|Fast Break: Celtics-Magic||12.25.09 at 5:23 pm ET|
If Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has his way, the NBA would make like the rest of the world and take Christmas Day off. He has a point, but for the last two decades Dec. 25 has become the NBA’s early-season showcase event and there’s no chance of that changing anytime soon.The way his team played against the Celtics, he may get his wish.
Without Paul Pierce, the Celtics played a different brand of basketball than has been their norm this season. There was very little flash and not much in the way of offensive efficiency. Instead the Celtics played gritty, grind-it-out halfcourt hoops with a heavy emphasis on defense. It was playoff-style basketball, if not playoff-style execution. The Magic, meanwhile, played like they would have rather been knocking back some eggnog with the family.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t anything that the NBA would want to put in its highlight packages, but for the Celtics this 86-77 win was their biggest of the season. The Magic have owned this matchup recently, but with Kevin Garnett back to check Rashard Lewis and Rajon Rondo playing far more aggressively than he has against Orlando, the Celtics were able to escape with the victory.
Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. Every time you think you have Rondo figured out, he does something to make you think otherwise. He has been one the game’s best distributors as a point guard, but he has struggled against Orlando. The Magic didn’t even pretend to guard Rondo on the perimeter. They ducked under screens and gave him a 10-foot cushion at the top of the key.
So, Rondo adjusted. Instead of looking to set up his teammates he attacked the basket throughout the first half. The result was a 13-point, zero-assist half. Rondo then completely reversed course and racked up eight assists in the second half. He dictated the outcome instead of allowing the Magic to take him out of the game.
Turning Point: With Garnett out of the game the Magic were able to attack the offensive glass in the fourth quarter. In one sequence they had four shots at the basket from deep inside the paint. Finally, Rasheed Wallace was able to tap the ball out to Rondo, who found Tony Allen on the break for a vicious dunk. It was a huge four-point swing.
* Glen Davis was limited to a few minutes in the first half, mainly because of foul trouble. He’s not in game shape yet, but he was able to soak up a few minutes and allowed Doc Rivers to rest Kevin Garnett and keep him on his regular rotation.
* You take the good with the bad when it comes to Tony Allen, and he offered a little bit of both starting for Paul Pierce. He went to the basket hard and did what he could on Vince Carter. He also turned into a bit of a ball stopper at times on offense. The good far outweighed the bad, however, and Allen continued his strong play of late with 16 points.
* Kendrick Perkins is one of the few individuals on the planet who can play Dwight Howard straight up. It’s past time that NBA officials recognized that and let him play. Instead, Perkins spent most of the afternoon on the bench in foul trouble. As ragged as the play was at times, the officials helped create the environment.
* The Celtics desperately missed Pierce’s ability to create good shots for himself down the stretch. Without Pierce they lack a closer.
* Garnett took a hard fall late in the game, but it appeared that it didn’t have anything to do with his knee.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Bulls||12.12.09 at 10:30 pm ET|
Another night, another city, another Celtics victory.
The Celtics have played a dozen road games so far this season and they have left town with a victory eleven times. The only time the C’s suffered a defeat on the road was four weeks ago to the day in Indiana. There was no danger of a repeat performance in a 106-80 win over the Bulls on Saturday, and not just because the Celtics have figured out the road game better than every other team in the NBA.
In Chicago, the Celtics not only caught a team playing the second night of a back-to-back, with the night before going to overtime. They also caught a Bulls team in crisis mode. The double digit losses are mounting and it may only be a matter of time before the Bulls start looking for a new coach.
Credit the Celtics with doing what they needed to do and continuing their winning ways on the road, but the Bulls are in big trouble.
Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. The Celtics point guard has been playing his best basketball of the season and he continued his run with 16 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and three steals. Every time Rondo and Derrick Rose match up has the potential to be a special occasions, but at this point in their careers, Rondo is clearly the superior player.
Turning Point: If the Bulls were going to make it a game, they needed to make a stand to start the second half. Instead they degenerated in a morass of turnovers, bad shots and shoddy defense. Game over.
* Brad Miller got a little payback on Rondo early in the first quarter when he collared Rondo on a drive to the basket and threw him to the ground, getting a flagrant foul in the process. Rondo had whacked Miller across the face during the playoffs last season, drawing blood. To Rondo’s credit he continued to attack the middle of the Bulls defense.
* Later in the game Miller got into it a little bit with Kendrick Perkins with the duo getting called for a double foul after Miller hooked perk and Perk flipped him to the ground.
* Paul Pierce took a bit of a beating. He hurt his right shoulder in the third quarter and then banged knees with Luol Deng later in the quarter. Pierce stayed in, and showed yet again why he is one of the toughest players in the league, but the Celtics can ill afford to be without Pierce while Marquis Daniels rehabs from surgery.
* The Celtics bench played very well in the first half and increased the lead while the starters were getting a rest. Vinny Del Negro on the other hand worked his starters big minutes one night removed from an overtime win over the Warriors. The second half was fairly predictable.
* Without Daniels, the Celtics don’t really have a second ballhandler. They can get away with it for a while, particularly against teams like Chicago that don’t pressure guards, but Daniels’ loss will be felt at some point.
* All five starters scored in double figures as did Wallace and Eddie House.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Bucks||12.08.09 at 10:01 pm ET|
It’s apparently not going to be easy for the Celtics at home, where their inexplicable trend of playing sub-.500 teams close on the Garden floor continued Tuesday night against the Bucks. At various points, it looked like the Celtics would run away with the game, only to have the Bucks close the gap.
A fourth-quarter surge finally put some distance between them on the scoreboard and the Celtics were able to prevail with a 98-89 win, their eighth straight. The Bucks have now dropped eight of their last nine. Kevin Garnett scored 25 points and added nine rebounds to lead the scoring. Bucks center Andrew Bogut had a huge game with 25 points and 14 rebounds.
Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. In a game where all five Celtics starters (and Rasheed Wallace) scored in double figures, credit must go to the distributor. Rondo recorded a near triple-double with 11 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists. Rondo also harassed super-rookie Brandon Jennings into an uneven 17-point performance. If Jennings wants to lay claim to the point guard throne he has a long way to go to match Rondo.
Turning Point: It wasn’t so much a turning “point” as it was a slow change in play. With the score tied at 86-86, the Celtics slowly began to put some distance between themselves and the Bucks outscoring them 12-3 down the stretch.
•Garnett continued his string of strong outings with 25 points and nine rebounds. He took the ball aggressively to the basket early in the game, which helped set the tone and made a huge basket late in the game. He also forced Ersan Ilyasova into a 6-for-17 shooting night.
•Milwaukee guard Luke Ridnour appeared to injure his wrist late in the third quarter. He has had problems with the wrist before. He didn’t return to the game.
•Tony Allen made his debut and played five rather eventful minutes. He made a number of hustle plays and also threw the ball out of bounds and barreled into a Buck defender on his way to the basket for an obvious charging call. The Celtics went 10 deep even without Marquis Daniels. Brian Scalabrine saw the majority of minutes ahead of Shelden Williams.
•Wallace had a superb shooting night making five of eight shots and hitting three of four from 3-point range. His shooting was a big reason the Celtics were able to scratch out a lead to start the fourth quarter.
|Fast break: Celtics-Thunder||12.04.09 at 10:24 pm ET|
Before the Celtics went on their four-game road trip the mood around the team was one of unease. They were winning games, mostly, but they were making things very hard on themselves. The double-digit blowouts were just a distant memory.
One week later the Celtics will return to Boston as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, winners of seven straight and proud owners of a four-game road sweep. They capped it off with an impressive 105-87 win over the young and exciting Oklahoma City Thunder, a day after gutting out a win over the San Antonio Spurs.
On the trip the Celtics returned to their dominant defensive roots and played smart, efficient basketball on the offensive end. They will have a well-earned three days off before their next game back at the TD Garden against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Player of the Game: Kevin Garnett. You could have picked any number of Celtics for the coveted Green Street Player of the Game award, but KG gets the nod for scoring 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds and a couple of tasty dunks. It’s impossible to say at this point if KG is back to being the KG of old, but he sure looked like it on the road trip.
Turning Point: Oklahoma City made it clear early on that it was going to try to run. A good strategy by coach Scott Brooks considering his team’s youth and the Celtics long road trip. There was only one problem: The C’s wanted to run as much as the Thunder did and they did it much, much better. A 15-5 run erased an early three-point lead and put the Celtics in the drivers seat.
* The worst thing that could happen to the Thunder was foul trouble and Nick Collison lived in it all night long. Without Nenad Kristic, the Thunder simply didn’t have enough size to match up with the Celtics inside.
* Garnett got free for a number of easy dunks and he finished strong on each of them. He looks positively rejuvenated on this trip.
* After a slow start Rajon Rondo turned it on in the second half finishing with 15 points and six assists.
* Paul Pierce and Kevin Durant put on a good show in the first half with Durant scoring 22 and Pierce going off for 21 points. Durant is a phenomenal offensive player, but his defense has a long way to go before he can join the upper echelon of stars.
|Fast break: Celtics-Bobcats||12.01.09 at 9:34 pm ET|
Coming into Tuesday night’s action, the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference were Boston and Charlotte. Despite their inconsistent play the Celtics had reeled off four straight wins. Despite being the Bobcats, Larry Brown’s crew had also won four straight, including a decisive victory over the Cavs.
Additionally the Celtics came in with the best road record in the league, while the Bobcats owned a 6-1 mark at home. But what looked like an intriguing matchup quickly turned into a rout as the Celtics played their best game since the first week of the season in a 108-90 win. Ray Allen broke out with 27 points, while Kevin Garnett continued his hot shooting, scoring 16 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists
Player of the Game: Kendrick Perkins. The Celtics center has very quietly put together a strong season, but he may not remain a secret for much longer after scoring 21 points to go with 12 rebounds. It was Perk’s second double-double in as many games and his third in the last six. He scored easily and efficiently against Tyson Chandler, showing a nice variety of low-post moves.
Turning point: Midway through the second quarter the Bobcats had cut the Celtics lead to 12, 42-30, when the starting five came back on the floor. They proceeded to go on an 11-1 run, highlighted by deft passing and great defensive work. The Bobcats never got back in the game.
* The Celtics were 17-for-17 from the free throw line in the first half. Among the encouraging signs: Garnett had six free throws and Rajon Rondo and Perkins were a combined 5-for-5.
* The Bobcats racked up 13 offensive rebounds but that number is a little deceiving. Most of them came on just a handful of possessions so it wasn’t like the C’s were getting beat on the boards all night and a few of them were, shall we say, generously awarded.
* Allen and Paul Pierce were 7-for-9 from beyond the arc. Eddie House and Rasheed Wallace were 3-for-8.
* Hard to say that the Celtics played “great” defense because the Bobcats looked so disorganized offensively, but they held Charlotte to 41 percent shooting.
* Once again things got testy between these two teams. Garnett and Nazr Mohammed had to be separated and Rondo and Chandler picked up double fouls away from the ball.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Sixers||11.25.09 at 10:15 pm ET|
Doc Rivers was asked before Wednesday’s game if his team should be worried about a letdown against a Sixers team that was without two starters, and whom they had throttled by 29 points in Philly earlier this month. Doc’s Response? Um, yeah. Didn’t Golden State beat Dallas the other night with just six players, the coach asked.
The Celtics haven’t been able to take very much for granted since that first Sixers game and it became obvious very early that Philly had come to play, even after a wrenching loss to the Wizards the night before and even without Lou Williams and Elton Brand.
In the end the Celtics took every punch and landed a few more of their own in a 113-110 victory. The win continued their recent trend of playing down-to-the-wire games against sub-500 teams, but they’ll take it. Again.
Player of the Game: Paul Pierce. For everything that is going wrong with the Celtics, Pierce continues to play out of his head. It wasn’t just the 27 points, five rebounds and six assists either. With the Celtics clinging to a 107-105 lead, Andre Iguodala came steamrolling down the floor and Pierce stood his ground and took the charge.
Turning point: Rajon Rondo raised a few eyebrows through the first three quarters by continuing to pass up layups in favor of making an extra pass. One time he caught Kevin Garnett underneath the basket on a give-and-go-and-give leaving Garnett no choice but to fling the ball toward the hoop while he was already underneath it.
But in the fourth quarter Rondo finally came alive, taking the ball aggressively to the hoop and looking to score. The Celtics used a small lineup during this stretch and Rondo took advantage of the space available on the floor. Things become so much easier for the Celtics when Rondo has the mindset to finish once he breaks down the defense.
* Once again the Celtics were beaten on the offensive glass. The Sixers had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, which led to 18 second-chance points.
* Philly is in the bottom third in the league in 3-point shooting at a tick over 32 percent. Naturally the Sixers shot 13-for-20 from 3-point range.
*One area the Celtics did excel in was getting to the free throw line, making 30-of-39. Garnett was 9-for-12.
* Rasheed Wallace didn’t exactly “break out” of his shooting slump, but he did make two of six from beyond the arc.
* Kendrick Perkins, Ray Allen and Garnett all spent considerable portions of the fourth quarter on the bench. The Celtics and Sixers were both using small lineups, which left Perk out even though he had 12 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes. Garnett was spelled by Wallace as part of his regular rotation, while Allen gave way to Marquis Daniels. After 15 games the only thing that’s obvious about the rotations and lineups is that Rivers is still looking for the right combinations.
* Great coaching move and execution in the final seconds as the Celtics were able to foul Iguodala, and then Jason Kapono with a three-point lead instead of letting either of them get off a chance at a tying shot. While it’s clearly the right strategy, very few teams actually carry through with the play or execute it correctly.
|Fast break: Celtics-Knicks||11.22.09 at 4:12 pm ET|
Depending on your point of view, the Celtics 107-105 victory over the Knicks in overtime Sunday at Madison Square Garden was either a gritty gut-check, or a further sign that things are not right with the C’s.
Kevin Garnett hit the winning shot, but was 4-for-15 for the game. Ray Allen made a huge 3-pointer late in regulation, but was 3-for-13. Rasheed Wallace continued his slump missing all six shots. And on the defensive end, the Celtics held the Knicks to 43 percent shooting, but allowed Al Harrington to drop 30 points on them off the bench, which contributed to the C’s blowing a 14-point lead in the second half.
Either way, it’s a win the Celtics will take after losing three of their last four.
Player of the game: Paul Pierce. The Celtics captain had been content to play distributor at times this season, but with the memory of so many slow starts in his head, Pierce elected to take over early and often. He scored 17 of his 33 points in the first half and lived at the free throw line, all while helping handle some of the point guard duties. There are lot of things that are “off” with the Celtics right now, but Pierce is not one of them.
Turning point: There were so many ebbs and flows that it’s hard to pick one moment as the turning point, but as big shots go it was hard to top Allen’s corner 3-pointer in transition that gave the Celtics a 96-94 lead late in regulation. New York came back to tie the game on a couple of occasions, but never regained the lead.
* It’s still too early to judge Garnett on his comeback, but the judgments will start to come after yet another lackluster performance, despite his game-winning shot. Doc Rivers has acknowledged that Garnett is still a work in progress but he continues to insist that KG is 100 percent healthy.
* Kendrick Perkins played the role of unsung hero with 16 points and 13 rebounds in what might have been his best game of the season. He also refused to get into anything extra with Eddy Curry who has returned to the Knicks a far more feisty player than when they banished him. Curry was sent to the bench, and assessed a flagrant foul, after whacking Rajon Rondo in the back of the head. That came after Perkins stymied him on the block.
* Where was Nate Robinson down the stretch? Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni did the Celtics a favor by keeping Robinson on the bench in favor of Chris Duhon, who is neither a good shooter nor a good creator with the ball in his hands.