|Fast Break: Paul Pierce ends this Celtics-Nets debate||10.16.12 at 10:00 pm ET|
Even Celtics coach Doc Rivers couldn’t watch a full preseason game against a Nets team that didn’t send any of its starting five out for the opening tip. Conveniently, the second half of the C’s 97-96 loss coincided with the start of the presidential debate, and that’s when Rivers — an ardent support of President Barack Obama, a fellow former Chicagoan — excused himself, “allowing his assistant coaches to handle the bench duties.”
At least Paul Pierce stayed for the second half, capping a 29-point night on 10-of-17 shooting (6-8 3P) in 27 efficient minutes. Jeff Green (14 points) and Courtney Lee (13 points) also stuck around until the end of the C’s bench eventually coughed up a double-digit lead in the final minutes. Here’s what else Rivers missed.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Sharp Pierce: After entering training camp out of shape and suffering a foot injury that lingered long past the three games he missed to start the 2011-12 NBA season, Pierce seems prepared to begin this season in much better shape, showing no ill effects of the knee injury that hobbled during the playoffs. The Celtics captain connected on four of his first seven shots against the Nets, scoring 10 of the C’s 14 points in the opening seven minutes.
Green party: After struggling for the first time all preseason against the 76ers, Green turned in another aggressive performance, recapturing his leadership role on the second unit. After falling hard to the floor early in the second quarter, he shook off the trainer and even drew a charge on the other end. If there were any lingering questions about Green’s hesitance after returning from heart surgery, he answered them in that stretch.
On guard: Lee’s outside shot wasn’t dropping (1-4 3P), but the C’s starting shooting guard once again demonstrated the athleticism and defensive ability that made him so coveted. Also, his chemistry with backcourt mate Rajon Rondo is clearly developing, as Lee found open spots on the perimeter and Rondo naturally found him with a few nice crosscourt passes. Eventually, the career 39 percent 3-point shooter’s stroke will connect.
|Fun with lineups: Jeff Green and Paul Pierce together?||10.12.12 at 2:55 pm ET|
WALTHAM — With all the attention on who’s starting and who’s going to be on the court when the game ends, it’s important to remember than an NBA game is filled with multiple lineups and each has its own purpose. It’s the starters job to get a lead. It’s the bench’s job to provide support or change the flow of the game if it gets off on the wrong foot.
Some lineups have shooters. Some have defenders. Some strive for balance across the board.
More than most teams, the Celtics have relied on their starters to carry the weight. The potentially wonderful thing about this year’s squad is that Doc Rivers has options, and he’s excited about trying them all out. The reality is that Rivers has eight or nine players who could conceivably start or finish games and he seems far more worried about the middle part of the games than the beginning or the end.
Here’s Rivers on a big lineup with Kevin Garnett at power forward:
“You’re still going to play the same guys. Kevin’s going to play his 30 minutes and then you move around, but it does allow you to be big all the time if you want to be. It allows you to move Kevin to the r at times, which is good. So it gives you more options.”
“[Terry] could start. Whatever I prefer is whatever I think will be the best fit for our team. We may start Jason Terry and use him like Kevin for the first five minutes, just to get him some minutes and then bring him back in. We may start Courtney, so there’s a lot of ways we can go with it.”
“You can do it with the same lineup, just one’s a 2 and one’s a 3,” Rivers said. “You wouldn’t want to do it against a Miami with [Dwyane] Wade because one of those guys would have to guard Wade or a Ray Allen, a Reggie Miller type. You wouldn’t want them chasing guys off of screens. They don’t do that very well. It will be definitely a lineup we use, it will probably be a lineup we use every night at some point in games just to create our own matchup.
“There’s teams with big guards. That works offensively and defensively. There’s teams with a small guard, but not a great shooting guard and we can definitely do that because now that gives us an offensive advantage. It can go both ways.”
While Miami might not be the best look for this kind of lineup there are teams in the East who might make this interesting. Take Indiana with 6-foot-8 Paul George and Danny Granger on the wing. Or Brooklyn with Joe Johnson. Green would have played a huge role against Philadelphia in last year’s playoffs with all their funky combinations.
One of Rivers’ tasks this season is finding lineup where Green can be utilized to the best of his abilities. He can soak up minutes when Pierce is on the bench, but that’s at most 16 minutes or so and probably less on a given night. Getting the two of them together on the court would help increase Green’s time.
It’s easy to say now before the season has even started, but the rest of the Celtics seem on board with whatever combinations Rivers decided to use.
“Doc has a lot of options,” Garnett said. “He’s been playing with a lot of them during practice. Jeff Green in the lineup, the lineups that he’s playing with remind me of the 07-08 year when we had four smalls and one big and we had shooters and different dynamics to score the ball.”
If there’s one underlying hint to the coach’s direction, it seems that he’s trying to find ways to maximize their offensive potential and save some of the burden from his veterans. Terry and Jared Sullinger, for example, are more offensively-inclined than Lee and Brandon Bass, which may be why Rivers is thinking about starting them at times.
That seems smart considering the Celtics were once again a top defensive outfit last season, but a woeful offensive one. Along those lines, playing Pierce and Green together may take something away on the defensive end, but could potentially bolster that anemic attack.
|What to watch for: Preseason Celtics in Turkey edition||10.05.12 at 12:43 am ET|
Preseason NBA games go something like this: Hey, basketball’s back! Then the second quarter starts and you’re reminded that it’s preseason. By the time the second half tips off, everyone’s trying to not get hurt, while rookies and free agents are looking for that one shot of glory.
The Celtics will play Fenerbache Ulker on Friday afternoon in Istanbul, and while there’s only so much that can be determined in the first exhibition, there are still a number of things worth keeping an eye on as they begin to take shape for the upcoming season.
Here are five areas to watch:
THE NEW-LOOK BACKCOURT: It will be jarring to see the Celtics lineup without Ray Allen in his customary spot, but more than appearances, the C’s guards will have an entirely different feel. Courtney Lee is likely to start with Jason Terry operating as a sixth man. Lee won’t get nearly as many touches as Allen did, and it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers adjusts the offense without Allen running off so many picks.
One of the benefits of Avery Bradley‘s emergence last season was that it allowed Rivers to take Rajon Rondo off the ball defensively. That has tremendous value, not only because Bradley is such a good defender, but it also allowed Rondo the chance to conserve energy on the defensive end. Lee brings a tough defensive-mindset to the position, but can he handle the fullcourt pressure defense that Rivers prefers?
HOW WILL JEFF GREEN BE UTILIZED? This is the key question, maybe for the whole season. Green has not fared well defensively as a big forward, but if Kevin Garnett is lined up next to him that could alter the dynamic considerably. Another big question that Rivers hinted at already: Can Green and Paul Pierce function together as a forward tandem?
One of the biggest reasons that Green was not an overnight success in Boston is that he was never able to fill a consistent role. Part of that is on him for not being assertive enough and part of that is on Rivers to create one.
IS JARED SULLINGER READY? It’s been a tough camp for Chris Wilcox, who is dealing with back spasms in addition to trying to return from heart surgery. Wilcox is the only veteran backup 4 on the roster, and if he can’t go on Friday, that would seem to give the Ohio State rookie an early opportunity to make an impression.
SPEAKING OF ROOKIES: Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph and Jamar Smith are part of a battle for what could be two open roster spots. Christmas received a higher guarantee than the others, so he would appear to have a leg up heading into the camp. That can all change quickly, however.
Need is a relative term for a squad with championship aspirations and veterans at nearly every position, but the two that stand out are backup point guard (Smith) and depth on the wing (Christmas and Joseph).
ALL THAT AND DARKO TOO: The over/under on how long it takes Tommy Heinsohn to compare Darko to Bill Russell has been set at eight minutes. Tommy’s not in Istanbul, but has there even been this much intrigue for a backup center?
Heinsohn aside, for one of the first times in his career the expectations for Darko are actually reasonable and manageable. If he can give the C’s 15-20 minutes a night as a backup center, they will be thrilled. Rebounding has been a major point of emphasis for Rivers during camp, and that’s where the Celtics really need Darko to make a difference.
|Irish Coffee: Making the most of Paul Pierce’s minutes||10.03.12 at 6:29 pm ET|
“We’re going to try some things with Paul in the preseason,” said Rivers, “and just see how that goes.”
Last season, Rivers instituted Kevin Garnett‘s 5-5-5 plan, playing his center in five-minute increments. While Garnett’s time on the floor each game barely changed (31.3 in 2010-11 vs. 31.1 in 2011-12), his minutes were less taxing, and that paid dividends in the playoffs, when he enjoyed perhaps his greatest stretch in a Celtics uniform.
The plan is to execute the same plan for Garnett and a similar one for Pierce this season, although both the Celtics captain and Rivers admitted playing that duo on the same 5-5-5 schedule might not benefit the team.
‘Doc is the coach around here,” said Pierce. “I trust his judgment and everything he does. We’ve been together a long time. I’m giving myself to the team. Whatever’s going to be best for the team, that’s what it’s gotta be. I think with me and Doc, we’ll figure things out, because if I’m on fire the first five minutes I can’t come out. Simple as that.”
‘I’m all for it,” countered Rivers. “Paul is a gym rat. Paul is a guy I’ve never really worried about with minutes, but I’m going to watch his minutes. Obviously, if we can keep [Rajon] Rondo‘s minutes down, we will. And Paul’s minutes down. It doesn’t mean we will. It would be nice. I like our bench.’
That last addendum could be the difference this season. Despite approaching his mid-30′s, Pierce’s minutes per game haven’t changed much the past three seasons (34.0, 34.7 and 34.0, respectively), and that can largely be attributed to having Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and an ailing Mickael Pietrus behind him.
|Irish Coffee: Where do walking wounded Celtics stand?||10.02.12 at 5:54 pm ET|
“Knock on wood,” as Paul Pierce said, because the Celtics haven’t been this healthy during training camp the past three seasons. In 2010, Kevin Garnett returned from his season-ending knee surgery the spring before. A year later, Kendrick Perkins sat with an ACL tear. Last season, a foot injury kept Pierce from playing opening night.
“The key for us if we’re going to win another championship is going to be our health,” said Pierce. “You have to be good; you have to be lucky. Sometimes those are things you can’t control. Since our first year we won it, we haven’t been lucky enough to be healthy, so hopefully we’re healthy this year and we can make another run at it.’
Role players like Tony Allen, Leon Powe, the O’Neal brothers, Delonte West, Mickael Pietrus or even Ray Allen last season have also kept the C’s doctors busy the past few years. Youth doesn’t guarantee health, but it certainly helps. At least they’re not keeping a trainer’s table warm for the Jermaine O’Neals of the league anymore.
Ironically, the youngest members of the Celtics — Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger — are two of the biggest question marks among a handful of health concerns, so let’s see where the C’s walking wounded stand.
|Celtics experiment with small ball||10.01.12 at 1:22 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The buzzword around the Celtics these days is “versatility.” In Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and especially Jeff Green, coach Doc Rivers has a number of different lineup combinations he can use, and he plans to test them all. Rivers pointed to Rajon Rondo, who was getting stretched out behind the media scrum. “He’ll be very happy.”
Their last practice before departing for Istanbul was devoted entirely to using small lineups, although small is a relative term. The C’s believe that the 6-foot-9 Green can force matchups whether he’s at the three or the four and there’s even a thought of playing him and Paul Pierce together with two traditional bigs.
“We put it in [Sunday] but we didn’t work on it,” Rivers said. “Today we’re going to have almost exclusively have small lineups on the floor so that will be fun. This is the first year we’ve ever really worked on it and we’re going to work on it so we can do it every game.”
Green is the key because of his length and athleticism. Last season, Rivers used Mickael Pietrus as a smaller small forward with Pierce playing the four. That lineup was almost born out of desperation as a counter to Miami using LeBron James as the second big around a lineup of perimeter shooters.Rivers doesn’t just want to matchup, he wants to attack and he sees Green as a force in the open court.
“He’s the main guy when you talk about small lineups,” Rondo said. “He played the four at Oklahoma City, he stretched the floor with his shooting. We can get a lot of bigs on the floor as well. He can go from the four to the three. Defensively, he can check one through four, I believe. We expect a lot out of Jeff but he’s fine with that pressure.”
A key to making the smaller lineups work is also coming up with an offense that won’t stall when Rondo is off the court — a frequent occurrence last season. With no traditional backup point guard on the roster and Avery Bradley out for a few months, that task may fall to Terry.
“He’s a better ballhandler,” Rivers said. “I knew he could score of the dribble but he’s really a natural at the point. That surprised me. We have no choice right now with Avery out. We’re trying to create an offense where it’s not a point guard dominated offense, unless Rondo’s on the floor.”
|Jeff Green: Heart surgery ‘made me realize life is short’||09.29.12 at 1:57 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Jeff Green knew he was ready to come back when he was playing a pickup basketball game at his alma mater.
He told those in the game, “When I get the ball, I’m going to drive to the lane and I want you to hit me.”
Sure enough, they tested Green, making contact with his chest in the area of his heart where he had surgery last January to fix a faulty aortic valve.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” Green said. “When I got hit, I got hit right in the area where I had the surgery and it didn’t affect me at all. I think that is what got me through the rest of the summer as far as confidence and being able to build on what I’ve been trying to do. It was mind-boggling to go through it. First time, I was very winded but it felt very good to be back out there.”
Now for Green, it’s onto the business of getting back into the Celtics system, something he thinks will come quickly.
“I don’t think it will take me long at all, with me being around the team last year,” Green said. “I’ve been here since beginning of September and I’ve had talks with Doc and assistant coaches just to figure out different schemes on the floor. Just to put it [to work] on the floor, maybe a day.”
As far as what the surgery experience taught him, Green said he has more perspective now.
“It made me appreciate the little things,” Green said. “When I had the surgery, I couldn’t move, couldn’t do a crunch, couldn’t turn left or right so it made me appreciate life itself and all the little things. Definitely helped me open my eyes and made me realize life is short and you have to enjoy every moment of it.”
Green and Chris Wilcox both had surgeries on their hearts last season. “I call him my scar buddy,” Green said with his trademark wide smile.