|Game 2: Rondo, Rondo, Rondo||05.29.12 at 7:45 pm ET|
MIAMI — Just about everyone would take the following stat line from their point guard: 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. But Rajon Rondo is not just anyone, and for the Celtics to hobble their way out of Miami with a series split, he has to play much better in Game 2.
Rondo had a horrid start to the opener, with all four of his turnovers coming in the first quarter. Then, he turned it on in the next 12 minutes, scoring eight points and handing out four assists while the Celtics tricked the game up with a number of smaller lineups featuring four wing players on the court at the same time. “Fools gold,” Doc Rivers called it.
That’s not sustainable, and the Heat got them out of that early in the second half, when coach Erik Spoelstra put Dwyane Wade on Rondo and kept him 10 feet off the ball. Rondo’s seen that defense before and while giving him room can allow him to pick defenses apart with his passing, it doesn’t work if, A) the defender is as big and talented as Wade, and B) no one on the Celtics can make a shot.
Wade was allowed to roam, which disrupted passing lanes, timing and whatever rhythm is left in the Celtics’ offense. Rivers said after the game that he thought Rondo let his analytical side take over instead of just relying on his speed and instincts.
“You can’t read [defenses] and play a speed at the same time,” Rivers said. “We got through it a lot: ‘Rondo, just trust your instincts. Your speed has to be part of it, your instincts will take over, you’ll make the right decisions.’ We have to give him more room and guys have to hit shots.”
Asked how many defensive looks they threw at him, Rondo deadpanned, “Fourteen.” But given a day and half to prepare, he should have a better plan of attack.
“You could say that, but teams make adjustments,” he said. “They may guard me the same Game 2, they may not. They may throw some different things at me. At the end of the day, you got to make changes throughout the game. You can’t just come into a gameplan and stick to it, because good teams in the conference finals will make adjustments.”
True enough, but Rondo has to be on it from the opening tip if the Celtics are going to have a chance, and Boston has to help him by getting defensive rebounds and getting the ball to him quickly in transition. The Heat have made stopping him their top priority and 16-9-7 isn’t going to cut it. Read the rest of this entry »
|Veteran Celtics win with old reliable: Defense||05.22.12 at 1:50 pm ET|
In the new Big Three era, when the moon is large, the food is prepared properly, and whatever other wacky Kevin Garnett-ism you want to use to describe the Celtics playing to their potential, there has been one constant. If unsure of the answer, let Mickael Pietrus spell it out for you:
“D-E-F-E-N-S-E,” Pietrus said. “That’s the key. When offensively things aren’t going well, you can always count on everybody to play great defense. That’s our coach’s mentality. That’s the Celtics’ mentality.”
The Celtics have finished in the top five in points allowed every year since the 2007-08 season. This year has been no different. During the regular season opponents scored 89.3 points per game against the C’s, good for second-fewest in the NBA. Through 11 games of the playoffs, Boston has allowed just 84.9 points per game. But in the first half of the pivotal Game 5 Monday night, the Celtics struggled to execute defensively and the 76ers took advantage, shooting 54.8 percent while taking a three-point lead at halftime.
“Understanding what got us here,” Garnett said about the keys to the Celtics’ success. “Riding out our defense. I think when we get erratic and we get away from being disciplined defensively, it makes it hard on us. When we stick to our principles and our schemes, it’s hard to score on us.”
What transpired over the course of the second half proved Garnett is absolutely right. The Celtics regained some semblance of control in a wildly unpredictable series with their 101-85 victory. Some analysts will point to the Celtics getting to the free throw line 17 more times than the Sixers; others will speak about Brandon Bass outscoring the entire Philly team, 18-16, in the third quarter. And those are valid reasons why Boston prevailed, but they also are anomalies.
However, the C’s defense binding together and holding the 76ers to just 35 second-half points on 37.1 percent shooting is hardly surprising. As Garnett said, it is what Boston is built on. The C’s active hands served as a catalyst to completely reverse the feel of the game. In the third quarter alone, the Sixers had six turnovers and the Celtics had four steals, turning what had been a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter. From that point on, the Celtics never looked back.
“It’s due to their adjustments,” Elton Brand said. “The first two games they were playing our pick and roll and our drag screens a certain way, now they are playing it a different way, and it doesn’t always bode well for us to execute. We’ve been turning the ball over. They’re long and athletic, so we’ve been going into those traps.”
|Kevin Garnett: Philadelphia’s ‘got fair-weather fans’||at 1:04 am ET|
For 24 minutes of Game 5, the Celtics looked lazy, old, disinterested and whatever other adjective you want to use to describe a team that appeared resigned to the fact that Father Time wasn’t willing to cooperate and the Eastern Conference semifinals were slipping away to the younger, fresher legs of the 76ers.
Whatever they felt, the hushed Garden crowd sensed it, too. And then the third quarter happened.
Whether it was the ridiculous offensive foul call on Kevin Garnett against Spencer Hawes four minutes after halftime that elicited chants of “bull[stuff], bull[stuff]” or the barrage of Brandon Bass buckets, the Celtics awoke a Boston crowd that sleepwalked through the first half. Or was it the other way around?
“This goddamned crowd here sparks you,” said Garnett (20 points, 8-of-17 FG). “It doesn’t take much here, man. … When speaking about this crowd, man, it’s like plugging in. They’re enthused from 48 minutes on, from the tip on, so I can’t see the difference between minute from minute. I feel like every minute I look up, I see my family, I see people yelling, I see the drunk, fat guy. I can decipher one from the other. This crowd is ridiculous, man. I love it.”
Brandon Bass wasn’t the only one coming into Game 5 who might have wondered where all his playing time went.
Greg Stiemsma was lost on the Celtics bench, while Ryan Hollins was spelling Kevin Garnett off the bench. Stiemsma was a DNP-Coach’s Decision on Friday night. He has eight, 11 and four minutes respectively in the first three games before a goose egg in Game 4.
But on Monday, maybe it was just as simple as Doc Rivers wanting to change the atmosphere as Stiemsma – not Hollins – came in for Garnett in the first quarter and the Sixers leading, 12-11.
So often in the series, and in the playoffs, when Garnett has come off the floor, the Celtics have struggled. But this time, while not pouring in 27 points like Bass did, Stiemsma was crucial in stabilizing the struggling Celtics bench, which lost Ray Allen to the starting lineup. Stiemsma came in with 5:46 left in the first and immediately paid dividends.
He didn’t register a block until 1:23 left in the quarter. It was actually his motion off the ball and rolls to the basket that made a difference. Imagine that – Stiemsma making offensive moves and Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo looking for him on cuts to the basket. In his first two minutes, Stiemsma hit a lay-up off a screen-and-roll from Pierce. He dunked on a baseline cut to the basket on a pass from Rondo and he connected on a jumper from 14 feet on a feed from Rondo.
“Tonight was another opportunity, its been like that the whole season,” Stiemsma said. “For the most part I think I’ve taken advantage of it and tonight was just another one of those nights where got some looks early, got myself going and I was just happy we won at the end.”
“I just kind of went with the flow of the game, how it was going, if I missed my defense couple times early when we got those buckets, a layup and a dunk, it really slows the game down, really makes you feel a lot more comfortable.”
Stiemsma didn’t do much in the second half. He didn’t need to as Bass took a spear to the heart of the 76ers and the Celtics carved out a 101-85 win in Game 5. But it was Stiemsma who gave the Celtics some life early on when the Sixers were looking and hoping to pull away for their second straight win in Boston.
How good was Stiemsma? He made all five shots he attempted and finished with 10 points, three blocks and two rebounds in 14 minutes.
“Its playoff time so as long as we’re winning I’m happy,” Stiemsma said. “It’s tough to see us struggle, but at the same time I don’t feel like I was playing the same way I was at the end of the year, either. So it felt good to get out there and feel comfortable again.”
|Fast Break: Brandon Bass lands Celtics a Game 5 win||05.21.12 at 9:26 pm ET|
In the aftermath of the Game 4 collapse, Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted he made a mistake not playing Brandon Bass more down the stretch against a smaller 76ers lineup. Yet, Rivers still didn’t play Bass in the final minutes of the fourth quarter in Game 5, either.
That’s because Bass had already erupted for 18 of his playoff career-high 27 points in the third quarter, igniting a 101-85 blowout win that gave the Celtics a 3-2 lead heading back to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Wednesday.
Kevin Garnett (20 points, 6 rebounds), Paul Pierce (16 points), Rajon Rondo (13 points, 14 assists) and Greg Stiemsma (10 points) all reached double figures as well in the C’s victory.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Breakout Bass: After exceeding 15 points in 18 games during the regular season, Bass had yet to eclipse that mark in the playoffs. And Rivers didn’t like it, imploring No Pass Bass to earn his nickname and take the open shot when it’s there. Bass responded in Game 5, scoring 18 of the C’s 28 points in the third quarter and helping turn a 50-47 halftime deficit into a 75-66 lead after 36 minutes of action. He had his new career playoff scoring high before the fourth quarter.
Stinkin’ Badger: After the Celtics introduced a steamboat whistle to announce Greg Stiemsma‘s entrance into Game 1, the Wisconsin native came into Monday’s game with two points on 1-of-3 shooting for the series. Without the whistle intro in Game 5, Stiemsma erupted for eight points on 4-of-4 shooting — in his first 5:46 of action. He made three straight baskets midway through the first quarter on his way to eight of the C’s 23 points in the opening 12 minutes.
Match game: Along with Garnett, who enjoyed another stellar playoff game in this Back to the Future postseason of his, and a dash of Ryan Hollins, Bass and Stiemsma helped neutralize Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young, who combined for 19 boards off the bench in Game 4. That number dropped to six between them in Monday night’s blowout victory.
|Fast Break: Celtics collapse in second half, 76ers even series||05.18.12 at 10:53 pm ET|
The Celtics scored the first 14 points of Game 4 and had a 15-point lead at halftime, but they failed to keep that momentum in the second half, as the 76ers came back to win, 92-83, evening up the series at two games apiece. For the 76ers, Andre Iguodala scored 16 points. Paul Pierce had 24 points (8-of-13 shooting) and Rajon Rondo had 15 points to go along with 15 assists. The Celtics look to regain control of the series Game 5 on Monday night back at the Garden.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Benched: Doc Rivers looked to his bench to hold the fort after the Celtics built a 22-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Things quickly went awry — Philly went on a 10-2 run to pull within six, 24-18. Rondo stopped the bleeding with an old-fashioned three-point play, and the Celtics closed the half on a 22-13 run, taking a 15-point lead into halftime. While the lead was re-established, Rivers would have preferred not to have had the starters expend more energy.
Foul play: The 76ers should have been in contention all night with the lopsided free throw advantage they had. In the first half, Boston took five free throws to Philly’s 21, but the Sixers only hit 13 of those attempts. In the second, half Rivers was forced to go back to his bench after three starters — Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley and Rondo – had four fouls midway through the third quarter. Philly finished with a season-high 34 free throw attempts.
Board to death: The refs certainly didn’t help Boston’s cause, and the validity of the free throw differential is up for debate, but the C’s should have been more focused on the glass. Neither team had been dominant rebounding the ball until Friday night, when the Sixers had 12 offensive boards through the third quarter. This was critical because the Celtics held Philly to just 32.8 percent shooting but the 76ers were able to have multiple chances at the basket because of their rebounding advantage. Philly finished with 17 offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, the Celtics only had five.
Half the battle: As great as the Celtics were in the first half, they failed to score a field goal in the first seven minutes of the second half. To their credit, the Sixers battled and clawed their way back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game in the opening stages of the fourth quarter. From that point on, the game would be a back-and-forth battle. These scoring droughts from the C’s are nothing new but are still staggering to watch, especially after they displayed incredible efficiency in the first quarter.
Of course, it wasn’t just the offense. The aforementioned rebounding and free throw disparities hurt Boston. Additionally, the Sixers finally flexed their youth, outscoring the Celtics 27-13 in fast break points. Finally, the C’s committed 17 turnovers (including seven from Kevin Garnett alone).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Going for the kill: What was more impressive: The C’s scoring the game’s first 14 points, or the fact they only allowed Philly eight shot attempts (the Sixers only hit one) to their 16 shot attempts through five minutes of action? It has been difficult to differentiate between good defense versus bad offense during the lockout-shortened season, but this was a case of the former. The Celtics were relentless in their defensive approach, specifically Rondo and Bradley. Offensively, Boston started the game shooting 7-of-8 from the field. It was clear, the Celtics wanted no part of coming back to Philly for a Game 6.
The maestro: The C’s early dominance was largely because of Rondo’s performance. For the second straight game, Rondo played in complete control, dominating all facets of the contest. He had four assists in the first four minutes, took wise risks defensively, and controlled the pacing. He finished the first half scoring nine points (4-of-6 shooting) to go along with nine assists.
Gone fishin’: Bass had a great regular season for the C’s — first as a reserve off the bench, then as a starter — but he has had an uneven playoffs. In Game 3, Bass showed signs of coming to life, scoring 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting. That confidence carried over into Game 4. In the first half, the 27 year-old scored 13 points, only one point shy of his previous playoff high, knocking down five of the seven shots he took. Bass only had one basket in the second half, however, and finished with 15 points.
|Celtics look to get Paul Pierce open||05.16.12 at 12:31 pm ET|
PHILADELPHIA — The Celtics have had a hard time getting Paul Pierce open for shots in the first two games of their series with the 76ers. Part of that can be attributed to Pierce’s sprained knee. A lot of it can be attributed to Andre Iguodala’s defense. Whatever the reason, the Celtics are going to try to make adjustments for Wednesday night’s Game 3.
“We’re not sure where those spots are yet,” Doc Rivers said. “Usually with Paul, the elbow isos are great, but right now he can’t get away from anybody with his leg. We’re going to go to more pin-downs for him and do different things. You usually didn’t have to get a body off of him. He can usually shake the body on his own. I think now we have to use him a lot like Ray [Allen] and bring him off screens.”
Pierce was 2-for-9 in Game 2 and is just 5-for-20 in the series. Rivers added that he may try to get more post-up looks for Pierce to try to get him going.
Asked about the severity of Pierce’s injury, Rivers said, “I don’t do percentages. I don’t think Iguodala cares what percentage he is and that’s what counts. When he’s on the floor he’s 100 percent and that’s how we play our guys, that’s how we view it. Whether he is or isn’t really doesn’t matter. We have to get 100 percent out of him of what he has, that’s what we have to do.” Read the rest of this entry »