|A professional effort||03.21.09 at 10:44 pm ET|
There is nothing better than the NCAA Tournament. The games are exciting, the emotion is unparalleled and the size of the field and the format is perfect. It is the best post-season in all of sports, and this comes from an NBA guy who thinks the college version of hoops is a vastly inferior product and is far more interested in Lionel Hollins’ rotations than Coach K’s histrionics.
But as awesome as it is to see Siena take down Ohio State, there is something to be said for putting together a win like the Celtics did last night. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable to watch and the atmosphere inside the Grizzlies building was like the BPL at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. (Did you catch the guy sleeping in the fifth row with about four minutes left?) One shining moment it wasn’t. (Click here for a recap).
But the Celtics were, in a word, professional. One night after taking down the Spurs they went into Memphis with tired legs and did what they had to do. This was a solid step forward for the C’s who had lost a little bit of their swagger last week.
Six more observations from a subdued Saturday in the middle of March madness:
1. When Kevin Garnett is in the game everything changes. The defensive intensity picks up, the offense flows better, the tempo gets faster. Rivers experiment with KG is a noble one and it’s to his credit that he has resisted the urge to play him more minutes. There are a lot of coaches who talk a good game about things like this and then push the panic button when things get tough. Credit Doc for that one.
Credit Garnett for his 10-point, four-rebound effort, as well. The plan appears to be to give him a little more work on Monday against the Clippers (four minutes in the second, four in the fourth). That seems like a workable idea. The test will be Wednesday when the C’s go to Orlando.
2. You could do a lot worse in your bracket then going with a team that has Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Darrell Arthur and Hakim Warrick. The problem with the Grizzlies is the only veteran on the roster is Greg Buckner. If they get a little time to develop, and if Marc Gasol continues to be an effective presence inside, they might have something there. But what are the odds that owner Michael Heisley keeps the team together? The Grizz are just treading water until the next collective bargaining agreement.
3. Doc made a conscious effort to keep Paul Pierce’s minutes down and that also seems like a very good idea. The Truth has logged major playing time this year and while it’s tempting to keep him out there at all times (especially without an obvious backup) keeping him somewhat fresh will be a major challenge down the stretch.
4. Interestingly, Rivers opened the second quarter sans Big Three and then went to a Stephon Marbury, Eddie House, Ray Allen lineup for a significant stretch of the second and fourth quarters.He seems intent on doing a little tinkering with the second unit, which is exactly what he should be doing right now.
5. Big Baby had a huge first half, following up on his solid effort against San Antonio. Before he got hurt Leon Powe was turning some heads with his play. It remains to be seen what the backup big man rotation is going to look like come playoff time but right now Baby and Powe are making their case to play big roles.
6. Safe to say that the acquisition of Marbury has accomplished at least one thing so far. House has flourished as the designated shooter while Marbury handles the ball. E-House is averaging over eight points a game and shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range playing off Marbury, while Steph looked cool and calm running the offense last night, as well. Granted it’s not like the Memphis guards were channeling TR Dunn, but it was a good night for Marbury.
6A. If Bill Walker isn’t in the slam dunk context next year, there ought to be an investigation. In the spirit of Darryl Dawkins, that dunk he threw down on Arthur, the former Kansas forward, should be called the: Rock Chalk In-yo-face-Jayhawk Tomahawk Jam.
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 112, Heat 108 OT||03.18.09 at 11:52 pm ET|
While Paul Pierce is almost certainly not going to beat out guys named Kobe or LeBron or even the Heat’s Dwayne Wade, who was a late scratch Wednesday with a right hip flexor, the Celtics captain showed exactly why he is still one of the most feared players in the league.
He scored 36 points and hauled in 11 rebounds and, with the help of Rajon Rondo’s 27 points and 10 assists, led the Green to a gutsy 112-108 OT win against Miami.
“It almost came down to that we had Paul and they didn’t have Wade,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “When Paul was making all the shots, I thought that last shot he took was in too so, it’s a good win for us, right now even when you get what we’re going through is good. I thought a lot of guys, obviously Paul and Rajon, was terrific.”
Pierce looked like the Pierce of 2006-07 when he HAD to be the guy taking all the big shots at the end of games. Like his three-pointer with 2:27 left in regulation to give the Celtics a 96-95 lead. Like his jumper with 1:49 remaining to give the Celtics a 98-97 lead. Like his jumper with 1:23 remaining to give the Celtics a 100-99 lead. Pierce was 6-for-8 in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his team’s 25 points
“When he does that, it’s unbelievable,” Kendrick Perkins said in wonder. “He’s hitting shots, crazy shots. I knew they were in trouble how he came out. When he comes out like that, he’s in attack mode. I was like, ‘Somebody is in trouble tonight.’ He came out just feeling it. He carried us tonight, he and Rondo.”
Pierce was more humble.
‘We just needed a win any way we can get it, right now at this point, it seems like bodies are going down left and right, to get our spirits back up,” Pierce said. “We know that we are injured, we know that we are losing guys every other day, but just to get back on the winning mindframe, is big for us, especially when you are going into San Antonio in a couple of days later. So, this was a big game for us, hopefully on this road trip, we get a couple of bodies back, if not we continue to grind these games out until these guys get better.’
‘They’re up,” Pierce said. “That’s the one great thing about this team. We’ve never been down, we’ve never look at one another, point the finger at one another, and we understand that we just have to keep working. We’re a team that doesn’t make excuses, that doesn’t cry over spilled milk. The situation is what it is and we have to go out there and put our hard hats on and our work boots on and continue to work regardless of who’s out there.’
Jermaine O’Neal has seen this all before. He wasn’t surprised by the show Pierce put on against his Heat on Wednesday.
|The puzzle changes shape||at 11:15 pm ET|
There are two ways to look at Doc Rivers‘ statement before the Celtics took the court against the Heat. “We’re not going to catch Cleveland,” Rivers told the press without being asked about whether they could catch the Cavaliers. “We have a chance to hold on to that second spot.” (Click here for a recap of the Miami game.)
The first is this. The coach is absolutely right. There are 13 games left in the regular season and the Celtics are down five in the loss column. It’s math.
Now that kind of unprompted candor, even from one of the more honest and realistic coaches in the NBA, is not generally expected. Someone who has been around competitive sports for as long as Rivers knows there’s always a chance, and to concede anything less is to admit to defeat on a certain level.
But admitting defeat is not in this team’s nature (and they have the championship banner to prove it) so clearly this was a different sort of message. After the game, which was as good a win as his team has had in almost two weeks, Rivers talked about a jigsaw puzzle. “It’s corny,” he said. “But we were talking about it today that the only way you can put a puzzle together is with the box. You have to have the picture. So we just don’t have all our pieces together right now. They’re kind of scattered but we’re going to have a chance to put them back together and we know that. And we know the picture and that’s what we want.”
The puzzle pieces are scattered throughout Eddie Lacerte’s training room. They have hyper-extended elbows, sprained ankles and strained knees. But the picture is clearer now after suffering losses to Milwaukee and Chicago and it involves getting the home-court advantage against Orlando in the second round. That’s the puzzle they will try to solve over the next 13 games: Get healthy and stay ahead of the Magic.
That’s a different picture than what was in place a few weeks ago when there was a realistic chance at catching the Cavaliers, but that was then and this is now. There were a lot of words spoken in the aftermath of their gritty win over the Heat without two of their stars and with only three able-bodied big men, but none of them were “Cleveland.”
“One, for us to get on the same page and two, to solidify that second spot,” was how Stephon Marbury put it. “Once everyone gets healthy I think this team will be totally different.”
“Either way, I still feel good about us winning a championship,” Kendrick Perkins said. “I don’t care if we play home or away.”
Say this for the Celtics, when the coach talks about something like this it’s not an accident and it’s not a sub-conscious slip of the tongue. The players were briefed about this subtle change in expectations and they are on board.
“That’s the one great thing about this team,” Paul Pierce said. “We’ve never been down. We never look at one another, point the finger at one another, and we understand that we just have to keep working. The situation is what it is and we have to go out there and put our hard hats on and our work boots on and continue to work, regardless of who’s out there.”
To that end, they milked 41 minutes out of Big Baby Davis, who has been out the last four games with an ankle injury. They had three (relatively) healthy big men and when Davis and Mikki Moore fouled out, they turned to rookie Bill Walker in the final minute of an overtime game.
It was, as they say, a good win. A win that clinched them the Atlantic Division, not that any of them cared because that’s not part of the puzzle they’re trying to solve.
“(The division) doesn’t really mean anything to the Boston Celtics,” Pierce said. “They don’t put that banner up. Maybe in other arenas they put that banner up, but here, it doesn’t really mean a thing.”
Getting healthy matters. Staying ahead of Orlando matters. That was the message the coach delivered Wednesday night and it was heard, and well-received by his team.
|Rivers concedes conference race||at 7:15 pm ET|
There are 14 games left in the Celtics regular season, and while it is not within the realm of the likely that they will catch Cleveland in the Eastern Conference race, it is also not outside the realm of the possible that it could happen. Still, it was a little jarring to hear Doc Rivers say, unprompted, that, “we’re not going to catch Cleveland,” as he did before Wednesday night’s tip with Miami.
It was less than two weeks ago, after all, when the Celtics put on such a galvanizing show in beating the Cavs. But then Rajon Rondo got hurt, Big Baby got hurt, Leon Powe got hurt and finally Ray Allen got hurt. “We’ve earned the record that we have,” Rivers said. “We’re not going to catch Cleveland but we have a chance to hold on to that second spot.”
That’s all it is now, a chance. The C’s entered play tonight a half game ahead of Orlando and tied in the loss column for second place, a development that has been as a quick as it has been inevitable. The starting five last night included a player who joined the team at the beginning of the month, two guys who have missed time with injuries and Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins. The bench is even more bare as it has Eddie House and Mikki Moore and three guys who don’t play much, if at all.
Not that it’s going to get better anytime soon. Kevin Garnett is not a sure thing to return this weekend by any stretch of the imagination and Allen is “day to day.” Whether Big Baby has anything to give also remains to be seen.
“If we can get through this week somehow and be in striking distance of the second seed,” Rivers said. “That would be great.”
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 102, Grizzlies 92||03.13.09 at 11:10 pm ET|
They also knew there was plenty of time to catch their breath and, thanks to Leon Powe’s career night as well as solid contributions from the bench, the Celtics outscored the Grizz, 81-65, the rest of the way and cruised to their 50th win of the season.
Some quick takes on Friday’s game.
Leon Powe played 41 minutes and committed ZERO turnovers two days after playing 43 in a loss at Miami. He is showing fresh legs and that’s going to be key to protecting Kevin Garnett when he comes back.
Ray Allen had 22 points in 31 minutes.
The Celtics were tougher than the Grizzlies, outscoring them, 48-30, in the paint.
The Celtics clinched a tie for the Atlantic Division title, missing a clinching when Philly beat Chicago in the final game ever at the Spectrum.
Here’s what the Celtics had to say in their final home game before St. Patrick’s Day.
|Power to the Powe||at 10:37 pm ET|
The name Gasol is like a four-letter word, plus exclamation, among Celtics fans.
On Friday night, the legend grew. As Leon Powe was destroying the Memphis Grizzlies with a monstrous 30-point, 11-rebound performance, Pau’s brother Marc was trash-talking with teammate Rudy Gay at the free throw line.
Ray Allen was a witness to it and heard every word loud and clear.
“Gasol and Rudy Gay were talking on the free throw line,” Allen said. “So (Gay) says, ‘You’ve got to guard Leon.’ (Gasol) says, ‘I don’t care about Leon, let him get 40.’ I looked at him and said, ‘You want him to get 40, he’ll get 40 on you, don’t sleep on him.’ And he goes, ‘As long as it’s not Pierce.’ I said, ‘If it’s 40, we’re still going to win.’ ”
And win the Celtics did, 102-92, over the Grizzlies at TD Banknorth Garden on Friday night. Powe was the biggest reason, with his career-high 30, 11 board, five blocks and three assists.
“So, the free throw line banter was pretty funny tonight,” Allen continued.
And no one was laughing harder than Powe, who reminded everyone at his locker afterward that he scored 41 in college with California.
He also was giving grief to the man who he’s replacing in the lineup, Kevin Garnett, who is still out another week with a strained right knee.
“Me and KG had a little friendly talk,” said Powe, who played a team-high 41 minutes. “I want KG to come back. My body is getting used to these 40 minutes (a game). But that’s our leader, man, and we miss him so we want to be at full strength. And once we’re at full strength, we’re going to be hard to stop.”
On Friday night, it was Powe who was unstoppable.
|Doc to Bill Walker: Stick to basketball||at 12:21 pm ET|
This has to feel like Twilight Zone week for Bill Walker.
On Wednesday night in Miami, he played against his college teammate at Kansas State, one Michael Beasley.
Tonight he goes against his high school chum, and NBA Rookie of the Year favorite, O.J. Mayo.
But after Wednesday night, coach Doc Rivers isn’t going to Walker for any scouting reports. Beasley was 4-for-9 with four rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes as he was a force off the bench for the Heat.
“We talked to him about Beasley, too, and he gave us a bad scouting report so we’re no longer listening to Billy Walker and his scouting reports,” Rivers said Friday morning.
Meanwhile, Mayo, to be fair to Walker, can’t be compared to many others in this year’s rookie class. He has started all 63 games this season, averaging 18.8 points a game. This doesn’t come as a surprise to Walker, who knows of Mayo from their days back in Cincinnati at North College Hill High.
“He’s a very good player,” Walker said of Mayo Friday morning at Celtics shootaround. “He’s been playing at a pro style since he was young. He knows all the tricks. It’s going to be tough to guard him.”
Mayo went on to star at Southern California for one year before turning pro while Walker joined Michael Beasley at Kansas State.
Rivers, like every other basketball fan, was enthralled by the six-overtime thriller between Syracuse and Connecticut in the Big East Tournament that ended at 1:22 Friday morning.
“I was up because I watching the Phoenix-Cleveland game,” Rivers said. “So, I was just going back and forth, it was pretty cool.
“I like UConn and coach Calhoun, I was hoping they lost at the end of it, I really was,” Rivers said. “I was thinking, ‘Forget this Big East Tournament, they’ve got a chance to win the NCAA Tournament.’ I think, in a strange way, it was beneficial. Now they can regroup. They have a chance to get their legs back and get ready for their first game.”
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