|Fast Break: Celtics complete sweep of Knicks||04.24.11 at 6:16 pm ET|
NEW YORK — Bring on the Heat. It got more hectic than it should have in the fourth quarter as the Celtics almost blew a 23-point lead, but all that matters is that they survived in Game 4 of their first round playoff series and escaped with a 101-89 win over the Knicks on Sunday.
The win completed the sweep, their first since the 1992 season when they brushed off the Pacers in three games. It also allowed them at least a week worth of rest before they start their semifinal series with Miami (assuming the Heat take care of Philadelphia).
The Knicks series is over. Every game except for the third one had its anxious moments, but the Celtics did what that they had to do and made progress along the way. Here’s how they closed it out:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo at his best: Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni raised eyebrows before the game when he wondered aloud how Rajon Rondo would look if he played for Minnesota, instead of on a team with three future Hall of Famers. No doubt word was relayed to Rondo about the subtle jab, but whether it bothers him or not is a different story. “He doesn’t bring it up a lot,” Doc Rivers said in response. “It probably does in some way, it would bother anyone in some way and it’s probably good for him. Keep doing it. If it’s going to make him play like this, I’m all for it.”
Whatever the case, Rondo went right at the Knicks from the outset. He went strong to the basket even when he didn’t have the numbers and made solid decisions with the ball. He also pulled up for jumpers in transition and drained team. How would Rondo do with a bad team? It doesn’t really matter because he’s the right point guard for this team.
The bench comes alive: For three games the Celtics played shorthanded. Their second unit was no unit at all, but in Game 4 that all changed. Glen Davis made four of his first five shots and put up 12 points and five rebounds in the first half. Nenad Krstic scored inside — his first made field goals of the playoffs. Delonte West brought his usual tough defense and Jeff Green was aggressive on the post and putting the ball on the floor. The Celtics had a six-point lead after the first quarter. They led by 17 at the half. Credit the bench, which will be a major part of the next rounds of the playoffs.
The second half? Not so much, but at long last the play of the second unit was a positive development.
De-fense, De-fense: In the building where the chant took on a life of its own, the Celtics clamped down defensively in an impressive, and overwhelming, performance. Carmelo Anthony started hot, making five of his first nine shots, but he was the only threat and the Celtics eventually cooled him off too. Amar’e Stoudemire was clearly not himself, missing his first eight shots. Outside of Anthony, the Knicks shot a woeful 6-for-34 in the first half. Even with him they still made just 28 percent in the first half.
And then the second half happened …
WHAT WENT WRONG
Third quarter letdown: It was bound to happen. After dominating the first half and taking that into the opening minutes of the second half, the Celtics displayed every bad habit that has marked the last two months of the regular season. They held the ball on offense, didn’t get back in transition and didn’t close out on shooters. The Knicks sliced an 18-point lead down to 10 and made the fourth quarter way more interesting than it needed to be.
Careless turnovers: These are the Celtics we’re talking about. Turnovers have been a problem forever with this team and they reared their head in the fourth quarter. Really they were a function of all the bad offensive habits the Celtics developed late in the year — holding the ball, waiting too long to get into their sets. They may be playing with an extra sense of urgency during the playoffs, but teams simply don’t become something they’re not overnight and the Celtics’ turnover problem will not go away any time soon.
|The trouble with close-out games||04.23.11 at 5:10 pm ET|
NEW YORK — In the Kevin Garnett era, the Celtics have won eight playoff series and lost only two, but they have had a strange inability to close out series, especially on the road. The Celtics are 8-11 in elimination games and 1-9 on the road in those situations.
The one win came against Detroit in Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference finals and was hailed at the time as a breakthrough for a team that was still learning how to play with each other in the playoffs. That 1-9 record has cost them twice. In 2009 they lost Game 6 in Orlando and then were knocked out on the TD Garden floor in Game 7. Last season the Celtics had two chances to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles and lost them both.
They have a chance to take care of the Knicks on Sunday and the odds are in their favor, considering point guard Chauncey Billups is not likely to play and Amar’e Stoudemire is having problems with his back.
But it’s never easy. Take last season’s first round matchup against Miami. The Celtics won a dramatic Game 3 on Paul Pierce‘s last-second game-winner and the talk in South Florida was about how the Heat didn’t want to get back on a plane and take their beating in Game 5 back in Boston. Instead, they rallied from a 77-71 deficit in the fourth quarter and rode Dwyane Wade‘s incredible shooting back to Boston.
“Close-out games are difficult because it’s the one game where you tend to let your guard down,” Kevin Garnett said. “[They] make you tend to relax versus remembering the things that got you there and how you put yourself in a position to close out.”
One would think that a veteran team like the Celtics would have an advantage in these situations because of their experience, but their record shows otherwise. Either way the Celtics are confident in their approach.
“It’s not difficult for me by any means,” Ray Allen said. “I don’t look it as a close-out game. I just look at it as another game we have to play and another game we have to win. Last night we didn’t win anything. We just have to go out and do our jobs and that’s how I look at it.”
One area they want to carryover from Game 3 is their execution offensively. Obviously Pierce and Allen aren’t going to make 25 of 37 shots again, but the shots were just the end result of an offensive that functioned better than it has in months.
“I attribute that to the bigs being in good position and setting great screens and [Rajon] Rondo playing with great speed,” Allen said. “If my guy has to shift just a little bit the one way and I go the other way then he’s beat already. All those little small things help.”
Still, they pointed to their 20 turnovers and the fact that they were so perimeter oriented.
“We made shots and we’re all really smart when we make shots,” Doc Rivers said. “Paul and Ray were 14-for-18 from the 3, if they had been 3-for-18 from the 3, you would have been saying, ‘Doc why didn’t you post the ball up more.’”
SHAQ UPDATE: The Celtics didn’t have a full practice on Saturday and there was no opportunity to see if Shaquille O’Neal was ready to play, so he was ruled out of Game 4. Rivers insisted that they are not holding him out for any strategic purposes because of their 3-0 lead.
“He didn’t feel great, so I’m not taking a chance,” Rivers said. “I’d still like to use him. If he could play I’d play him because I think it would be good for him. The minute he can play he’ll be on the floor.”
THE RAY AND PAUL SHOW: After Game 3, Pierce noted that he was enjoying watching Allen light it up from the outside. Allen had the same reaction.
“I just kept seeing Paul make shots, I was like man, Paul is hot right now, keep giving him the ball,” Allen said. “I felt like I was in the meantime, keep giving Paul the ball.”
Allen was asked if this game was the antidote to all their offensive problems over the last month and a half. “I didn’t question it,” he said. “I know what we need to do and we’ve always known that. It’s just going out and doing it.”
|1st half summary: Celtics vs. Magic Game 4||05.24.10 at 9:53 pm ET|
The Orlando Magic came to play Monday night in Game 4 after being embarrassed in Game 3 and made a point of showing it early on.
They took a 51-47 lead at halftime over the Celtics, amazingly their first such lead after 24 minutes in the series so far.
Orlando, which shot 61.5 percent in the first quarter, built their largest lead of the game at 10 points, 42-32, with 5:47 left in the second quarter.
The Magic were led by Dwight Howard, with 17 points and six rebounds.
The other thing to keep a close eye on in the second half is the condition of Rajon Rondo, who left with a minute to go with trainer Bryan Doo to treat muscle spasms in his right leg.
|Game 4: Third quarter update||05.10.09 at 10:11 pm ET|
With just over four minutes remaining in the quarter, Paul Pierce went to the bench with is fourth foul. It was a tough blow for the Celtics as Pierce is in the midst of his best game of the series with 27 points and they had a 67-58 lead, their largest of the night.
The Celtics weathered the storm for a time but late in the quarter the Magic managed to cut the lead down to just two points after Courtney Lee made a pair of free throws. But the Celtics went on an 8-2 run to take a 79-71 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The last four minutes were not without some minor controversy. Doc Rivers nemesis Bill Kennedy whistled the Celtics for a defensive three-second technical, which turned into a four-point swing after Rashard Lewis made the free throw and Rafer Alston buried a 3-pointer. Rivers called timeout and had a lengthy conversation with Kennedy.
Then, Big Baby Davis took umbrage at Dwight Howard after a foul left him sprawling across the lane. Davis missed both free throws but he was key in helping the Celtics get through the quarter without the captain. Things settled down after that and we’re all set for a defining 12 minutes of the Celtics season. Do they have enough to take this series back to Boston tied at two games apiece, or are the Magic ready to take that proverbial next step?
|Game 4: A strategic shift||at 9:49 pm ET|
The Celtics came out for what might be the most important half of their season intent on putting the game in the hands of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They have been running high isolation pick and rolls with Pierce at the point and Allen setting the screen.
Pierce, who scored 18 points in the first half, kept it going in the early minutes of the third quarter making a pair of jumpers and getting to the line. Allen, who was held to just four points on four shots also made a couple of pull-up jumpers. It’s a pretty radical shift in strategy but so far it’s paid dividends.
|Game 4: A foul situation||at 8:51 pm ET|
With 8:11 left in the second quarter the fouls are really starting to build up. Big Baby Davis and Marcin Gortat each have three fouls and the following players have two fouls each:
|Game 4: First quarter update||at 8:42 pm ET|
After one the Celtics are down 28-25, but it has been a noticeably different Celtics team than the one we saw Friday night. Rajon Rondo has been aggressively attacking the basket and he is too quick for Rafer Alston to handle.
Dwight Howard picked up two early fouls, but the Magic got a lift from their bench, particularly Marcin Gortat who came in for Howard and scored six points. The Celtics got caught in a strange situation when it looked like Kendrick Perkins picked up his second foul for an illegal screen. Perkins went to the bench, but after the substitution had been made the refs changed the call to Paul Pierce. Without Perkins in the game, Gortat was able to get two offensive rebounds over the smaller lineup and converted the second into a score.
Orlando started the game shooting 3-for-12, but with the second unit in the game, they made seven of 11.