|Preview: Spurs at Celtics||01.05.11 at 12:03 pm ET|
With a little more than three minutes left, and his team down 11 points in New York, San Antonio Gregg Popovich pulled his starters Tuesday night, effectively signaling, no mas. This was interesting for two reasons. First, NBA teams just don’t do that, especially not in New York where the media scrutiny shines the brightest, and second, the Spurs play the Celtics tonight.
Popovich got away with it because he’s Popovich, and because even the most rah-rah fan would have to admit that pulling back on a game that could maybe go either way — but looks doubtful — in early January is not really a bad idea. Plus, it’s the freaking San Antonio Spurs, who won four championships since 1998 without a tenth of the drama normally associated with NBA teams, and who have the best record in the league. If Pop wants to make a statement, who’s going to argue with him?
After the game, Popovich called his team’s effort “pathetic,” and again, he had no arguments from his players who should be in a feisty mood for their one visit to TD Garden. This one doesn’t need any more advance hype — although it would be much better if Kevin Garnett was able to play against Tim Duncan.
The Spurs have the best record in the league (and the league’s best offense), while the Celtics sit at No. 2 with the league’s best defense. In many ways the Celtics are modeled after the Spurs, with Doc Rivers taking many lessons from his days in San Antonio with him to Boston.
This is simply as good as it gets in the NBA.
Offensive Rating: 112.4 (Points per 100 possessions, 1st)
Defensive Rating: 103.7 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)
Pace: 93.3 (Possessions per game, 10th)
Likely Starters: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Tim Duncan
Injuries: James Anderson (Foot, out)
Offensive Rating: 107.6 (11th)
Defensive Rating: 90.8 (1st)
Pace: 90.8 (22nd)
Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal
Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).
KEY MATCHUP: Glen Davis vs. DeJuan Blair
Big Baby meet Dajuan Bear, in which 550 pounds, give or take, of bulk do battle on the boards. Blair averages 6.6 rebounds a game in 20 minutes of action. But crunch those numbers further, adjust for pace and time spent on the court and Blair is a more effective offensive rebounder than Kevin Love. Lost in the Love-fest Monday night was the fact that Davis grabbed one solitary rebound. He’ll have to do better tonight.
1. Can the Celtics defense contain the Spurs?
When we think of the Spurs we don’t often think of offense, but they have the league’s best this season thanks to an insanely efficient attack that features a league-best 40 percent shooting from behind the arc. Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, George Hill and Matt Bonner all have True Shooting percentage over 60 percent and that’s before anyone has to account for Duncan or Tony Parker.
2. Is this an NBA finals preview?
While all the attention in the Western Conference has focused on the Lakers and their various serial dramas, the Spurs have quietly reinvented themselves as the class of the conference. It doesn’t hurt that they have been relatively injury-free or that they have once again unearthed a gem in Gary Neal, who floated around Europe for three years before coming to the NBA. The Spurs are loaded.
3. How healthy is Rajon Rondo?
In his two games since returning from his ankle injury, Rondo has been good, but he hasn’t been Rondo. We have yet to see the explosive athletic ability that is the hallmark of his game and what truly separates him from his contemporaries at the point guard position. He’ll have his hands full with Parker tonight.
|Fast Break: Celtics outlast Minnesota||01.03.11 at 10:05 pm ET|
The Celtics won’t get any style points for their 96-93 win over the Minnesota (recap), but no one will care about that in April. And after not closing out a similar game against New Orleans in their last home game, it was a win they were happy to get.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paul Pierce came alive: After a dreadful start, Paul Pierce made his first shot with two minutes left in the first half. The second half was a completely different story as he made 5-of-8 shots and scored 15 points in the third quarter. Pierce made only one shot in the fourth quarter, but it was a huge 3-pointer.
He finished with 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and a very smart foul in the final seconds that prevented Michael Beasley from getting a good look at a 3-pointer.
Von Wafer: Wafer had his best stretch of minutes this season in the second quarter when he scored four points and emerged as the Celtics’ best rebounder (this was not a difficult honor to achieve on Monday). Still, Wafer showed some of the ability that has kept him employed by the Celtics this season. His timing couldn’t have been better because the deadline to guarantee contracts for the season is approaching next week.
Rajon Rondo is finding his groove: It seems clear that Rondo isn’t 100 percent back to being Rondo. Before the game Doc Rivers suggested that Rondo’s ankle would probably bother him all year. What remains to be seen is if he can recapture his explosiveness. He only took four shots and rarely drove to the basket.
But even in a reduced role, Rondo is still a great facilitator (he had 16 assists) and adept at finding, and exploiting mismatches. He worked Shaquille O’Neal against Kostas Koufos every time the opportunity presented itself.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rebounding: This was predictable. Kevin Love is the best rebounding forward in the league and the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett, who is the second best. But, the Celtics got killed on both the offensive and defensive glass and Love had more rebounds (15) in the first half than the Celtics had as a team (14).
But the Celtics also got killed on the defensive glass for the second night in a row, which is not something they can afford to have happen. Even without Garnett.
Glen Davis tried to do too much, again: Love destroyed Davis on the boards, and Davis didn’t do himself any favors by getting into foul trouble and launching too many jump shots. It has been a rough transition into the starting lineup for Davis, who had a not-as-good-as-it-looked line of 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting. One rebound in 30 minutes told a much different story.
Bench woes: In 29 minutes of court time, Nate Robinson and Luke Harangody took eight shots between them. They missed all of them. Neither player registered an assist, either. Thankfully for the Celtics, Wafer supplied some offense and a whole lot of energy off the bench. Robinson did make two clutch free throws in the final seconds to put the Celtics up by three for the game’s final margin.
|Preview: Timberwolves at Celtics, Game 33||at 11:24 am ET|
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a bad team. This comes as no surprise to even the most casual NBA fan. Since trading Kevin Garnett, the T-Wolves have won 70 games and lost 210. That’s losing three out of every four games for 3+ seasons. They don’t defend, they don’t shoot very well and they turn it over way too much. That’s pretty much the formula for bad in the NBA.
They are also knee-deep in one of the most convoluted rebuilding projects in recent memory.
It started when they traded Garnett, acquiring a package of players that included Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair. All of those players have been traded (although they did bring Telfair back where he continues to be a mediocre backup). They also got back their first round pick from the Celtics, which turned out to be Jonny Flynn, a shoot-first point guard who can’t shoot, and acquired the Celtics pick, which became Wayne Ellington, a scorer who can’t score.
General manager David Kahn didn’t make the Garnett trade, but he did run the draft where he also took Ricky Rubio, who has yet to play a second in the NBA, and yet another point guard in Ty Lawson, who he traded to Denver. Lawson has become an integral part of the Nuggets, the eventual replacement for Chauncey Billups and is a far better prospect than Flynn. (Rubio remains a dream).
This past year, Kahn drafted 23-year-old Wesley Johnson, ancient for a draft prospect, and passed over the talented, but enigmatic, DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds along with his various misdeeds and histrionics. Johnson is a wing player, so naturally Kahn traded for another young wing player in Martell Webster, who thankfully can shoot, but has missed all but nine games with injuries.
For good measure, Kahn gave Darko Millicic a contract extension, leading to this fantastic exchange between Kahn and Chris Webber.
Kahn still wasn’t done. He dumped Jefferson for a player named Kostas Koufos, which made people laugh, but it might have been the best move of his tenure because he shed a big contract on a player with bad knees and opened a spot for Michael Beasley, obtained from the Miami Heat during their contract firesale. Beasley has regained his game after a lost season in Miami and is averaging 22 points and six rebounds a game. Trading Jefferson also allowed Kevin Love to blossom into a full-blown star.
And he signed another point guard in Luke Ridnour, which has turned out to be a good thing because Flynn started the year on the injured list and has struggled in his return.
Against all odds, this bunch has become one of the weirdest, and most fun teams of the lower depths of the NBA. Part of that is Love, who pulled down an amazing 33 boards in a game. Then there’s Beasley, whose hair demands its own reality show, and the fact that they play at the fastest pace in the league. They have become, along with the Warriors and the Blake Griffin-Clippers a League Pass cult favorite. But they’re still a hot mess.
TIMBERWOLVES (9-25, 3-7 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 105.3 (Points per 100 possessions, 18th)
Defensive Rating: 111.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 29th)
Pace: 97.6 (Possessions per game, 1st)
Likely Starters: Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Millicic
Injuries: Jonny Flynn (Ankle, questionable), Anthony Tolliver (Knee, out).
CELTICS (25-7,7-3 last 10 games)
Offensive Rating: 107.7 (11th)
Defensive Rating: 98.9 (1st)
Pace: 90.8 (23rd)
Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal
Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).
KEY MATCHUP: Glen Davis vs. Kevin Love
In the 2008 draft, then-GM Kevin McHale swapped picks with Memphis to obtain Love for the rights to O.J. Mayo. There was some talk last season that this was yet another Minnesota screw-up, but there’s no question who got the better end of this transaction. Love is one of the best rebounders in the league, maybe the best, and his offensive game is rounding into shape. If there is any justice, the NBA will find a way to put Love on the All-Star team, even in the stacked Western Conference.
All of which is to say that Glen Davis will have his hands full with Love. Davis shook off a rough first half against Toronto to finish with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He’ll have to be good for all 36 minutes against Love.
1. How will Rajon Rondo hold up on the second night of a back-to-back?
Doc Rivers didn’t think Rondo was going to play until about an hour before Sunday’s game, which raises the inevitable question: Was he actually ready to play? Rondo looked predictably rusty, but did flash his athleticism on a couple of plays. He also had his left ankle stepped on inadvertently by Linas Kleiza, which led to some anxious moments.
There’s a game Wednesday against the Spurs, another Friday against Toronto and then a quick trip to Chicago on Saturday so Rondo won’t have much time to recuperate.
2. Will the Celtics be able to slow the Timberwolves down?
Minnesota plays at the fastest tempo in the league, while the Celtics play much slower. There have been times when the Celtics have tried to run with faster teams, and there is no question they enjoy these kinds of games in the regular season. They should be careful not to get too caught up in Minnesota’s pace and let the Timberwolves hang around in the process.
3. How is Paul Pierce?
Pierce rolled his ankle late in the game against the Raptors after a late-game uncontested dunk. The Celtics don’t think it will be serious, but that was before their flight. The last thing they need is a lingering ankle injury affecting Pierce.
|Fast Break: Rondo’s return helps rally Celtics past Raptors||01.02.11 at 8:31 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo returned to the Celtics lineup after missing seven games with a severely sprained ankle, and while he wasn’t in top form, he had a definite impact on the Celtics, who snapped out of their recent funk with a 93-79 victory over Toronto on Sunday night. (Recap.)
The Celtics outscored Toronto 50-37 in the second half and shot 54 percent. Their double-digit win was even more impressive when you consider they also allowed 19 offensive rebounds. There’s no rest for the Celtics, who play the Timberwolves in Boston Monday night, but this was a much-needed win after two weeks of struggles.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon Rondo returned: The Celtics led 13-8 after six minutes and Rondo was feeling so good he even busted out his fake behind-the-back layup move. Then he picked up his second foul and went to the bench. So long, early lead. Rondo played nine more minutes in the second quarter and went the whole way in the third as the Celtics opened up a nine-point lead.
Rondo wasn’t great — four points, eight assists, five turnovers in 33 minutes — but you could see the difference in how the Celtics got into sets quicker and the passing was much crisper. In the third quarter, the Celtics made 12-of-17 shots and had assists on 10 of them. That’s the kind of impact Rondo has on a game.
Paul Pierce made amends: Pierce had a bad game against the Hornets on Friday afternoon. It happens. Pierce took the extra step of taking the blame for the loss, which wasn’t necessary, but was in line with his role as team leader. You know what speaks more loudly? Taking over the next game. In the first half, when the Celtics were struggling for offense, Pierce scored 20 of their 42 points. That’s leadership.
Center depth: Shaquille O’Neal got in foul trouble again, which is like saying the sun rose in the east. The good thing for Doc Rivers was that he had options. Rivers kept Shaq in the game after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and the big guy was able to convert a layup. He could afford to take the risk because he knew he had Jermaine O’Neal waiting behind him and Semih Erden, if necessary.
The O’Neals combined for 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, which is exactly the kind of production they need from the position.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Glen Davis continues to struggle: It’s not that Davis hasn’t been able to do a decent Kevin Garnett impersonation. He hasn’t even been able to be Big Baby the last game and a half. Davis seems to be fighting himself as he adjusts to his new role as a starter, but after starting the game by missing eight of nine shots, Davis came alive in the third quarter.
He finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in what might have been the best bad game anyone on the Celtics has played this season.
Transition defense: This has become the new watchword for Rivers, and the Celtics are struggling a bit in terms of getting back on defense. They gave up 27 fast-break points against Toronto, who is one of the fastest teams in the league in terms of pace. The Celtics play a number of young teams over the next few weeks and you can believe they will want to get out and run, rather than try to go toe-to-toe with the bruising Celtics.
Defensive rebounding: Attention, Celtics big men: Kevin Love is waiting for you on Monday. You might want to tighten up on the boards.
|Preview: Celtics at Raptors, Game 32||at 10:23 am ET|
After Sunday’s game with Toronto, the Celtics play nine of their next 10 in Boston. It’s a weird quirk in the schedule that sends them to Canada before their homestand, and it’s either a chance to get things back on the track after losing three of four or a potential landmine that will continue their struggles.
The defensively-challenged Raptors may be just what the Celtics need to snap them out of their offensive malaise. Toronto has won just three times in their last 13 games and, like the Celtics, they are dealing with a number of injuries.
Power forward Reggie Evans has been out since November after breaking his foot. Andrea Bargnani has missed five of the last seven games games with a calf strain. Sonny Weems missed their last game against Houston with back spasms and Jerryd Bayless left the Rockets game after eight minutes with an ankle sprain.
The injuries have given rookie Ed Davis a chance to play meaningful minutes and he responded with 17 points and 12 rebounds in a win over the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks, but the Raptors are in rough shape.
The Celtics may get Rajon Rondo back, but that is uncertain at best. Still, they have plenty of healthy talent to deal with Toronto, provided they are in the right mental shape.
[Boston at Toronto, Sunday, Jan. 2, 6 p.m. TV: CSN. Radio coverage on WEEI begins at 5;30 p.m.]
Offensive Rating: 107.9 (Points per 100 possessions, 11th)
Defensive Rating: 99.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 1st)
Pace: 90.8 (Possessions per game, 23rd)
Likely Starters: Nate Robinson, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal
Injuries: Rajon Rondo (Ankle, questionable), Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).
Offensive Rating: 106.5 (14th)
Defensive Rating: 110.6 (27th)
Pace: 94.7 (6th)
Likely Starters: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Joey Dorsey, Amir Johnson
Injuries: Andrea Bargnani (Calf, questionable), Jerryd Bayless (Ankle, questionable), Sonny Weems (Back, questionable), Peja Stojakovic (Knee, out), Reggie Evans (Foot, out).
KEY MATCHUP: Ray Allen vs. DeMar DeRozan
In his second season, DeRozan has upped his scoring average from 8.6 to 13.8 points per game, which looks nice but is mostly the result of playing more minutes. Overall, DeRozan hasn’t made a huge jump but he has shown flashes of brilliance such as his 23-point outburst against the Lakers and a 37-point performance against Houston in Toronto’s last game.
If Bargnani can’t play, DeRozan becomes the focal point of Toronto’s attack. Allen has kept him in check in their two previous meetings this season holding him to just 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting.
THREE PLOT POINTS
1. Can the Celtics bounce back?
They have played some ugly basketball over the last few weeks, even before they started losing games. Better ball movement would be a nice start as the Celtics have gone from a fluid, spread-the-wealth team to a one-pass-and-shoot squad. That has been most evident in the 3-point shooting where the Celtics have made 40 percent or better of their attempts just twice since Rondo went out of the lineup.
2. How much will Jermaine O’Neal have after playing 33 minutes Friday?
Doc Rivers never intended to play O’Neal that much in just his fourth game back after missing 19 games with a knee injury, but Rivers stuck with him for 16 straight minutes to close the game. It was O’Neal’s best performance of the season, and while his offense will come around in time, he showed the kind of rebounding and shot-blocking presence that the Celtics have been waiting for.
3. Will Rondo play?
Rondo tried to give it a a go against the Hornets Friday, but after warming up before the game he felt like he wasn’t back to full speed yet. Rondo desperately wants to get back on the court, but after the game, he sounded resigned to the possibility that it may take him a little longer to return to the lineup.
Considering the state of the Raptors, the Celtics may not need him Sunday. Either way, Rondo won’t play until he is ready and that is the correct decision, no matter how many games the Celtics have to struggle through this winter.
|Fast Break: Celtics pace themselves against Indiana||12.28.10 at 9:31 pm ET|
For the first 18 minutes of Tuesday night’s game with the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics played like a team that has been away from home for a week during the holidays. They were slow to rotate, hesitant to pass to the open man and generally looked like they’d rather be anywhere but Conesco Fieldhouse.
Then Paul Pierce started hitting jumpers and the Celtics got back in the game. They started the second half in much the same way, but rallied behind Marquis Daniels who took control after Nate Robinson banged heads with Mike Dunleavy and had to go back to the locker room.
The Celtics emerged with a 95-83 win in a game where they played well for maybe two quarters. Here’s how they did it:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Marquis Daniels had a very Marquis Daniels-like game: The notion that a player’s contributions don’t show up in the box score is more often than not, ridiculous. Almost every thing an NBA player does in a game is recorded, tracked and committed to the stat sheet, so if a player has no stats it’s not usually because what he does is so sublime, it’s because he didn’t actually do anything.
Daniels is one of those rare players who can have a positive impact without accumulating stats. He handled the ball when it was necessary, but not so much that he would racked up a bunch of assists. He scored, but never forced. He found mismatches and exploited them. In short, Daniels did all the things the Celtics need him to do, and his stats were solid: 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and only two turnovers.
Paul Pierce arrived just in time: Pierce picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game, which sent him to the bench and took the rest of the Celtics offense with him. Without Pierce in the game, the Celtics 40 percent in the first quarter and trailed 26-19. By the time he heated up in the second quarter, the Celtics were down by 10 points, but he shot them back in the game.
Ray Allen did the rest: As Pierce tailed off in the second half, Ray Allen picked up the slack, scoring 12 of his 17 points in the final two quarters. The Celtics once again had great balance with four players in double figures and five players posting 10 or more shots.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rajon Rondo didn’t play: The new timeline for Rondo’s return to the court is now Friday when the Celtics return home to play the Hornets on New Years Eve. (Coincidentally or not, that’s also just in time for a matchup with Chris Paul). The Celtics aren’t going to rush Rondo back, but his return can’t come soon enough.
Their offense, which once featured so much flow and ball movement, has devolved into a one-pass and shoot stagnant system. The Celtics are talented enough to get by like this for a while, but they are becoming very predictable and predictably easy to stop.
Foul trouble for Shaq again: Shaquille O’Neal didn’t get into foul trouble early this time, but he made up for lost time with a flurry of violations that had him setting on the bench with five fouls less than six minutes into the second half. Shaq was fined $35,000 for his comments after the Magic game, and like it or not, he’s becoming a target of the refs for his hard fouls.He lasted 16 minutes before fouling out for the second straight game.
Free throw shooting: The Celtics shot 15-for-22 and for a change, they can’t blame Shaq (or Rondo) for that sub-par number. Shaq made five of his six shots, which left the rest of the team 10-for-16 and that’s not good enough.
|Fast Break: The end of the streak||12.25.10 at 5:29 pm ET|
The end of the Celtics 14-game winning streak came inauspiciously. For 45 minutes, they had controlled their matchup with the Orlando Magic, and then in the final three minutes and 20 seconds, everything fell apart in an 86-78 loss. The Celtics were outscored 15-1 over that span as the absence of Rajon Rondo finally caught up to them.
Nate Robinson shot 2-for-15, Ray Allen shot 3-for-13, and Paul Pierce once again had to direct the offense instead of working into the flow. The Celtics have felt for weeks that they weren’t playing their best basketball, but still they found ways to win. It was only a matter of time until that run ended, but it was still something of a shock that it fell apart so quickly in game they seemingly had in their back pocket.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The limits of Nate Robinson as a point guard: It’s been said again and again that Robinson is not a true point guard, and he’s not. The Celtics have tried to figure out a way to play with Robinson in place of Rondo that allows him to be him, and also allows them to continue to function as a pass-first, unselfish unit.
But in order for that to work, Robinson has to make shots. The Magic laid off Robinson and let him fire away from the perimeter. He was 0-for-5 in the first half and 1-for-10 before he knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer. When Robinson did go to the bench, the Celtics went with Avery Bradley, which was more about defense than running the team.
The Celtics not only don’t have a point guard right now, they don’t have a backup either. That is took this long to catch up to them is a testament to all the other things they’ve done well, but it was only a matter of time.
J.J. Redick is Ray Allen’s Kyrptonite: Once again Allen had a dreadful time shooting the ball against Orlando, and once again Redick was with him every step of the way. It’s been like this since the 2009 playoffs and it’s well past time to give the former Duke sharpshooter his due. He’s become much more than just a jumpshooter, unfortunately for Allen.
Jermaine O’Neal will need some time: O’Neal’s return came at the perfect time with Semih Erden feeling ill, but it was clear watching him play that he’s going to need a few games (at least) to get his conditioning back. There’s no sugar-coating this: Jermaine O’Neal has been a huge disappointment so far this season.
However, there is ample time for him to save his career and salvage his reputation in Boston. If the Celtics are going to do what they want to do this season, they will need him and in order to get there he’s just going to have to burn minutes.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Even without Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics still had the right gameplan for Dwight Howard: Without Perk, the Celtics went on the offense to defend Howard. They did this by pounding the ball in to Shaquille O’Neal early in the game in the hopes of getting Howard in foul trouble. It worked as Howard picked up his second late in the first quarter and was in foul trouble again early in the third quarter.
Howard continued to be his own worst enemy, getting called for a 10-second violation on a free throw attempt and compounding that by getting a technical foul. He didn’t score his first basket until a minute into the fourth quarter. The Magic’s trades were all about helping Howard, but if he is going to ascend to true MVP-level, he still has to learn to help himself against teams like the Celtics.
Defense, defense, defense: The Magic shot less than 40 percent and Howard never got going. This loss was all about the offense. The defense was once again, dominant.
Paul Pierce as point forward: For one half anyway, Pierce was the best point guard on the floor, scoring 16 points and dishing out four assists as the Celtics took control. The Celtics are asking a lot from Pierce, and this time they may have asked too much because he wasn’t able to build on his first-half performance.