|Fast Break: Kevin Garnett takes care of Joakim Noah||12.03.10 at 10:41 pm ET|
It was clear from the opening tip – when KG fist-pounded every starter on both teams – with one notable exception. He greeted eight starters, then made his way to Keith Bogans, greeted him and wished him well before walking right past Joakim Noah. Garnett – for the most part – productively channeled his dislike for his arch-nemesis.
Garnett had a double-double by halftime and led a defensive charge in the third quarter as the Celtics beat the Bulls, 104-92, Friday night at TD Garden.
Aside from the Celtics winning their sixth straight to improve to an Eastern Conference-best 15-4, the other highlight for the fans was the surreal chants of “SCAL-A-BRINE” several times in the fourth quarter, with the Celtics comfortably ahead.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE CELTICS:
Garnett was a monster: KG made it clear early he would not be denied, either offensively or on the glass. He finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds in arguably his most energetic game of the year. Garnett only had one true run-in with Noah, getting in Noah’s face after a 10-foot turnaround with 2:24 left in the second quarter. Both players were T’d up but nothing much happened the rest of the way.
Rondo got up: Everyone and their brother and sister went silent with 4:54 left in the third quarter when Rajon Rondo cut through the lane, jumped up in the air on a pass and landed awkwardly. Rondo’s right leg slipped on the landing and his left leg stuck in the floor. He immediately held his left knee and remained on the court about 30 seconds. He got up and stay in the game and immediately hit a 22-foot jumper, showing everyone he was ok.
Turning up the D: Led by Garnett down low and Pierce on the wing, the Celtics showed a dominant defensive effort. After allowing 29 points in the second quarter, the Celtics held the Bulls to 19 in the third, building their lead up to 82-67 after three. The Bulls made just 6-0f-19 from the field in the third quarter as the Celtics got back to basics.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE CELTICS:
A defenseless bench: When you look at the stat sheet, you see that the Celtics reserves can score with anyone – and they can. It’s the defense that’s troubling, like in the second quarter, when the Bulls shot 53 percent and outscored the C’s 29-22. It’s certainly understandable that without the injured Delonte West and Jermaine O’Neal, the depth isn’t there for the Celtics. But they’re going to need more than just “Sixth Man of the Year” favorite Glen Davis to produce. Semih Erden is still finding his way and managed some very important minutes late in the third and early fourth quarter as Shaquille O’Neal sat on the bench with five fouls. They were lucky that the Bulls bench was just as ineffective. Nate Robinson (sore left foot) was clearly not the same player and Marquis Daniels had eight points in 26 minutes.
Foul trouble: With 9:28 left in the fourth quarter and the Celtics up, 84-70, Glen Davis went to the bench with his fifth foul, joining O’Neal with the same number. That’s not good. Boston’s two best bruisers – and only bruisers – were not available against a Bulls team that relies on finesse and quickness from players like Noah, Luol Deng and of course, Derrick Rose. That played right into the Bulls’ hands.
Leaking leads: Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but for the second straight game, the Celtics built what appeared to be a very comfortable lead at home, leading by 17 in the third quarter and by 15, 82-67, heading into the fourth. The Bulls made a charge early in the fourth. It’s a nasty habit that bears at least some attention, especially on your home court, where the Celtics improved to 9-1 this season.
|Tom Thibodeau gets hero’s welcome||11.05.10 at 11:56 pm ET|
During the first timeout of Friday night’s 110-105 overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls, the Celtics played a video tribute to current Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and forward Brian Scalabrine, thanking them for their contributions to the C’s 2008 NBA championship.
Touched by the gesture, Scalabrine raised a hand to the crowd. Meanwhile, Thibodeau stood stoically on the sideline, ready to guide his new team against his former team.
After the game, though, the former Celtics assistant and defensive guru was clearly touched by the gesture.
“It’s great coming back here,” Thibodeau said following his team’s loss. “I wouldn’t be in this position without everything that this organization did for me. From ownership to Danny (Ainge) and, of course, Doc (Rivers), they treated me great. It was a lot of fun.”
It’s not every city that would recognize the contributions of an assistant coach to a team’s success with a pair of standing ovations (one to start the game and one throughout the video), but Thibodeau knows Boston is no ordinary fan base.
“This is a great sports town,” said Thibodeau. “Certainly, the history and the tradition of the Celtics is what makes this organization so special. It’s the fans, the people that run the team, the players. They’re leadership is off the charts. Doc and Danny — you’re not going to find two guys better than that. They’re just top-of-the-line guys. They’re smart. They know what they’re doing.
“The team is special,” he added. “You’ve got an unbelievable group of guys — not only talented, but great competitors. Those guys are going to fight and fight and fight. There’s no quit in that team. To beat them, you’ve got to beat them. They never quit.”
Thibodeau admitted after the game that while his new team may have the potential, the Bulls just don’t have the level of understanding of each other yet that his old team enjoys now.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons, they’re experienced, they know how to work the game and their hard to guard,” said Thibodeau. “I think the thing that often gets overlooked with them is not only their individual greatness but their collective greatness and willingness to hsare with each other. … It puts enormous pressure on your defense. Your defense can’t get set, and that’s something we’re striving for.”
|Fast Break: Celtics run past Bulls||at 11:10 pm ET|
All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, as the C’s escaped with a second straight overtime victory on Friday night — this time, a 110-105 win over the Chicago Bulls at the TD Garden. Ray Allen scored a team-high 25 points, while Kevin Garnett produced 16 points and 10 rebounds to improve Boston’s record to 5-1.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT
1. Spread the wealth: The Celtics went on a 22-3 run to start the third quarter, taking a 12-point cushion they didn’t relinquish until midway through the fourth quarter. In the span of 6:28, six different Celtics scored (Paul Pierce, Garnett, Glen Davis, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels and Semih Erden).
The C’s got a solid contribution from Daniels, who scored eight of his 11 points in that stretch. In all, seven Celtics reached double figures (Allen-25, Garnett-16, Davis-15, Daniels-11, Pierce-10, Rajon Rondo-10). Even Robinson got into a little groove, scoring seven points in 11 minutes.
Rondo had his usual double-digit assist night (11), but the Celtics also got at least three dimes from Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Daniels. The prettiest play of thenight highlighted the effort — as Pierce hit a streaking Allen underneath fo a dunk with 1:19 left in overtime that put the C’s up 108-103 in the victory.
2. Garnett continued to be aggressive: Last season, Garnett wasn’t throwing it down like he used to; he just didn’t have the lift in his knees. This season? He should be sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts.
Garnett scored six of his eight first-half points at the rim — including a second-quarter dunk on Taj Gibson and another jam following Rondo on the break. Although he backed off a bit in the second half — finishing with eight of his 16 points in the paint — Garnett, who also grabbed 10 boards, established his tone early.
3. Big Baby drew (more) charges: Someone tweeted from Shaquille O’Neal‘s account during the game, “Big Baby is an offensive foul drawing machine!!” That couldn’t be more right. Glen Davis entered Friday night’s game with a team-leading nine charges (nobody else had more than one), and he added two more to that total in the first half alone. Along with his five steals this season, that’s 16 possessions he’s swung in the Celtics’ favor.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG
1. Second-half defense: After holding the Bulls to 38.9 percent shooting from the field (14-of-36) in the opening half, Chicago shot 59.5 percent (25-of-42) in the second half.
The Bulls top four performers — Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson – combined to shoot 19-of-33 from the field (in the second half. The Celtics returned to their first half defensive form in the overtime period, holding the Bulls to 3-of-9 shooting to close out the victory.
2. Centers of attention: I hate to harp on it, but two nights after Andrew Bogut totaled 21 points and 13 boards on Jermaine O’Neal, Erden and Davis, another talented center ate up the Celtics’ postmen.
Joakim Noah produced 26 points and 12 boards in the absence of Shaquille O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins. If someone doesn’t step up the interior defense, guys like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are going to have a field day.
In addition, the Celtics got out-rebounded by 12, as Jermaine O’Neal a whopping one rebound in 25 minutes.
3. Pierce couldn’t score on Scalabrine: In the first half, shortly after Brian Scalabrine received a standing ovation upon entering the game, Paul Pierce tried to shake him at the free-throw line. As Pierce attempted his signature lean-back 17-footer, Scalabrine reached up and blocked the shot.
The crowd paused, as if deciding whether to groan for Pierce or cheer for Scalabrine. I’m sure Scalabrine has seen that move a thousand times in practice.
|The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (4 of 7)||10.26.10 at 11:04 am ET|
NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.
ON THE BULLS: The Chicago Bulls are a team with a lot of strengths, but the early injury to Carlos Boozer has hurt their odds of building up continuity this season.
Much like the Celtics, they carry considerable injury risk going forward. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Boozer, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer all have injury risk on top of that of a normal player, while Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans are also struggling with various minor injuries in preseason.
A healthy Bulls team would have a puncher’s chance at any team in the East if they jelled well and played to their full potential. But a Bulls team that can’t get on the floor together to build continuity is closer to Atlanta and Milwaukee than to Boston, Orlando or Miami.
The big question mark will be how much of an upgrade Tom Thibodeau is from Vinny Del Negro. The Bulls’ schemes have given fans a reason to be hopeful, and if Thibodeau can get more out of the talent than Del Negro the roster might have more upside than a cursory glance would indicate.
Given the injuries and unknowns, a realistic upside for the Bulls is an Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami, while a realistic downside is a first-round exit to one of the Big 3.
I’d place the Bulls fourth in the conference with my expectations set at a second-round exit at the hands of Miami, Boston or Orlando after a hard-fought, first-round victory against Atlanta or Milwaukee.
ON THE CELTICS: The Boston Celtics strike me as a team that should play well this season and have another excellent postseason.
There is some legitimate fear that the wheels could fall off the bus at any given point, given that the vast majority of key players are at the age where injuries increase and performance can rapidly spiral downward.
However, the team is excellently coached and has tremendous depth, continuity and experience. Their upside, if all goes well, is NBA Champion. They were a Kendrick Perkins ACL away from likely winning the chip last season, and they’re the one team that has a shot to give Miami fits in the Eastern Conference.
Their downside is as a fifth seed that gets bounced early in the playoffs if they struggle to integrate new personalities, can’t find solid rotations once Perkins is back or struggle with age and injuries.
I’d place the Celtics third in the East in the regular season, but I think they’ll top Orlando in the second round. I’d place my expectations at an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat in a tough series.
ON THE CAVALIERS: The Cavaliers are indeed going through a transition phase, but transition may be the name of the game for this team.
Under new head coach Byron Scott, the team wants to get out and run in transition and use a new motion offense to try to implement a team-oriented approach. This is obviously a shock to the system after years of watching LeBron James dominate the ball himself and stand around dribbling.
The Cavaliers have looked good so far in the preseason, relying on the new youth movement with guys like J.J. Hickson, Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions showing a lot of improvement.
The team has heard all offseason how they are nothing now that LeBron is gone, but most of these players know nothing but winning. There is still a winning mentality on this team, and they are already playing with a chip on their shoulders as they look to prove doubters wrong.
This is a team that will be better conditioned than most teams and will not be outworked by many teams.
Having said that, there are still some major issues. A lack of true center will be a major problem for this team, as will be the potential defensive setback the team faces from losing a lockdown wing defender like LeBron.
Above all else, though, there’s no true go-to guy here. That will cost this team many games in the fourth quarter’s waning minutes.
This will be a gritty team that will play hard and make things tough, but ultimately there’s no replacing a LeBron James in one season. I predict a record of 31-51.
ON THE CELTICS: Well, obviously, I saw firsthand what Shaquille O’Neal brought to the Cavaliers last season. It wasn’t pretty, and he often complicated things as the team struggled to adapt to his presence.
In fact, the Cavaliers actually seemed to play better without Shaq when Anderson Varejao could slide to the 5 and Hickson could play the 4. So, I’m not optimistic about what Shaq has left to offer the Celtics this season.
Having said that, I still expect the Celtics to be one of the top three contenders in the East this season. The Big 3 plus Rondo is an effective core, and adding Delonte West should prove to be a nice boost to the team’s depth.
Much like last season, I expect to see the Celtics more or less coast through much of the regular season and then really turn it on in the postseason.
The Eastern Conference is stronger, but I don’t see anyone in the Atlantic threatening the C’s alpha-dog status there. I project a record of 52-30 and another division title. And I expect the Celtics to be the Heat’s toughest out in the playoffs.
ON THE PISTONS: After a year full of sprained ankles and utter disappointment, the Pistons have a clean slate heading into the new season.
While there isn’t a completely clean bill of health after the Jonas Jerebko injury, the Pistons are much healthier and claim to be very determined to prove their doubters wrong in 2010-11.
Unfortunately, while less injuries and DETermination should lead to more wins, it won’t be enough to put the Pistons back into the playoffs. Record: 36-46.
ON THE CELTICS: With everyone talking about the Heat this year, it might be easy to forget about the Celtics again (similar to how the Magic stole their spotlight last year with their 2009 Finals run).
But, similar to how they surprised teams in the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics are as for real as they were in 2008. The additions of both O’Neals should boost their defensive presence inside and even open things up a little on the offensive side for their own Big 3.
If they can stay relatively healthy, I’d say they’re a lock for 55 wins this season.
ON THE PACERS: To most NBA onlookers, it will not be a remarkably different season in Indiana than the past few. But for Pacers fans, there will be at least one key difference: Hope.
With the acquisition of Darren Collison, the continued — and perhaps vast — improvement of Roy Hibbert and the expected rock-solid production of Danny Granger, the team should for the first time in a half-decade have a true foundation.
This foundation is not earth-shattering. No one will be calling them The Big 3. But it is an actual nucleus, and a lot of people smarter than me think that Paul George, the team’s first-round pick No. 10 overall), should already be included in talks of a more promising future.
Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts, to a lesser degree, are expected to show some people that they can be valuable rotation players in this league as well.
On top of all that, the team has a bevy of expiring contracts to use as trade assets if they so desire. Some $30 million will be coming off the books next summer, and since so many GMs/owners will likely be looking to clean their salary caps up before the looming CBA negotiations/probable lockout, Larry Bird should have plenty of opportunities to get some quality players back for any of Mike Dunleavy ($10.5 million), T.J. Ford ($8.5 million) or Jeff Foster ($6.7 million).
I expect the front office to flip about half of its expiring contracts (they also have the Jamaal Tinsley buyout, worth around $5.5 million, “expiring” come June) for some mid-tier players they want (think the Kevin Martin deal last year). Then they’ll let the rest expire. Come summer, that will let them fill some more holes through free agency.
No, they won’t be getting an Amar’e Stoudemire, a Chris Bosh or a Carmelo Anthony — but they’ll have a direction by the time this season ends. That will feel like something new to fans.
And if they can somehow play well enough to score a seventh or eighth seed and get into the playoffs this year, well, Pacers fans can truly consider this the beginning of a new era for a franchise that needs nothing more desperately than to begin a new era.
ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics should make the Eastern Conference Finals in their sleep. Until we see just how good the Heat are, it’s tough to call anything more than that.
And if Miami is as dominant as I think they’ll be, the Celtics might just be too old, but if Eric Spoelstra‘s boys don’t jell completely, there’s no reason that Boston can’t win the whole thing.
The depth on this roster is somewhat absurd. Obviously, a lot of people aren’t expecting much out of the law firm of O’Neal & O’Neal, but they’re two big bodies that will make a difference and take a ton of defensive pressure off of Kevin Garnett and Perkins.
You certainly don’t want to rely on Jermaine O’Neal to score in the post at this point, but he still alters shots, swats weak attempts and takes charges at a high level.
The Delonte West acquisition was huge. Even with Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, the team lacked some ballhandling ability outside of Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce last year. He gives them a guy off the bench who can go off for 20, just be a spot-up shooter or even initiate the offense. Plus he guards people.
Nate has his strengths (namely energy and hustle), but he can’t do all that. That will make this team more dynamic — presuming, ya know, he keeps his head on straight.
With Ray Allen, Paul and KG all one year older, the bench is going to be key. They need consistency out of the reserves, and if Doc Rivers can figure out how to keep all these bodies happy — something I’m sure he will, like he did last year by keeping Nate ready to go even while glued to the bench — there’s no reason, other than a possibly unstoppable Heat juggernaut, that they can’t bring home Banner 18.
ON THE BUCKS: Milwaukee — with its eager, younger players and overlooked veteran additions — likely has its sights set on the Celtics.
The two teams had a few memorable moments last year and could have had something special in the playoffs had things worked out on the last day of the season.
Milwaukee focused on keep their core players from last season while looking to address their main weaknesses this offseason, namely free-throw shooting and power forward size and depth.
The Bucks seemed to have succeeded on both accounts and will very likely be in the hunt for the Central Divison crown. If they capture it, they still may have a hard time surpassing the Celtics’ win total.
A top-four finish doesn’t seem out of the question for the Bucks, and at the very least a playoff spot seems certain.
ON THE CELTICS: Last year, the Celtics seemed prime to fade into the sunset of NBA teams who once were contenders. This year, they seem to have reloaded and added considerable depth to counter their considerable age.
Everyone is talking about the O’Neal’s, Shaquille and Jermaine, but let us not forget that the Celtics quietly, and wisely, picking up Delonte West this offseason.
After trotting out Nate Robinson, Eddie House and at times even Tony Allen as a backup point guard last season, the Celtics definitely needed to address their backup point guard position this past summer. West’s steady hand (I can’t believe I just wrote that and meant it) could be very useful when Rondo is out of the game.
The added bulk up front helps, too, especially if the new technical rules lead to numbers quickly adding up for KG and Perkins. The Celtics have added new blood and appear to be in as good a shape as any of the teams in the East that don’t play in Miami.
Another division title and top-four seed likely awaits the Celtics at year’s end.
Stay tuned for Part 5 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.
|Draft rumors: Bulls-Clippers deal a possibility||06.24.10 at 1:42 pm ET|
According to Yahoo! Sports and the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls are interested in shopping their No. 17 pick. The Tribune mentions the possibility of a deal that would send Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and the draft pick to a possible suitor. An ESPN report indicates the Clippers might be willing to surrender the No. 8 pick for Deng and the 17th pick. That’s a deal that would make sense for both sides, as the Clippers would get a solid 3 man while the Bulls would free up more money to acquire a big-name free agent.
|Injuries could impact Eastern Conference standings||04.07.10 at 12:47 am ET|
Andrew Bogut’s gruesome arm injury was the first of many to hit the Eastern Conference over the last few days. Joe Johnson will miss at least two games with a sprained thumb and Chris Bosh’s status is unclear after suffering a facial fracture on Tuesday against the Cavaliers.
With just over a week left in the regular season, these injuries could impact playoff seedings, including that of the Celtics.
Aside from the Washington Wizards, whom the C’s will play on Friday, their remaining competitors are vying for postseason positions. Johnson’s injury opens the window of opportunity for the Celtics to close in on the third seed (currently held by the Hawks), but their opponents will be trying to secure their own place in the playoffs as well.
Toronto Raptors (currently 8th)
Wednesday, April 7 @ Toronto
The Raptors were dealt a devastating blow on Tuesday when Bosh suffered an unintentional elbow to the face from Antawn Jamison. According to reports, Bosh will remain in Cleveland overnight. His status is unknown.
Milwaukee Bucks (currently 5th)
Saturday, April 10 @ Milwaukee
Wednesday, April 14 @ Boston
The Bucks posed problems for the Celtics when healthy, and now this team is on a mission without Bogut. The young squad still has plenty of weapons and will challenge the Celtics even if they don’t have their big man in the middle.
Chicago Bulls (currently one game out of 8th)
Tuesday, April 13 @ Chicago
If there is any team with something to play for right now, it is the Bulls. They were already edging toward the eighth spot. Now the injury of Bosh has created an opportunity for them to grab it if they can win enough games down the stretch.
|Fast Break: Celtics vs. Bulls||01.14.10 at 10:49 pm ET|
BOSTON ‘ The last time the Bulls played in Boston, they were dealt an embarrassing 28-point loss. On Thursday night, they redeemed themselves. Despite being outscored by an average of 27 points in two losses to the C’s this season, the Bulls came out with the win, 96-83, at the TD Garden.
Player of the Game: Luol Deng immediately established himself as the leader of the Bulls, scoring 16 points in the first half alone. And it wasn’t just how many points Deng scored (25) that made a difference, it was how he scored them. He took smart shots (8-for-13 FG) and was nearly perfect at the line (9-for-10 FT).
Turning Point: The Celtics led just once the entire game, and even then it was a 2-0 advantage. They relinquished their lead less than two minutes into the first quarter and never got it back. Even though the Celtics starters got rest last night in their blowout against the Nets, they looked sluggish in the first half. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce shot a combined 4-for-14 while Allen shot 0-for-3 from three-point range.
– The anticipated match up between Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose was a non-factor for the first three quarters. Rose was benched with foul trouble early on and had been outscored 15-8 by Rondo … until the fourth quarter. As the Celtics tried to close in, Rose (17 points) propelled the the Bulls by both scoring and dishing the ball. His play-making skills gave his team the edge they needed to hold on.
– Despite playing with a swollen thumb, Glen Davis was one of the most aggressive Celtics on the boards. He grabbed eight rebounds ‘ he hardly made any of them look easy ‘ and blocked the pain to contribute an hustling performance.
– Eddie House hit his first three-point shot since January 10 against the Raptors. He finished the game with 11 points (5-for6 FG, 1-for-2 FG).
– After playing back-to-back games, the Celtics will get a three-day rest before they play the Mavericks on Monday night.
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