|Irish Coffee: LeBron, Heat ‘never count Celtics out’||04.02.12 at 2:57 pm ET|
Was Sunday’s Celtics blowout, as Chris Bosh suggested, “just a bad, sh#tty game” by his Heat, or was it a warning signal to potential playoff opponents flashed from Boston — one if by C’s, so to speak?
On their way to producing the NBA’s second-best record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have won five straight and seven of their last eight games, the most recent of which handed Miami its third loss in five contests. Over the past week, Doc Rivers & Co. have surged from the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed to within 1.5 games of Dwight Howard‘s Magic and the No. 3 slot. Count the Heat among those in the league taking notice.
“I’m going to say the same thing I said last year: We are one team and I am one guy that never counts the C’s out,” said NBA MVP favorite LeBron James. “I would never count them out. They’ve just got too many winners. They’ve got guys who have been in the moment before. Like I told you guys last year, when everyone was down on the C’s, I always said I’m not going to turn my back on those guys.”
Of course, those guys James referred to are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the latter of whom missed his sixth straight game on Sunday. Didn’t matter, thanks to Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass.
“It’s because we’re a great team,” said Garnett following their 91-72 win over the Heat on national television. “Our positions and personnel, it’s all about a system. You know your role in the system. You do what you’re told in the role. You carry out your role 100 percent wholeheartedly, and that’s your contribution to the team.”
Say this for Doc Rivers — he’s not going to order any blank white banners with green trim just because his team systematically dismantled one of the best teams in the NBA on Sunday at TD Garden. The Celtics outscored the Heat, 31-12, in the third quarter, taking the heart right out Miami en route to a 91-72 blowout over the second-place team in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics could very well see Miami in the playoffs. And if they do, does Sunday’s performance give Rivers a baseline of what it’s going to take to have a chance?
“It’s going to take this, and better because they’re going to be better,” Rivers said. “Miami didn’t play well today. We had something to do with it but they didn’t play well. They’re better than that. We know that.”
A boxing fan growing up in Chicago, Rivers used a pugilistic metaphor to a get a message across to his team.
“I’ve always laughed when people say it’s going to be a boxing match and then when you get hit, you’re shocked,” Rivers said. “I told them, ‘When you go into a boxing match you actually get hit.’ It doesn’t mean you’re not going to win but you go in prepared to get hit. I thought our guys had that mentality and it showed in the second quarter. When they made their run, we showed some resolve.
“I said, ‘Guys, they’re supposed to hit you. You’re in a boxing match.’ You just have to keep punching. That’s how the playoffs are to me. You’ve got to be prepared to get hit hard and then hit back and hit harder.”
Hit back is exactly what the Celtics did Sunday, throwing a body blow when the Heat got to within one on a 10-0 run in the second quarter. But the knockout came in the third quarter, when they opened on a 23-8 spurt to open the second half.
One of the toughest young fighters on the Celtics is Avery Bradley, who got the message loud and clear.
‘Every game’s a boxing match for us,” Bradley said. “Doc did come out and say your going to him them first and they’re going to hit you back.’
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I just tried to go out there and be great’||04.01.12 at 11:23 pm ET|
More and more, Rajon Rondo looks like a hit man carrying out his mission.
And more and more, he is looking really comfortable taking his orders from Doc Rivers.
Sunday, he scored 10 points in the first six minutes, making all four field goals he attempted, grabbing four rebounds and four assists. As a matter of fact, the Celtics led Miami, 21-10, midway through and Rondo had accounted for all 21 points. He scored 10, assisted on seven and fed Brandon Bass twice on plays that results in four free throws.
‘Coach ordered it, I was just trying to get it done,” Rondo said, sounding just like a hit man.
Did Rondo and the C’s make a statement?
‘Statement or not, we did what we’re supposed to do tonight, which is get a win on our home court,” Rondo said. “We’re playing pretty good as of late. Avery Bradley is playing tremendous. He’s changing the game right now with his defensive energy, and the way he’s playing offensively as well.’
After his fifth triple-double of the season and 18th career, Rondo spoke like a point guard who feels confident he can lead his team deep in the NBA playoffs, even against the powerhouses like the Heat and Bulls.
“I think when we have at least four or five guys healthy, we follow the game plan,” Rondo said after his 16-point, 14-assist and 11-rebound performance in Boston’s 91-72 spanking of Miami Sunday at the Garden. “But when I’m healthy, I think we can probably beat anybody.”
Last year, Rondo suffered a grotesque dislocation of his left elbow in Game 3 against the Heat. The Celtics won that game but lost the Eastern semifinals four games to one.
Rondo said he does not pay particular attention to the national spotlight, despite the fact that 14 of his career 18 triple-doubles have come on national TV.
“I think my teammates put a spotlight on me more than the media or the televised games,” Rondo said. “Four or five guys came up to me today and told me to be aggressive and show what a great point guard is. So I just tried to go out there and just be great.”
‘Yeah, we’re just going to tell him we’re playing on ABC every day,” Rivers joked. “One of the things going in the game today: we told Rondo that we needed him to be a scorer. Not necessarily a playmaker; a scorer. And I thought he set the tone at the beginning of the game by doing that, and I thought that loosened it up for everybody else to get into the game. He was terrific.
“I thought everyone played well. I thought [Kevin Garnett] defensively was unbelievable tonight. And it’s good. That’s where we’re making our hay right now. We’re still struggling on the glass, even though today we held our own by the end they had 15 offensive rebounds. But they had them because they were missing a lot of shots; they had more offensive rebound opportunities.’
|Kevin Garnett: ‘I have nothing positive to say’ about Minnesota Timberwolves||03.30.12 at 2:36 pm ET|
On Friday night, the Celtics are shooting for their fourth straight victory and a sixth win in their last seven games when they travel to Minneapolis, the city Kevin Garnett called home for his first 12 NBA seasons.
Loyalty means everything to Garnett, and as we learned following Wednesday’s defeat of the Jazz, that devotion moved to Boston from Minnesota when the Timberwolves sent him to the Celtics in 2007 for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations, their 2009 first-round draft pick and Minnesota’s 2009 first-round pick that they had traded to Boston in the Ricky Davis–Wally Szczerbiak deal.
“It’s always special to come back to true fans and sort of your foundation, but as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say, so I’ll just let it be that,” said Garnett. “I think Kevin Love is playing at a high level. I think he’s rejuvenated the city as far as basketball goes. Other than that, nothing else.”
To say Love is playing at a high level might be an understatement, as he’s averaging 37.3 points and 16.3 rebounds over his last four games and playing himself into the MVP discussion. There’s been plenty of comparisons between Garnett vs. Love, but recently Garnett has guarded opposing centers, so it will be interesting to see if the two actually square off head-to-head in Friday night’s matchup.
Speaking of Garnett at the five position, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, he could be the perfect fill-in for the Celtics at center for the next two or three years. That would allow the Celtics to remain competitive with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and whoever else while maintaining some flexibility for the next round of superstar free agents in two or three years, when the C’s could make a run at someone like — you guessed it — Love.
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m in a rhythm of finding guys’||03.29.12 at 11:17 am ET|
Take care of the rock.
It’s the simplest of principles in basketball yet sometimes the most challenging.
No one knows this more than Rajon Rondo.
His 14 assists Wednesday gave him double-digit assist totals for 11 straight games, the first player with such a string since Steve Nash went on his remarkable run in 2009. But in those 11 games, he’s committed six turnovers three times and four turnovers twice. Doc Rivers challenged him after the All-Star break to cut down on the turnovers and see what happens.
‘Well it’s been down since All-Star break and we’ve had a couple of them, but overall our numbers are down and that’s huge,” Rivers said Wednesday. “We made some changes, which I probably should have made earlier in the year and since we’ve made those our turnovers have been way down.
‘The only big we throw it to is [Kevin Garnett], above the elbow, basically its that simple,” Rivers added. “Before we were running all the elbow offense, but it was any big and we realized that maybe Kevin should be the only ball handler above the circle.’
And the change from Rondo?
“He’s probably talking about me,” Rondo said. “When I take care of the ball, we take care of the ball as a team so I try to go in with that focus. It starts with the point guard. I have the ball in my hands a lot of the time on the floor. So, if I can take care of the ball, we tend to follow.”
The turnover ratio can explain so much. It can explain why a team that has trouble taking care of the ball possession after possession allows its opponent to get easy buckets in transition.
In the college game, we’ve seen what the University of Kentucky has done turning teams over with its pressure defense. Close games become blowouts in the blink of an eye.
In the NBA this season, we’ve seen a Philadelphia team overachieve and lead its division for most of the season because they are hardly turning the ball over at all. They are on pace to commit fewer than 11 turnovers a game, breaking the previous record of the 2006 Detroit Pistons.
And now we’re seeing the benefit of taking care of the ball from Rondo and the Celtics.
The Celtics have been beaten on the glass by an average of 10 rebounds per game over a stretch in which they’ve gone 4-2. Why? Because they’re committing fewer and fewer turnovers. Take Wednesday night for example.
The rebounding tote board read 43-25 at one point in favor of Utah. But the Celtics committed just six turnovers three quarters while Utah had committed 13, leading to 18 Celtics points. The final numbers were 49-38 and 12-15, respectively.
|Keyon Dooling: ‘This team is made for the playoffs’||at 9:56 am ET|
Winning can do lots for a team. Most of all – for the Celtics – it’s brought back their swagger.
Never was that more evident than when Keyon Dooling spoke to reporters Wednesday night after his 3-pointer keyed a 7-0 run that broke a 66-66 tie midway through the fourth quarter and helped the Celtics manage a 94-82 win over the Jazz at the Garden.
The win again put them in a flatfooted tie with the Sixers atop the Atlantic Division at 28-22.
But more than that, it gave evidence to the theory held by many inside the Celtics locker room that once they get to the playoffs, they’ll be prepared for success.
“You just stay the course,” Dooling said. “We have a team that is really about us, what we do, building habits and building for the playoffs. This team is made for the playoffs, it’s built for grind-it-out games, and that’s usually how playoff games are. We’re building our habits and guys are executing their roles and starting to get back.”
Dooling is finally healthy after a mid-season bout with a nagging hip injury.
“Just the opportunity is there,” Dooling said. “Coming back from injury, you don’t feel great and you have to earn the trust of the coach and Doc is really starting to trust me and I’m starting to feel what he wants from me when I’m on the court and I’m just trying to find my niche. Each team you’re on, you have to find your niche, get your role, you try to execute it so now I’m just trying to build my role on this team.
“One night it might be diving on the floor, one night it might be making open shots. Every night it’s contributing, keeping guys’ energy up, helping guys from an execution standpoint, just being who I am every day.”
And who he was on Wednesday was a big-time shot maker. His three just over a minute into the fourth snapped a 66-66 tie and gave the Celtics the lead for good. He drilled another jumper two minutes later to put the Celtics up, 75-70.
“Anytime when a team is making a run on you, you’re looking for that slump-buster,” Dooling said. “They tightened the screws defensively, and they packed the paint on [Kevin Garnett]. Me and Sasha were able to get a couple of wide-open looks and we were able to knock them down.”
‘Keyon, he’s just coming on,” Doc Rivers added. “We don’t want to forget how much he’s been injured and now he’s starting to come on. You can see it a little bit and its nice to see him make shots.’
|Celtics take care of business||03.26.12 at 10:05 am ET|
When analyzing the Celtics‘ schedule in the lockout-shortened season, their eight-game road trip in the middle of March stood out like like an Avery Bradley 19-point first half. The stretch took on new meaning and appeared even more daunting as it drew nearer. The veteran squad had struggled all season long with a combination of ill-timed injuries, rumors of possible trades and overall inconsistent play.
On paper the end results weren’t flawless, or even impressive — the Celtics finished 4-4 — but sans a woeful second half against a bad Kings team, the performances were proof the Celtics could still make noise come playoff time. Doc Rivers wanted his team to maintain the intensity upon returning home Sunday night against an inferior Wizards team.
“We told them we are not at home,” Rivers said. “We are on the road still. The road trip ends after the next game is the way we look at it.”
Empirical evidence suggests the Celtics could perform up to their potential in a dominating performance, like they did against the Blazers just before the road tip, or drop a game they should win like they did losing both games of a home-and-home series against a lottery-bound Pistons team in February. Fortunately for the C’s, the former occurred as they shot 65 percent and built a 19-point lead at halftime they would never surrender.
Pierce is not being arrogant or presumptuous in his statement; he is being truthful (no pun intended). The Celtics should post victories against teams out of contention like the Wizards. However, even though the road trip is over, in the final 18 games only four are against teams with no playoff aspirations. Additionally, Boston faces the Heat three times, has matchups against the Knicks and Bucks — each of whom are battling the Celtics for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference — and has a trip to conference-leading Chicago.
“There are a lot of expectations,” Greg Stiemsma said. “We step on the floor and expect to win every night, and we’ve got big plans the rest of the year.”
If any plans are to come to fruition, games like Monday’s in Charlotte no longer can be chalked up to an off night due to back-to-back games. Schedule losses don’t happen to championship-caliber teams in April while gearing up for the playoffs.
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