|Kevin Garnett: ‘Together, Celtics play hard as sh*t’||04.27.12 at 1:27 am ET|
It wasn’t pretty. Not the NBA lockout. Not the 0-3 start. Not the losses of Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to heart surgeries. Not the two five-game losing streaks. Not the way Paul Pierce started the season, Ray Allen ended it or everything in between that involved Jermaine O’Neal. But it’s over.
The 2011-12 Celtics regular season is in the books, resulting in another Atlantic Division title to toss into the supply closet along with the franchise’s 21 others that mean little compared to the 17 NBA championship banners hanging from the rafters. All in four months work for Kevin Garnett.
“We’re a very, very motivated group,” said Garnett. “Individually, we have a lot of pride. Together, we play hard as sh*t. Like I said, we’re a very prideful team. Like I always said, man, when you come in here and put that jersey on, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that, and we don’t take that lightly in here.”
The Celtics finished 39-27, capturing the fourth seed as the division winner, but finishing a game behind the Hawks (40-26), who will host Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday at 7 p.m. on TNT (full schedule here), presumably without injured centers Al Horford and Garnett’s personal favorite Zaza Pachulia.
“This Atlanta team is a very exciting team — athletic, a better team since we’ve seen them, a more mature team,” said KG. “Smooth, Josh Smith, has played to me some of his best basketball. Joe Johnson is classic Joe Johnson. And they’re coming together as a team. … They’re feeling good about themselves, and that’s a thing we have to reckon with. And we’re going to prepare for them starting tomorrow.”
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics stop Bucks season here||04.26.12 at 10:11 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Mickael Pietrus all returned to the lineup, and the Celtics cruised to an 87-74 victory against the Bucks in their regular-season finale.
The trio combined for just 13 points, but Rondo dished out 15 assists despite taking just one shot. Avery Bradley (14 points) and Paul Pierce (12 points) were the only Celtics to reach double digits, but the Celtics (39-27) cruised nonetheless.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Recovery act: At times, Rondo ran the floor like, well, a guy with a bad back, but it appeared more like an act than anything worth concern. He toyed with defenders at will, improving his streak of games with at least 10 assists to 24 by halftime. Meanwhile, Pietrus returned from his four-game absence to register nine points off the bench. Garnett only played 11 first-half minutes, but he showed no signs of the sore hip flexor that kept him out against the Heat. All in all, the trio of walking Celtics wounded appeared ready to go for the playoffs.
S’Moore: After totaling seven points and seven rebounds against the Heat on Tuesday night, rookie E’Twaun Moore put together another nice performance. At one point against the Bucks, he was a plus-18 in his time on the floor. Moore finished with eight points, five assists and four rebounds.
Hollins of Fame: It took all of 51 seconds for Ryan Hollins to put together his most productive stretch of the season. He scored seven points in just under a minute, including a pair of dunks — one of which even came on a putback after a rebound — that helped the Celtics establish a double-digit advantage early in the second quarter. After a month of discouragement, Thursday night was an encouraging sign for Hollins.
WHAT WENT WRONG
My left big toe: Just minutes into the game, Pierce limped back to the Celtics locker room accompanied by team Dr. Brian McKeon — a scary sight for a Celtics team hobbled by injuries entering the playoffs. Scarier still was the Celtics diagnosis that Pierce had sprained his left big toe and was “probably not likely to return.” Naturally, the C’s captain returned before halftime, scoring seven of the team’s final 11 points before the break. The feet have been an issue for Pierce ever since his heel injury during training camp, but on a night he accept an Eastern Conference Player of the Month trophy, his injuries don’t appear too serious.
Ray of hope: While Rondo, Pietrus and Garnett all returned, Ray Allen missed his ninth consecutive game — and 15th in his last 20 — with bone spurs in his right ankle. Celtics coach Doc Rivers pronounced Allen “probable” to play Game 1 of the Hawks series, but even if he does play, there has to be some doubt about his effectiveness after such a long absence. As for Greg Stiemsma, his foot problems shouldn’t keep him from his first career playoff game, even if he missed a second straight game on Thursday.
On the road again: With the Hawks holding a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, they appeared well on their way to claiming home court advantage in their first-round series against the Celtics. The C’s will own the fourth seed as the Atlantic Division winners, but will have to travel to Atlanta for Game 1 (on Sunday). The Celtics finished 2-1 against the Hawks (1-1 in the ATL) this season, but 2-0 when they weren’t missing five of their top eight rotation players.
|Irish Coffee: 10 things we learned from Celtics-Heat||04.25.12 at 2:44 pm ET|
It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. The end of the NBA’s lockout-shortened season is upon us, forcing TNT to broadcast marquee matchups like Ryan Hollins vs. Dexter Pittman and Sasha Pavlovic vs. Mike Miller rather than Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James. But that doesn’t mean there was nothing to learn from Tuesday night’s game between the Celtics and Heat at the Garden. Here are 10 things.
10. Thanks to Pavlovic’s heroics, the Celtics still have a shot at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Two things must happen Thursday: 1) Celtics defeat the Bucks, and 2) Hawks lose to the Mavericks.
“Our seeding is important as well,” said Celtics reserve guard Keyon Dooling, who scored seven points in the win over the Heat. “So, if we have to get that win, we’re coming in here trying to tear their head off.”
The hunch within the C’s organization is that if Atlanta hosts Game 1, it’ll be played on Saturday night; however, if it’s in Boston, the series will likely start Sunday. Of course, all that assumes the Bruins beat the Capitals in Game 7 and host Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday.
9. After their loss, while casually dressed Heat stars Dwayne Wade and James poked fun at second-year center Dexter Pittman‘s feet and socks, teammate Chris Bosh sat in the corner of the locker room, donning a suit and reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” A different bird, I guess.
8. Heat swingman Shane Battier‘s take on a game that featured 39 turnovers: “In my 11 years, that’s the worst game I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve already taken a shower. You guys should all take a shower to get the stink of this game off you. It’s not fun for anybody … but, hey, it’s the NBA, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.”
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to lockout basketball. It’s FAN-tastic!
Sean Williams was regarded as one of the best shot-blocking talents coming out of college when he declared for the 2007 NBA draft out of Boston College.
Tuesday, with no Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma, the Celtics had to look somewhere for bench help to support Ryan Hollins, and it was the newly-acquired Williams who got the look-see.
In nearly 20 minutes, he scored five points, hauled down two rebounds, had two assists and yes, blocked two shots in Boston’s 78-66 ugly duckling win over the Heat at the Garden.
“It was OK,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Williams Tuesday. “He’s a shot blocker, doesn’t know a lot of our stuff. You know he was pressing early; him and Ryan they were pressing way too much early on. And I thought as they settled in, one thing I did like about Sean down the stretch: he’s competitive. And you can see that. He wasn’t going to back down to anything, got some great blocked shots, so that was good to see.”
So, back in Boston, Williams had the juices flowing in the first half, almost too much. Rivers could tell he was a bit nervous, and Williams didn’t deny that.
“Yes I was a little,” Williams said with a smile. “You go out there your first time you get tired real fast, your legs get down on you real quick, everything kind of shuts down on you so I caught my second wind I guess in the second half.”
Technically, Williams is eligible for Boston’s playoff roster since he waived by Dallas before the March 23 NBA deadline for rosters. Could he help off the bench as a shot-blocking force if Stiemsma’s sore feet act up?
“I’m just trying to come in here and help these guys reach their goals, getting that 18th ring, that’s all I’m focused on,” Williams said. “I’ll let Doc decide that. Its not up to me. I just come here every day and try to get better at what I do.”
|Irish Coffee: How Celtics re-match up against Hawks||04.23.12 at 4:27 pm ET|
UPDATE: Since Al Horford‘s original claim that playing against the Celtics in their first-round series was unrealistic, the Hawks center has changed his tune. A consultation with his surgeon resulted in a prognosis that he could return to the court on Thursday in a limited role, according to the most recent Yahoo! Sports report.
“It remains to be seen what I can bring,” Horford told reporter Marc J. Spears. “But I hope to bring some scoring. They can’t expect a lot from me defensively because it’s been a while since I’ve even played. That’s one of the things that will hold me back, but scoring I can help. And also with presence with the team in general.”
It’s official. When the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs begin at month’s end, the Celtics will face the Hawks — the same team that in 2008 took them to seven games in the first round. That was then, when the championship nucleus of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was just finding its groove. This is now, five years later.
The first four of this core’s 43 playoff wins came against Atlanta, but will its last also come against the Hawks?
|Irish Coffee: Avery Bradley ‘beautiful’ in Kevin Garnett’s eyes||04.19.12 at 2:10 pm ET|
Twice after their division-clinching victory against the Magic, Kevin Garnett made his case to the Celtics organization for rewarding Avery Bradley financially after his successful sophomore campaign.
“I love seeing young guys who work hard and it pays off,” said Garnett. “I love young guys who listen and actually put in the work. Just from seeing where he’s come from to where he’s at now is just beautiful, man. I hope they’re able to reward him with some longevity and some loyalty — something long-term. I’ve always said to him, ‘Continue to work, because that’s what’s got you here,’ so I’m happy for him.”
The problem is Bradley isn’t slated to become an unrestricted free agent until the 2015-16 NBA season. He’ll make $1.6 million next season, $2.5 million in 2013-14 and at least the qualifying offer of $3.6 million in 2014-15, facts that may have escaped Garnett, who has made at least $14 million in each of his last 14 seasons.
It’s a great problem for the Celtics, because Bradley has established himself as one of the best bargains in basketball. With Rajon Rondo also locked up through 2014-15 at an average of $12 million over the three years, the C’s have one of the youngest, most affordable starting backcourts and two of the best trade chips in the NBA.
“Avery’s emerging,” said Keyon Dooling, “so we might have to give him like a Big Five or something.”
The Celtics have won the Atlantic Division in all five years of the new “Big 3″.
And it’s a well known fact that they don’t commemorate division titles with banners up above.
But when the Celtics clinched the division Wednesday with a 102-98 win over the Magic, there was reason to step back and take a bow.
It was how they got there that was impressive, especially to their coach Doc Rivers. He acknowledged the significance of the turnaround by the team, which played without the injured Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus.
“Yeah, it does, I mean [something],” Rivers said. “It’s funny we were kidding in the locker room because I really – I usually, honestly, don’t say much about it – I don’t know if I’ve ever congratulated the team for winning one,” But I did tell them, I said, ‘Guys, I know it’s not a big deal to us – and it isn’t because we’re not in this to win divisions – but, we were two games under .500 at All-Star break and the fact that you did it and did it this early I think is very impressive.’ And it was.”
Captain Paul Pierce led the Celtics Wednesday with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists. Pierce reminded everyone afterward of what the final goal is for the team, a team that was two games under .500 at the All-Star break.
“I’m not about to go pop champagne bottles or anything like that,” Pierce said. “I know they do in baseball. I mean, it is a good accomplishment. The guys should recognize where we came from to what we are today. It’s a good accomplishment I guess. But all we care about around here is a championship banner. I guess it’s just a step towards the journey we are trying to go towards.”
But Kevin Garnett took the chance to take a swipe at the naysayers who wrote the team off, giving them no chance of winning another division, let alone championship.
“You guys called us old, over,” Garnett said. “I heard some of your pathetic articles and some of your lousy announcers [predictions]. It’s a pity. Obviously you don’t know what drives us. We thank y’all for those articles, appreciate it because it lit a fire under. One of the hardest things I’ve always said in this league is to create chemistry.”