|Fast Break: New Celtics, familiar results||02.28.11 at 11:37 pm ET|
This is going to take some time, but while Celtics coach Doc Rivers learns how to use his new toys (he had Jeff Green playing everything from the 2-guard through the four-spot), the Celtics remain the Celtics in the fourth quarter. Locked in a tight battle with Utah, the veterans made the right plays and executed down the stretch.
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce made huge shots. Kevin Garnett was dominant defensively and on the boards and Rajon Rondo made the right decisions and also sank a crucial jumper. The Celtics won 107-102, which gave them a 3-1 West Coast trip and also kept them two games ahead of the Heat in the loss column for the best record in the conference.
They have the next six weeks to figure out what kind of team they will be, but when it comes time to win games, they haven’t forgotten their formula.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Kevin Garnett is Kevin Garnett again: In the midst of all the turmoil, Garnett has very quietly run off a string of double-doubles on this West Coast trip. After scoring 18 points to go with 14 rebounds he now has seven in his last eight games. Garnett was at his best, though, on the defensive end, where he switched over to Al Jefferson late in the game and shut the big man down.
The key moment came when Garnett and Jefferson were called for double technicals late in the fourth quarter. The T’s didn’t stop the chatter between the two players and Jefferson was obviously primed to get the ball and score. He got the ball, but Garnett gave ground at the right moment and caused a travel. It was a classic veteran trap and Jefferson fell right into it.
Rajon Rondo takeover: Rondo scored only six points in the first half and passed up a couple of easy looks to make passes instead, but in the second half he reverted back into an attacking machine. When Rondo doesn’t look for his offense he makes himself so much easier to defend. But when he keeps the threat of scoring alive, it makes him nearly impossible to defend.
Nenad Krstic is no Perk offensively: Krstic is known as a player who can step outside and make jump shots, but he’s also shown in limited time an ability to score with his back to the basket. The Celtics don’t use a lot of post-ups as part of their regular offense, but Krstic has a nice touch around the basket and is also able to roll smoothly to the basket. Offensively, he is a definite upgrade from Kendrick Perkins‘ limited repertoire.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Krstic is no Perk, defensively: Then there’s the other end of the floor. Krstic will get better as he gets used to playing in the Celtics’ defensive scheme (and also gets used to playing alongside Garnett). Early on he’s looked slow in rotations and a step behind the play. Krstic was also abused by Jefferson, who scored 18 of his 28 points in the first half. It wasn’t all Krstic’s fault, but the Jazz went flying through the lane time and again for layups. The Celtics will have to adjust to Krstic as much as he will have to adjust to them.
Glen Davis continues to struggle: Over his last three games, Davis has shot 9-for-28. Over the last two months Davis has been as up and down as any Celtic, but they keep using him in the fourth quarter. Davis remains the best — and maybe only — option for getting crunch-time minutes with the other four starters, but if Rivers wants to continue to experiment he may take a look at his closing lineup over the next month and a half.
Delonte West is hurt again: The Celtics got bad news even before this one started as West rolled his right ankle during an informal workout on Sunday. He missed Monday’s game with Utah and is likely to miss Wednesday’s game when the Celtics return home to play the Suns. With Nate Robinson in Oklahoma City, the Celtics are relying on West to be the third guard, not only backing up Rajon Rondo, but Ray Allen as well.
But it’s at backup point guard where they desperately need his steady hand and veteran experience. Rookie Avery Bradley took those minutes against Utah and was more aggressive and confident than he’s been to date, but Bradley is not the answer this season. The Celtics need West to be healthy.
|Fast Break: Celtics sail past Clips||02.27.11 at 1:20 am ET|
It took the Celtics a half to get going, but once they got it together the Clippers were no match for them in a 99-92 Celtics victory Saturday night in Los Angeles. (Recap.) Paul Pierce had a team-high 24 points, while Ray Allen added 22 and Kevin Garnett had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Rajon Rondo also had 11 assists.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Free throw shooting: The Celtics are an offensive team that relies almost exclusively on making shots from the floor. They don’t get on the offensive glass much and they rarely get to the free throw line relative to other teams. On a night when they struggled to get shots to fall, the Celtics made it work at the free throw line where they took a season-high 41 attempts and made 35 of those shots. They also recorded 14 offensive rebounds, six from Krstic.
Kevin Garnett’s defense on Blake Griffin: It’s not as if Garnett was able to stop Griffin, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds. The rookie phenom had his usual collection of spectacular jams and is an open-floor terror. But Garnett was able to work Griffin out of the low post in the halfcourt and make things difficult on him. Griffin is so good he was still able to flip home impossible shots, but Garnett’s defense was a subtle mastery of the art and a reminder of how technically proficient he is at his craft.
Third quarter: After a first half that was absolutely dreadful (see below), the Celtics outscored the Clippers 34-17 in the third quarter and had 10 assists on 11 field goals, up from just six on 12 in the entire first half. The C’s also clamped down defensively, limiting the Clippers to one shot and controlling the glass.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The first half: The Celtics were fortunate to be down just seven points after a half in which they shot 34 percent and turned it over nine times. Garnett, Pierce and Glen Davis shot a combined 4-for-16. (All three, but especially Pierce completely turned his game around in the second half.) The Celtics looked disorganized on offense and slow on defense. They were able to hang around by going to the free throw line 17 times, converting 15 shots.
First reaction is a mixed bag: The first glimpse of the new-look Celtics suggests these guys are going to need some time to get used to playing with one another. While Krstic provided some opportunistic work on the offensive glass, he was also a step behind in the defensive rotations and spent most of the first half in foul trouble, while Green appeared tentative.
As with the rest of the team, the second half was a totally different story for the players who are trying to fit in. Green appeared more confident and West ran the team flawlessly in the fourth quarter. It’s going to take time for all the pieces to fit, but Saturday night’s game was a good first step.
|Trade deadline stunner: Nets acquire Deron Williams||02.23.11 at 3:02 pm ET|
For three-plus seasons, the Atlantic Division has been the Celtics kingdom. All of a sudden, it has become a madhouse. A day after the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony, the Nets swooped in and landed Deron Williams from Utah for Devin Harris, rookie Derrick Favors and draft picks. Harris and Favors were two of the key pieces in the Nets pursuit of Anthony, but there’s two significant differences here.
First, unlike the Anthony saga, which dragged on throughout the entire season, the Nets-Jazz trade was consummated quickly and with zero media attention. Second — and most importantly — the Nets made the move with no assurances that Williams would sign an extension before he can opt out of his deal after next season. Indeed, Williams was as unaware as everyone else that this deal would go down.
Williams can’t sign an extension until the summer, which leaves New Jersey a limited window to sell their new point guard on the prospect of headlining the franchise once it relocates to Brooklyn.
The deal has layers of ramifications and intrigue. Obviously the Nets have to be giddy about stealing some of the limelight from their brethren across the Hudson river, but beyond that the Jazz are now armed with high-value draft picks and young big men including Favors, Paul Millsap and former Celtic Al Jefferson. This also closes an unfortunate chapter in Utah’s history that began when longtime coach Jerry Sloan left the team after a reported blowup with Williams about the direction of the team.
For now, though, Williams is New Jersey’s most significant addition since it pried Jason Kidd loose from Phoenix. If he stays, the prospect of Williams matching up with Rajon Rondo four times a season is enticing. As an added bonus, if the Knicks actually are able to snag Chris Paul in free agency after next season, the Atlantic Division will become point guard central.
The issue for the Celtics is obvious. They will be a much different team after next season (assuming there is a next season). All of their key players besides Rondo and Paul Pierce will either be off the books or have new deals in place. With the Knicks, Nets and even the young 76ers gathering steam, competition will be fierce and the Celtics will be facing an overhaul. That’s a discussion for another day — and another collective bargaining agreement.
We haven’t yet reached the zero-hour of this season’s trade deadline, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else making a bolder, and more far-reaching move than the Nets did when they shook up the NBA and acquired Williams.
|What the Carmelo Anthony trade means for the Celtics||02.22.11 at 10:37 am ET|
The Knicks finally got Carmelo Anthony and all it took was trading two of their top three wing players, their point guard, a young 7-footer, draft picks and $6 million of cash. All that for a player who is not a top-10 talent and who in seven years in the NBA has made it out of the first round of the playoffs once.
In the process, the Knicks got significantly older at the point by swapping Ray Felton for Chauncey Billups and dumped two shooters — Wilson Chandler and Danilo Ganillari — for two forwards who can’t shoot — Corey Brewer and Renaldo Balkman. They also sold a good chunk of their future by surrendering a No. 1 draft pick in 2014 and two second-rounders obtained from Golden State.
As it played out, it became apparent that Anthony wanted no part of a trade to anywhere except New York, so the Knicks also pulled off the rare trick of upping the price in a trade while bidding against themselves.
There’s also no telling how the future of the NBA will look once a new collective bargaining agreement is in place. Once Anthony signs his long-rumored extension, he and Amar’e Stoudemire will lock up a huge portion of whatever salary cap is in place, which could mean that the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard would be beyond their financial grasp in 2012 when Billups comes off the books.
But hey, they got their man.
It’s not as if Anthony is a bad player. He and Stoudemire form a potent scoring combination at forward, assuming they can work out how to play together. It’s just a question of how much his services are really worth. Smart teams understand value and this deal is not smart. The Knicks were played like desperate teenagers on the last day of a binge in Tijuana, and if it’s true that Isiah Thomas is really pulling the strings, then they got what they deserved.
The Knicks spent the last two years undoing the wreckage that Thomas wrought and they were finally were able to put an actual basketball team on the floor. It wasn’t a team that was going to win a championship this year or next, but it was one with assets and flexibility and now most of that is gone.
In the short-term, the new-look Knicks may have upped the star power, but they aren’t going to be beat the Celtics, Heat or Bulls. There are too many holes, especially up front where Ronny Turiaf is the only defensive-minded big man left standing. Their defense, not exactly a strength to begin with, won’t get any better with Billups and Anthony guarding the perimeter.
The NBA future holds nothing but uncertainty, and the Celtics future is cloudier than most. Beyond Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, the Celtics have none of their top 12 players under contract beyond next season. Presumably Kendrick Perkins will be part of the equation and possibly Glen Davis as well.
As the dust settles from the Melo drama, ask yourself this: Would you rather have the Celtics’ present? Absolutely. Then ask yourself if you would rather have a roster with Rondo, Perkins and a well-run front office calling the shots or Stoudemire, Anthony and dysfunctional chaos?
The Knicks got their man. Whether they can do anything else will ultimately tell if the whole thing was worth it.
|Fast Break: Shot down by Dallas||02.04.11 at 10:39 pm ET|
The Dallas Mavericks are a strange team. That’s meant as a compliment. They have a number of smaller players who can create havoc both offensively and defensively. They also have a 7-foot jump shooter in Dirk Nowitzki who might be the MVP of the league. The Celtics usually make teams play the way they want to play, but they were never able to impose their game on the Mavs.
The result was a wildly entertaining, and slightly weird, game in which both teams shot close to 50 percent and got more offensive rebounds than they typically do in a week. It featured Ray Allen raining 3’s, and also blocking a 7-footer at the rim. Nowitzki made one shot in the first quarter, and still finished with 29 points.
It came down to the final few possessions when everything once again went haywire. Rajon Rondo missed a jumper, Allen forced a shot and after getting a steal on the defensive end, Kevin Garnett had a 20-footer rim in and out. That gave the Mavericks life and Jason Kidd answered with an open 3 off a wild scrum from the top of the key. The Celtics had a chance to tie the game, but a Rondo lob to Garnett with 2.5 seconds left sailed a few inches too high.
Ultimately, it goes in the books as a 101-97 loss and a tough way for the Celtics to start their stretch of games against the best teams in the league, a group that definitely includes the Mavericks.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Bad start: The Celtics gave up 34 points in the first quarter (a season-high) and allowed the Mavs to shoot 67 percent from the floor. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also allowed the Mavericks to make 5-of-6 from behind the arc. It was as bad a defensive performance as the Celtics have had all season and left the fighting to get out of the hole all night long.
Cross matchups: Dallas started an unconventional lineup with J.J. Barea, Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson. That led to all kind of cross matchups with Allen guarding Kidd. When coach Rick Carlisle went to Jason Terry and Shawn Marion in his rotation that only led to more strange scenarios such as Kendrick Perkins guarding Marion. The Celtics were never really able to get into a defensive rhythm.
Kevin Garnett may get fined: Another game, another KG incident. His latest misadventure came when he got tangled up with Barea on a layup. Garnett threw an elbow and was given a technical. As they were getting untangled, referee Eric Lewis put his hand on Garnett’s arm and Garnett shoved it aside. That move will likely cost him some money.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Ray Allen just keeps rolling: Allen got off to a slow start, but the thing with him is you never know when he’s going to go off. On Friday it was the third quarter when he drained 5-of-6 shots and scored 14 of his 24 points. If that wasn’t enough, Allen went over Nowitzki for a tip-in and straight blocked Tyson Chandler who was going up for a dunk.
Better bench play: Doc Rivers yanked his starters after a terrible defensive first quarter and it was the second unit that got them back in the game. Their production — 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists — was solid, but it was their defensive energy that ultimately was more important. Marquis Daniels was the ringleader with 10 points.
The Beast is back (Part V): Just in case there was any doubt, Kendrick Perkins is back, and maybe better than ever. Perkins re-joined the starting lineup with Shaquille O’Neal out with an Achilles injury and responded with his first double-double. Perkins had 13 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes and finished what he started. It may have happened sooner than Rivers anticipated, but there’s nothing holding Perkins back now.
|Game 49: Mavericks at Celtics||at 11:19 am ET|
The Dallas Mavericks have been doing this for a long time. They have been a playoff team every year for the last decade, the second-longest current streak after San Antonio. Their run coincided with the emerge of Dirk Nowitzki as a big-time player and over the years he has remained the one constant.
Steve Nash gave way to Jason Kidd. Michael Finley and Josh Howard were eventually replaced by Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. Through it all, Nowitzki has remained, and despite his MVP season, he remains one of the NBA’s underappreciated superstars.
Nowitzki is having another phenomenal season, perhaps his best since his MVP days. His impact can be seen through his +/- numbers where the Mavericks are more than 22 points better with him on the floor, the highest margin in the league, according to Basketball Value. His impact was even more obvious when he missed nine games and the Mavs went 2-7 during that stretch.
They have since won seven of their last eight and are re-establishing themselves as one of the Western Conference’s prime contenders along with the Spurs and Lakers.
As great as Nowitzki has been, the biggest change has come from the Mavs’ never-ending search for the right complimentary players to put around him. That would be Tyson Chandler.
“He’s the biggest change on their team,” Rivers said. “Chandler has made them a defensive team. They have an anchor now. Just think, they have [Brendan] Haywood coming off the bench. That’s a big, deep basketball team.”
Chandler gives them 10 points and nine rebounds per game, while shooting 66 percent from the floor on a limited arsenal of dunks and put-backs. But it’s his defensive presence that has been the biggest factor, especially in their zone defense.
The Mavs are ninth in defensive rating, up from 12th the season before and 17th the year before that. Additionally, they only give up 20 shots a game at the rim — the second lowest total in the league after Orlando where Dwight Howard patrols the paint.
This may be the same old Nowitzki, but it’s not the same old Mavs.
Offensive Rating: 108.1 (Points scored per 100 possessions, 11th)
Defensive Rating: 104.8 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)
Pace: 90.2 (Possessions per game, 23rd)
Likely Starters: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Dirk Nowitzki, Brian Cardinal, Tyson Chandler
Injuries: Caron Butler (Knee, out), Roddy Beaubois (Foot, out), Peja Stojakovic (Knee, out)
Offensive Rating: 108.1 (12th)
Defensive Rating: 100.1 (2nd)
Pace: 90.8 (21st)
|Fast Break: Better late than never for Celtics||02.02.11 at 12:31 am ET|
It took a quarter for the inevitable letdown to kick in, but the Celtics wandered through a disastrous second quarter Tuesday night against the Kings that not only saw them give up 34, it also gave their young opponents a shot of confidence. The good news for the Celtics is they recovered quite nicely with a strong second half in a 95-90 win that capped off their successful west coast trip on a winning note.
The win also means that Doc Rivers will be be the head coach for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game, a nice tribute in what has been a tremendously rewarding season thus far.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The aggressive Rajon Rondo is the right Rajon Rondo: It was good to see the point guard carryover his second-half play against the Lakers into this one, and the Celtics desperately needed it. Rondo went to the basket early and often in the first half, even passing up could-be assists for sure-thing baskets. This is the Rondo that captured the imagination during the playoffs last season and the one that keeps opposing defenses on its heels because of his unpredictable style. This is the Rondo the Celtics need in the second half of the season.
Ray Allen is closing in on Reggie Miller: It’s only a matter of time now before Allen becomes the all-time 3-point king. He made four more Tuesday and is now nine away from passing Miller for the most 3-pointers made. On an up-and-down night, Allen was consistent throughout, just like he’s been throughout his remarkable career.
Kevin Garnett brought the good kind of crazy: After a so-so first half in which Garnett didn’t do much to distinguish himself, he brought out the insanely-intent version for the final 24 minutes. Garnett was all over the court, the floor and the boards. Whether it was aggressively challenging DeMarcus Cousins at the rim, or diving on the floor to come up with a steal, Garnett turned it on big-time in the third quarter. Not surprisingly, the Kings made only 6-of-19 shots and scored 17 points as the Celtics reclaimed the lead.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Time to start Perk? Shaquille O’Neal is either hurt or just not into it right now, but he is not giving the Celtics any kind of production as the starting center. Kendrick Perkins meanwhile is still looking to find his rhythm just five games into his return from knee surgery. However, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Perkins rejoins the starting lineup and with an upcoming slate that features the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat in the next week and a half, the time may be right for the switch.
Putting out an APB for the bench: Starting Perkins would of course send O’Neal to the bench, which was the game plan all along. Rivers envisioned Shaq being a low-post scoring threat off the bench who would open up the perimeter and also create attention and space for Glen Davis. The Celtics second unit needs something right now because outside of Davis they all seem to be struggling. On an encouraging note, Nate Robinson gave the Celtics strong minutes in the second half and even closed out the game.
Slow down, you move too fast: One of the Celtics bad habits against bad teams is to get into an up-tempo game against them. The result is often turnovers and missed opportunities in transition. The Celtics turned it over 15 times, which contributed to their lackluster play in the first half.
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