|NBA playoff picture, in a snapshot||04.26.11 at 6:46 pm ET|
Believe it or not, as of Tuesday afternoon, the Celtics are the only team that has finished its first-round series. While they await their first day of practice on Wednesday, NBA fans in Boston get a chance to watch what should be one of the most exciting playoffs in league history. Here’s a brief snapshot of the current playoff picture …
- Heat 97, 76ers 89
- Heat 94, 76ers 73
- Heat 100, 76ers 94
- 76ers 86, Heat 82
LeBron James & Co. are just trying to finish this series, so they can get their shot at the Celtics. The problem? The Heat are still struggling with chemistry and — as a result — have a 0-1 record in close-out games so far. Meanwhile, 76ers coach Doug Collins is just glad to get another game of playoff experience under his young team’s belt.
Heat forward Chris Bosh: ‘We’re going to have to trust each other. We’ve been talking about trust all this time, so we’re going to have to actually do it when it counts the most. It’s easy to stress when you’re up 2-0, 3-0. … When it’s time to close and it’s time to get to those other elite teams, and we’re going to have a chance to compete against them, we have to do the same thing well, not the same thing we did [Sunday].’
Sixers coach Doug Collins: “I’m sure Doc Rivers hopes we take the Heat to triple overtime in Game 7. No question about that. One thing about the playoffs, especially when you are a team that has a lot of games under the belt, you want series to go as little time as possible.”
|Irish Coffee: The Rajon Rondo roller coaster||04.08.11 at 12:16 pm ET|
Make no mistake: The Celtics’ 97-81 loss to the Bulls falls on Rajon Rondo‘s shoulders.
To say he got outplayed by Derrick Rose is like saying the seas got a little choppy during “The Perfect Storm.” Rose obliterated Rondo, tying a neat little bow around his NBA Most Valuable Player trophy and effectively clinching the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the process.
The box score tells you plenty. Rose outscored Rondo by 23 points on just six more shots. He got to the free-throw line seven more times (making nine more foul shots). He knocked down as many 3-pointers on Thursday night as Rondo has totaled in his last 33 games. He recorded more steals than the league’s second-best theft. He produced more assists than a guy who had averaged 3.3 more dimes per game. And the most damning statistic: In terms of plus/minus, Rose (+24) owned a 38-point edge over Rondo (-14).
But the box score doesn’t tell the entire story. Offensively, Rose blew by Rondo at will, wreaking havoc on the league’s best defense. Kevin Garnett and another Celtics defender constantly provided help, leaving Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and just about every other Bulls big wide open on the weakside to put back rare Rose misses.
Remember when Rose stormed by Rondo and lost the ball underneath the basket, only to fire the ball out to Luol Deng for a wide open 3-pointer to put the Bulls up, 44-37? Those are the kinds of things that happen when a point guard walks into the lane as easily as my mother walks along Bay Lane. And those are the kinds of things that Rondo failed to do for the Celtics all night.
You wonder why Keith friggin’ Bogans played Ray Allen to a standstill, and then you realize that Rondo failed to create open shots for the game’s greatest shooter. When’s the last time the Big Three were all held to 15 points or fewer? Oh, that’s right, it was an awful 93-77 loss to the Rockets on March 18, when Rondo (4 points, 6 assists) got torched by Kyle Lowry (20 points, 9 assists).
It’s fairly simple: When the Celtics have more assists than their opponent, they’re 50-11; when they don’t, they’re 4-13. And who’s “the head of the monster” who steers the C’s ship, as Allen said on Mut & Merloni? That’s right, Rondo.
If Rondo succeeds, the Celtics succeed. When he produces 10 or more assists, the Celtics are 35-6, and that .854 winning percentage only climbs higher as his assist totals sore. When Rondo gets to 13 assists, the Celtics are 13-2 (an .867 winning percentage). In the 10 games he’s reached 16 assists, the C’s are a perfect 10-0.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Bulls tale of the tape||04.07.11 at 2:42 pm ET|
In a potential Eastern Conference finals preview on Thursday night, little separates the Celtics and Bulls — head-to-head, offensively or defensively. Chicago (57-20) owns a three-game lead over the C’s (54-23) for the No. 1 seed, but Doc Rivers & Co. have won two of their three head-to-head matchups against their old assistant Tom Thibodeau. In order to determine where the advantages lie, let’s go straight to the tape …
Celtics vs. Bulls
97.7 … points … 95.7
11.0 … fast break points … 9.3
44.7 … points in the paint … 40.0
37.7-79.0 (47.7) … FGM-A (%) … 34.7-74.0 (46.9)
3.3-10.7 (31.3) … 3PM-A (%) … 4.0-10.7 (37.5)
19.0-23.0 (82.6) … FTM-A (%) … 22.3-29.0 (77.0)
34.0 … rebounds … 41.7
5.0 … o-rebounds … 9.0
29.0 … d-rebounds … 32.7
22.7 … assists … 19.7
10.0 … steals … 5.3
4.0 … blocks … 4.3
10.3 … turnovers … 17.3
22.7 … personal fouls … 20.0
Considering the Celtics were missing Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1, Jermaine O’Neal in Game 2 and Kevin Garnett in Game 3, while the Bulls missed Carlos Boozer in Game 1 and Joakim Noah in Game 3, injuries didn’t play a huge role in the overall production. So, the Celtics’ shooting (points & FG%), passing (assists) and defensive (points/percentages allowed, steals and turnovers) are legitimate, as is the Bulls’ across-the-board rebounding edge.
Now, let’s examine how well the Celtics and Bulls have produced throughout the season:
|Irish Coffee: Who wants the No. 1 seed more?||03.21.11 at 2:12 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Arguing that the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is more important to the Bulls than the Celtics, Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen wrote, “The Celtics know they can win on the road, while this Bulls team has yet to win a series under any circumstances.”
The logic is certainly sound, considering the veteran C’s defeated the Cavaliers and Magic and nearly won the 2010 NBA Finals as a No. 4 seed. But these are the Celtics’ probable Eastern Conference playoff matchups if they earn the No. 1 seed …
- First Round: Pacers, Bucks or Bobcats
- Eastern semis: Magic or Hawks
- Conference finals: Bulls or Heat
And these are their probable conference playoff opponents if they get the No. 2 seed …
- First Round: Knicks or 76ers
- Eastern semis: Heat
- Conference finals: Bulls
Now, which would you rather have? Door No. 1, right? Like, by a significant margin. Still, the Celtics seem to be aligning themselves with Thomsen’s thinking — at least, to NBA.com …
Rajon Rondo: “If you ask me personally, I don’t think it’s so important. I think it’s important that we get our chemistry. We have a lot of new guys on our roster and lot of veterans. The focus should be on getting Shaq [O’Neal] back, getting J.O. [Jermaine O’Neal] back. Delonte [West] is getting acquainted. We’ve got to continue finding a way.”
Doc Rivers: “We’re gonna lean on the health side. I’m gonna always go that way, and we hope we can still win games and still get the No. 1 seed. But we’re not gonna get it if it means that we’re gonna have to give up health. Health is gonna be No. 1.
“Any timing when you get healthy is good timing. But I obviously would have preferred it to be right after the All-Star break. That’s when we hoped that everyone would be back and that we’d be able to kind of put the parts together. It just hasn’t happened. There’s nothing we can do about it. So we have to hope to figure it out on the fly.”
We should be able to determine if either team cares less about the top seed than the other simply by taking a look at whether or not Rivers or Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau are limiting their respective team’s minutes.
|Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo & Derrick Rose’s contrasting styles||03.15.11 at 12:00 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Bulls point guard Derrick Rose has only been held to fewer than 10 points once all season — and never fewer than six. Conversely, his Celtics counterpart, Rajon Rondo, has been held to single-digit scoring 21 times in the 2010-11 season — and less than six points nine times.
Meanwhile, Rose has recorded double-digit assists just 16 times — and never more than 14. On the other hand, Rondo has produced 10 or more assists 36 times — and more than 14, well, 14 times.
To say the least, Rose and Rondo have led the Celtics and Bulls to a tie atop the Eastern Conference by playing different styles as the floor generals of their respective teams. But which is more successful?
In the 29 times since 1980 that someone has recorded at least 11 assists per game, that player has reached the conference finals nearly half the time (14-of-29). Those are favorable odds for the Celtics, as Rondo has produced 11.7 assists per game this season.
Still, only six times in that span has someone averaged 11 assists and led his team to the NBA Finals. Each time his name was Magic Johnson, who led the Lakers three titles in such seasons (1985, ’87 and ’88).
Fear not, Celtics fans, for no point guard who has averaged at least 24 points per game has even won a playoff series in the last 30 years. Michael Adams (1991), Gary Payton (2000), Allen Iverson (2005, ’06, ’08) and Gilbert Arenas (’06, ’07) have all produced 24-plus points a game as the primary point guard on their roster and never made it out of the first round.
Before you say, ‘Hey, Rose has had a better year in 2010-11 than any of those four players in those seven seasons — and he’s surrounded by better talent,’ consider Iverson’s 2007-08 season with the Nuggets:
- Rose (’10-11): 24.7 points, 8.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 3.5 turnovers, 44.1 FG%, 33.7 3-PT FG%, 84.5 FT%
- Iverson (’07-’08): 26.4 points, 7.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 3.0 turnovers, 45.8 FG%, 34.5 3-PT FG%, 80.9 FT%
I’d say Iverson’s supporting cast of Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby and a healthy Kenyon Martin are fairly comparable to Rose’s supporting cast of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and a questionably healthy Carlos Boozer. And that Nuggets team got swept in the first round.
There’s no question that Magic’s three 11-assist championship seasons were better than Rondo’s performance this year, but would you also concede that Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and a 39-year-old Shaquille O’Neal are a better supporting cast than Magic’s 1988 supporting cast of James Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green and a 41-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that won the title?
I think I just talked myself into betting on the Celtics to win the Eastern Conference. If not, I can take solace in the fact that Brian Scalabrine would make the NBA Finals as a member of three different franchises (2002-03 Nets, 2007-08 & 2009-10 Celtics, 2010-11 Bulls).
|Fast Break: Bulls bury Celtics||01.08.11 at 10:42 pm ET|
The NBA schedule is sometimes a cruel beast. Take the Celtics and Bulls, put them in a vacuum and the result is usually a fantastic game. But put them on a Saturday night with both teams on the second end of back-to-backs and you get a slow, ugly contest, like the one these two teams played.
The Celtics were able to hang in until the bitter end, mostly thanks to 21 Chicago turnovers, but the combination of Derrick Rose (36 points) and Carlos Boozer (22) was too much to overcome in a 90-79 loss that snapped Boston’s four-game winning streak. (Recap.)
Credit Tom Thibodeau‘s defense, which held the Celtics to 38 percent shooting and kept them out of the paint all night. Not many teams can make the Celtics look as bad as they did Saturday night, but Thibodeau knows them as well as anyone and he has Chicago ranked second (behind the Celtics) in defensive efficiency.
The Celtics return home for a six-game homestand against only two teams with winning records: Utah and Orlando. They are also expected to get Kevin Garnett back, possibly as early as Monday.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rebounding: In case there was still any confusion about how the Celtics feel about offensive rebounds, Doc Rivers said it as plainly as he could Friday night.
“I don’t care about offensive rebounds,” the coach said. “I care about defensive rebounds.”
In that case, the first half was very discouraging as the Bulls grabbed eight offensive rebounds. It didn’t get any better in the second half as the Celtics got pounded on the boards. They gave up 11 offensive boards and lost the overall battle, 48-27.
Derrick Rose at the free throw line: Derrick Rose established a new career-high in free throw attempts and makes midway through the third quarter. He went on to make 15-of-19 as he wore the Celtics out with the pick-and-roll. The Bulls wound up only being +7 at the line, despite taking 13 more shots (35-22).
Bench production: Or the lack, thereof. Outside of Jermaine O’Neal who had six points and three rebounds, the Celtics reserves combined to shoot 1-for-7 with three rebounds and four assists. Once again, the Celtics offense without Rajon Rondo on the floor was disjointed and out of sync.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen: The two veterans basically are the Celtics offense right now with Garnett out, so it’s a good thing that they are both playing at a high level. They combined for 40 points, or more than half the Celtics’ total. Along with Rondo, they shot 20-for-43. The rest of the team? A horrific 8-for-31.
Turnovers: Yes, this is the right column. The Bulls turned it over 21 times compared to the Celtics’ eight times. The Celtics recorded 12 steals, which helped, but this was the only thing that kept the Celtics in the game.
Rajon Rondo was decent: Rondo had a solid line with 13 points, five rebounds, five steals and eight assists, but he was also responsible (along with the big men) for Rose’s big night.
|Fast Break: Celtics run past Bulls||11.05.10 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.
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