|Fast Break: Celtics-Bulls||12.12.09 at 10:30 pm ET|
Another night, another city, another Celtics victory.
The Celtics have played a dozen road games so far this season and they have left town with a victory eleven times. The only time the C’s suffered a defeat on the road was four weeks ago to the day in Indiana. There was no danger of a repeat performance in a 106-80 win over the Bulls on Saturday, and not just because the Celtics have figured out the road game better than every other team in the NBA.
In Chicago, the Celtics not only caught a team playing the second night of a back-to-back, with the night before going to overtime. They also caught a Bulls team in crisis mode. The double digit losses are mounting and it may only be a matter of time before the Bulls start looking for a new coach.
Credit the Celtics with doing what they needed to do and continuing their winning ways on the road, but the Bulls are in big trouble.
Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. The Celtics point guard has been playing his best basketball of the season and he continued his run with 16 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and three steals. Every time Rondo and Derrick Rose match up has the potential to be a special occasions, but at this point in their careers, Rondo is clearly the superior player.
Turning Point: If the Bulls were going to make it a game, they needed to make a stand to start the second half. Instead they degenerated in a morass of turnovers, bad shots and shoddy defense. Game over.
* Brad Miller got a little payback on Rondo early in the first quarter when he collared Rondo on a drive to the basket and threw him to the ground, getting a flagrant foul in the process. Rondo had whacked Miller across the face during the playoffs last season, drawing blood. To Rondo’s credit he continued to attack the middle of the Bulls defense.
* Later in the game Miller got into it a little bit with Kendrick Perkins with the duo getting called for a double foul after Miller hooked perk and Perk flipped him to the ground.
* Paul Pierce took a bit of a beating. He hurt his right shoulder in the third quarter and then banged knees with Luol Deng later in the quarter. Pierce stayed in, and showed yet again why he is one of the toughest players in the league, but the Celtics can ill afford to be without Pierce while Marquis Daniels rehabs from surgery.
* The Celtics bench played very well in the first half and increased the lead while the starters were getting a rest. Vinny Del Negro on the other hand worked his starters big minutes one night removed from an overtime win over the Warriors. The second half was fairly predictable.
* Without Daniels, the Celtics don’t really have a second ballhandler. They can get away with it for a while, particularly against teams like Chicago that don’t pressure guards, but Daniels’ loss will be felt at some point.
* All five starters scored in double figures as did Wallace and Eddie House.
|Fast break: Celtics-Bulls||10.30.09 at 10:31 pm ET|
The Celtics did it with defense and the bench in the first half and then they buried the Bulls under a 3-point barrage in the second half in a 118-90 win win. While the Celtics pushed the lead into the 30’s in the third quarter, this game was essentially over early. The Bulls shot just 5-for-20 in the first quarter and 29 percent in the first half.
The Celtics are now 3-0 and looking very much like the best team in the league.
Player of the game: Paul Pierce. You could make a case for Kevin Garnett (16 points, four rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (16 assists, eight rebounds) as well, but Pierce was solid throughout racking up 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Turning point: At the 4-minute mark of the second quarter Garnett joined Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins on the bench with two fouls. The Celtics had a 15-13 lead at the time. Over the next 10 minutes the second unit (and Pierce) built the lead up to 14 points, 35-21, and the Bulls never got back in the game. It was a slow, methodical dissection built entirely on defense.
* The Celtics made their first six 3-pointers of the second half, including four from Pierce. The 3-point barrage was just the icing on the cake for the C’s. Even though they made just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc in the first half they still shot an even 50 percent from the floor. They said after the Charlotte game that they had not played a complete game yet. Wonder if they still feel that way.
* It’s a little unfair to say that this is how the first round of the playoffs would have gone last year if Garnett had been healthy. After all, Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels are now in the mix and the Bulls are without Ben Gordon and are trying to work Luol Deng back into the lineup. Also, Derrick Rose is dealing with an ankle injury. All that said, it’s probably a safe bet that the series wouldn’t have gone seven games
* Allen moved past John Stockton for 33rd place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Somehow seems odd to pass Stockton on any list that has to do with scoring.
* With about two minutes left in the game, Doc Rivers emptied the bench to play out the final string. Joining the five before they took the floor was Wallace who was dispensing advice to rookie Lester Hudson.
|A ‘completely extraordinary’ series||05.03.09 at 1:32 am ET|
Ray Allen has a way with words, even after it seemed every superlative had been used to describe the seven-game marathon struggle that finally ended Saturday night with a 109-99 Celtics win over the Bulls in Game 7 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
“Completely extraordinary,” Allen said. “I’ve had friends all over the world watch this series and people just commenting on how nerve-wracking this series was, how entertained they were, how excited they were to watch us play and how devastated they were in the losses.”
Before the game, Allen was asked how either team could summon the energy for a Game 7 after a record four of the seven games went to overtime.
“I just think the people watching it are more fatigued than we are playing it,” Allen said. “I’m looking up at people in the stands in Chicago and they’re tired and ready to go home. For anybody watching at home, you can’t take your eyes off the TV, people are up late at night.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Game 7: Third quarter update||05.02.09 at 10:12 pm ET|
After the Celtics rolled at the end of the first half, you knew the Bulls would come out with everything they had in the third. The Celtics were able to absorb the Bulls charge for the most part and take a 78-71 lead into the third quarter.
Things got a little heated as Rajon Rondo was fouled hard twice. First by Joakim Noah and then by Brad Miller who topped it off with a little shove. Neither play was ruled a Flagrant foul. For his part, Rondo picked up a technical foul after a timeout.
The Bulls are shooting just 41 percent but are staying in the game at the free throw line where they made all 10 of their free throws in the quarter and are 23-for-27 for the game.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Kendrick Perkins has four fouls. Rondo, Big Baby Davis and Brian Scalabrine have three fouls. For the Bulls, Miller has four fouls. John Salmons and Derrick Rose each have three.
The question we have before us is simple. Will this be the last 12 minutes of this series or will be go to overtime for the fifth time?
|Game 7: The return of the bench||at 9:30 pm ET|
So, who had the Celtics bench in the X-factor pool? In the first half the much-maligned reserve unit shot 6-for-9 from the floor and 4-for-5 from 3-point range to score 18 points and completely turn the game around with their defensive energy, particularly from Stephon Marbury and Eddie House.
House picked up three steals and Marbury dogged Derrick Rose into having a scoreless quarter. The Bulls bench, namely Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich missed all five of their shots from the floor and have not been a factor.
Even Mikki Moore contributed with a timely charge, four points and two rebounds. The Bulls were 3-for-14 from the floor in the second quarter and that had a lot to do with the defensive effort from the second unit.
|Game 7: First quarter update||at 8:39 pm ET|
As Game 7 began to get under way the crowd was rocking and the Garden was electric. Not that it bothered the Bulls at all. Chicago came out strong building an 11-4 lead and taking a 27-23 lead after one quarter.
Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose combined for 20 points, while Joakim Noah grabbed seven rebounds. The Celtics, meanwhile, struggled at the outset and shot just 35 percent from the floor. Also of concern is the fact that Big Baby Davis and Brian Scalabrine each have two fouls.
But it wasn’t all bad news for the C’s, Paul Pierce got off to a decent start scoring seven points, while Kendrick Perkins continued his strong play inside with four points and five rebounds and did not commit a foul. Scalabrine also gave the Celtics a huge lift with five points. The pace is fast–the Celtics got up 26 shots–but they only had one turnover.
All things considered, the Celtics did well to get the margin down to four points, which is something Ray Allen talked about before the game. “(We need) to get good starts and finishes to each quarter,” he said. “That builds momentum.” Consider that task half completed.
|Game 7: What to watch for||at 4:25 pm ET|
The last 48 hours or so the most persistent thought about Saturday night’s Game 7 between the Celtics and Bulls is: This can’t get possibly get any better, right? How could these two teams top what we’ve seen so far. Five overtimes with Ben Gordon and Ray Allen playing a game of UConn H-O-R-S-E right to the end–last Huskie with the ball wins? Just about the only thing we seem to know about this series is that we don’t know how it will end.
But we’ve had six games and seven overtimes to figure out just about everything else. There will be no secrets tonight. Both teams have thrown everything they have at each other and barring a Tim Thomas sighting (the Bull, not the Bruin) we now have a fairly clear blueprint of what each team wants to do.
Here are six things to watch (we snuck in an extra one because it’s that big of a game).
Derrick Rose has had three great games in this series–Game 1, 4 and 6. Not coincidentally, those were the games the Bulls won. Rajon Rondo has had five great games and one somewhere between brilliant and disastrous. Rondo scored but eight points in Game 6, shot 4-for-17 from the field, missed two huge free throws down the stretch in regulation and had his game-winning shot attempt blocked by Rose. That Rondo took the shot, and not Ray Allen who was video-game hot, is another mark against him. And yet, Rondo still had nine rebounds, 19 assists and no turnovers. Not one.
The Bulls kept Rondo out of the lane in Game 6 by packing in in and also by making a ton of shots and not allowing the Celtics to get out and run. The other issue with Rondo is his temper. After he swatted Brad Miller’s face at the end of Game 5, the Bulls have been looking for some payback and Kirk Hinrich almost succeeded in getting Rondo out of Game 6. Rondo has been saved by the NBA twice now, who ruled his Game 5 foul was not flagrant and that his Game 6 altercation with Hinrich didn’t require any additional penalty upgrade.
Rondo and Rose have both been spectacular, but Rondo has had the clear edge overall in this series. He can solidify his spot as the best point guard in the East if he bests Rose tonight, while Rose can stake an early claim to the title if he can lead the Bulls to the upset. Either way, this matchup is now a marquee event for the next decade. Like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. But better.
2. Who’s Got the Hot Hand?
If you care, there’s a lot of evidence out there that the so-called hot hand simply doesn’t exist. That’s probably true, but given the shooting exhibitions that Ray Allen, Ben Gordon and John Salmons (at least in Game 6) have put on, and the ridiculous number of last-second 3-pointers both teams have launched, and made, it seems likely that at least one of those three players will have a huge say in deciding things.
The smart money would be on Allen in that he has the most experience of the three and the fact that he has had the best series. In six games, Allen is averaging 23.5 points on 25-of-53 shooting (47 percent) from 3-point range. Gordon, meanwhile, is averaging 22.8, but shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. One wonders if Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro elects to switch Hinrich, who is far and away his best perimeter defender, on to Allen if he gets off to a good start.
If it’s close at the end, count on the former UConners to get more chances at winding up in an Amazing montage.
3. Your Other Most Important Players? We Give You Kendrick Perkins and Brad Miller
Miller wasn’t the only reason the Bulls were able to win Game 6, but he was the biggest. He only missed one shot all all night, made two huge plays at the end of regulation and sank crucial free throws in the overtime. Miller was an incredible +26 in the +/- ratings in Game 6, a number that looks slightly better than it really was because he often gets taken out for defensive purposes, but not that much.
Perkins, meanwhile, has become a defensive monster in this series. Bill Simmons wrote that Perk was playing like Robert Parish and much as I’d like to come up with a different analogy I think the Sports Guy nailed that one. What’s been so amazing about Perkins’ play is that he has kept his composure and not committed silly fouls. As well as Big Baby Davis has played offensively, Perkins is really the only Celtic capable of holding down the middle against the Bulls. He has to stay out of foul trouble in Game 7 (this is a recording).
4. Whither Big Baby?
Speaking of Davis, he is Option B in the middle of the great small-small lineup debate. The Bulls have made great use out of playing Rose, Gordon and Hinrich together with Hinrich playing strong defense on his fellow Jayhawk, Paul Pierce.
But when Del Negro replaces Tyrus Thomas with Salmons and goes really small, Doc Rivers has countered with Tony Allen, and that backfired in Game 6 when TA had to take two shots and bricked them both.
If Del Negro goes back to that lineup, and he should, it will be interesting to see if Doc sticks with Baby and accepts the defensive matchup trade-off for more size and rebounding, not to mention a huge size edge on offense. Baby has averaged 18.7 points and 7.5 rebounds, but half of his boards are coming at the offensive end.
Option C would be Stephon Marbury, incidentally, but Marbury has not played like he’s ready for the big stage at all in these playoffs and Rivers has seemingly lost faith in him.
5. The Truth About the Captain
The truth is no one knows if Paul Pierce is hurt or tired, or a combination of both, but he has not had the lift on his shots and appeared a step slow at times. If there was one play that symbolized Pierce in the playoffs it was losing a race to Joakim Noah in the third overtime and not being able to get enough of Noah to prevent getting dunked on and picking up his sixth foul. It was an instinctive play by Pierce and one can argue it was the right one if he didn’t have five fouls.
Throughout his career Pierce has shown a fierce determination to play through just about everything. He had a huge Game 3 (not coincidentally, the only blowout of the series) and an even bigger closing stretch at the end of regulation and overtime in Game 5. But beyond that, Pierce has appeared downright ordinary.
More than anyone on the Celtics, Pierce understands the history and the mythology of the franchise. The captain knows deep down that if he can carry his team across the finish line one more time it will only add to his legend. The question is: Does he have it in him?
6. The Crowd
You play 82 games in the regular season to get homecourt in a game like this. The Garden crowd saved the Celtics twice last season in seventh games and it will need to be at its best if its going to have an impact. The emotions have been brewing all series and threatened to get out of control at times. The Celtics need to feed off the energy, but not let it overtake them. The Bulls need to block it out. If there is one true advantage in this game, homecourt is probably it.
The eyes of the sports world are on this game tonight. It can’t possibly live up to its billing, can it? We’ll have updates during the game on Green Street and analysis after it’s over, assuming it ever does get over.
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