|Fast Break: New Celtics, familiar results||02.28.11 at 11:37 pm ET|
This is going to take some time, but while Celtics coach Doc Rivers learns how to use his new toys (he had Jeff Green playing everything from the 2-guard through the four-spot), the Celtics remain the Celtics in the fourth quarter. Locked in a tight battle with Utah, the veterans made the right plays and executed down the stretch.
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce made huge shots. Kevin Garnett was dominant defensively and on the boards and Rajon Rondo made the right decisions and also sank a crucial jumper. The Celtics won 107-102, which gave them a 3-1 West Coast trip and also kept them two games ahead of the Heat in the loss column for the best record in the conference.
They have the next six weeks to figure out what kind of team they will be, but when it comes time to win games, they haven’t forgotten their formula.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Kevin Garnett is Kevin Garnett again: In the midst of all the turmoil, Garnett has very quietly run off a string of double-doubles on this West Coast trip. After scoring 18 points to go with 14 rebounds he now has seven in his last eight games. Garnett was at his best, though, on the defensive end, where he switched over to Al Jefferson late in the game and shut the big man down.
The key moment came when Garnett and Jefferson were called for double technicals late in the fourth quarter. The T’s didn’t stop the chatter between the two players and Jefferson was obviously primed to get the ball and score. He got the ball, but Garnett gave ground at the right moment and caused a travel. It was a classic veteran trap and Jefferson fell right into it.
Rajon Rondo takeover: Rondo scored only six points in the first half and passed up a couple of easy looks to make passes instead, but in the second half he reverted back into an attacking machine. When Rondo doesn’t look for his offense he makes himself so much easier to defend. But when he keeps the threat of scoring alive, it makes him nearly impossible to defend.
Nenad Krstic is no Perk offensively: Krstic is known as a player who can step outside and make jump shots, but he’s also shown in limited time an ability to score with his back to the basket. The Celtics don’t use a lot of post-ups as part of their regular offense, but Krstic has a nice touch around the basket and is also able to roll smoothly to the basket. Offensively, he is a definite upgrade from Kendrick Perkins‘ limited repertoire.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Krstic is no Perk, defensively: Then there’s the other end of the floor. Krstic will get better as he gets used to playing in the Celtics’ defensive scheme (and also gets used to playing alongside Garnett). Early on he’s looked slow in rotations and a step behind the play. Krstic was also abused by Jefferson, who scored 18 of his 28 points in the first half. It wasn’t all Krstic’s fault, but the Jazz went flying through the lane time and again for layups. The Celtics will have to adjust to Krstic as much as he will have to adjust to them.
Glen Davis continues to struggle: Over his last three games, Davis has shot 9-for-28. Over the last two months Davis has been as up and down as any Celtic, but they keep using him in the fourth quarter. Davis remains the best — and maybe only — option for getting crunch-time minutes with the other four starters, but if Rivers wants to continue to experiment he may take a look at his closing lineup over the next month and a half.
Delonte West is hurt again: The Celtics got bad news even before this one started as West rolled his right ankle during an informal workout on Sunday. He missed Monday’s game with Utah and is likely to miss Wednesday’s game when the Celtics return home to play the Suns. With Nate Robinson in Oklahoma City, the Celtics are relying on West to be the third guard, not only backing up Rajon Rondo, but Ray Allen as well.
But it’s at backup point guard where they desperately need his steady hand and veteran experience. Rookie Avery Bradley took those minutes against Utah and was more aggressive and confident than he’s been to date, but Bradley is not the answer this season. The Celtics need West to be healthy.
|Fast Break: Celtics play taps on the Jazz||01.21.11 at 9:58 pm ET|
The Celtics played nine home games over the last three weeks and after their 110-86 beatdown of the Utah Jazz Friday night, they won eight and lost one. They played some memorable games during that stretch, including wins over San Antonio and Orlando, as well as some ugly grind-it-out affairs.
They capped it off with a double-digit win over one of the best teams in the Western Conference, which puts an exclamation point on this recent stretch that also saw them return to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Life is good for the Celtics right now.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Ball movement: The Celtics were out of rhythm Wednesday in their win over Detroit and execution was a point of emphasis for them at practice on Thursday. It was clear right from the start that it wouldn’t be a problem on this night. The Celtics had assists on all five of their early baskets and kept it up, finishing with 31 assists on 37 made shots.
Rajon Rondo had 12 assists, but everyone was involved. One late-game sequence saw the ball hop from Marquis Daniels to Nate Robinson to Von Wafer before finally ending with a dish to Semih Erden for a jam.
The return of the sixth man: Glen Davis opened up Thursday about the pressure he put on himself while he was a member of the starting lineup. It seems that being one of the best sixth men in the game is a role that’s growing on him. Davis was at his absolute best Friday, scoring 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting with seven rebounds. He scored inside and out and outworked the Utah bigs for loose balls. This is his role and he’s one of the best in the league at it.
Semih-tough: It’s been an up and down season for Erden, but he shows flashes of becoming more than just a solid role player in this league someday. Erden played 30 minutes and had a season-high 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting and seven rebounds. The Celtics needed him to play minutes after Shaquille O’Neal left the game early in the first quarter and he delivered a great performance.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Shaq Maintenance: The big fella left the game midway through the first quarter and didn’t return. The team announced in the second half that he has a sore right leg. Shaq has been dealing with a number of leg injuries throughout the season, but he has gutted it out and given the Celtics minutes. It’s too early to tell if it’s anything more than that, but the unexpected blowout allowed for some opportunistic rest.
Foul trouble for Deron Williams: The All-Star guard picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and then got his third early in the second. Williams had an all-around awful night, depriving us of an opportunity to see him and Rondo go head-to-head. Williams played on 23 minutes and had five points on 1-for-4 shooting.
FAST BREAK RULE: When you beat a Jerry Sloan-coached team by 20 or more points there are only so many things that can go “wrong.”
|Preview: Celtics-Jazz||03.22.10 at 12:09 pm ET|
How many times have you written off the Celtics this season? The official count varies, but there have been at least five times when people have begun writing their obituary.
Jan. 31: Capping off three straight heartbreaking defeats against the best teams in the NBA, the Celtics collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Lakers.
Feb. 10: The All-Star break can’t come soon enough as the Celts sleepwalk through a game with New Orleans.
Feb. 27: New Jersey.
Here they are, back from the dead again, winners of four straight and a Texas sweep. The Celtics defy easy characterization, or maybe they just enjoy making things hard on themselves. Either way, no mater how things turn out in the final month of the regular season, we really will have no idea how they are going to perform once the playoffs start.
They have shown just enough life to encourage optimism among the constant pessimism of the last half of the season, but we really won’t know just how good this team really is until May at the earliest.
CELTICS (45-24, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 98.8
Points Allowed: 94.1
Differential: +4.7 (8th)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.3 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.2 (1st)
Pace: 91.7 (21st)
JAZZ (45-25, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 103.6
Points Allowed: 98.0
Differential: 5.6 (4th)
Offensive Efficiency: 110.8 (6th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.8 (10th)
Pace: 93.2 (12th)
|Williams to play against C’s||11.11.09 at 7:11 pm ET|
Utah’s starting point guard Deron Williams [right calf] will play tonight against the Celtics.
“I’ll let out trainer let me know where he is in the game. That’s what we usually do when a player’s been out, make sure we don’t cause any problems and screw him up in any way,” Sloan explained.
Williams has played in all seven games for the Jazz this season, averaging 21.4 points and 10.7 assists. He suffered the calf strain in Utah’s win on Monday night in New York against the Knicks.
|Sheed: Don’t sleep on the Jazz||11.10.09 at 4:47 pm ET|
WALTHAM – Rasheed Wallace can read the standings just like everyone else.
He sees that the Utah Jazz are off to a 3-4 start out West. He also sees the likes of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur on the box score. Throw in the sharp-shooting Andrei Kirilenko and he knows his 7-1 Celtics will have their hands full when they take the court on Wednesday night at TD Garden.
“They’re a good team,” Wallace said. “Everyone is sleeping on them coming out of the West. I think they have the talent to beat the Lakers, talent to beat the Spurs. Can’t sleep on them, in my opinion. You can’t sleep on them at all. They have a good point guard, good big men, good swing men and good coach. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”
Ever since the days of Stockton and Malone, the Jazz under Jerry Sloan have mastered the pick-and-roll as well as anyone in the sport.
“That’s Sloan’s calling card,” Wallace said after Tuesday’s practice preparing for just that. “Just look at Mailman [Karl Malone], just look at [Jeff] Hornacek, of course [John] Stockton. Just some of the guys they’ve had. That’s what they do to a ‘T’.
“That’s what they’re know for, their execution. Their power play, so to speak, where you dump it down from the corner. That’s something Sloan has re-written the book on, the pick and roll. And you definitely have to give them their credit.”
Sloan, who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sept. 11, knows what he wants on the court at all times. And opposing players like Wallace know what to expect.
“Of course, he’s always going to have a big who can shoot, he’s always a point guard who can handle and drop it off to that big and still shoot, i.e. like Stockton did,” Wallace said. “It’s definitely not going to be a cakewalk. It’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
|MIP: Most Indispensable Player||12.15.08 at 9:38 pm ET|
Paul Pierce had been knocked down, kneed, elbowed and the recipient of more than one collision already when his knee banged into Mehmet Okur. It was his left knee, not the one he injured against the Lakers in the Finals, and it was straight, as in prone for a devastating knee injury.
Pierce was able to bend his knee a bit before Okur went crashing into him, and he avoided disaster. But it still hurt like hell, and when he went down the Garden was deathly quiet. His teammates left the bench en masse to check on Pierce and Big Baby Davis and Leon Powe had to help him get back to the locker room.
The crowd chanted M-V-P as Pierce made his way off the court, but they should have been chanting M-I-P as in, Most Indispensable Player.
“It’s a little tender,” Pierce said after his club dispatched the Jazz, 100-91. “The knee kind of buckled. It should be all right.”
That’s good news, obviously, for the Celtics, because if there’s one player on the roster they can’t afford to lose, it’s Pierce.
That’s a funny statement to make when you look at what Rajon Rondo has done this year–and he turned in another gem against Deron Williams–and when you consider that Kevin Garnett is well, Kevin Garnett. But behind Pierce on the small forward depth chart is Tony Allen, who is not, in fact, a small forward, and Brian Scalabrine, who is a perfect 10th Man, but not exactly the guy you want knocking heads with Ron Artest or LeBron James for 38 minutes a night.
It’s also funny when you look at Pierce’s shooting numbers. Simply put, Pierce has not shot the ball well this season. His field goal percentage has hovered around 40 percent, the lowest of his career, and his 3-point shooting is a tick off (35 percent) his career average of 36 percent.
But Pierce is indispensable because he has become a player who can be great even when he’s not scoring at a high level. Take the simple act of making free throws, for instance, where he is shooting 84 percent. Pierce is getting to the line at a higher rate than he did last year, which is helping him keep his scoring average at around 18 a game.
That’s important because while his shot hasn’t been falling at his normal rate, he is shooting less and turning it over less than his career averages, proof that he is not forcing the issue in an effort to get himself going. Even more than last year, Pierce has been content to take his offense as it comes and let others, particularly Ray Allen, have the scoring glory.
Even when he is on the floor with the four mainstays off the bench, Pierce hasn’t imposed his strong personality on the proceedings. Before his knee scare, Pierce had logged 43 minutes and taken just 13 shots, none of them 3-pointers. Think about that for a second and let it roll around in your head. He remains the Celtics’ best one-on-one option. The guy you want to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line–as he proved against Toronto and Atlanta back in early November. Yet he is perfectly comfortable to not be The Man.
As great as Garnett is, Pierce’s willingness to defer to others, and take the reins when necessary, are the principal reasons the Celtics have worked offensively.
Then there’s the defense.
Oct. 28 LeBron James: 9-for-21, 22 points
Nov. 4 Ron Arrest: 3-for-16, 15 points
Nov. 14 Carmelo Anthony: 8-for-19, 18 points
Dec. 12: Peja Stojakovic: 1-for-6, 2 points
Nov. 1, Dec. 3, Dec. 7 Danny Granger: 21-for-55
There are all kinds of ways to measure toughness, particularly on the defensive end. Garnett is intimidating. Kendrick Perkins is, to coin a phrase, a beast. But Pierce gives the Celtics an edge, a street-tough nastiness that doesn’t back down.
This was Utah coach Jerry Sloan, one of the toughest SOB’s the NBA has ever seen, after last night’s game:
“It looked like we were scared to play against them to start the ballgame. Looked like we wanted to play out on the perimeter and take jump shots. They’re awfully hard to get the ball inside on, because they’re an excellent defensive team and they knock you around a bit. Our guys wanted to stay outside because I think they were afraid they’d get hurt. They had us intimidated a great deal and had us out on the perimeter.”
When Jerry Sloan says that his team was intimidated you have to take note.
People might not like the comparison, but the Celtics are an awful lot like the Detroit Pistons of the late 80′s, swaggering, intimidating and defense-first. They beat you up and then they tell you about it. All that went away for the Pistons when they traded Rick Mahorn, who was legitimately scary as hell. The Celtics have more than their share of tough guys, but Pierce is the one no one outside of Quentin Richardson wants to mess with.
He has been the Captain for a long time now, but this is truly his team now. The Celtics are in his image: tough, intimidating and just a little bit dangerous.