|Game 49: Mavericks at Celtics||02.04.11 at 11:19 am ET|
The Dallas Mavericks have been doing this for a long time. They have been a playoff team every year for the last decade, the second-longest current streak after San Antonio. Their run coincided with the emerge of Dirk Nowitzki as a big-time player and over the years he has remained the one constant.
Steve Nash gave way to Jason Kidd. Michael Finley and Josh Howard were eventually replaced by Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. Through it all, Nowitzki has remained, and despite his MVP season, he remains one of the NBA’s underappreciated superstars.
Nowitzki is having another phenomenal season, perhaps his best since his MVP days. His impact can be seen through his +/- numbers where the Mavericks are more than 22 points better with him on the floor, the highest margin in the league, according to Basketball Value. His impact was even more obvious when he missed nine games and the Mavs went 2-7 during that stretch.
They have since won seven of their last eight and are re-establishing themselves as one of the Western Conference’s prime contenders along with the Spurs and Lakers.
As great as Nowitzki has been, the biggest change has come from the Mavs’ never-ending search for the right complimentary players to put around him. That would be Tyson Chandler.
“He’s the biggest change on their team,” Rivers said. “Chandler has made them a defensive team. They have an anchor now. Just think, they have [Brendan] Haywood coming off the bench. That’s a big, deep basketball team.”
Chandler gives them 10 points and nine rebounds per game, while shooting 66 percent from the floor on a limited arsenal of dunks and put-backs. But it’s his defensive presence that has been the biggest factor, especially in their zone defense.
The Mavs are ninth in defensive rating, up from 12th the season before and 17th the year before that. Additionally, they only give up 20 shots a game at the rim — the second lowest total in the league after Orlando where Dwight Howard patrols the paint.
This may be the same old Nowitzki, but it’s not the same old Mavs.
Offensive Rating: 108.1 (Points scored per 100 possessions, 11th)
Defensive Rating: 104.8 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)
Pace: 90.2 (Possessions per game, 23rd)
Likely Starters: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Dirk Nowitzki, Brian Cardinal, Tyson Chandler
Injuries: Caron Butler (Knee, out), Roddy Beaubois (Foot, out), Peja Stojakovic (Knee, out)
Offensive Rating: 108.1 (12th)
Defensive Rating: 100.1 (2nd)
Pace: 90.8 (21st)
|Fast Break: Better late than never for Celtics||02.02.11 at 12:31 am ET|
It took a quarter for the inevitable letdown to kick in, but the Celtics wandered through a disastrous second quarter Tuesday night against the Kings that not only saw them give up 34, it also gave their young opponents a shot of confidence. The good news for the Celtics is they recovered quite nicely with a strong second half in a 95-90 win that capped off their successful west coast trip on a winning note.
The win also means that Doc Rivers will be be the head coach for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game, a nice tribute in what has been a tremendously rewarding season thus far.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The aggressive Rajon Rondo is the right Rajon Rondo: It was good to see the point guard carryover his second-half play against the Lakers into this one, and the Celtics desperately needed it. Rondo went to the basket early and often in the first half, even passing up could-be assists for sure-thing baskets. This is the Rondo that captured the imagination during the playoffs last season and the one that keeps opposing defenses on its heels because of his unpredictable style. This is the Rondo the Celtics need in the second half of the season.
Ray Allen is closing in on Reggie Miller: It’s only a matter of time now before Allen becomes the all-time 3-point king. He made four more Tuesday and is now nine away from passing Miller for the most 3-pointers made. On an up-and-down night, Allen was consistent throughout, just like he’s been throughout his remarkable career.
Kevin Garnett brought the good kind of crazy: After a so-so first half in which Garnett didn’t do much to distinguish himself, he brought out the insanely-intent version for the final 24 minutes. Garnett was all over the court, the floor and the boards. Whether it was aggressively challenging DeMarcus Cousins at the rim, or diving on the floor to come up with a steal, Garnett turned it on big-time in the third quarter. Not surprisingly, the Kings made only 6-of-19 shots and scored 17 points as the Celtics reclaimed the lead.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Time to start Perk? Shaquille O’Neal is either hurt or just not into it right now, but he is not giving the Celtics any kind of production as the starting center. Kendrick Perkins meanwhile is still looking to find his rhythm just five games into his return from knee surgery. However, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Perkins rejoins the starting lineup and with an upcoming slate that features the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat in the next week and a half, the time may be right for the switch.
Putting out an APB for the bench: Starting Perkins would of course send O’Neal to the bench, which was the game plan all along. Rivers envisioned Shaq being a low-post scoring threat off the bench who would open up the perimeter and also create attention and space for Glen Davis. The Celtics second unit needs something right now because outside of Davis they all seem to be struggling. On an encouraging note, Nate Robinson gave the Celtics strong minutes in the second half and even closed out the game.
Slow down, you move too fast: One of the Celtics bad habits against bad teams is to get into an up-tempo game against them. The result is often turnovers and missed opportunities in transition. The Celtics turned it over 15 times, which contributed to their lackluster play in the first half.
|Talking Hoops, Episode 4 is now online||02.01.11 at 1:16 pm ET|
On the fourth edition of Talking Hoops, WEEI.com’s Paul Flannery is joined by Zach Lowe from SI.com’s Point Forward blog to talk about the Celtics big win over the Los Angeles Lakers and look ahead to the second half of the season.
In the second segment, Flannery and Michael Holley talk in depth about the enigma that is Kevin Garnett.
|Preview Game 48: Winning the trip||at 10:49 am ET|
And now for the inevitable letdown. The Celtics proved their point Sunday afternoon in Los Angles with their emphatic win over the Lakers. Tuesday night in Sacramento figures to be a whole different kind of challenge.
The Celtics have already had a successful west coast trip in many respects. They did what they had to do in splitting their first two games — their trouble in back-to-backs notwithstanding — and their win over the Lakers will resonate. Still, a loss to the Kings would be a serious downer after all the strides this team has made.
It would be unwise for the Celtics to take them lightly because the Kings are playing good basketball right now. They won at Portland and followed that up by beating the Lakers in L.A. and knocking off the Hornets at home. The Celtics rolled the Kings back in Boston, but that was without Tyreke Evans. The Kings remain a young, unpredictable squad who will get on the offensive glass and try to play up-tempo.
This is all about business for the Celtics tonight, and if they care of it, they’ll come back to Boston with momentum heading into a huge 10-day stretch that will have them play the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat.
Offensive Rating: 108.3 (Points per 100 possessions, 11th)
Defensive Rating: 100.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 2nd)
Pace: 90.7 (22nd)
Offensive Rating: 102.9 (25th)
Defensive Rating: 107.9 (16th)
Pace: 93.6 (9th)
Likely Starters: Beno Udrih, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, Carl Landry, DeMarcus Cousins
Injuries: Jason Thompson (Ankle, doubtful), Francisco Garcia (Calf, questionable) Read the rest of this entry »
|Fast Break: Celtics write new LA story||01.30.11 at 6:15 pm ET|
It had ebbs and flows, runs and counters, and even some blood spilled by Kevin Garnett after he was gashed by Pau Gasol. The Celtics and Lakers didn’t disappoint in their first game since the 2010 finals.
You can break this game down in a number if different ways, but in the end it came down to a simple proposition: Could Kobe Bryant beat the Celtics by himself? Bryant erupted for 22 points in the first half and helped the Lakers recover from an early nine-point deficit. He dueled with Paul Pierce throughout the third quarter and into the fourth, but late in the game the Celtics were finally able to contain Bryant and the Lakers had nothing else left.
They can say that this was just another game, but the Celtics proved something in their 109-96 win Sunday afternoon. They proved that this is a different team than the one that left Staples Center without a championship. The rematch is only 11 days away at the Garden.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paul Pierce destroyed Ron Artest: The captain destroyed his antagonist from last year’s finals, scoring 32 points on just 18 shots and sending Artest to the bench in the fourth quarter. There was nothing Artest could do to contain Pierce, who had both his long-range and in-between game working.
The Celtics were overwhelming in the second half, but Pierce kept them in position throughout the game in what might have been his best performance of the season.
Defensive Rebounding: This is very simple. When the Celtics clean up on the boards, the Lakers can’t win. The Celtics were strong out of the gate, allowing the Lakers just one offensive rebound in the first quarter. When the game sped up in the second, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were able to get on the glass.
The Celtics held the fort in the second half and Garnett was a huge factor with 12 defensive rebounds. For all the talk about what a difference a healthy Kendrick Perkins would have made in Game 7, the 2010-11 version of Garnett would have been even bigger.
The bench: Give Nate Robinson credit. The guard has been much-maligned in recent weeks for his propensity for taking long pull-up jumpers in transition. But, that’s what he does. The Celtics rely on him to come off the bench and provide instant offense and that’s what he gave the Celtics, scoring 11 points in 14 minutes. Glen Davis also had a strong game, outproducing Lamar Odom and making huge plays down the stretch.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rajon Rondo didn’t look right (for half): Either there’s something physically wrong with the Celtics point guard, or he’s just worn down from all the minutes he’s played this season. Either way, Rajon Rondo followed up his disastrous outing against Phoenix (more turnovers than assists) with another low-impact performance in the first half.
The Lakers defensive scheme against Rondo is well-known at this point. They drop Kobe Bryant off into the paint where he forces Rondo to shoot jumpers, while also using his length to disrupt his passing and driving lanes. Too often Rondo simply takes himself out the action.
In the second half Rondo completely changed course. He had six assists in the third quarter and became far more aggressive in the fourth when matched up against Steve Blake. Rondo had 15 of his 16 assists in the second half and played (finally) like Rondo.
Kobe did work: The Celtics generally don’t mind when a superstar opponent tries to take a game over on their own. Their feeling — whether it’s LeBron James, Dwight Howard or Bryant — is that if one player is trying to beat them, that makes them much easier to defend. But when Bryant makes 8-of-11 shots and scores 22 points as he did in the first half, that’s simply too much. Bryant managed to keep it close, but even he can’t beat the Celtics by himself.
Foul trouble: The whistles started early as both Ray Allen and Bryant had to check out in the first few minutes with two fouls. Not surprisingly, foul problems also plagued Shaquille O’Neal who got his fifth early in the third quarter. That led Kendrick Perkins to play 25 minutes, his longest outing since returning from knee surgery.
|Fast Break: Celtics shot down in flames against Suns||01.29.11 at 1:20 am ET|
This one was simple, but oh so painful to watch. The Celtics got into Phoenix around 4 a.m. local time Friday night and started out in a not-surprising funk. By the end of the first half they had set new season lows for points in the first quarter (16), points in the first half (35) and they continued their futility throughout the second half.
Then they lost their coach after referee Steve Javie tossed Doc Rivers at the 4:33 mark of the second quarter and Glen Davis who strained his right hamstring. If that wasn’t enough, Kevin Garnett was ejected after low-blowing Channing Frye on a 3-point attempt.
The final was 88-71, which extended their run of futility in back-to-backs. Their last three have been particularly ragged with a loss 90-79 loss to Chicago that was their offensive low point before Friday and the 83-81 loss in Washington last week.
The Celtics return to action Sunday against the Lakers, who lost at home to Sacramento. Chances are good that both teams will be in a lousy mood for that one.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Offensive stagnation: Unlike Thursday when the Celtics recovered long enough to put enough points on the boards and beat the Blazers, the C’s never got into any kind of a rhythm. That’s discouraging because the Suns are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Back-to-back or not, there’s simply no excuse for the Celtics to shoot 34 percent in the first half, or turn it over six times in the first quarter against the Suns.
Much of the blame for the Celtics offensive woes falls on Rajon Rondo. He had a miserable night on both ends of the floor, scoring just seven points on 1-for-6 shooting and registering more turnovers (seven) than assists (six).
Glen Davis missed the second half with a hamstring injury: This could be a potentially bad blow for the Celtics because Davis is their most important bench player and the key to their frontcourt versatility. The Celtics don’t really have another backup power forward on the roster (Luke Harangody is next in line), but Davis has become much more than just Garnett’s replacement. He also plays important fourth quarter minutes at center, which makes him a matchup nightmare in his own right.
Hamstring injuries are notoriously difficult to calm down — Rondo’s lingered weeks after he was supposedly healthy. If Davis is out for any length of time, the Celtics could have a serious problem.
They got nothing from the bench: Before the Celtics pulled their starters, their bench players had scored 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Nate Robinson couldn’t provide a spark and Davis did little before his injury. Von Wafer got some early minutes, but the shots just weren’t there for him either.
This has been a constant theme for the Celtics this season and while Rivers hopes to cobble together a coherent second unit after Delonte West returns from his broken wrist, the bench has been a huge disappointment to this point. With the amount of talent the Celtics have they don’t need their bench to win them games very often, but there are nights when they need a change in direction and energy and the second unit has provided neither on a consistent basis.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Celtics fought it out (literally): Give them credit for not packing it in when they could have, but they couldn’t get the lead under 10 in the third quarter and make a serious run. They did cut the lead down to 11 after Mickael Pietrus elbowed Garnett and picked up a technical foul. That seemed to energize the Celtics for a bit, but with a chance to cut the lead to single digits Marquis Daniels was whistled for an offensive foul in transition. Their last chance evaporated after Garnett’s ejection.
|Preview: Celtics at Trail Blazers, Game 45||01.27.11 at 11:18 am ET|
You just can’t kill the Portland Trail Blazers. Greg Oden is out for the season, again, after knee surgery. Marcus Camby is out for three weeks after knee surgery. Brandon Roy had surgery on both his knees. On and on it goes for the most star-crossed franchise in the NBA who may never approach the greatness that was forecast for them following the 2009 season.
Yet, here they are again, clinging to the eighth spot in the Western Conference having won five of their last six games. Much of the credit for Portland’s still viable status belongs to forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has taken on a larger burden without Roy in the Blazers deliberate offense and scoring more inside.
Aldridge, Andre Miller, Wes Matthews and Nic Batum form the thrown-together core of this Blazers team and that’s enough talent to make them a tough out any night of the week.
The Celtics come to town tonight for the start of a four-game west coast trip and in many way, this is the pivotal game of the trip. They have a back-to-back with Phoenix Friday night and then the showdown with the Lakers on Sunday. The last thing the Celtics want is a losing streak heading into L.A.
Offensive Rating: 109.1 (Points scored per 100 possessions, 10th)
Defensive Rating: 100.6 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 2nd)
Pace: 90.6 (Possessions per game, 22nd)
Offensive Rating: 107.3 (14th)
Defensive Rating: 106.6 (15th)
Pace: 88.8 (30th)
Likely Starters: Andre Miller, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Pryzbilla
Injuries: Marcus Camby (Knee, out), Greg Oden (Knee, out), Brandon Roy (Knee, out), Elliot Williams (Knee, out), Aldridge (Hip, probable), Matthews (Hip, questionable). Read the rest of this entry »
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