|Fast Break: Complete C’s take apart Sixers||04.05.11 at 9:49 pm ET|
The Celtics and Sixers met Tuesday night in what was very likely a playoff preview. The Celtics won an entertaining game, 99-82, which allowed them to slip back into a tie with the Heat for second place in the Eastern Conference. If these two teams do meet in the playoffs, don’t expect a free-flowing game like they played in the first half.
The Celtics were finally able to put together a complete game after locking down on defense and running away with it in the fourth quarter. Good signs all around for the C’s.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon Rondo is back: Doc Rivers was asked before the game if he thought his point guard had turned the corner. Rivers answered emphatically that he thought that was the case. Rondo started slowly against the Sixers and allowed his counterpart Jrue Holliday to get off quickly with 11 points in the first quarter. But Rondo changed course and finished the first half with 12 points and nine assists. He also drove to the basket at will and finished at the rim en route to a 16-point, 13-assist performance. Holiday meanwhile finished with just those 11 points.
Jermaine O’Neal as a starter: Rivers made the decision to keep O’Neal in the starting lineup and have Nenad Krstic come off the bench. His rationale is that Krstic will assume a reserve role in the playoffs, no matter which of the O’Neals is starting. Jermaine O’Neal offers a stronger defensive presence at the beginning of games and Krstic could fit nicely with Glen Davis and Jeff Green in a rotation. O’Neal had his strongest game since his return with nine points and three rebounds, while Krstic had eight points and six rebounds. That’s a good night from the centers.
Kevin Garnett is ready: If there is one huge difference between this year’s Celtics team and last, it’s that there is no question that Garnett is healthy and ready for the playoffs. He started the game by going into the post twice and took five shots in the first four and a half minutes. Garnett has been the Celtics most consistent players since the All-Star break and that is a major difference as they head into the postseason.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Defense takes a break: The Celtics allowed 50 points and 50 percent shooting in the first half. They allowed 32 in the second half. It’s been a while since they locked down like that in the second half.
Jeff Green with an up and down night: Green had only one shot through the first three quarters. In the fourth, the Celtics made a concerted effort to get him going as he played in a lineup with Delonte West, Ray Allen, Davis and Krstic. That’s a good fit for him as he can be the featured offensive player in that group and he wound up with eight points, seven rebounds and a couple of highlight-level plays.
Ray Allen still needs more shots: Allen played an invaluable role with the reserve units in the rotation, but he had only seven shots. Allen made five of them and finished with 13 points, which speaks to his efficiency. He also oddly missed two free throws on illegal defense technicals. He had made 44 of his last 45 free throws coming into the game.
|Fast Break: Celtics win but lose Shaquille O’Neal (again)||04.03.11 at 8:22 pm ET|
The pregame optimism that hovered around the Celtics disappeared early in the first half when Shaquille O’Neal limped off the court with what the team is calling a strained right calf. Shaq didn’t return and there was no further update provided. His future is uncertain at best. The good news for the Celtics is that Nenad Krstic‘s knee injury is much less serious than first feared and there’s a chance he can return by Tuesday.
As for the game, the Celtics got a much-needed 101-90 win over Detroit to stay tied with Miami in the loss column for second place in the East. They built a double-digit lead in the second half and had some anxious moments, but were able to hold off a Detroit team that is playing out the string.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Nenad Krstic will be back soon: The best news the Celtics received over the weekend is that Krstic suffered a bone bruise and didn’t do any further damage to his right knee. Krstic said that he hoped to return to the lineup on Tuesday when the Celtics host the 76ers. He has some pain in his knee and there is swelling, but all things considered this couldn’t have worked out better for him or the team.
Three of the big four isn’t bad: Paul Pierce scored 22 points, Kevin Garnett had 23 points and eight rebounds and Rajon Rondo dished out 14 assists. Now the Celtics just need to get Ray Allen going. They ran their first play for him and he got a wide-open jumper, but Allen later collided with Rip Hamilton and had to leave the game early in the first quarter. He finished with 13 points, but on just six shots.
Delonte West is doing everything the Celtics hoped he would: Delonte West had a lot of expectations to live up to when he returned from his wrist and ankle injuries, but he’s surpassed them most nights. West had one of his better all-around games with 10 points and five assists, while playing the kind of strong defense at two positions the Celtics desperately need.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Shaquille O’Neal’s return didn’t last long: For five minutes of the first quarter, Shaquille O’Neal was back on the court and all was well. But when he pulled up lame at midcourt and hobbled off, the Celtics were right back where they started in regards to the Big Fella. The team is calling a strained right calf.
Too many turnovers: The Celtics shot 62 percent in the first half and held the Pistons to 41 percent shooting, but they had only a one-point lead. The problem was too many turnovers. They had 11 in the half and seven in the second quarter alone. That kept the Pistons in the game.
|Fast Break: Celtics can’t rebound against Hawks||04.01.11 at 10:42 pm ET|
The Celtics four-game road trip began inauspiciously with an ugly win over Minnesota and a high-scoring loss to the Pacers. It ended in much the same manner with a highlight win over the Spurs off-set by an 88-83 loss to the Hawks that featured another fourth quarter collapse.
Here’s how it happened:
WHAT WENT WRONG
Second half bench minutes: The Celtics had built a 66-55 lead late in the third quarter when Doc Rivers turned to his bench. By the time Paul Pierce checked back in early in the fourth quarter, the Hawks a 71-69 lead. One way or another the reserves were going to have to play substantial minutes in this game. With this exception of Delonte West who played well, it was an uneven performance.
Serious shortage of bigs: With Nenad Krstic scheduled for an MRI, Shaquille O’Neal still a few days away (at least) and Garnett playing shorter minutes because of the back-to-back, the Celts front line depth was paper-thin. Jermaine O’Neal gave them 13 minutes and they would have been in deep trouble without them, but O’Neal is still getting his timing back. The Celtics gave up 14 offensive rebounds and it cost them the game.
Free throw shooting: Making 11 of 20 free throws on the road will never get it done, especially when the hometowm team goes 26-for-30. The Celtics lost by five points and were -15 at the free throw line.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
First half bench minutes: Rivers used the following lineup at one part of the first half: Delonte West, Von Wafer, Sasha Pavlovic, Jeff Green and Jermaine O’Neal. The group had its obvious problems — notably Green trying to guard Atlanta’s Al Horford — but Rivers stuck with his bench players for most of the second quarter and they rewarded him by keeping the game close. The reserves soaked up almost eight minutes of court time and that allowed the starters to be fresh when they returned late in the first half and build an eight-point lead.
Paul Pierce picks it up: Early in the game, Pierce got into a minor altercation with Joe Johnson who gave him a little extra shove on a foul. Pierce shoved back and was hit with a technical. The minor incident seemed to wake up the Celtics who were down 15-10 at the time. Pierce scored 10 of his 25 points in the first quarter and had half the Celtics points in an otherwise sluggish opening quarter.
Kevin Garnett’s passing ability: Of all the starters Garnett has been the one that has constantly tried to facilitate ball movement, albeit sometimes to a fault. He had five assists in the first half and it was telling that he didn’t have any in the second, which is when the Celtics offense ground to a halt.
|Jon Barry on Celtics winning Eastern Conference: ‘I think they will’||03.31.11 at 11:25 am ET|
Appearing on the Dennis & Callahan Show, ESPN NBA analyst Jon Barry said despite the Celtics’ recent struggles, he still believes they will win the Eastern Conference when it’s all said and done. (To listen to the entire interview, click here.)
“I don’t put a lot of stock what happens at the end of the regular season,” Barry said. “Last year the Lakers lost 7 of 10 and went on to win the thing. Boston was 27-27 their last 54 and got to the Finals in the seventh game. So I wouldn’t read too much into this. But I’m a bit concerned because I really thought they were the best team with Kendrick Perkins on their roster. Now I think they let the pack in a little bit closer to them. I still think they can win the East and I think they will, but I think they’ve brought the other teams back to where they have a better opportunity to beat them.
“I like their experience,” Barry added. “I think Chicago has had a tremendous year but this is a team that hasn’t gone past the first round. The Miami Heat I think still aren’t ready to do it, come playoff time they’re not built for playoff basketball. I do believe the Celtics will come back and circle the wagons and be ready to go and be the team to beat in the East.”
Barry explained that he was taken aback at how much trading Perkins away has affected the Celtics.
“I’m a bit surprised,” the analyst said. “This was the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference with Kendrick Perkins playing 12 games. The impact that he’s made on the floor obviously hasn’t been that big and they’ve played through it. I’m a bit surprised that they’re losing games. They haven’t been able to score. Their execution late in games has been poor. It’s kind of been there bugaboo the last few years.”
Some of the other topics touched on by Barry …
The Celtics recent struggles: “Obviously, since the Kendrick trade this team has not played well. [Rajon] Rondo in particular has not played well. We know how close he was with Kendrick Perkins. I know he has a pinky issue. There’s been no bones about it that these guys are unhappy that Kendrick’s left. Doc Rivers has felt the same way and they got to find a way to crank it back up here as we get started her in couple weeks for the real season.”
|Fast Break: Fourth quarter dooms Celtics in loss to Pacers||03.28.11 at 9:41 pm ET|
Just as the Celtics began to solve one problem, they ran into another in the fourth quarter against the Pacers. The Celtics played one of their best offensive games in weeks, but ran out of steam at the end of a back-to-back in a 107-100 loss. They made sloppy passes and missed free throws — two sure signs of fatigue — and were outscored 26-15 in the fourth quarter. In other words, they were playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road.
Here’s how it happened:
WHAT WENT WRONG
Foul trouble for the bigs: Kevin Garnett picked up his second foul with five minutes to go in the first quarter and the Celtics leading 22-12. By the time he returned the Pacers had a 37-35 lead. Garnett didn’t stick around long, getting his third foul two minutes later on an over-the back call. Nenad Krstic also spent the first half in foul trouble, which allowed the next thing to happen …
Roy Hibbert went off: Glen Davis does a lot of things for the Celtics and one of the most important is his willingness to guard taller players. Davis typically use his bulk to keep bigger post players out of the paint and his nimble feet to get to a spot on the floor and draw charges. Both skills were useless against Hibbert who simply shot over him and made 9-of-10 in the first half. Davis played well for the most part, but having to guard Hibbert wouldn’t have been in his job description if Garnett and Krstic hadn’t spent the night in foul trouble.
Jeff Green needed to assert himself: Over the last few weeks, Jeff Green has become the kind of offensive energizer the Celtics were looking for when they acquired him from Oklahoma City. Aside from getting to the line at the start of the fourth quarter, Green offered little in the way of an offensive spark in his 28 minutes of action.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo was Rondo: Rajon Rondo wasn’t supposed to play Monday night. An hour before the game tipped off, Doc Rivers told reporters in Indiana that his point guard would sit out a second straight game to rest his injured pinky finger. That changed about 45 minutes later when Rondo took the floor for warmups. In the first quarter he made all five of his shots (all on layups) and made two free throws. This is the Rondo they have been waiting for.
Third quarter rally: This would have been very easy for the Celtics to pack it in at halftime. They were down eight, it was the second game of a back-to-back and they weren’t getting the calls from the officials. Instead, they put together an impressive third quarter run that put 36 points on the board and gave them back the lead.
Paul Pierce picks up his game: Lost in all the angst over Rondo is that Paul Pierce has been the other missing ingredient in the Celtics’ offense. He’s shooting just 26 percent from 3-point range since February and while his percentages have dropped, his turnovers have risen. But Pierce shot the ball better — making 8-of-13 and going 3-for-4 from behind the arc.
|Fast Break: Celtics narrowly beat Wolves||03.27.11 at 9:33 pm ET|
For nine minutes the Celtics looked unbeatable. For the next 30 they looked like the Nets. They were able to pull off an 85-82 win because Paul Pierce found his offensive game just in time, Kevin Garnett did work on the post and the Wolves played like the Wolves, committing silly turnovers and throwing away chances to win the game.
The Celtics will take it, but this was not progress. This was against a team that had won 17 games and was playing without its best player in Kevin Love. Perhaps that first quarter gives them something to build on, or maybe the way they closed out the game defensively will give them a spark.
One way or another, however, the Celtics needed a win and here’s how they did it:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Fast start: The first quarter was a thing of beauty. The ball movement was crisp, the shots were well taken and there was an energy and bounce to the Celtics’ game. They shot 59 percent and had nine assists on 13 made field goal with zero turnovers. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, that kind of efficiency is hard to do against anyone. It was 15-5 after four minutes, 22-5 after six and 28-8 after nine. The Celtics then proceeded to do everything the opposite way after the opening quarter.
Kevin Garnett continues to bring it: If there’s one player who should escape scrutiny these days it’s Garnett, whose production has held steady this month. Garnett dominated the defensive glass when he was in the game and also served as a second point guard by making the extra pass and racking up assists. Garnett finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and five assists and was once again the Celtics’ best all-around player.
Delonte West filled in nicely for Rajon Rondo: Early in the game when the Timberwolves went under screens, West buried two jump shots. The T-Wolves adjusted and when they went over the screen, West hit Garnett on the roll who found Nenad Krstic open underneath for a layup. He finished with eight points, five assists and one huge offensive rebound that prolonged a possession and put the Celtics up five.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Nenad Krstic is still fighting himself: The Celtics made a concerted effort to get their center the ball in a position to score and the results were mixed. There were times when he caught it and went up strong for dunks, and there were others when he pump-faked himself into oblivion. Krstic didn’t play in the fourth quarter and except for a few brief flashes, he continues to look lost.
Glen Davis was outplayed by Anthony Tolliver: With Krstic struggling, the Celtics needed something positive from their other big man, but Davis missed 11-of-15 shots and was outworked by Tolliver, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds. To Davis’ credit, he played almost the entire second half after Rivers benched Krstic.
Paul Pierce, also struggling: Pierce’s offense has come and gone lately. Fortunately for the Celtics he was able to turn it back on in the final three minutes and help the Celtics pull off the win. Pierce’s stat line of 23 points and 7 rebounds looks solid, but he shot 2-for-8 from 3-point range and continues to struggle with his shot. Like Davis, Pierce redeemed himself with solid play down the stretch.
|Race for top seed in Eastern Conference takes shape||03.22.11 at 2:34 pm ET|
A few weeks ago, the Celtics were in the driver’s seat for the best record in the Eastern Conference. After beating the Suns on March 2, their record stood at 44-15, three games ahead of the Bulls. Things changed quickly, as the Celtics went 3-4 over the next two weeks, while the Bulls reeled off eight straight wins to take a momentary lead.
The Celtics got themselves back on track with comeback wins against New Orleans and New York, and now with 13 games left in the regular season, the Celtics and Bulls are tied again at 50-9 heading into Chicago’s game with the Hawks on Tuesday night.
In examining the remaining schedule, the Celtics have a slightly tougher slate of games — but they own two tiebreakers. First, they have gone 2-1 against Chicago with the final matchup scheduled for April 7 at the United Center. If the Celtics win that game, they’ll own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even if they lose, they currently have a better conference record (33-6) than Chicago (30-9), which is the next tiebreaker.
The Celtics are on record as saying that health is their primary focus, not getting homecourt. Yet with 13 games left it remains a possibility and there is incentive. At stake is homecourt advantage as well as the benefit of playing a sub-500 team in the first round and avoiding a semifinal matchup with Miami.
Here’s how the schedule break down:
Home: 6 (Memphis, Philadelphia, Toronto, Phoenix, Boston, New Jersey)
Road: 7 (Atlanta, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland, Orlando, New York)
Back-to-backs: 4 (Two second games at home against Toronto and New Jersey and two on the road against Milwaukee and Cleveland).
Playoff opponents: 6
Home: Memphis, Philadelphia, Boston
Road: Atlanta, Orlando, New York
Toughest stretch: After they play the Celtics on April 7, the Bulls have three games on the road against Cleveland, Orlando and New York before finishing the regular season at home against New Jersey. There are two back-to-backs against the Cavs and Nets.
Home: 6 (Memphis, Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, New York)
Road: 7 (Minnesota, Indiana, San Antonio, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, Miami)
Back-to-backs: 4 (One second game at home against Washington and three on the road against Indiana, Atlanta and Washington).
Playoff opponents: 7
Home: Memphis, Philadelphia, New York
Road: San Antonio, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami
Toughest stretch: There are actually two. The first is a four-game road trip that has two sets of back-t0-backs with Minnesota and Indiana followed by San Antonio and Atlanta. The second starts with the Bulls game and is followed by a back-to-back at home against Washington on Friday and then a trip to Miami for a Sunday afternoon game with yet another back-to-back against the Wizards, this time in Washington.
How many wins over the final 13 games will it take to clinch the East? Various projection models have it at 59, which would mean going 9-4 down the stretch. Justin Kubatko’s forecast at Basketball-Reference has the Bulls with a 57.4 percent probability of getting the top seed and he has the Celtics at 35.4 percent going into Tuesday night’s games. The Heat have a slim 7 percent chance. Based on the schedule, and also the Celtics stated intentions to not go all out for the top seed, the Bulls have to be considered the favorites but that can change in a week.
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