: “The BIG Diesel was back! It was great to have him back and seeing him ball. He was killin it, then he pulled up! Damn, hurt again! That sucks! Keep rooting for him to get right!!!”
- On the Spurs: It “was like a playoff game. We ‘hit’ each other back and forth, and both teams took the shots. Rondo was super intense and brought it! Great TEAM effort and body feeling good. The guys got me in the right spot to make shots, so I had to knock them down. Great energy in the locker room.”
- On the Hawks: The “bad part was the back-to-back in Atlanta. We started out Ok, but then started to get out of what we do. We weren’t getting stops and taking early shots.”
- On the stretch run: “This time of year we are trying to get ready for the playoffs, but it’s tough to get rest when we have seven games in the next 10 days! We gotta finish strong, so we can get right for the playoffs.”
As coach Doc Rivers has reiterated another 10,001 times, the Celtics won’t be playing any back-to-backs in the playoffs — where the team has pulled ahead of the Heat for the East’s No. 2 seed and within a game of the Lakers for homecourt in the NBA Finals.
It took nearly 20 minutes after the final buzzer of the Celtics‘ 99-82 win over the Sixers Tuesday night for Doc Rivers to show up for his postgame news conference in the small media room at TD Garden.
Turns out, he was being showered with praise by Sixers coach Doug Collins.
‘We ran up against a team that played probably as well as they’ve played in a long time,” Collins said. “I talked to Doc after the game, 29 assists, they executed brilliantly, they had two or three really great defensive spurts. To start the third quarter, we fought to get back in, and we cut it to four again, and then they had another defensive spurt.”
Then came the really sugar-coated stuff.
“I told our guys how that’s really what championship teams do, they might not play it for 48 minutes, but they’re going to lock you down for stretches, and win those what I call five minute skirmishes. And I thought they won two five-minute skirmishes in the second half which I really thought gave them separation.”
As for the message sent and received business that was in vogue after the game should this be a playoff preview, Rivers said he was really only concerned about the final score, nothing less, nothing more.
‘No. No. Not at all,” Rivers said, downplaying the mere suggestion. “I just think we won today, and they lost today, and they’re going to watch film and we’re going to watch film. But it’s good to win.’
That doesn’t mean everyone was buying it. Rondo admitted he thought the Celtics made a ‘little statement’ about just how hard it’s going to be for the Sixers to knock off the Celtics in a seven-game series.
But back to Collins. Without mentioning him by name, the Sixers coach also had praise for the way C’s GM Danny Ainge has rebuilt the depth of the bench to support his starting guards.
“Delonte West really helps them, Jeff Green has played very well against us, and they played a very very good game,” Collins said. “Rondo once again leading their team, Ray Allen shooting a high percentage. So when they play like that, it should make Doc smile because they’re one of the best teams in the league.’
Collins has been around long enough to know that trash-talking a superior opponent, especially one you might see in the first round of the playoffs in 10 days, almost never does any good.
|Paul Pierce on Celtics’ future hopes: ‘As Rondo goes, we go’||at 10:38 am ET|
Paul Pierce could see it. Doc Rivers could see it. So could Kevin Garnett. All of the Celtics‘ leaders essentially said the same thing following Tuesday’s 99-82 win over the 76ers at TD Garden. The Celtics are slowly but surely getting in playoff form, and if they are going anywhere, they’re going to need Rajon Rondo to get them there.
Rondo had 16 points and 13 assists and led the charge all night long as the Celtics were pressed early and often by a young Philadelphia team trying to show it could be a legitimate threat come the playoffs if the two meet in the first round.
“You expect Rajon to play that way every night,” Pierce said. “He’s set a standard for himself over the last couple of years with his play. It’s no surprise when I look up and he has those type of numbers. I just think his next step is being more consistent with it to where he’s putting up 13, 14, 15 assists every night, but that comes as you get older. I was in that position, too, as a young player, just learning how to be consistent with it. As Rondo goes, we go. When he has these monster assist games, we usually win.”
“He was just aggressive and attacking and shooting,” Rivers said of Rondo, his prized floor general. “You can see he’s getting himself ready, you can just feel that. I don’t know if he plays with great focus all game right now, or if any of our guys do. But you can see what they’re all doing. They’re in some ways sharpening their tools in spurts. It’s tough for coaches. You’d like for them to do that and keep doing it. But they know where they’re at.”
As for team consistency, the captain said the Celtics showed enough to overcome the Sixers, learning from recent history where they have had a hard time protecting a double-digit lead. Read the rest of this entry »
After scoring 16 points and dishing out 13 assists in a 99-82 win over the Sixers Tuesday night at TD Garden, Rajon Rondo said the Celtics made a statement by shutting down the team they may face in the opening round of the playoffs.
‘Tonight was a good test for us,” Rondo said. “That might be a first-round team and we did a good job of making a little statement that it’s going to be hard to beat us in a seven-game series.”
The Celtics trailed by two after one as Rondo’s counterpart – Jrue Holiday – had 11 points in the first quarter. Holiday was held scoreless the rest of the game. Now, the 54-23 Celtics prepare for the 57-20 Bulls in Chicago Thursday night with a chance to draw within two games of the Eastern Conference leaders.
“It’s a different game versus Chicago and Miami,” Rondo added. “Obviously, the intensity will be a lot greater but in the playoffs, the first round, there’s going to be a lot of intensity. We just want to win [against Chicago] because we’ll probably have to see those guys in the conference finals or whoever we may end up [with]. We just want to win the game [against the Bulls], Miami, tonight against Philly, we want to win every game the rest of the season.’
As for his body, which includes a pair of sore feet and a banged up pinky, Rondo says he’ll have time in the summer to get back to full strength. Right now, his focus is getting ready for a playoff run. He was asked -point blank – if he felt healthier now as the playoffs approach.
“No, I’m pretty much the same,” Rondo said. “We haven’t played as many back-to-backs. Just getting a little bit more rest, taking better care of my body, lifting more. I wouldn’t say I’m feeling 100 percent but I’m doing OK.’
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