|Irish Coffee: How will this strange Celtics trip end?||03.20.12 at 4:32 pm ET|
The NBA lockout ended. Rajon Rondo nearly got traded for Chris Paul during a frenzied training camp. Paul Pierce has played his way into shape, Kevin Garnett has enjoyed a vintage Kevin Garnett season and Ray Allen is shooting better than ever because he’s wearing bigger shoes.
And that’s not all. Jermaine O’Neal played all of 25 games. Heart problems ended both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox‘s seasons. Mickael Pietrus came on board, guaranteeing an NBA title. The Celtics lost five straight games — twice. They’ve also had two separate 10-game stretches where they’ve won nine and eight games.
Now, with one third left of this long, strange trip that has been the Celtics regular season, they sit in the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff spot. Trailing the Bulls (38-10) and Heat (33-11) by a respective 12.5 and 9.5 games with 21 games left, the Celtics (24-21) can forget about catching either for the No. 1 or 2 seed.
Catching the Magic (29-18), owners of a four-game lead on the C’s for the No. 3 seed, isn’t inconceivable, but more likely the Celtics will vie with the 76ers (26-20), Pacers (25-18) and Hawks (26-20) for the No. 4 seed. All are within 1.5 games of each other. The Knicks (21-24) and Bucks (20-24) are battling for the final playoff spot.
Three division winners and the conference’s next best team are seeded 1-4 based on records, so the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers are slotted fourth, even though the Pacers own a better record. The remaining teams are ranked 5-8 based on record, but division winners are not guaranteed a home series. So, should a lower seed own the better record, they’d still play four road contests in a seven-game series — negating the seeding advantage.
For example, should the Celtics win the division but have a worse record than the Pacers, they’d still be playing the first two games of their playoff series on the road. With all that said, let’s see who has the best shot of getting those three and four seeds based on how the strength of their remaining schedules.
|Fast Break: Celtics win fourth straight, reach .500||01.27.12 at 10:06 pm ET|
For 24 minutes against the Pacers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett looked like a couple guys in their mid 30s playing consecutive nights of basketball, combining for 4-of-16 shooting in the first half, but The Truth and The Ticket made a combined 10-of-14 second-half shots to lead the Celtics to impressive victories in back-to-back games — this time 94-87 against Larry Bird‘s club.
Pierce approached a triple-double for the second straight night, compiling 28 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Garnett added 13 points and eight boards (as did Mickael Pietrus). Meanwhile, recently returned Chris Wilcox enjoyed a breakout night for the Celtics (9-9), amassing season highs of 14 points and six rebounds.
Danny Granger‘s 21 points led the Pacers (12-6), who had beaten the C’s in their two previous meetings.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Bench clearing: Led by Wilcox’s six points and three rebounds, the C’s bench played an inspired first quarter, making all four of their shots and taking an early 23-17 lineup when Garnett and Pierce came out flat on the second night of a back-to-back. A lineup of Wilcox, E’Twaun Moore, Marquis Daniels, Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus actually stretched a lead when the Celtics needed a lift most.
Sharing the wealth: The Celtics assisted on 21 of their 38 field goals in the first half — without starting point guard Rajon Rondo in action. For the second consecutive night, Pierce (10 assists in Thursday night’s victory) assumed the role as the offense’s main facilitator, recording more assists by himself (5) than the entire Pacers team (4) in the opening half.
Double the fun: Sure, Doc Rivers has a philosophy that his team is better off getting back on defense, but offensive rebounding was a concern for the Celtics last season, as they rarely outworked opponents on the offensive glass. Against the Pacers, the C’s pulled down seven first-half offensive boards and outscored the Pacers for the game in second-chance opportunities, 14-6.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics’ Jermaine O’Neal gets defensive||01.17.12 at 12:37 pm ET|
In the aftermath of his first double-double of the season, coming in his team’s fifth straight loss, Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal took his time inserting his jumbo diamond earrings and slipping into his brown leather jacket — back turned to the media gathered around his locker.
When O’Neal finally turned, he fielded the first question and took a long sip of water before addressing “so-called analysts” critical of his offensive production: “The people out there that’s wondering about production with me scoring, that’s not my role. My role has been given to me, and my role has been said to be a defender.”
Judging by the tone of his voice, the criticism has clearly irked O’Neal in recent days. The 15-year veteran no longer wants to be judged on his 13 previous seasons as a double-digit scorer, but rather on the new role Celtics coach Doc Rivers has carved out for him: Namely, rebounding and defense. Coincidentally or not, JO picked one of his best offensive nights of the season (12 PTS, 5-11 FG) to voice his opinion.
His plea was more of a decree, and here’s the rest of O’Neal’s I-Got-A-Role Address. Read the rest of this entry »
|Fast Break: Back to back blues continue||01.14.12 at 9:33 pm ET|
It wasn’t like anyone expected the Celtics to fly out of Indiana on the second night of a back-to-back with a victory, if you needed any more evidence that they have a long way to go, it was provided in a 97-83 loss. It’s also worth noting that the Pacers were also on the second end of a back-to-back.
The starters got off to a much better offensive start, but it was the second unit that couldn’t keep the momentum going and they had nothing left in the second half. Defensively, they let the Pacers control the paint (they allowed 20 offensive rebounds) and they couldn’t keep them off the free throw line.
The one bright spot was Kevin Garnett who had a bounceback game with 21 points and six rebounds and was much more aggressive offensively. Paul Pierce also scored 21 points by getting to the free throw line and knocking down a couple of 3-pointers.
WHAT WENT WRONG
— The bench didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus combined to shoot 3-for-10 in the first half and that was the only offense they received from the second unit. Avery Bradley was replaced by rookie E’Twaun Moore after badly bricking a jumpshot.
— Paul George is an impossible cover for Ray Allen. At 6-foot-8, there’s little that Allen can do with him and the Pacers smartly took advantage of that as George went to the free throw line six times in the first half. Pietrus came in and did a solid job defensively.
— Danny Granger is the latest small forward to have a big game on Pierce. He went for 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the first half and finished with 21.
— Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen combined to shoot 6-for-17 and finished with just 13 points. Rondo did have nine assists and Allen contributed six rebounds, but Darren Collison and George put up 34 points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT Read the rest of this entry »
|Doc Rivers: Pacers stole C’s ‘airspace’ and ‘all we did was whine and retaliate’||01.07.12 at 11:40 am ET|
The Celtics – coaches and players – were visibly upset many times during Friday’s hideous loss to the Pacers at TD Garden. Rajon Rondo picked up a technical after he was called for a cheap foul on one end and then didn’t get the call when he was hammered under the basket on a reverse layup.
Jermaine O’Neal picked up a couple of fouls on plays that appeared to be clean blocks on replay.
So, when Doc Rivers stepped to the microphone in postgame, many assumed he’d go off. He did. But not on the refs.
“I think he was trying to draw fouls, honestly, and I thought he did or didn’t,” Rivers said of Rondo’s drives to the basket. “I actually liked, in that way, they were letting you play. That usually benefits us. Tonight it didn’t.”
But that was just the beginning. What really bothered Rivers the most was the fact the Pacers went on the road to Boston and beat the Celtics at their own game.
“I just thought offensively, we were horrible,” Rivers began. “The ball stuck the entire night. I used a timeout early, I used a timeout in the third quarter. But I give Indiana a lot of the credit. I thought they were up into our airspace, they fought us all night, they knocked us off the block. I thought they were the instigators the entire night and all we did was whine and retaliated, for the most part.
“I think it was their effort. I thought their intensity ‘ I just thought they were into us. They were in our airspace, you know? We always talk about owning the airspace of ours, and then owning the opponents’ airspace. That’s who we are. And they were us, for the entire game. Even in the stretch we were playing well I thought it was late shot clock baskets by us. So I just thought they did it better than us. And that falls on me first. I told our guys that. But then it falls on them as well.’
By the end of the third quarter, the Celtics were utterly lost, symbolized by their botched play that ended in a desperate Kevin Garnett 3-point attempt from the right wing at the buzzer, a shot partially blocked by Tyler Hansbrough.
“Early pick-and-roll,” Rivers said of planned play call gone awry. “That was just frustration at the summit. I thought they were responsible for a lot of it. I thought they were the tougher team, physically, and the tougher team, mentally.”
KG and Hansbrough went face-to-face in the fourth quarter but the man they called “Psycho-T” at North Carolina wouldn’t back down. And neither would the Pacers, leading Rivers to point out the following:
“I mean, listen, we’re a 4-4 basketball team,” Rivers began. “That’s what we are. You are what your record is. Make no mistake about that. One of the guys said, ‘Hey, that’s alright; we’re better than that.’ And I said, ‘No we’re not. You’re what your record says you are. And you always have the ability to do something about that. But right now, Indiana’s a 5-2 team ‘ I think that’s their record ‘ and we’re a 4-4 team. And make no mistake: that’s who we are. That’s not who we want to be, and that’s not who we’re going to be hopefully, but right now that’s who we are.’
The Celtics are 4-0 against the Pistons, Wizards (twice) and Nets, teams that are a combined 4-18. They are 0-4 against the Knicks, Heat, Hornets and Pacers, teams that are a combined 17-12.
“Well, we’re 0-fer against quality opponents,” Rivers said. “But again, it’s eight games into the year, so I’m not going to overdo that.’
Paul Pierce was a mere symptom of the cause Friday night at TD Garden.
Yes, he made just three of the 17 shots he attempted from the field. Yes, he finished with just 10 points in 37 minutes of play. Yes, he attempted six 3-pointers, making just one.
But the Pacers and Celtics combined to make just 58 of their combined 145 shots from the field. That’s 87 misses. That’s a lot. Just asked the coach on the losing end of an 87-74 Indiana survival.
“Both teams set offense back about 50 years today,” Doc Rivers said. “It was awful to watch. I thought defensively, we were pretty good until the third quarter.”
That’s probably because as the Celtics were desperate to get out from under their 25-point first half, they opened things up and sped up the game, losing sight of their defensive principles just to put points on the board and get into a rhythm.
As for Pierce, “He was human, you know?” Rivers explained. “I thought he tried to do too much off the [dribble], especially early. And then I thought he got frustrated a little bit. That’s going to happen. But that’s where somebody else we needed to pick up, and nobody could. Without Ray [Ray Allen] shooting today, we would’ve shot 20 percent.’
Allen finished 7-for-11 in his first game back from the flu. The rest of the team was a collective 19-for-55, which is bad enough for 35 percent.
‘We were able to score but we didn’t get stops,” said Pierce. “We played them to dead even, both teams scored thirty points. When they have the lead, you’re just running on a treadmill. We’ve just got to go back to work, watch the tape and see some of the things we did wrong. There’s no need to put our heads down, it’s early in the season, and we just need to clean up a few things.
‘Ray’s doing what he does, he knocks down shots so we get him open but unfortunately myself and some other guys didn’t step up enough offensively for us to win.’
Perhaps Pierce and the Celtics can rediscover their offensive mojo in the next five days, as the team has several practices planned.
‘It will give us a chance to get some good practice time in,” Pierce said. “I haven’t had any practice this year so it’ll be good for me to get back in and refreshed with some of the things we’re doing. Add to our playbook which we haven’t been able to do because of our lack of practice plus it’ll be a good rest for us. We’re playing every other day, so get our feet back up under us and regroup and get back on next week.’
|Fast Break: Pacers win ugly, end Celtics’ four-game win streak||01.06.12 at 9:57 pm ET|
The Celtics started the game with their worst offensive half in franchise history and never recovered. Despite lingering around for much of the game, Darren Collison‘s 3-pointer with a minute and a half to play finally put a nail in the coffin on a 87-74 Pacers victory that ended the C’s four-game winning streak and left them with plenty of questions to answer during a four-day layoff before they welcome the defending champion Mavericks to town on Wednesday night.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The first half: The 6-year-olds who played at halftime in the Garden had a better shooting night than the Celtics did in the first half. The C’s matched a franchise low, scoring 25 points on 9-of-34 shooting (26.5%) in the opening 24 minutes, heading to the locker room to a smattering of boos from the home crowd. Paul Pierce was 1-of-9 from the floor at the break. As our own Mike Petraglia noted, the Celtics had only totaled 25 points in a half twice before in franchise history during the shot clock era. It’s a good thing Indiana only shot 13-of-39 (33.3%) for 33 points.
Cleaning the glass: The Pacers had more rebounds at halftime (30) than the C’s had points. David West, who got booed mercilessly almost every time he touched the ball, didn’t help matters, totaling double-digit boards and adding insult to injury after spurning Boston for Indiana during the free agency period. The Pacers out-rebounded the C’s, 47-36, including a 14-7 advantage on the offensive end.
Not benching much: The bench, including Brandon Bass (5 points, 2-7 FG), got outscored by their Pacers counterparts 33-14. Marquis Daniels‘ offensive woes continued, as evidenced by a wide-open missed layup on a scoreless night.
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