|How did the Celtics lose Game 1? We’ll count the ways||04.30.12 at 1:35 am ET|
ATLANTA — Well before Rajon Rondo lost his cool, the damage had been done to the Celtics in their playoff opener against the Hawks. It started in the first quarter when Atlanta raced to a 20-6 lead before six minutes had gone off the clock. It continued in the next 42 minutes, when they couldn’t make shots and every offensive possession carried with it an eerie reminder of the first half of the season.
“I don’t know if we kind of eased into the game,” Paul Pierce said. “It’s hard to tell. We establish ourselves early defensively. We definitely didn’t do that. They got every loose ball. They got every 3-point shot. They got everything they wanted in the first, and then it was like in a boxing match. You sit there and you’ve got your guard up, then you take your guard down, you take a punch and you’re like, Ok, we’re in a fight. We’ve got to realize we’re in a fight from the jump.”
The Celtics realized that too late, and after an 83-74 loss they now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to make up ground without homecourt advantage to sustain them. Over the final three quarters, the Celtics actually outscored Atlanta, 56-52, playing the kind of grimy, sludge-ball everyone expected in this series.
“This is a long series,” Pierce said. “You have to win four games and we just have to learn from our mistakes. Learn from the first quarter, learn from what we did better in the second and third quarters, and we’ve got to learn to keep our composure.”
It will be much harder if Rondo is suspended (click here for more on that story), but the blueprint is there. Assuming they can shoot better than 39 percent, there’s no reason they can’t get back into the series. Still, there’s a lot to work on between now and Tuesday’s Game 2.
Among the areas that need improvement:
|Kevin Garnett and Josh Smith: The non-center matchup||04.27.12 at 3:20 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Kevin Garnett hates being a center. He’s said it since he moved to the position after the All-Star break and he said it again on Thursday night after the Celtics beat the Bucks.
“I hate the five spot,” Garnett said, as if on autopilot. “You put me anywhere on the floor I’m going to play it to the best of my ability. It’s not a preference of mine but it’s something my team needs so I don’t think about it.”
In some ways it’s semantics. Garnett plays the four on occasion when Doc Rivers goes to his bench and he’s guarded both fours and fives since the switch. He’s taking more shots on the offensive end, increasing that number in the second half of the season, but he’s still firing away most from the perimeter with the occasional post-up thrown in for good measure. (Garnett’s passing in the low post remains an underrated strength).
Josh Smith isn’t really a center, either. He played most of his minutes at the four alongside Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, who are both injured. Like Garnett, he took a more active role in his team’s offense this season, upping his shot attempts by three per game and his usage rate up to 28 percent. Smith is a monster scoring inside and in transition and a streaky, at best, jump shooter, prone to ill-advised long jumpers and 3-pointers.
“He’s going to take the jumper and when he makes it, it’s tough,” Doc Rivers said. “When Josh is shooting the ball [well] throughout the series, it’s going to be a hard series. There’s no doubt about that. He’s going to shoot the ball. We’ve got to respect that shot. What makes him unique is he’s a four or a five that can take you off the dribble.”
There are two ways the Celtics could play Smith. They could use Brandon Bass, a rugged power forward with strength and athleticism. Or they could use Garnett, who is their best defender and a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
Matchups are going to a be a constant storyline in this series. Ordinarily, a team without a true center is a good thing for the Celtics, but they are wary of the Hawks’ big-small lineup, which features over-sized guards like Joe Johnson and Tracy McGrady, wing shooters like Marvin Williams at forward and Smith at center.
“You’ll see [Garnett] on everybody,” Rivers said. “They move Josh to the five and they go with Marvin at the four and Tracy at the three and Joe at the two. That’s a tough lineup. They do it and they do it against us more than any other team for a reason, obviously. It creates matchups and we’re going to have to deal with that.”
The Celtics will try to counter with their regular lineup and force the Hawks into matchups that are favorable to their strengths. According to Rivers, it worked half the time in their two earlier meetings. (For all intents and purposes, the most recent game was a wash tactically due to so many missing players).
Offensively, the Celtics need Garnett to provide some punch. His minutes will still be carefully monitored, but they’re expecting 15-20 shots per night.
“Kevin’s a big key in every series,” Rivers said. “He has to be aggressive. In the series that we’ve won over the years he’s been very aggressive and a go-to scorer. He has to be that for us in this series.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Garnett will live on the block.
“They’re a great trapping team,” Rivers said. “You’ve got to be careful. If you think you’re just going to post him and win, I think you’d be kidding yourself. If you look at their stats, against post teams they’ve done extremely well. Teams focus on that so much they lose the game. So, we can’t do overdo that. That’s an area that we want to attack through our regular motion. If you get caught trying to do that every time they’ll beat you.”
One of the Celtics’ main concerns is transition defense, and especially 3-pointers on the break. The Hawks had eight players who took more than 100 3-pointers this season and they shot 37 percent, the fifth-best mark in the league. No one defends the 3-point line better than the Celtics and a key will be keeping the floor spaced and getting players back, a tougher task when you’re locked up under the basket.
No matter where he plays and who he guards, Garnett will be key factor and it would be fascinating to watch him return to his roots against a dynamic player like Smith.
|Irish Coffee: Danny Ainge’s dreams of Celtics future||03.12.12 at 12:10 pm ET|
We’re three days from the NBA trade deadline, and still no serious sign of a blockbuster deal involving the Celtics. Then again, the same could’ve been said last season, when Danny Ainge shipped Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the Clippers’ 2012 first-round draft pick.
All that remains from that deal is the top-10 protected No. 1 pick, which currently slots into the low-to-mid 20s. That’s still not a bad haul for a center who is currently averaging 4.4 points (45.1 FG%) and 4.6 rebounds in 26.7 minutes, but considering the negative hype surrounding that trade it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Ainge gets cold feet on dealing any of the Old Three or Rajon Rondo.
Do I believe Ainge would ever let public perception stop him from making a deal that improves the Celtics moving forward? Not really, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it made him think twice about pulling the trigger on a deal that only marginally improves his team.
Over the next three days, teams will likely call about Rondo, which is probably the case in the latest Pau Gasol rumor in the Los Angeles Times after the Lakers beat the Celtics 97-94 (Rondo: 24 points, 10 assists; Gasol: 13 points, 13 rebounds). The same speculation was floated a couple weeks ago by HoopsWorld’s Eric Pincus.
|Report: Josh Smith wants out of Atlanta||03.09.12 at 12:18 am ET|
Hawks forward Josh Smith is having one of his best seasons, averaging 17.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game for a team that has stayed in the thick of the playoff chase without Al Horford. But the 26-year-old Smith has had his problems in Atlanta, and Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Smith would like to be traded before the March 15 deadline.
By the end of last season Smith wanted out of Atlanta because he believed he was singled out for unfair criticism by coaches and media. Those concerns have died down for the most part this season but now Smith believes he needs a fresh start with a franchise where he can better reach his potential on and off the court, according to one of the people with knowledge of Smith’s thinking.
The Hawks have been fielding phone calls on Smith, with the Warriors mentioned as one possibility. The Celtics have been very loosely tied to the forward, but team officials shot down a report last week involving Kevin Garnett.
Smith, who played his high school ball at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia with Rajon Rondo, remains friends with the All-Star guard and he has one year left after this season on a contract that pays him $13 million.
|Report: Celtics-Hawks talks were ‘purely exploratory’||03.03.12 at 1:12 pm ET|
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports (via twitter) said that while the Hawks and Celtics had discussed the possibility of a deal, such conversations remained preliminary.
Tweeted Wojnarowski: Atlanta did express an interest to Boston about Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett, but purely exploratory conversations, sources said.
Wojnarowski’s report comes one day after another rumor suggested that the Celtics were interested in acquiring forward Josh Smith from the Hawks while dangling Kevin Garnett.
|Trade Rumor: Celtics eye Josh Smith, possibly for Kevin Garnett||03.02.12 at 3:31 pm ET|
The New York Daily News threw out the suggestion that the Celtics would be interested in Atlanta’s Josh Smith “and other young studs,” while using the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce as bait.
“With the Big Three’s window now shut, Ainge is trying to land Atlanta’s Josh Smith and other young studs, while offering up Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can also be had, for young players and draft picks. Rajon Rondo might be leaving, too, with the Lakers and Utah seen as possible destinations.”
The interesting part of this rumor is the suggestion of Garnett, which is the first time his name has been linked in any trade rumor since he’s come to Boston. Garnett is in the last year of a contract that pays him $21 million and Smith has another year left after this one at $13 million, so that wouldn’t work straight-up. The Hawks have other short contracts like Kirk Hinrich, who is in the last year of a deal that pays him $8 million.
Smith was high school teammates with Rajon Rondo at Oak Hill Academy and the two have remained close. He’s still just 26 years old and many felt that he deserved a spot on the All-Star team. He’d be the kind of player the Celtics would be looking to acquire if they move forward with Rondo.
|Irish Coffee: Rating ridiculous Celtics rumors||at 2:59 pm ET|
So many trade rumors, so little time.
On Thursday, NBA teams could officially deal players signed this past offseason, and March 15 is the deadline, so Celtics president Danny Ainge‘s phone bill is probably higher than Lindsay Lohan‘s attorney fees at this point.
While Ainge denied actively shopping Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo in an interview on WEEI’s Big Show, he’s made it clear Rondo, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and everybody else — including captain Paul Pierce — are available for the right package. So far, the price hasn’t been right.
We’d be remiss not to mention the current rumors, but let’s be serious about the possibilities. Here goes.