|The Three-Pointer: One Celtics play says so much||12.10.10 at 12:29 am ET|
It was just one play, lasting 5.2 seconds, yet it said so much about the 2010-11 Celtics.
Not many coaches have the smarts (or the cojones) to draw up a game-winning alley-oop with 6.6 seconds left. But the Celtics have Doc Rivers ‘ one of the best coaches in the business at designing plays following a timeout ‘ and he had the script that resulted in a 102-101 Celtics win over the 76ers in his back pocket all along.
“We worked on the whole timing of it last week,” Rivers told reporters. “We tried to run it earlier in the year, and we had bad timing, so it’s just funny how things worked out. It’s a low-clock play, the ball is in the best passer’s hands, and you have shooters on the floor. … It worked.”
Not many point guards can throw a perfect blind lob over a taller defender in the final moments of a game. But the Celtics have Rajon Rondo, who picked up his 14th assist of the night with 1.4 seconds left when he dropped a pretty pass over the heads of Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday that led to the basket that resulted in his team’s ninth consecutive victory.
Not many post players have the length and athleticism to get from the top of the key to the rim in a blink of an eye. But the Celtics have a healthy Kevin Garnett, who rolled to the basket, caught the lob pass and converted it all in one fluid motion to improve the C’s Eastern Conference-best record to 18-4.
“Last year, Kevin would’ve missed the lob,” Rivers added. “Actually, we wouldn’t have thrown it. We can do it now.”
And not many teams have three deadly shooters who opponents absolutely have to respect in the waning seconds of a one-point game. But the Celtics have Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson, who all hovered around the 3-point line ‘ drawing Andre Iguadola, Jodie Meeks and Louis Williams from the basket and allowing Rivers’ design to play out on the floor.
|Fast Break: Celtics, Kevin Garnett sink Sixers||12.09.10 at 11:04 pm ET|
Ray Allen (game-high 23 points) and Glen Davis (16 points, 7 rebounds) also hit shots that put the Celtics up one in the final 1:04, but the Sixers regained the lead each time — until Garnett sealed the deal.
Rondo finished with 19 points and 14 assists.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo’s offense: He might have been hobbled by a sore hamstring and sore feet, but even at 85 percent Rondo is better than anybody the 76ers have to defend him. And he took advantage of that, assuming the bulk of the C’s offensive load.
Rondo put up a double-double … through the first three quarters. When all was said and done, he finished with 19 points and 14 assists, including the game-clinching lob pass to Garnett with 1.4 seconds left.
3-Point shooting: As if the Celtics’ 56 percent shooting clip wasn’t impressive enough, their 3-point percentage was even better at 58 percent (7-of-12).
Energy off the bench: In 11 first-half minutes off the bench, Robinson scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting. While the rest of the team looked somewhat disinterested and more than a step slow, he provided the necessary boost to keep the veteran Celtics in the ballgame on the second night of a back-to-back.
As usual, Glen Davis picked up where Robinson left off, totaling 16 points and seven rebounds by the end of the night — including a jump shot with 27 seconds remaining that put the Celtics up 100-99.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Crash the boards: The 76ers outrebounded the Celtics, 39-33, and 15 of those 33 Philadelphia boards came on the offensive glass. The C’s showed little interest in boxing out in the opening 24 minutes, as Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes combined for 14 first-half boards. That’s how the C’s entered the locker room with just a one-point lead, despite shooting 58 percent.
Transition defense: The Celtics showed just as much interest early in getting back on defense as they did in boxing out, allowing the 76ers to pile up 16 fast-break points in the first half. The pace slowed in the second half, as Philadelphia finished the game with 22 fast-break points.
The athleticism of Jrue Holiday (12 points, 6 assists) and Andre Iguadola (14 points, 11 assists), in particular, caused the C’s problems.
Under the weather: Paul Pierce wasn’t feeling well before the game, and it showed throughout. He shot just 3-of-8 from the field and appeared a step slow on the defensive end. Somehow, though, Pierce still managed to play 40 minutes and post a near double-double (10 points, 8 rebounds).
|NBA Power Rankings, 12/9||at 6:37 pm ET|
1. Boston (17-4): The Celtics have the best top six in the NBA and the best defense in the league. They’re the best shooting team in the league, and they’ve won eight consecutive games despite not having Rajon Rondo at full strength. With five All-Star candidates, they’ve been the most complete team.
2. San Antonio (18-3): The Spurs won another three games this week, and Manu Ginobili (20.1 points, 5.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds) has played his way into the MVP conversation. Oh, and New Hampshire’s own Matt Bonner is making two 3’s a game while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc.
3. LA Lakers (16-6): After losing four straight, the Lakers are back on track with three consecutive victories. This whole Andrew Bynum situation is strange. Phil Jackson seems to call him out on a daily basis, but why rush him back? The guy is like Mr. Glass. Don’t you want him healthy for the playoffs?
4. Dallas (17-4): The Mavericks have the longest winning streak in the league at 10 games. Even Ian Mahinmi is contributing double-doubles. Why did this team all of a sudden decide to start playing defense? This team could’ve won multiple titles if they were playing defense like this in the mid-2000s.
5. Orlando (15-6): You can’t really blame the Magic for losing two straight games to Atlanta and Milwaukee. Dwight Howard, J.J. Redick, Mickael Pietrus and Jameer Nelson have all been hit by the flu. With them, they’ve been able to keep pace with the C’s. Without them? Not so much.
|Irish Coffee: The Celtics’ homecourt advantage||at 11:24 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Asked, simply, if the Celtics enjoy a true homecourt advantage in Boston, Ray Allen responded, even more simply, “Always.”
Which is why last season’s 24-17 home record is all the more puzzling. After Wednesday’s victory against the Nuggets, the Celtics are 10-1 in the Garden. Their best 11-game stretch last year was 8-3 (also to start the season). Whatever the reason, the Celtics have regained the homecourt advantage they enjoyed when they finished 35-6 in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
“I think we do [have an advantage], just because our fans are the best in the world,” Nate Robinson said. “Other teams know when they’re coming here, they’re going to get the best of our fans every time they come.”
In theory, or at least in my theory, the Celtics benefit from fan support in the first quarter (when fans are fired up for the tip) and second half (when the game is more interesting — and important). A second-quarter letdown is understandble, considering the Celtics, their fans and opponents are getting comfortable at that point.
The stats certainly support that theory. Take a look at the team’s plus/minus in each quarter this season:
HOME: +54 (Q1), -2 (Q2), +30 (Q3), +18 (Q4)
ROAD: +51 (Q1), +44 (Q2), +12 (Q3), -8 (Q4)
|Doc Rivers: No superstar let-down this time for Celtics||at 2:06 am ET|
‘Yeah, they knew I was lying because I told them that Lawrence [Frank] didn’t know,” Rivers said after watching his team dispatch of the Nuggets without Melo, 105-89. “We went through the whole defensive added. Hey listen, the last time we used ‘ it didn’t work. So we tried something different. And, listen, the last time he didn’t play I think they scored 135 points. That was the other thing we told them. So I just thought we came out very professional and ready.”
The Celtics shot a scorching 68 percent in the first quarter, making 13-of-19 from the field, on their way to building a 19-point lead.
‘I think coach really made a point of that,” Paul Pierce said of Rivers’ Melo message before the game. “He really didn’t want to tell us that Carmelo wasn’t playing, I think he waited to the very last second cause he went over the game plan, so we took that to heart and went out there and just tried to establish ourselves in the first quarter. I think like Kevin said we’re on a roll defensively and that’s what were trying to do to start the game’
It was 30-11 with 2:47 left in the first quarter before the Nuggets closed to within 14, 35-21, heading into the second quarter.
Why the lesson? The Celtics’ only home court loss came to Oklahoma City on Nov. 19, as the Thunder played without superstar Kevin Durant.
What makes Rivers a great coach is he always seems to provide the right inspiration and lesson at the right time. Rivers knew the Nuggets lost 24 hours earlier in Charlotte, in a heart-breaker, 100-98. Anthony played 39 minutes and scored 22 points. His knee acted up and the NBA’s 10th-leading scorer (22.8 points/game) was unavailable in Boston.
“When you lose a star like that, it’s tough on the other team,” Rivers said. “They played last night, you lose Carmelo, and that’s a tough night for you. And the fact that for three of the four quarters, we were really good.’
Message delivered and well received.
|Kevin Garnett to George Karl: ‘Nothing personal’ about cancer comment||12.08.10 at 11:07 pm ET|
Kevin Garnett approached Denver head coach and cancer survivor George Karl following Wednesday’s game at TD Garden and told him that he meant no offense in the wake of his comments about Charlie Villanueva on Nov. 2 in Detroit. After the Celtics beat the Pistons, Villaneuva, who suffers from Alopecia, accused Garnett of calling him someone who ‘looked like a cancer patient’ during the game.
Garnett said he called Villaneuva ‘a cancer to his team and the NBA’ but denied the ‘cancer patient’ charge. Garnett wanted to make sure that Karl was not offended.
“I went up to him as man and told him what I said and I told him that I had nothing personal towards him nor any other cancer patients that are out there struggling, dealing with life situations,” Garnett said. “I wanted to say that man-to-man. I was going to do it before the game when the [game] clocks were messed up but I wanted to get the game out of the way and then approach him.”
Karl was diagnosed with throat cancer in February and missed time coaching the Nuggets while he was getting chemotherapy for the disease which is treatable and curable, according to doctors.
|Fast Break: Celtics drop the Nuggets||at 9:41 pm ET|
Kevin Garnett added 17 points and nine rebounds, Paul Pierce also poured in 17 and Glen Davis contributed 16 points off the bench, as the Celtics won their eight straight and improved to 17-4 (10 of 11 at home).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Hot start: The Celtics went 7-for-7 in the first 3:20, jumping out to a 16-4 lead and forcing the Nuggets to call timeout in hopes of cooling them off. It never happened. While Denver cut the lead to one late in the second quarter, the C’s never relinquished that lead and shot 55.9 percent for the game.
For the first quarter, the Celtics shot 68.4 percent as a team to take a 35-21 lead (their second-highest first-quarter output of the season). And the Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen led the way, shooting a combined 12-of-16 from the floor in the opening 12 minutes.
Sharing the wealth: The Celtics assisted on 17 of their 21 first-half field goals. That pace cooled off a bit as the lead got comfortable, and the C’s finished with 26 assists on 38 field goals.
Rajon Rondo, of course, led the way with 13 dimes in 30 minutes, while Allen and Pierce chipped in with four apiece. The C’s entered the game averaging more assists than any other team in the league. Rondo’s sensational season, along with the team’s knack for making the extra pass, is the reason the Celtics are also best shooting team in the NBA.
Interior offense: Taking advantage of the Nuggets’ lack of a 7-footer underneath, the Celtics pounded the ball into the post. That led to two positives: a ton of points in the paint, and a ton of free-throw attempts. The C’s outscored the Nuggets 38-28 in the paint, while Allen, Pierce, Davis and Shaquille O’Neal each got to the line at least five times.
In all, the Celtics shot 36 free throws, making 25 of them. They entered the game averaging 23.2 free-throw attempts, while their opponents averaged 25.2 foul shots per game.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Stopping Lawson: As good as Rondo looked in the passing game, he appeared equally as poor defensively. Whether it was his hamstring or feet bothering him, Rondo appeared a step slower than usual. As a result, Nuggets backup point guard Ty Lawson took advantage — totaling 24 points and seven assists. On multiple occasions, he took it right at Rondo, and the C’s point guard put up little defense.
Sloppy second quarter: In a span of 6:52 in the second quarter, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Pierce, O’Neal and Rondo all committed turnovers. During that same span, the Nuggets cut what was an 18-point Celtics lead to a 52-51 C’s advantage with three minutes to play in the first half.
Star watch: In the first 11 home games of the season, Celtics fans have already missed out on three of the league’s biggest draws, as Kevin Durant, John Wall and — on Wednesday night — Anthony didn’t play due to injury when their teams visited the Garden.
The Thunder and Nuggets visit Boston just once all season, so the C’s faithful will have to wait until the 2011-12 season to catch two of the NBA’s biggest established stars in person. Fortunately, the Wizards play in Boston again on April 8, so Rookie of the Year candidate Wall has another shot at a Boston debut.
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