|Preview: Celtics-Jazz||03.22.10 at 12:09 pm ET|
How many times have you written off the Celtics this season? The official count varies, but there have been at least five times when people have begun writing their obituary.
Jan. 31: Capping off three straight heartbreaking defeats against the best teams in the NBA, the Celtics collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Lakers.
Feb. 10: The All-Star break can’t come soon enough as the Celts sleepwalk through a game with New Orleans.
Feb. 27: New Jersey.
Here they are, back from the dead again, winners of four straight and a Texas sweep. The Celtics defy easy characterization, or maybe they just enjoy making things hard on themselves. Either way, no mater how things turn out in the final month of the regular season, we really will have no idea how they are going to perform once the playoffs start.
They have shown just enough life to encourage optimism among the constant pessimism of the last half of the season, but we really won’t know just how good this team really is until May at the earliest.
CELTICS (45-24, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 98.8
Points Allowed: 94.1
Differential: +4.7 (8th)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.3 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.2 (1st)
Pace: 91.7 (21st)
JAZZ (45-25, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 103.6
Points Allowed: 98.0
Differential: 5.6 (4th)
Offensive Efficiency: 110.8 (6th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.8 (10th)
Pace: 93.2 (12th)
|Fast Break: Celtics-Mavericks||03.20.10 at 10:33 pm ET|
The last time the Celtics played the Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki scored 37 points and had Rasheed Wallace vowing “retribution.” For three quarters the Celtics held Nowitzki in check, but in the final 12 minutes the most under-appreciated superstar in the NBA began to get rolling.
Nowitzki shot the Mavs back into the game — and a seven-point fourth quarter lead — and the Celtics knew that if they were going to steal another one on the road, they would have to stop him to do it.
Kevin Garnett drew the assignment down the stretch, but he was not alone. Wherever Nowitzki went, help followed. The Celtics allowed open jump shots to whomever wanted one, but wouldn’t let Nowitzki breathe. While he finished with 28 points, the Celtics held him to just one field goal in the final five minutes.
The Celtics did escape with a 102-93 win in Dallas (recap) against a Mavs team that had been 14-2 since acquiring Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. In doing so they not only completed the sweep of the back-to-back, they also capped off a sweep of the Texas triangle after beating Houston Friday night and San Antonio earlier in the year.
Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo combined for 70 points on 26-for-45 shooting, 16 rebounds and 14 assists. It was the Celtics’ fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games. It was also their most significant win since beating the Lakers and Portland back-to-back in February.
Retribution? Maybe not, but it was certainly a satisfying win for the Celtics.
Player of the Game: Paul Pierce scored 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting, but it was his last points that were the most important. With the Celtics clinging to a one-point lead, Pierce drained a 3-pointer from the top of they key. He then came up with a steal on the other end and found Rajon Rondo for an easy layup and a 99-93 lead. It was Pierce’s third straight game where he has scored more than 20 points.
Turning Point: After J.J. Barea sank a 3-pointer to put Dallas ahead, 82-75, the Celtics looked like they might be in trouble. But Ray Allen came back and hit a 20-footer and then a long 3-pointer to get the C’s back within two, 84-82. The Mavs are a notorious second-half team and looked like they were about to make one of their patented fourth-quarter runs before Allen’s big shots.
* The C’s opened up a 60-52 lead with a 12-5 run to start the second half, but the Mavericks rallied, highlighted by an emphatic dunk by Caron Butler on Kendrick Perkins.
* Both teams got off to a slow start as the Celtics missed their first five shots and the Mavs missed five of their first six. But things picked up quickly after that and the Celtics took a 30-24 lead after one quarter.
* Jason Terry scored 14 points in the first half. The Mavericks bench completely outplayed the Celtics reserves.
* The teams combined for 26 free throws in the first half.
* Garnett had a strange stat line in the first half when he had eight rebounds and five steals to go with just two points. Garnett missed all four shots that he took, but he appeared to be moving well.
|Halftime: Celtics-Mavs||at 9:09 pm ET|
At the half, the Celtics have a 48-47 lead in Dallas.
Paul Pierce leads the Celtics with 12 points, while Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen each have eight.In the strangest stat line from the first half, Kevin Garnett is 0-for-4 from the floor, but has seven rebound and five steals.
Both teams got off to a slow start as the Celtics missed their first five shots and the Mavs missed five of their first six. But things picked up quickly after that and the Celtics took a 30-24 lead after one quarter.
Pierce scored 10 points in the quarter, but the biggest difference was at the free throw line where the Celtics made 12-of-13 shots and were plus-eight at the line compared to Dallas. The Mavs got up 23 shots in the first quarter, but shot only 43 percent.
|Preview: Celtics-Rockets||03.19.10 at 9:26 am ET|
With three games in four days, all on the road, against teams from the Western Conference, the Celtics once again have a stretch of games that have been deemed “important.” Most people have concluded by now that the regular season means nothing to the Celtics and therefore will tell us nothing about how good they actually are.
Maybe so, but the players seem to believe that this trip would be an interesting barometer. They have won seven of their last 10, with most of that coming against teams with losing records. Their next eight games are all against teams from the Western Conference and seven of them have winning records.
With a month to go in the regular season, this is the beginning of the stretch run and if the Celtics were ever going to “turn it on” after tuning out for most of the last two months, now would be a good time.
CELTICS (43-24, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 98.9
Points Allowed: 94.3
Differential: +4.6 (8th)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.2 (15th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.3 (1st)
Pace: 91.6 (22nd)
ROCKETS (35-31, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 101.9
Points Allowed: 101.5
Differential: .4 (16th)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.3 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: 107.0 (15th)
Pace: 93.7 (8th)
|Rondo getting the point of Paul and KG||03.17.10 at 11:16 pm ET|
Rondo knows if Pierce and Garnett play like they did on Wednesday, whether it’s the lowly Knicks or the mighty Cavs, the Celtics become a whole different beast.
Even with two early fouls, Pierce finished with 29 points and Garnett added 22. Most impressive were the open looks Rondo was getting the pair – one major reason Pierce made 11 of his 17 shots and Garnett 9-of-his-11.
‘I do [take pride in setting up],” Rondo said. “You know you can’t leave out Ray [Allen]. He’s a jump shooter, so you got to get them looks early. Paul and Kevin create their shots anytime on the court. Get them looks and transitions I think is key. Get them easy looks an going to the free throw lines, and aggressive. I think that both of those guys, talking to Paul and Kevin early on in the game.’
After the game, Rivers said it was Rondo who stepped up his scoring when he could, getting to the basket and taking more open shots.
That’s all changed now and Rondo said he is more than happy to revert to just running the show and getting the team’s scorers involved.
‘When I feel like I need to score,” Rondo explained, “I try and do it but otherwise, you know we are rolling. Take shots that’s fine with me, as long as we win. Getting assists better for me than scoring.
‘First and for most. Everybody is back by now, and guys are playing well. Paul played well tonight. You we are winning so be it, regardless of the outcome of how many shots I take, as long as we win.’
|Doc to big men: Shelden ‘wants your minutes’||at 8:40 pm ET|
Doc Rivers remembers how vital a sense of urgency can be for those who back up the starters.
Now, with Shelden Williams seeing some more playing time of late, he hopes history is in the course of repeating itself.
And he’s let everyone on the second unit know it.
“We kind of alerted the other bigs that if you’re not getting the job done, we’re just going to go with Shelden,” Rivers said before Wednesday’s game. “If he’s not, then we’ll go back with you. But I think right now, with our team, I think that’s a good place for all of them to be in.”
Rivers clearly is looking for that extra fire in the second unit to motivate the likes of Davis and Rasheed Wallace.
“I thought that was very good a couple of years ago with Leon and Baby,” Rivers said. “I thought that sense of urgency that the other guy wanted to play your minutes was a good thing for our team.
“We kind of feel into but I think it’s great that Shelden is there and wants your minutes.”
Williams has seen significant minutes of late in blowouts over the Pacers, Pistons and Knicks.
“It’s need and he’s showing me something,” Rivers said. “It’s been great all year in the fact that once he stopped playing he never stopped working.”
|Finley just making ‘the most of it’||03.15.10 at 11:26 pm ET|
Most impressive was how smooth Finley made it look. He missed just once in seven field goal attempts, making the most of his 13-plus minutes off the bench.
‘I work out,” Finley said. “I try to work out every day where I have confidence in my game. Whenever my number is called, I just want to be prepared. Tonight was just an example of that. My teammates just got me in good positions to make plays and I just made the most of it.
‘I’m still trying to find my way in. This team was a good one before I got here. I just want to come in and help them be a better team. If that’s possible, I’m all for it.’
On Sunday in Cleveland, the bench struggled mightily, with Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels held scoreless. On Monday, thanks to the early fire shown by Finley, the bench exploded for 61 points, including 13 for Davis and 11 for Daniels.
‘It’s always good to win, especially coming off the performance we had in Cleveland,” Finley said. “It always good to get that winning taste back in your mouth and show each other what it takes to win ball games, despite the opponent.’
‘Yeah, because I didn’t know what to expect, honestly,” Rivers said. “You know he hadn’t played a lot this year with San Antonio and he wasn’t making shots. I just don’t believe a guy can forget how to shoot. So we thought if we could get him in here and get him some looks, you know give him a chance to make some shots, they would go in. But, yeah, even his passing, just little things he does on the floor, he’s been great.’
Wallace had a simple message for Finley on Monday – keep it simple and I’ll find you on the court.
“I’ve seen it in college when he was at Wisconsin, and you know for the few teams he played with here in the league, I know what type of player Fin is,” ‘Sheed said. “That’s one thing I told him when he first came here, when were out there in that second unit, I’m going to swing you the ball, just basic basketball. I’m going to come over set the pick, you can either come off for the shot, drop it off, or just play basketball and make that next pass.’
More to the point, Finley, if he continues to play like he did Monday night, makes the Celtics’ bench that much more difficult to match up against come playoff time.
‘It gives us another guy where you have to step up,” Wallace said. “And I say that from an offensive standpoint, you know guys will have to respect Fin’s jump shot and driving ability, and that pretty much leaves all the post players open for a one on one.’
‘He’s a veteran,” added Daniels. “He’s a shooter. That’s something he does, it’s like riding a bike. He knows how to shoot the ball and he does it well.’
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