|LeBron isn’t Celtics biggest competition||01.08.09 at 9:54 pm ET|
Ask the Boston Celtics who their toughest competition in the East is and they won’t say LeBron James. They’ll tell you it is themselves who stand in their way of another title, that only they can control the fate of their season. On Friday night when the suddenly skidding Celtics take the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers, their biggest challenge is not stopping King James. It is simply not getting beat by their own mistakes.
‘I really don’t care who we play next,’ Ray Allen said. ‘It’s just, I look at it personally as an opportunity to get back on track to do what I need to do to help this team. Every little thing that I look at that has my input or my stamp individually for this team, I’ve got to find out ways to do it better, to make it better out there.’
After winning 19-straight, the Celtics are on a three-game losing streak and have dropped six of their last eight contests. At this point they aren’t seeing Friday as a chance to beat an Eastern Conference rival but rather an opportunity to get back on track.
‘The thing about our team is that we don’t ever look ahead. Now that we’ve got Cleveland, we’re concentrating on Cleveland. But we never once had just talked about beating Cleveland,’ Kendrick Perkins said. ‘We need a win. We’re desperate for one right now.’
Even though winning on the road has been a struggle for the Celtics this season, spoiling the Cavs perfect home record is a test they are up for.
‘We have an opportunity to go in down there playing one of the best teams in the league,’ Leon Powe said. ‘They’re real hot at home too. I think they’ve won about 18 straight in their house. Man, it’s going to be a challenge. But we’ve got a wonderful opportunity to go in there and play well and hopefully pull out a win to give us a big confidence boost.’
A win in Cleveland would do more than get the Celtics back on the winning side. The Eastern Conference standings are so close this season that an early January victory could pay dividends in the playoffs.
‘Really, we’re just trying to win all the games we possibly can and get homecourt advantage,’ Perkins said. ‘That just would make it a little bit easier for us in the playoffs. But if we don’t get homecourt advantage I’m not saying we won’t win he championship, but it’d really be a whole lot harder.’
With an electrified crowd behind them, the Cavs will also look to avenge last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals elimination. The biggest key is matching their intensity.
‘It has the same sense of urgency,’ Powe said. ‘We’ve got to go out there, play hard, it’s going to be just like a Game 7. They’re going to come at us and try to hit us in the mouth first. We’ve got to take it and then respond back. We haven’t been doing that as of lately but I think we should be alright going out there. Our captains and everybody on this team know what we’ve got to do to win the game.’
Playing hard is one thing, but the Celtics don’t have a panicked attitude toward the game. Allen added the team has not reached the point of frustration yet, and Sam Cassell, the only member of the Celtics who has won back-to-back titles, explained there’s no need to get flustered this early in January.
‘When you’re repeating you’ve got all that stuff with big matchups, but it doesn’t matter,’ he said. ‘You want to win every game possible but it doesn’t make you or break you. A team that got its rhythm in April going into the playoffs is a team that can win a championship … Why should we [worry]? We aren’t breaking .500. When I won a championship we were 10 games over .500, that’s all.’
The Celtics won 19 straight by focusing on one day at a time. After Friday night they have 44 more regular season games left and each one is just as important as a match up against LeBron James. It doesn’t matter who’s on the opposite side of the court. The Celtics have to take care of the five guys in green first.
‘It wouldn’t have made a difference if it were Cleveland or Sacramento,’ Allen said. ‘It wouldn’t have made a difference. We lost three in a row and that’s the mentality we have to have going into the game.’
|All-Star Voting Update||12.25.08 at 7:06 pm ET|
On Christmas Day the second returns of the 2009 NBA All-Star Game ballots were announced. Dwight Howard continues to lead all votes while Rajon Rondo still struggles to crack the top 10 among all guards. Boston Celtics are bolded below in the Eastern Conference results:
Forwards: LeBron James (Clev) 1,259,764; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 905,506; Yi Jianlian (NJ) 762,162; Chris Bosh (Tor) 500,700; Paul Pierce (Bos) 313,474; Shawn Marion (Mia) 210,040; Hedo Turkoglu (Orl) 137,035; Danny Granger (Ind) 116,238; Josh Smith (Atl) 110,186; Michael Beasley (Mia) 100,257; Tayshaun Prince (Det) 98,262.
Guards: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 1,229,858; Allen Iverson (Det) 858,469; Vince Carter (NJ) 600,087; Ray Allen (Bos) 354,642; Devin Harris (NJ) 267,504; Gilbert Arenas (Wash) 205,223; Derrick Rose (Chi) 203,687; Luke Ridnour (Mil) 197,933; Jose Calderon (Tor) 193,715; Jameer Nelson (Orl) 174,081; Joe Johnson (Atl) 162,772.
Centers: Dwight Howard (Orl) 1,421,882; Samuel Dalembert (Phi) 232,733; Rasheed Wallace (Det) 163,279; Jermaine O’Neal (Tor) 147,534; Andrew Bogut (Mil) 112,708; Al Horford (Atl) 107,118; Ben Wallace (Clev) 89,809; Emeka Okafor (Char) 69,015; Zyrdrunas Ilgauskas (Cle) 60,970; Kendrick Perkins (Bos) 54,772; Brendan Haywood (Wash) 28,182.
|Perk vs. Bynum: Christmas Day Battle of the Bigs||12.24.08 at 10:01 am ET|
“If we had Andrew Bynum, it would have been different.”
He would have shut down Kendrick Perkins, who made Pau Gasol look soft. He would have stopped the Celtics from scoring 131 points in their Game Six victory. He would have helped the Lakers win it all … right?
Not so fast.
Eyes will be on Bynum and Perk on Christmas Day as the Lakers look to snap the Celtics 19-game winning streak, with many hoping Bynum will dominate Perkins and the Cs in the paint. Both big men went through struggles early in the season but Perk has demonstrated the maturity to overcome his setbacks while Bynum continues to be inconsistent.
Perkins was called for nine technical fouls by the first week in December. He looked like an emotional ticking time bomb on the court and was on pace to unseat Rasheed Wallace as the King of the Ts. But then something clicked. Perkins channeled his energy to his own game, focusing on his shot and protecting the glass. In the ten games since his last technical foul, he is shooting better than 60% from the field and averaging nearly 13 points and 10 rebounds. Last week Perkins posted 25 points and eight rebounds against the Chicago Bulls … without a single foul.
Whether it is the veteran leadership of the Big Three, the momentum of a historic winning streak, or simply the maturation process, Perkins has taken his game out of his head and onto the court. He is just as reliable at the start of the game as he is at the end in close situations. The same can’t be said for Bynum.
This season Bynum has found himself on the bench down the stretch, and he’s let everyone know he thinks he deserves more. Unlike the Celtics, who don’t get the nod until they’ve earned the minutes, Bynum wants more time to prove himself on the court. How did Phil Jackson respond? “When he shows the ability to play defense appropriately, he’ll probably be there,” Jackson said. It’s a clear message that hasn’t seemed to resonate.
On the night of Perkins’ season-high performance, Bynum was held to four points, six rebounds, and four fouls in a two-point loss to the Miami Heat. He followed up that game with just three points, one rebound, and five fouls in a loss to the Orlando Magic. Having a bad night against Dwight Howard is one thing, but four points against Joel Anthony? There’s no explanation for that when you’re supposed to be the savior of a championship contender. Even though his performance slightly improved in the past two games, which version of Bynum will show up against the Celtics?
“If we had Andrew Bynum, it would have been different.”
On Christmas Day the Celtics and Lakers will see just how different it could have been.
|Sounds of the Game… Celtics 126, Bulls 108||12.20.08 at 10:32 am ET|
What makes a great team is when it can constantly find way to get better even when things are already going so well. Doc Rivers and staff worked with center Kendrick Perkins to work on setting better screens and picks, convincing him that this would lead to better seals under the basket and eventually more scoring opportunities for him. The result? Perk scored a career high 25 points on Friday night, second only to Ray Allen’s 27 as the C’s (yawn-yawn) dispatched of the Chicago Bulls 126-108 at TD Banknorth Garden. Now, the Celtics can match the team’s all-time winning streak mark of 18 on Sunday night against Quentin Richardson and the Knicks at home. If victorious against New York, the chance to break it comes on Tuesday against another arch-rival, the Philadelphia 76ers.
|Hold the Fries for Pierce||12.14.08 at 9:33 pm ET|
‘I got a rotisserie, so you can pretty much throw anything in that and just sit it and forget it,’ Paul Pierce said with a laugh.
If only his weight loss program was that simple. This summer Pierce estimates he dropped between eight to ten pounds, a step he took to enhance the quality of his career. Pierce, 31, had seen plenty of players gain weight around the same age and he couldn’t afford to do the same. Not when there is a championship to defend.
‘You always want to improve. I’m at the stage and the age where I’m not getting any younger and it’s going to be more difficult to keep off weight,’ he said. ‘But it’s just making a conscious effort, especially as my career winds down for the last four or five years, to just be in the best shape possible.’
Pierce became his own personal chef and said goodbye to many of the foods he had grown accustomed to.
‘I just cut back on a lot of meats, like red meats. I don’t eat a lot of steak as much as I did before, hamburgers, stuff like that,’ he explained. ‘It’s more chicken and fish, salads, pasta. Not as much pasta either, but you gotta sneak it in there sometimes. There are some great Italian places out here in Boston.’
The NBA season keeps Pierce out of his kitchen so he has to be extra cautious on the road. The combination of eating in the locker room after games, late-night meals, and dining out are red flags he has to avoid, or pay the price the following day.
‘It’s hard, especially when you go to Dallas and Mark Cuban puts all that food in [our locker room],’ he said. ‘I’m not saying I don’t cheat though. I just know I’ve got to get some extra work in the next morning.’
While Pierce decided to lose the weight on his own, he was impressed by how much shedding pounds transformed his teammate’s career. Kendrick Perkins lost 16 pounds heading into last season.
‘Just seeing him where he was day one,’ Pierce said. ‘I watched him from a kid to now and if you look at his pictures from his rookie year, you’d be like, ‘Man, who was that?”
So now that Pierce has traded in fried food for fresh fruit, what guilty pleasure does he miss the most?
‘Man, Mexican food,’ he said. ‘Growing up in Los Angeles you’ve got all the good Mexican places. I’m a taco guy, burritos, stuff like that. I cut back on those but I kind of sneak those in here and there. My mom makes the best chicken enchiladas. (Pauses) Man!”
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 93, Trail Blazers 78||12.06.08 at 11:44 am ET|
Last season, in their run to their 17th NBA title, the Celtics went from potential to prolific, winning 66 games in the regular season. This season, they are going from hype to historic, as in no team in NBA history has ever followed up an 18-2 start one season with a 19-2 opening the next… until now. What’s scary about the Green Machine’s is they honestly believe they have yet to play a complete game. Friday night, the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA came to town with a 16-4 mark and a six-game winning streak. They hadn’t lost to an Eastern Conference team. They had lost just twice in 16 games when holding their opponent under 100 points. Still not enough to overcome the Celtics, who overwhelmed them with a 21-0 run. The Celtics are all on the same page, preaching the same message, we’re playing well but there’s a lot of season remaining and a lot to play for. Just take a listen.
|Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers||12.03.08 at 9:25 am ET|
On Wednesday night the Boston Celtics (17-2) will take on the Indiana Pacers (7-10) at the TD BankNorth Garden. The Pacers already upset the Celtics once this season and are riding the momentum of stunning the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. It will be up to the Celtics to halt this series of shockers.
What Went Wrong
On November 1 the Pacers defeated the Celtics 95-79 in Indiana. It was the Celtics first loss of the season, quickly proving their championship didn’t make them immortal. The Pacers jumped out to a 10-point first quarter lead and went up by as many as 25 in the fourth. The Celtics looked sloppy on the road (24 turnovers) and were off the mark all night (34.6% FG, 4-for-20 3PG, 60% FT). Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce‘s combined 33 points and 24 rebounds were not enough. Kendrick Perkins went scoreless while Rajon Rondo hit just one basket. Danny Granger scored 20 points, Marquis Daniels posted 13 points and 11 boards, and T.J. Ford contributed 19 points. When asked to explain the 18-point loss, Garnett told the media, “I don’t even know what to call it.”
In the Last Five Games …
The Celtics have the offensive edge over the Pacers, stretching their margin of victory up to 14.2 points per game over the last five contests while the Pacers have been losing by an average of 4.4 points. Their offense is back on pace with their defense (51.4% FG, 40.3% 3PG) as the Pacers have ranked in the bottom half of the league (43.8% FG, 34.8% 3PG). But in spite of the Celtics stifling D, the Pacers are the best rebounding team in the NBA and average nearly 10 more boards (49.0 to 40.0 rpg). The Pacers have also been the better ball handling team (23.0 to 21.8 apg) as of late despite Rajon Rondo‘s impressive play.
More than Meets the Eye
The Pacers 7-10 record is deceiving. This team has individual talent and has proved they can be threatening when playing together. Danny Granger is one of the hottest players in the league today and he and Paul Pierce will challenge each other on the perimeter all night. Force him behind the arc, though, and the Celtics could stifle his game. He is shooting just 24% from long range on no days rest. The Pacers traded Jermaine O’Neal for T.J. Ford this summer for backcourt leadership. Ford is just as dangerous as Ray Allen from the line and is capable of dropping 20 points on any given night. Troy Murphy (11.0 ppg, 11.8 rpg) will challenge the Celtics on the glass as one of the league’s underrated big men. Marquis Daniels is also having a breakout season (16.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) after recovering from a foot injury.
Hitting the Bench
While Jeff Foster and Jarrett Jack have been reliable for the Pacers off the bench, the Celtics reserves have the advantage. The Cs bench is filled with championship winners whereas the Pacers bench includes inexperienced rookies and unproven journeymen. Tony Allen has been explosive at the basket and scored 14 points in the first game against the Pacers. After suffering their first loss in Indy, the Celtics starters will look to come out swinging and that intensity will trickle down the bench.
Check back tonight for WEEI’s Live Celtics Game Day Blog from the TD BankNorth Garden.
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