|Three reasons the Celtics should be wary||05.03.12 at 12:06 am ET|
Here’s how fast things can change in the playoffs. With seven minutes left in the third quarter of Tuesday’s Game 2, the Celtics were down 11 points on the road and in danger of going down 2-0 in their first round series with the Hawks. Rajon Rondo was at the team hotel serving his suspension. Ray Allen was at the end of the bench in a suit, trying to console his replacement Mickael Pietrus, who had been benched.
They had not made a single 3-pointer in the series and Paul Pierce was in the midst of a 2-for-11 stretch after a hot start. Then Keyon Dooling finally broke through from behind the arc, Pierce went supernova and the defense grounded the Hawks into fine powder.
Now, the Celtics are coming back to Boston with a split and facing a Hawks team that may be without forward Josh Smith, who strained his left patella ligament and is listed as “doubtful” for Friday’s Game 3. They have two days to rest between games, a nice scheduling gift from the league, and if they take care of business at the Garden where they posted the third-best home record in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics could be in full command of this series by the end of the weekend.
Oh, and the top-seeded Bulls were blown out by Philadelphia in their first game without Derrick Rose.
But that’s getting way ahead of things.
The Celtics and Hawks have played five games this season, including the playoffs, and all five have been tight, tense affairs with the Hawks scoring 421 points to Boston’s 419. If Smith is out for an extended period of time, that changes the equation dramatically, but it’s not as if the C’s don’t have injury concerns of their own. From the beginning, this promised to be a close series and the two games have lived up to that promise.
Here’s three reasons why it’s far from over: Read the rest of this entry »
|Irish Coffee: All you need to know about Marc Davis||04.30.12 at 1:47 pm ET|
Don’t believe everything Tim Donaghy says, but at least the disgraced NBA referee is right about one thing.
“It’s not the first time Marc Davis has had problems with some of the Boston players,” said Donaghy, a one-time official who pled guilty in 2007 for his role in a gambling scandal, in his appearance on Dennis & Callahan. “I’m sure, again, that there’s a history there. This isn’t the first time something like this has come up with him.”
Davis, of course, is the official who, in a span of about 90 seconds from 2:14 to 0:41, handed the ball to the Hawks on a ball that clearly went off Atlanta‘s Josh Smith, whistled Brandon Bass for a foul on an apparent jump ball and subsequently called Rajon Rondo for a pair of technical fouls — the first for arguing on Bass’ behalf and the second for the infamous chest bump stumble.
“Davis is one of those guys that has rabbit ears for certain people,” said Donaghy. “He’s a referee that thinks people pay for their tickets to come and see him. He’s one of those guys that has a little bit of an ego. So, I’m sure it’s not the first time that he’s had a problem with Rondo, or something else happened in that game for Rondo to go after him and bump him over that call right there during that point of the game. Something else triggered that.”
|How did the Celtics lose Game 1? We’ll count the ways||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|
“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|
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.
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