|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.
|Sean Grande’s NBA awards ballot||at 1:56 pm ET|
I’m not sure when exactly it happened.
Media, communication, society, it all changes pretty fast these days. But at some point, probably somewhere between MySpace and Facebook, the concept of anonymity started to become a problem. It was manageable then, the occasional encoded e-mail address and what not. But with Twitter, it’s now an epidemic.
And of course the problem isn’t anonymity, it’s a wonderful thing if you’re fortunate enough to have it. The problem, is that it comes with a certain amount of entitlement. That lack of awareness, fake-tough bravery that usually comes after too much to drink, or for those of us new parents, not nearly enough sleep.
People say the nastiest, vicious, twisted things when armed with a keyboard and the invisibility cloak of the Internet. They are, more often than not, the same people that would smile, shake your hand or ask for an autograph if they saw you in person. It’s a disturbing, ugly trend. I mean, sure it is. But it’s an absurdly small price to pay for the freedom of speech we’re blessed to have and the extraordinary age of technology in which we exist.
There are 100 million people on Twitter. If a few dozen backwards teenagers, bred in ignorance, tweet something offensive after Joel Ward scores the overtime goal for the Capitals, it’s not a story unless we make it one.
Morons have existed from the beginning of time. So has classlessness, ignorance and hate. And they always will. Progress isn’t eliminating them; that’s a noble idea but it can’t be done. Progress is recognizing it, isolating it and going on with life in the real world while the increasing minority of people fueled by race and hate grows extinct.
It’s how we got rid of disco, Members Only jackets and lava lamps. Just give it time.
Anyway, the point is that as big a fan of anonymity as I am ‘¦ I don’t think postseason award ballots should be anonymous. Never have. I’ve been voting for NBA MVP and the other awards for 14 years now. It’s a privilege, not a right. And I think with that privilege comes a certain amount of accountability. I’ve always made my ballot public and I think everyone should. If you’re ‘expert’ enough to get a vote, you should be able to defend your choices, that’s all.
That said, I’ll be submitting my ballots to the league shortly, and here’s what they’ll look like.
I always begin here. By picking the top 15 guys in the league, it starts my process in picking the five for my MVP ballot.
And the strangest thing about the all-NBA team this year? In fact, the strangest thing maybe about this truly strange NBA season? The center spot. For years now, it’s actually been a struggle to find three centers worthy of All-Star consideration. You’d convince yourself that Tim Duncan was playing center even if he wasn’t, or that Nene was really underrated. It was a struggle. This year, if you call Duncan a center, there were legitimately seven guys competing for the third spot.
|Irish Coffee: Banged-up Celtics ‘hoping everybody is’||at 1:12 pm ET|
He might not be a real doctor, but he must feel like one after all the injuries he’s seen in the past four months.
“We’ve got to be careful with them, even in the playoffs,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “It just doesn’t take much, it seems like, right now, for a guy to not be able to play the next night. So we have to be very careful.’
Take Paul Pierce as Exhibit A. The Celtics captain began this lockout-shortened regular season with a bone bruise in his right heel and ended it with a sprained big left toe. The original plan was to rest Pierce’s ailing feet for the final two games, but his desire to stay in rhythm won out, so Rivers played him 18 minutes on Tuesday and just 2:18 on Thursday before March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month limped back to the locker room.
“He hurt it,” said Rivers, referencing the toe that led the C’s to list Pierce as likely unable to return. “That’s why he’s been sitting. And then he wanted to play. We’re not sure if it was the tape, or whatever, because when he wanted to come back, he just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose.’ So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in, but he really wanted to play a couple minutes just to get up and down the floor.”
The Celtics dodged a bullet, as Pierce returned for the final 4:24 of the first half to score seven quick points and ease fans’ fears. The same can’t be said for Ray Allen, who missed his ninth straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. On Thursday, Rivers dubbed him probable for Game 1 against the Hawks, but the Celtics announced via Twitter on Friday, “Allen will not practice today and his status for Game 1 on Sunday is still unknown.”
|Kevin Garnett: ‘Together, Celtics play hard as sh*t’||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|
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!
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.’
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