|Ray Allen’s return another step forward for Celtics||05.08.12 at 8:24 am ET|
Paul Pierce was in the Zone — with a capital ‘Z’ as Kevin Garnett put it — and the Celtics were pulling away in the second quarter of their 101-79 victory Sunday night in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Hawks. The atmosphere plummeted from jovial to somber, though, when Pierce went down clutching his sprained knee. The Garden was hushed.
The stress of Pierce’s uncertain health was temporarily alleviated and the Garden was instantaneously in a frenzy once again when moments later, as he has done so many times, Ray Allen came off a screen and buried a 3-pointer. It didn’t matter that this was only Allen’s second game back from an ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup nearly all of April. Both the Celtics and their fans understand what Allen provides: Relief and security due to his unmatched preparation.
“You see what he puts into his craft,” Garnett said. “You see why he is who he is, and the reputation he has earned. I use the word earned, not given. You expect great things out of him, and that’s what he gives you.”
The reputation Allen earned had to be altered. The 36 year-old is renowned for his arduous training regimen, but coming off an injury he has stressed body maintenance over basketball form. Allen said he has cut his routine down to 40 percent of its usual length, which indicates his understanding of how imperative it is to get rest. His willingness to adjust his militant habits is paying dividends.
“I’m really managing my off days really well,” Allen said. “You have a tendency when you get back off of an injury to kind of let it slide a bit, and I haven’t been. And it’s important to me to rest up, just staying off it.”
|Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett, Cake Boss of the Celtics||05.07.12 at 10:27 am ET|
In the preseason, tortillas were Kevin Garnett‘s preferred metaphor for cooking up the main course that was to be the 2011-12 regular-season Celtics. In case you missed it, here was his recipe on Media Day in December.
“Timing is everything, and chemistry isn’t something that you just don’t throw in the frying pan and mix it up with another something, and throw something on top of that, and then fry it up, put it in a tortilla, put it in the microwave, heat it up and give it to you, and expect it to taste good. For those who can cook, y’all know what I’m talking about. If y’all don’t know what I’m talking about and can’t cook, then this doesn’t concern you.”
Now, it’s time for dessert, and Garnett is baking the cake that is to be the 2012 postseason Celtics.
“I always like to use baking a cake as an example,” said Garnett. “Nothing’s going to come out of the first two minutes. You have to sit there and wait on it, for y’all who know how to bake. Some of y’all don’t know how to bake, but don’t worry about it. Ask your mothers and fathers or something — someone who knows how to bake. But it’s very similar to that. You have to give it time for it to turn into what it’s going to be. Time tells everything when the results come, and I’m just glad we’re in a nice rhythm right now.”
Regardless of the recipe, Garnett’s point is clear: This Celtics team, the one that destroyed the Hawks by 22 points in Game 4, isn’t the NBA’s version of a Hot Pocket, quickly made and easily consumed. What you saw Sunday night has been marinating for months, ripe for the pressure cooker that is professional playoff basketball.
|Game 4: Celtics need to make better use of Kevin Garnett||05.05.12 at 8:21 pm ET|
On the one hand, Kevin Garnett has attempted 50 shots in the first three games of the Celtics‘ first round playoff series with the Hawks. That’s right around the number of attempts they want out of him. On the other, he’s made only 44 percent of those shots and coach Doc Rivers is concerned that he’s not getting enough open space.
Game 3 was a “little better,” in Rivers’ opinion. Garnett shot 50 percent (9-for-18) and took more than half of those shots from within 15 feet. His follow-up slam at the end of overtime put an exclamation point on the Celtics’ 90-84 victory, as well as his 20-point, 13-rebound performance.
Still, Rivers wants more.
“We have to do a better job as far as Kevin goes,” he said. “I thought early in the game it was lot of jump shots, and we don’t mind that because he’s a great shooter. But we’ve also got to get him down low. It felt like the only way we can get him in the right spot is through an ATO [after timeout], and we have to be able to do that through the flow.”
Garnett’s usually reliable jumper has been shaky. He’s made only 11-of-33 from his beloved 18-20 foot range. That’s a steep decline from the 48 percent he shot in the regular season. Garnett has had only six attempts at the rim and half of those came in Game 3, so Rivers is right. It was a little better.
The biggest problem the Celtics have had in this series is scoring points. Yes, Joe Johnson forced the overtime by sinking a low percentage contested 3, but that’s what Johnson does and it’s part of what makes playing the Hawks a scary proposition. They’re going to make some of them eventually, no matter how good your defense plays.
The real reason the Celtics went to overtime was because they were stuck on 80 for the final four minutes of the game. In those final four minutes, Rondo missed two shots. Pierce missed two shots and committed an offensive foul. It wasn’t until the 40-second mark when Garnett got a look and it was tough 18-footer.
Part of the issue may have been fatigue. Rivers acknowledged after the game that he stuck with Garnett thinking the Celtics could deliver the knockout blow. Instead, they became trapped in yet another grind-it-out slugfest with the Hawks.
“I got stuck with Kevin, honestly,” Rivers said. “Sometimes, honestly, as a coach you take a gamble. You think we can get this, put it away and get guys out. And it backfired.”
Garnett has played 122 minutes in this series, a far cry from the carefully cultivated 5-5-5 plan that routinely resulted in 30-minute nights.
“The way my body feels right now I feel like I went 40-40-40,” said Garnett, which is accurate because he has.
Defensively, he is giving them everything they need. Without Josh Smith, the Hawks used smaller lineups and the only real way the Celtics can matchup is by taking Brandon Bass off the floor and leaving Garnett to patrol the paint. (It was also not helpful that Avery Bradley injured his shoulder late in the third quarter and wasn’t able to return).
Garnett has been excellent on the defensive glass, grabbing 27 percent of the available defensive boards. They have only allowed 17 offensive rebounds and their .784 defensive rebounding percentage ranks third in the league during the postseason. All the Celtics have been making an effort on the defensive boards, but it’s Garnett who sets the tone, especially when he’s the only big on the floor.
“He was terrific,” Rivers said. “Kevin had to do all the talking. He was basically the linebacker on the floor. All by himself and that’s hard. That’s a hard job to do.”
As always with Garnett, there’s the constant tension of doing what he does so well and then giving a little bit more. The Celtics have survived three games of this tight series without a vintage scoring performance, even with a 20 and 13 game on 9-for-18 shooting. Read the rest of this entry »
|Doing Time: the cost of Game 3’s victory||at 2:02 pm ET|
Doc Rivers knows he has a veteran squad. He knows managing his team’s minutes is a priority night-in and night-out. But he also knows he is best suited to play a short seven-man rotation. Limiting minutes becomes difficult when relying on so few players, especially as playoff games hang in the balance.
Weighing the value of rest versus victories is a complicated issue during the regular season, but when an opening to secure a playoff win appeared in Game 3 Friday night, Rivers rolled the dice.
“Sometimes, honestly, as a coach you take a gamble, ” Rivers said. “You think maybe we can get this, put this away, and get guys out.”
The coach’s gamble backfired and minutes have gone from a concern to a dilemma. Through the first two games of the series in Atlanta, Paul Pierce was averaging 42 minutes and Kevin Garnett logged 4o minutes in each contest as well. Ray Allen entered Game 3 having not seen action in a competitive game in 24 days due to an ankle injury, which will require surgery this offseason.
On Friday, Pierce played 47, Garnett logged 42 and Allen checked in with a whopping 36 minutes. Rivers is giving is team Saturday off, “Because they’re exhausted,” he said. “And I don’t want Ray in the gym because he would do something. He would shoot or something. So, that’s unusual for us in the playoffs to take a day off, but they need one.”
Leading by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter and up 80-72 with less than three minutes remaining, the Celtics let the Hawks back in the game.
“I thought we got into the habit of milking the clock,” Rivers said. “And you just can’t do that. You can do that when the other team has two bigs, but when the other team has five guards on the floor, you absolutely can’t do that. And we did that.
The Celtics may have made Friday night’s game harder than it needed to be, but Hawks coach Larry Drew had to deal with the same problem as Rivers. Atlanta was without Josh Smith on Friday night, and have also been missing Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford throughout the whole series.
“We played a lot of minutes – our starters ‘ but they did as well,” Rajon Rondo said. “So, it’s a mental effort. You can’t get tired. Down the stretch, you have to execute offensively and defensively. I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight, even though we struggled to score the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.”
Those struggles led to overtime and an extra five minutes of basketball.
“Playoffs are hard,” Pierce said. “Sometimes coaches are going to ask a lot from you. I went the whole distance again today in the second half, but it proved worth it. We were able to get the win and that’s all that matters.”
Pierce is right, results are all that matter, but the Celtics would be better-served to hit on Rivers’ gambles rather then bust.
|Why Doc Rivers is looking to make life easier for Kevin Garnett||05.03.12 at 2:54 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The Celtics spent most of their 75-minute practice session Thursday working on half-court set offense.
Well, two reasons.
If indeed Ray Allen is healthy enough to return, then they’re going to need his jump shot and Doc Rivers wants his team to remember how to get him his shots. But secondly, and maybe more importantly, with or without Allen, the Celtics need to do a better job of freeing up space for Kevin Garnett, who has had precious little of it in the first two games against the Hawks.
If Allen can play, that will help Garnett. But if he can’t the Celtics need to find another scorer besides Paul Pierce to help out so both Atlanta guards aren’t doubling down in the paint and guarding Garnett.
“We just need a scorer,” Rivers said before Thursday’s practice. “We have to space the floor. They’re killing us with their help [defense]. They just decided without Ray on the floor, they’re just going to swarm everybody and you’re going to have to find someone.”
Rivers said he’s not worried about Garnett’s jumper. He’s more alarmed that he has made just 13-of-32 field goal attempts in the first two games. There has to be help for KG going forward.
“We have to,” Rivers said. “The jumper is going to come. I’m not worried about that. But we have to establish him more. We have to get bodies off of him. They’re bumping him around, knocking him around. We have to do a better job as a staff, do a better job of trying to get bodies off of him and giving him some room.
“Our spacing is horrendous for him. Clearly without Ray, they’re using both guards to just sit in the paint. And we have to do a better of creating space. It’s tough when you have two guys they’re just not guarding. That makes it difficult on Kevin. It reminds me of Perk and Rondo early on, and that was a big and guard. Now, it’s two guards [they’re using] and they’re quick, and they can poke and jab at the ball. We have to figure out something because we have to get something down low.”
|Irish Coffee: How Hawks play without Josh Smith||at 1:56 pm ET|
If the Hawks are forced to play Game 3 without forward Josh Smith, as expected, or even with him in a limited capacity, they’ll enter new territory this season. His 2,329 minutes rank ninth in the NBA this season, and he’s one of the 7.5 percent of players who played all 66 games of this lockout-shortened year.
While the Hawks listed Smith as day-to-day with a strained left knee, the inflammation as a result of patellar tendinitis leaves him doubtful for Friday night’s game in Boston, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“It’s getting better and better each and every day,” said Smith via the AJC’s Michael Cunningham on Twitter. “I will see how it feels at shootaround [Friday]. “I have a high threshold for pain. If I feel like I can go a little bit I’m going to step out on the floor. At shootaround I will probably try to go a little bit harder than normal and see how it feels.”
Unlike the Celtics, who have become accustomed to playing without Ray Allen and a host of others all season long, the Hawks simply aren’t used to playing without Smith, Al Horford (torn pectoral) and Zaza Pachulia (strained left foot). And there are less obvious ramifications beyond that fact.
Smith’s usage rate (defined as the percentage of offensive possessions used by a player during his floor time) of 28.1 percent is the highest on the Hawks and ranks behind only Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki and DeMarcus Cousins among the league’s regular bigs. In other words, Atlanta’s offense runs through Smith.
He can score spotting up, posting up, in transition and (lord knows) in isolation. You name it, he does it. As Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe noted, “the Hawks have averaged about 104 points per 100 possessions when Smith plays, a borderline top-five mark, and a putrid 97 points per 100 possessions when he sits.” In their two playoff games, Atlanta has scored 90.6 points per 100 possessions with Smith, a stat that only stands to get worse.
|Three reasons the Celtics should be wary||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 »
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