|Fast break: Celtics-Magic||01.28.10 at 11:06 pm ET|
This is what it takes to win on the road against good teams in the NBA. The Celtics outplayed the Magic for three and a half quarters, but a combination of hot shooting and a one-sided free throw discrepency allowed Orlando to get back into the game.
Down the stretch the Celtics seemed to make all the right plays. Rajon Rondo stole a possession by diving on the floor and outhustling Vince Carter. Rondo then scored on a tough drive to the hoop to give the Celtics a three-point lead with less than a minute to play. They did everything right, and then they lost it in the final 34 seconds.
The Celtics lost 96-94 after Rashard Lewis drove around Kevin Garnett on a busted play, while Rasheed Wallace’s weakside helpÂ was two steps too late. They lost after J.J. Redick made an improbable 3-pointer to tie the game seconds earlier. They lost after the Magic took 40 free throws to the Celtics 18, and they lost after two Eddie House 3-pointers were changed to 2′s.
After all that the Celtics still had a chance to come away with the victory, but Wallace’s 3-pointer at the buzzer sailed wide of the basket. It was a solid, even inspired performance for about 40 of the game’s 48 minutes, but it still wasn’t enough to get the win.
Player of the Game: Rashard Lewis made big shot after big shot for the Magic, but none was bigger than his drive to the hoop in the final seconds. The Celtics actually played good defense on the play as Paul Pierce denied Carter a chance to get the ball, which found its way into Lewis’ hands instead. He drove right around Garnett and laid in the winning points.
Turning Point: Stan Van Gundy made the biggest coaching move of the night, literally, when he brought Marcin Gortat into the game with Dwight Howard and played Lewis at the 3-spot. The Magic were down by double digits when Van Gundy went to the super-sized lineup, but took the lead late in the fourth quarter.
* Kendrick Perkins spent the majority of the first half in foul trouble, but so did Dwight Howard. Call it a draw.
* Orlando had just one assist in the first half and shot 33 percent.
* The Magic cut the Celtics lead to just six points midway through the first half. Then Brian Scalabrine knocked down a corner 3-pointer. On the next possession, Ray Allen hit from long distance on transition and the lead was back up to 12. This pattern repeated itself in the third quarter, but the Celtics once again made shots at the right time. Eddie House buried a 3-pointer with just over a second remaining to put the Celtics up 12 going into the fourth quarter.
* Wallace picked up a technical foul for yelling, “And one,” after a made basket. He also unleashed the loudest “BALL DON’T LIE,” of the season. Unofficially.
* Allen had a bounceback shooting night, going 8-for-12 and 4-for-8 from 3-point range. But he missed a shot that could have put the Celtics ahead late in the game.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Clippers||01.25.10 at 10:10 pm ET|
This was the Celtics team we have grown accustomed to watching over the last few seasons. The passing was crisp, the open man was found and the Celtics played from the inside out. It’s been several weeks since we’ve seen that Celtics team on a regular basis and they picked a perfect time to rediscover the formula.
The result was loads of wide-open looks and four starters scoring in double figures (Kendrick Perkins had nine points) in a 95-89 win over the Clippers Monday night at TD Garden. The Celtics also clamped down defensively, holding the Clippers to just 15 points in the third quarter. It was their second-straight win, their first winning streak since Jan. 6.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream, to quote a favorite Kevin Garnett saying. They played uninspired basketball in the first 12 minutes, turning the ball over six times and allowing four offensive rebounds.
The Celtics also had trouble putting the Clips away in the fourth quarter, but give Los Angeles’ other team credit: They came to play. Former Boston College star Craig Smith was a beast in the fourth quarter, scoring all 13 of his points in the final 12 minutes, but none down the stretch after Garnett picked him up.
Player of the Game: If Rajon Rondo wanted to make one last good impression before the All-Star teams are announced he certainly stated his case well with 16 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists. Like the rest of his teammates Rondo started slowly, but he picked his game up early in the second quarter. It was one of his finest performances in weeks.
Turning Point: With the Celtics trailing by nine points early in the second quarter Doc Rivers subbed out his second team for the starters. That was when Ray Allen got hot, scoring 10 quick points and knocking down a pair of 3-pointers. The Celtics didn’t retake the lead until early in the second half, but that’s when they began to build momentum
* Kevin Garnett looked strong taking the ball to the basket on a couple of occasions. On one drive he made former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby look foolish with a pump fake before jamming over a defenseless Clipper.
* There was a lot of talk about Rondo’s defense before the game, but none of it seemed to bother him before, and during the game. Rondo spent most of the pregame watching video of Baron Davis and talking strategy with assistant coach Armond Hill. He put that into practice keeping Davis in check, holding him to 5-for-13 shooting.
* Things got heated late in the game with Garnett going strong with Smith, Ricky Davis jawing with Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins and Baron Davis also going at it.
* Speaking of Ray Allen, he scored 10 of his 14 points during a key stretch of the second quarter. He finished with a pedestrian 5-for-14 shooting line, but his hot streak was a big reason the Celtics were able to get back in the game.
* Perkins had a huge rebounding night with 15 boards. Paul Pierce led the scoring with 22 points and was a perfect 11-for-11 from the line.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Nets||01.13.10 at 10:05 pm ET|
At times this season the Celtics have struggled against mediocre teams. Fortunately for them the Nets aren’t mediocre. They’re awful. It’s been a long time since epic Nets failures of the past like Dennis Hopson and Dave Feitl roamed what is now called the Izod Center. Time and the Jason Kidd era may have made people forget that stretch of futility, but this year’s Nets seem determined to outdo even the worst of those teams
The final score was 111-87 but in truth the Celtics could have named the number because the Nets clearly didn’t want to be there. At one point in the second quarter after Brook Lopez had rebounded a missed free throw, Rajon Rondo snuck around behind Lopez and literally ripped the ball from his hands. Lopez outweighs Rondo by almost 100 pounds.
The Celtics will take any kind of win they can get right now, but it can’t be minimized that the Nets were an embarrassment.
Player of the Game: Paul Pierce/Rajon Rondo (tie). There is no rule that says we can’t have co-players of the game and while Pierce was scoring 24 points, Rondo was dishing out 14 assists. Pierce exposed the Nets lack of interior defense early when he went to the basket and dunked while three Nets watched. Rondo simply ran the team perfectly, while also keeping his teammates from trying to get their scoring averages all at once.
Turning Point: The opening tip. The Nets had no chance in this game and to the Celtics credit, they didn’t give them any either. Early in the game Ray Allen went up for a jump shot and there wasn’t a New Jersey defender within five feet of him. It’s one thing to be devoid of talent, it’s another to not compete.
* The NBA sent a curious mixed message with their decision to fine Doc Rivers $25,000 and also rescind the Flagrant 1 foul on Glen Davis from Monday night’s game against the Hawks. In effect Rivers was fined for protesting a call the league later overruled.
* Speaking of Davis, he scored 13 points for the second straight game, which seems like a solid step in the right direction. But late in the game he was fouled hard by newest Net Kris Humphries and it appeared to bother his surgically-repaired thumb.
* Tony Allen threw down an incredible one-handed alley-oop dunk off a pass from Paul Pierce in which he appeared to start his leap from behind the basket.
* Brian Scalabrine had another strong game, scoring 11 points and adding four points and four rebounds. Scalabrine has had a difficult season but if he can build on these last two games he might be able to get back on the right track.
* Bill Walker finally got some playing time and played well in six minutes of mop-up action. There has been a small outcry for Walker to get more minutes but barring any type of injury situation it just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this season. The knee surgery he underwent in training camp set him back and he has now fallen behind J.R. Giddens in the young-player derby, which is a dubious honor since Giddens doesn’t play much either.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Hawks||01.08.10 at 10:39 pm ET|
In the Eastern Conference hierarchy, the Magic have what the Celtics want and the Cavaliers have their attention. But it’s the Hawks that seem to bring out the best and the worst in the Celtics.
You could call it chippy. You could call it physical. Call it whatever you want but there’s a real edge when these two teams play. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. The Celtics often play their best when they feel like they’ve been backed into a corner. But at times against the Hawks all that physical aggression resulted in some unseemly hoops.
The sequence went like this in a 93-85 Celtics loss Friday night: Bad first quarter, great second quarter, horrific third quarter, not good enough fourth quarter. The reason for the loss was fairly atypical. It wasn’t turnovers or offensive rebounds that did them in. It was an unsightly 41 percent shooting percentage.
This is developing into a good rivalry. Forget the playoff series from two seasons ago; that was another lifetime ago. The Hawks think they are on the level with the Celtics, and while they don’t have the playoff chops to prove it, they certainly have their number in the regular season.
Player of the Game: Josh Smith (Atlanta). The guy ESPN’s Jay Bilas once said was most likely to be a bust from the 2004 draft class (good call Jay) has quietly turned into one of the best forwards in the league. He finally has shelved the misguided 3-point game that stunted his growth and become a nightmare matchup on the post. Smith had two huge momentum-changing plays. One came on an alley-oop dunk. Another came on a clean block on what would have been a dunk by Kendrick Perkins.
Turning Point: The moment the second half started. The Celtics had played a solid road first half. They shot the ball well, took care of the ball and didn’t let the crowd into the game. And then, everything changed. The Hawks started making shots, which happens, but the Celtics stopped running their offense and like a batter taking a strikeout into the field, they let it affect their defense
* Perkins and Al Horford are part of a large group of Eastern Conference centers who wouldn’t look out of place on the All-Star team behind Dwight Howard. Both are complimentary players in the grand schemes of their teams, but both have also seen their roles, and their production, expand this season. Give the slight edge to Horford last night, but only slight.
* The Celtics shot almost 40 percent from 3-point range but don’t be fooled. They were 7-for-12 in the first half and 2-f0r-12 in the second. Rasheed Wallace was the worst offender going 1-for-8.
* Eddie House returned to the lineup and scored five points in 13 minutes, but the flu that’s been going around the team isn’t done with the Celtics. Tony Allen was sick and missed the game.
* The Celtics somehow only committed 14 fouls in the game. Considering the nature of the game, that was the definition of the refs “letting them play.”
* Lester Hudson wasn’t unemployed for long. The Grizzlies claimed him on waivers and that may be a good spot for him to get some minutes and somebody’s long-term attention. Hudson doesn’t have much time to make an impression as he’s already 25 years old.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Raptors||01.02.10 at 10:04 pm ET|
In truth, no one really knew what to expect when the Celtics took on the Raptors Saturday night featuring a starting lineup that included Tony Allen (playing point guard, no less) and J.R. Giddens. Add in Rasheed Wallace in place of Kevin Garnett and a bench that had six healthy players, including Bill Walker and Lester Hudson, and well, what right did anyone have to expect the Celtics to beat the resurgent Raptors?
They did, 103-96, and they’ll take it of course after a tumultuous week in which they lost three straight games and Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Garnett to injury. Any win right now is huge.
The Celtics now have four days to try and get something that resembles a healthy team in place for a road trip that will have them go to Miami, Atlanta and then Toronto. At this point, no one really knows who among the trio will be healthy enough to play against the Heat, although Pierce and Rondo would be the best guess. Garnett is likely to be out longer.
But for one night, the Celtics were able to steal a victory that was all the more satisfying against a division rival with their makeshift lineup.
Player of the Game: Rasheed Wallace. The Celtics began the game by feeding Wallace in the post and Wallace promptly banked in a jumper over Chris Bosh. It was a sign of things to come for Wallace who used his inside and outside game to play maybe his best game in a Celtic uniform. Wallace finished with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists, and he and Kendrick Perkins took turns making Bosh work for his offense.
Turning Point: After a competitive, but ragged, first quarter, the Celtics bench helped push the lead into double-digits in the second. Led primarily by Glen Davis, who had his best game since returning from injury, Eddie House and rookie Lester Hudson the Celtics reserves shot 7-for-13 in the quarter.
* Giddens got his first career start, but Hudson was the best of the so-called Celtics “kids.” Fresh off a stint in the D-League, Hudson looked calm and confident running the team. Bill Walker did not play.
* Wallace and Hedo Turkoglu picked up double technicals in the second quarter. It was the 11th technical of the season called on Wallace, putting him five away from an automatic suspension.
* Tony Allen had the dunk of the night, blowing by Bosh and jamming it home against an unguarded basket. Toronto’s defensive shortcomings have to be seen to be believed. Later in the fourth quarter, Wallace spun around Andrea Bargnani and easily beat him baseline with no help coming for a huge dunk.
* The Celtics had six players score in double figures led by Ray Allen who scored 23 of the quietest points he’s scored in his career. Tony Allen also had his best game of the season with 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Suns||12.30.09 at 11:28 pm ET|
The losing streak is now three games, and while there were extenuating circumstances, this was the worst of the three. Yes the injuries are piling up and yes, the trip was long and tiring, but the Celtics had less pop than day-old champagne and provided decidedly less buzz. The Celtics clearly have bigger issues than one game, and in truth it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Phoenix Suns were able to blow them off the court Wednesday night, 116-98.
The big news came before tip-off as Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis (again) joined Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels on the injured list, and it looks like it will be a little while before Garnett returns. The Celtics are saying that Garnett suffered a hyper-extended knee when he got kicked against the Warriors, which they are saying is different than the thigh bruise that kept him out last week and different than the knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs.
With more than a week between now and a Jan. 6 game at Miami and only one more game in between against the Raptors on Saturday, this seems like an ideal time to give Garnett some rest. That’s how the Celtics are playing it, but there will certainly be questions about Garnett’s injuries, which coincidentally or not, have all affected the same leg.
Despite all that the Celtics did come out with the best of intentions. They went into the post repeatedly in the first quarter in an effort to play from the inside out and they took the ball hard to the basket and lived at the free throw line for most of the second quarter. Those good intentions couldn’t mask a lack of players, energy or hustle, however.
Player of the Game: Amar’e Stoudemire. The Suns forward dominated the Celtics in the first quarter, making nine of 10 shots and scoring at will. He was far too quick for Kendrick Perkins, which is just one place the Celtics missed Garnett. If not for persistent foul trouble, Stoudemire might have gone for 40 points. Instead he settled for 26 and seven rebounds.
Turning Point: Unlike most Phoenix runs, the Suns decisive move didn’t happen quickly. But it did happen early. Lasting 1o possessions and carrying on through a timeout, they turned a 12-8 deficit into a 26-14 lead. From that point on, the Celtics were in deep trouble.
* Those waiting for the kids, i.e. Bill Walker, J.R. Giddens and Lester Hudson to get some run will have to continue the vigil. If ever there was a night for them to play it was Wednesday. Instead all three were idle until the fourth quarter when the game was well in Phoenix’s grasp.
* This could have been a night for Rasheed Wallace to pick up some of the slack, but he struggled against the quicker Suns. He failed to take advantage of what should have been a mismatch against Channing Frye and played just 29 minutes. Wallace was 3-for-11 and 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
* Rajon Rondo played despite his sore hamstring and seemed to lack his usual burst to the hoop. Even playing the defensively-challenged Steve Nash, Rondo rarely took it to the rim and was content to settle himself about 20 feet from the basket most of the night. In 31 minutes Rondo scored 13 points and recorded eight assists, which were solid enough numbers but it was clear that Rondo wasn’t at his best.
* Perkins picked up his 10th technical foul, which ties him with Wallace for most in the NBA. He would be subject to a one-game suspension if his count reaches 16 techs.
* The Celtics were able to stay in the game for a time with a small-ball lineup of Rondo, Eddie House, Ray Allen and Brian Scalabrine along with Wallace and Perkins. But every time they inched closer the Suns shot them right back out of the game.
* Shelden Williams had 14 points and five rebounds, which was his most productive outing in weeks.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Warriors||12.29.09 at 1:18 am ET|
Playing the Warriors can sometimes be as much an exercise in restraint as anything else. There are so many open shots and available fast break opportunities that it can be incredibly enticing to settle for the first good thing that presents itself. The Celtics, who play such a tightly controlled form of basketball, were easy marks most of the night, especially after dominating the first quarter.
In retrospect, the first 12 minutes may have been the Celtics’ undoing in a 103-99 loss. (Recap.) Playing one of their best quarters of the season, the Celtics destroyed Golden State and took a 35-22 lead. But while those easy looks remained there all night, the Celtics never settled down and played their game, with 24 turnovers one of the results.
Instead, they played way too fast and way too much like the Warriors wanted them to play at right around 100 possessions. The Celtics average a tick over 91.This is the second time they have succumbed to the temptations of playing run and gun. The Phoenix Suns performed a similar helter-skelter number on the Celtics earlier in the season, although that game was played at a pedestrian pace compared to Monday night’s sprint.
Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. It’s getting repetitive, but Rondo is the engine and the catalyst that makes the Celtics offense go. The Warriors went with various modifications of the “leave Rondo alone in the halfcourt” defense. Taking a page from the Knicks playbook (via Jared Jeffries), they sometimes utilized 6-foot-10 Anthony Randolph playing way off Rondo and inviting him to shoot. Most of the time, Monta Ellis just sagged off him and hung back in the paint. The result was a 30-point, 15-assist effort for Rondo, who will continue to see gimmick defenses the rest of the season. Better that he sees them now.
Turning Point: In the second quarter, C.J. Watson had six steals and seemed to live in the Celtics passing lanes. He, along with Ronny Turiaf, completely changed the momentum and helped the Warriors get back in the game.
* This was a night when the Celtics dearly missed Paul Pierce. As much as Rondo controls the offense, Pierce acts as the calming influence. Halfcourt calm was in short supply against Golden State.
* In a game that featured a lot of physical play, and some uneven whistles, Glen Davis got hammered going up for a shot and appeared to be in pain when he came off the floor in the fourth quarter. The initial diagnosis was a sprained ankle and he did not return. His comeback was put on an accelerated timetable for this trip and it remains to be seen if he was actually physically ready to return to the court.
* Doc Rivers played a limited rotation and Ray Allen logged 44 minutes. That’s entirely too many, but with the Warriors’ small lineups, it did make sense. Allen’s increased minutes are yet another function of Pierce’s injury.
* Give the Warriors credit for executing correctly in the final seconds. With a three-point lead and five seconds remaining, Golden State intentionally fouled Allen rather then let him attempt a 3-pointer. It remains a mystery why more teams don’t do that automatically.