|Preview: Philadelphia at Boston, Game 27||12.22.10 at 10:35 am ET|
Up until Tuesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers were cruising right along with a nice little winning run at their backs. They had gone 8-3 in their last 11 games and taken four of the last five. Then, the Bulls happened. The Sixers lost by an astounding 45 points and allowed the Bulls to shoot 65 percent.
The truth is, the Sixers are not a bad basketball team. They might even wind up being quite good by the end of the season. For now, they have rebounded from a terrible start to become merely decent, which in the top-heavy Eastern Conference is good enough to be in the hunt for a playoff spot.
This has been quite a turnaround since starting the season by winning three of their first 16 games. It’s not hard to see Collins’ imprint all over this team. The key has been defense where the Sixers rank fifth (down from second after Tuesday’s debacle) in effective field goal percentage defense, a stat which accounts for the difference between two and 3-point shots.
The Sixers are not a very good offensive team, but they don’t turn the ball over and there is evidence that they are playing smarter: Thaddeus Young has almost completely cut out his penchant for taking (and missing) 3-pointers, for example.
In addition, Collins seems to have defined roles for his collection of young talent. He turned the team over to second-year point guard Jrue Holiday, who is learning on the job but showing good signs of development, and moved Lou Williams to the bench, where he can create offense for the second unit and provide a nice reserve combination along with Young.
Collins also took No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner out of the starting lineup, where he was horribly overmatched, and replaced him with Jodie Meeks, a 3-point shooter. The Sixers responded by going 6-2 and Meeks immediately went on a tremendous hot streak making, making 15-of-23 from beyond the arc, but he has since cooled hitting just four of his last 25 attempts.
But by far the biggest change for the Sixers has come from Elton Brand. He may never justify the ridiculous five-year, $80 million contract Ed Stefanski gave him after missing almost an entire season because of an Achilles injury — oddly enough, Brand proceeded to miss 53 games in the first of his new deal — but he has played well this season, averaging better than 15 points and eight rebounds a game.
That’s a far cry from Brand’s salad days with the Clippers where he put up almost 25 points and 10 rebounds in 2006, but five years ago Kevin Garnett was still in Minnesota and Ray Allen was still a Sonic. There were still Sonics, period. Times change.
The Sixers are still in the discovery stage. To Iguodala’s point, they managed to beat a handful of decent, but not great, teams during their streak in Portland, New Orleans and the trade-depleted Orlando Magic. Their losses came by eight points against the Lakers, one point against the Celtics and five at Atlanta, so they were playing competitively against the better teams. But mainly they’ve fattened up on so-so competition.
Still, Collins said when he took the job that his goal was to get the Sixers heading in the right direction and he is off to a solid start. Read the rest of this entry »
|Fast Break: Lucky 13 for Celtics||12.19.10 at 3:28 pm ET|
After beating the Pacers 99-88 Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, the Celtics have now won 13 straight games. They didn’t play particularly well or efficient and it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but in order to keep that streak going, they’re going to have to do the kinds of things they did Sunday.
Yes, they gave up way too many offensive rebounds and the bench is woefully thin behind Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels, but the Celtics have figured out a formula for winning regular season games. Get a lead with the starters and then turn it on defensively in the fourth quarter.
Three different players scored 18 points, including Davis off the bench and Ray Allen added 17. They were balanced and they made the plays when they had to make them.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paul Pierce gave the game what it needed: That’s the phrase the Celtics captain likes to use to describe his contributions and in recording a triple-double he pretty much gave the Celtics everything they needed. Pierce didn’t do much scoring (18 points on just eight shots), but he was a distributor (12 assists) and helped Kevin Garnett work the glass with 10 rebounds.
Pierce is playing some of the most responsible basketball of his career. That shouldn’t be viewed as faint praise. Garnett and Rondo have secured the headlines, and rightfully so, but Pierce remains the Celtics on-court leader.
Shaquille O’Neal returned: Foul trouble limited Shaq’s time on the court, but after finishing Thursday’s game with just nine players, the Celtics welcomed the return of any player, let alone the big fella. Shaq wasted little time making his presence felt with 11 points in five minutes including an obscene posterization of Jeff Foster on an alley-oop.
Shaq played 22 minutes, which is right in line with the amount he had been playing and the Celtics needed it as Semih Erden was limited with a groin injury.
Nate Robinson had a Nate Robinson game: With Rajon Rondo out for the foreseeable future, it falls on Robinson to handle major minutes at the point. Robinson is not going to be Rondo. Not now, not ever. They are completely different players with different skill sets, but the one thing Robinson can do is provide instant offense and he was able to score 18 points.
Robinson also provided athletic, hustling plays all over the court and for that the Celtics will indulge him the occasional pull-up 3-pointer on the break.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Defensive rebounding: The Pacers shredded the Celtics on the boards in the first quarter, racking up six offensive rebounds. The Celtics were able to tighten up in the second, but the Pacers got up 50 shots in the first half, which allowed them to stay in the game despite shooting just 40 percent.
The problems returned in the third quarter. As is usually the case, the Celtics problems on the glass started before the shot attempt …
Dribble penetration: This is where the Celtics really miss Rondo, or at least the healthy version of Rondo. Darren Collison and T.J. Ford were both able to breakdown the Celtics defense, which not only allowed the to combine for 31 points and 24 shot attempts, but also caused the Celtics help defense to leave rebounding gaps on the boards.
The bench is thin: Davis and Daniels have been fantastic. Erden has given the Celtics a boost. But right now, with all the injuries, the Celtics need to get something out of either Avery Bradley or Von Wafer. It hasn’t happened yet.
|Preview: Celtics at Knicks||12.15.10 at 9:28 am ET|
Just so we’re clear: This is not a rivalry, but it is a big game. The Celtics have won 10 straight games and are back atop the Eastern Conference. The Knicks have won eight straight and 13 of their last 14 and are looking like the best New york team in a decade.
While the Celtics downplayed the significance Tuesday at practice, the Knicks Raymond Felton was more outspoken. The truth is, this is a huge game for the Knicks. This is the game that will either validate their early-season success or take them back to reality. They know that and so do the Celtics, which should make for one heck of a show at the world’s most famous arena.
“Whenever the Knicks are playing well and there’s energy in the building it’s good for everybody,” Doc Rivers said. “I loved it as an opponent. I loved it when I was playing there. It’s the only building alive still, as far as the old buildings. It has that energy.”
What makes this matchup so compelling is that the Knicks and Celtics are practically diametrically opposed in terms of philosophy. The Celtics preach defense, while the Knicks try to win with offense. Boston takes the fewest 3-pointers in the league and New York takes the most. The Celtics move and execute you to death in the halfcourt, while the Knicks try to spread the floor and let their controlled version of chaos reign.
No, this isn’t the Lakers. It’s not the Magic and it’s not the Heat. But it’s New York, Madison Square Garden and the two hottest teams in the league. Throw in the New York-Boston element, make it about an up and coming challenger against an undisputed regional champion and it makes for a uniquely unexpected winter treat on the NBA calendar.
CELTICS (19-4, 10-0 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 109.3 (9th)
Defensive Rating: 98.7 (1st)
Pace: 91.0 (21st)
KNICKS (16-9, 9-1 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 111.6 (4th)
Defensive Rating: 109.6 (23rd)
Pace: 96.4 (Third)
Likely Starters: Ray Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e Stoudemire
Injuries: Kalenna Azubuike (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »
|Can the Knicks challenge the Celtics?||12.13.10 at 9:46 pm ET|
Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in 2007, the Celtics have not had a legitimate challenger in the Atlantic Division. They won the division by 25 games in 2008, 21 in 2009 and while the Raptors were within 10 games last season, that said much more about the Celtics’ problems than any great surge by Toronto.
The Celtics run has neatly coincided with failed attempts at franchise building in Philadelphia and Toronto and complete overhauls in New Jersey and New York. While their opponents floundered, the Celtics took advantage, winning 47 of their 54 games against their divisional brethren.
That provided a comfortable landing space for the Celtics, who never had to worry about anything other than the Eastern Conference standings. Until now.
Finally, a challenger is emerging. The Celtics will play the Knicks Wednesday night in the most anticipated matchup in years at fabled Madison Square Garden. This is easily the biggest division game the Celtics have played since 2007, which is admittedly not saying much, but in a season that stretches as long as the NBA does you take your red-letter dates where you can find them.
Unlike other big games at the Garden in recent years this one has nothing to do with the future and everything to do with the present. While the Celtics have won 10 straight games, just like they did last year at this point in the season, all eyes are on New York.
The Knicks are the talk of the basketball world again, having won eight straight games to improve to 13-1 in their last 14 games. This comes after a dreadful 3-8 start that had many questioning, among other things, Mike D’Antoni’s system, Ray Felton’s ability to run said system and whether Isiah Thomas would make a triumphantly catastrophic return to New York at some point.
Things have changed. Felton is being hailed as the best Knicks point guard since Mark Jackson and MVP chants are raining down on Amar’e Stoudemire, who set a franchise record by scoring over 30 points in each of the last eight games. For his part, Thomas has faded blissfully into the background.
Of course, this being New York, a good deal of the attention has been consumed by someone not on the current roster, namely Carmelo Anthony, who more or less made it clear that he only wants to be traded to New York. (Whether or not he is in control of the process is another matter.)
After waiting patiently to build a proper roster, the Knicks are once again faced with a choice: Go for broke or give this team a chance. All of that makes for hot and heavy rumors, but until the day Anthony actually arrives ‘ if he ever does ‘ the Knicks are once again relevant for basketball reasons.
Here are five things to know about the Knicks: Read the rest of this entry »
|Fast Break: Celtics win ugly over Bobcats||12.11.10 at 9:29 pm ET|
Take an NBA team that’s been on the road for a few days and knows it has some time off ahead of them,and put them in an arena with all the ambiance of a library and what you get is something like the game between the Celtics and Bobcats Saturday night.
It was ugly, as evidenced by the Celtics 43 percent shooting from the floor and Paul Pierce’s unsightly 1-for-9 night. But in yet another sign that the Celtics are coming together as a team, they overcame their collective offensive woes and put the hammer down defensively in a 93-62 win.
They have now won 10 straight games and clearly established themselves as the class of the Eastern Conference. They also have three days off until Wednesday when they play the rejuvenated New York Knicks in what should be an interesting matchup between the classic rivals, who haven’t had much of a rivalry in recent years.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Kevin Garnett, again: Doc Rivers limited his starters minutes in the first half, keeping Allen, Pierce and Garnett to just 16 minutes of court time. This seemed like a conscious decision because even though Allen and Pierce struggled, Garnett was the best thing the Celtics had going for them.
He had nine points and eight rebounds in the first half, en route to another double-double (13 and 11) in just 23 minutes. Garnett also led the way on the glass where the Celtics owned a healthy 48-38 advantage.
Glen Davis to the rescue: This is why Davis should be considered one of the best sixth men in the NBA. It’s not his points and rebounds, although they definitely help. It’s not even his charges, although they help as well. It’s that when he comes into the game he can change the flow and he can do it playing multiple frontcourt positions.
Davis played the four, the five and even guarded Gerald Wallace successfully. With all the injuries the Celtics are having up front, his versatility is a great compliment to his production. The production wasn’t bad either as he scored 16 points to go with seven rebounds.
Defense wins: Try as they might, the Celtics couldn’t get anything going offensively. To their credit, they stayed away from launching jump shots and attacked the basket to get to the line 28 times. But what won the game for them was their defensive effort. The Bobcats aren’t a good offensive team, but the Celtics made them look dreadful.
Charlotte shot 33 percent and turned it over 21 times. They scored 16 points in the first quarter, 16 in the second and then 15 in each of the third and fourth quarters. If you were looking for a 48-minute defensive effort, this was it.
WHAT WENT WRONG
No Shaq: Shaquille O’Neal missed his second straight game with a lower calf/shin injury. There’s no need to rush him back, especially with a few days between now and Wednesday’s game with the rejuvenated New York Knicks. But Shaq’s absence left the Celtics vulnerable in the middle and Nazr Mohammed made them pay, at least in the first half when he went 6-for-9.
Cold shooting: The Bobcats have two things going for them in terms of matchups — Stephen Jackson, who is one the tallest off guards in the game and Gerald Wallace, who is one of the strongest forwards. Those two combined to make life miserable for Allen and Pierce who shot a combined 2-for-11 in the first half. Allen recovered to score 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter when the Celtics pulled away, but Pierce was never able to get going.
Turnovers: The Celtics have done a solid job of limiting their turnovers lately but they crept up again Saturday with 17. The prime culprit was Rajon Rondo with six. A number of Rondo’s turnovers came on passes that were simply way too difficult. He is granted a certain creative license to make those kind of plays, but sometimes the best play is the easiest one.
|Fast Break: Celtics crush New Jersey||12.05.10 at 3:26 pm ET|
The Celtics have a well-worn reputation for playing sub-par basketball on weekend afternoon. With a younger team one might worry about nocturnal activities, but the veteran Celtics are simply creatures of habit. They just don’t like having their routines messed with.
They turned that bit of conventional wisdom on its head with a thorough dismantling of the Nets in New Jersey, 100-75 as five players scored in double figures and the Celtics held New Jersey to just 38 percent shooting.
The Celtics have now won seven straight games and have the top record in the Eastern Conference at 16-4. These wins will look a lot more important in March when that race really starts to take shape.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT
Bench production: At the beginning of the second quarter, Doc Rivers trotted out this unfamiliar lineup: Avery Bradley, Von Wafer, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal. This was Rivers’ original vision of a second unit with Shaq anchoring the paint.
As it turned out it was Davis who took control from the middle, working rookie Derrick Favors on the block. Davis finished the first half with 12 points and five rebounds, Daniels added eight points and the Celtics outscored New Jersey, 30-12 in the second quarter to take command of the game.
Davis finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes and was +27 in raw plus/minus.
Strong start for Nate: With Rajon Rondo out to rest his sore hamstring (see below), Nate Robinson got the start and got the Celtics off to a fast start with eight points in the first five minutes. Rather than try to be Rondo, Robinson did what he did best — which also included launching 3’s early in the shot clock and on the fast break.
That’s all part of the package for Robinson and it’s worth noting that Rivers encourages him to play that way. But Robinson didn’t just look for his shot. He also dished out six assists to go with six rebounds in what might have been his best game of the season.
Board work: The Celtics dominated the glass, outrebounding the Nets 49-36. Kevin Garnett led the way with 14 rebounds in just 26 minutes of work. He now has 11 double-digit rebounding games, equal the amount he had all of last season.
TWO THINGS THAT WENT WRONG
Rajon Rondo misses another game: Apparently, the hamstring is still an issue for Rondo. He was a late scratch on Sunday and has now missed four of the Celtics 20 games. The only remedy for a hamstring injury is rest and the Celtics have a few days off before playing Denver Wednesday at TD Garden.
The good news is that they have found ways to win games without Rondo in the lineup (they have now three of those four). The bad news is that it looks like Rondo will be dealing with something for most of the season. There is no question about Rondo’s pain tolerance, but it will be pushed in ways it never has been before.
Injuries (again): Jermaine O’Neal told reporters in New Jersey that he will begin workouts next week and then hopes to practice with the team the following week. If, and it still seems like a big if, they can have O’Neal back by the new year it would be a huge boost for the Celtics.
Their depth is painfully thin right now and one more frontcourt injury could have a disastrous effect on what has been a fantastic start to the season. Shaq missed the second half with a sore right calf. The Celtics didn’t need him Sunday, but they are walking a very thin line up front.
|Preview: Bulls at Celtics||12.03.10 at 11:18 am ET|
At 9-7, the Bulls record doesn’t leap off the page, but consider they recently completed a seven-game road trip (known locally as the circus trip) and although they have gone 4-4 in their last eight games, their losses have come against the Spurs, Nuggets, Lakers and Magic.
They’re not there yet though. Carlos Boozer played his first game of the season Wednesday night and had just five points and two rebounds in 22 minutes. Once he gets acclimated, the Bulls will really begin to shape. One problem that has not been fixed yet, however, is their lack of 3-point shooting beyond Kyle Korver.
The Bulls rank 28th in overall makes from behind the arc and are 24th in accuracy, shooting just 33 percent. Luol Deng is shooting an almost-respectable 35 percent, and Derrick Rose is next at 34 percent. That’s actually a marked improvement from the point guard who is under 30 percent for his career.
Despite their troubles from long-range, the Bulls do many things well and they have all the elements to become an elite defensive team. But it’s hard to break through and become a true contender with such an obvious weakness.
BULLS (9-7, 6-4 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 99.0 (14th)
Defensive Rating: 103.8 (9th)
Pace: 93.5 (12th)
Likely Starters: Derrick Rose, Keith Bogans, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah
CELTICS (14-4, 8-2 last 10)
Offensive Rating: 109.2 (9th)
Defensive Rating: 100.8 (2nd)
Pace: 90.7 (23rd)
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