|Fast Break: Celtics ‘play well,’ roll the Knicks in Game 3||04.22.11 at 9:36 pm ET|
For the last three days all the Celtics have been saying is that they have to play better. Their lead on the Knicks in their first round playoff series was great, but they knew they got away with uneven performances in both games. New York had something to do with that too, especially some of their role players who played above their heads, to say nothing of the tremendous individual performances by Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
But the Celtics believed that the close games had more to do with their inconsistencies. “I just want us to play well,” Doc Rivers said prior to tip-off. “[If] we play well, we will see what happens.”
They played well in Game 3. They played perhaps their best playoff game since Game 5 in Cleveland last year when they silenced LeBron James and the Cavaliers and kickstarted their run to the NBA finals. The feeling inside Madison Square Garden was eerily reminiscent. A hopped up crowd was stunned to silence early and when the Knicks tried to make a run early in the second half, the Celtics went into kill mode.
The result was a 113-96 blowout that gave them a commanding 3-0 lead. This is what the Celtics look like when they play well.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
What’s better than a great start? What the Celtics did: The pregame chatter was all about the Knicks riding the energy of the first home playoff game in seven years to a quick start. Instead it was the Celtics who established the early pace. They led 22-5, their biggest lead of the series and got center Ronny Turiaf in early foul trouble. Coming into another team’s arena and taking the crowd out of the game has always been a point of pride for the Celtics. “If you want to bother us, tell no one to come,” Doc Rivers said an hour before tipoff. “That will freak us out.”
Paul Pierce was locked in: In another quiet Celtics locker room before the game, Paul Pierce saw a couple of players engaged in small talk with a couple of reporters. “None of that,” Pierce said quietly but forcefully. He wasn’t kidding. Pierce was in his own world, all business, and he played like it, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. He took over at various times and seemed to make every big shot whenever the Knicks threatened to make a run. Ray Allen was phenomenal. Rajon Rondo had a triple double and 20 assists , but this was Pierce’s game.
The Celtics owned the 3-point line: Late in the season, the Celtics game from behind the arc went missing. It looks like they found it. Allen knocked down 8 of 11 and now has made an incredible 15-for-20 in the series. Pierce added six more and the Celtics made 14 3’s, which was a season high. They obviously won’t shoot this well again, but their success from behind the arc is a good sign for a team that has been fighting to recapture its offensive identity.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The bench was better, but still ineffective as a group: First, the bad news. The Celtics big first quarter lead evaporated as soon as Rivers went to his bench. Like clockwork it seems these days. But there was a glimmer when the second unit was able to keep the lead at five points. Not great, but it was something. There was some honest to goodness good stuff too. Jeff Green finally provided some offensive punch scoring seven first half points. But the backups have to start playing better soon.
Too many turnovers: This is nitpicking considering how well the Celtics played, but they once again turned the ball over too much. Considering the score and the way they cleaned up their work on the defensive glass, it’s perhaps asking too much for them to play a perfect game, but the turnover problem has been an issue.
|Fast Break: Celtics end season with win||04.13.11 at 10:17 pm ET|
This wasn’t so much a game as it was an exhibition contest. With Game 1 of their first round playoff series scheduled to tip Sunday night at TD Garden, the Celtics and Knicks elected to sit most of their key players with Amar’e Stoudemire being the lone exception. Doc Rivers elected to not play Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West, leaving him just eight players.
Those eight contributed to an oddly entertaining 112-102 win over New York, giving the Celtics a season sweep of the series.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Avery Bradley, stand up: The rookie guard’s previous career high was just five points and it’s been his struggles offensively that have limited his ability to help the Celtics much on the court. But Bradley was the aggressor on Wednesday. Seconds after he checked into the game, he stripped Anthony Carter in the backcourt and soared in for a dunk. He finished with 20 points in what was easily his best performance of the season.
Sasha Pavlovic showed some offensive punch: There may be a spot for Pavlovic as an 11th or 12 man in the playoffs and he scored 19 points in a surprisingly efficient offensive game.
Troy Murphy showed signs of life: Murphy has done little to make a case for any kind of a meaningful postseason role, but he scored nine points in the fourth quarter and finally made his first 3-pointer as a member of the Celtics.
|Fast Break: Celtics get gored in Chicago||04.07.11 at 10:38 pm ET|
If there was a statement to be made in Thursday night’s game between the Bulls and Celtics, it’s that Boston can’t expect to come in to Chicago and play its C+ game and come away with anything but a double-digit loss. The Bulls defense can make anyone look bad, but the Celtics didn’t help the cause by missing layups and failing to do anything in transition. Defensively, they were a step slow in closing out on shooters and allowed the Bulls hit over 40 percent from 3-point range, in a 97-81 loss.
While still technically alive, the race for homecourt is over … and in reality it has been ever since the Celtics dropped winnable games at home against the Grizzlies and Bobcats two weeks ago. They are now tied with the Heat for second place with Sunday’s showdown looming in Miami.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Derrick Rose happened: The likely MVP put on a clinic in the first, scoring from impossible angles and running past the Celtics defense in transition. When he wasn’t scoring, Rose was breaking down the Celtics defense and allowing lanes for offensive rebounds. He completely outplayed Rondo in the first half, outscoring him 16-0.
Offensive execution: Where was it? The Bulls are the best defensive team in the league, but the Celtics played right into their hands by turning down decent looks and having to force contested jump shots late in the shot clock. Outside of a brief stretch in the third quarter, there were also no fast break points to be had.
Pick a player: Ray Allen couldn’t get on track. Paul Pierce forced the issue and had several bad turnovers. Kevin Garnett had an off-night shooting. Glen Davis was 1-for-8. Rondo missed layups, among other problems. There was no one among the Celtics main players who had anything close to a good night.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The second unit had its moments: Doc Rivers finally has the right personnel in place to have a functioning second unit and while he’s still toying with the right combinations, the offensive punch provided by Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic off the bench is a welcome sight. The Celtics posted up Green on several occasions with generally positive results and that helped erase an eight-point lead in the first half. Unfortunately for the Celtics, they couldn’t duplicate that performance in the second half.
Free throw shooting: It’s the simplest thing in the world, but the Celtics were able to stay in the game by going a perfect 10-for-10 in the first half at the line, while also getting Luol Deng in foul trouble. That was about all they had going for them offensively.
|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.”
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