|Sean Grande: Not your Garden variety night for Celtics in New York||04.18.12 at 10:59 am ET|
Editor’s note: This is a guest piece by Celtics radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande. He wrote the story just before 3 a.m., after the Celtics’ 118-110 loss Tuesday night to the Knicks in New York.
You know what’s a bad idea?
Starting a blog at 3 a.m. But hey, doubling down on Carmelo Anthony and giving J.R. Smith and Steve Novak open looks at 3’s also is a bad idea.
So bad, in fact, it made history.
And that’s really what I’m doing here at 3 a.m., and what you’re doing there, likely early in the morning, maybe putting off the work that you left sitting in your cubicle when you went home last night. Because, hey, if it could wait overnight, it can wait another few minutes.
Besides, it’s going to be a long, long time before we see another one like that.
At 6 p.m., as the Celtics were preparing to leave their hotel in midtown Manhattan, an SUV pulled up in front of our bus. A few seconds later, from the back, emerged one William Martin Joel.
In New York, and the rest of the world, but really in New York, everyone calls him Billy.
He once said, in a song he considered a real next-level breakthrough for him, that it’s either sadness … or euphoria.
And it’s a shame that ‘It’s fantastic!’ was just so darn catchy, because the NBA could have easily adopted that as its slogan instead.
It’s been a remarkable second half for the Celtics. Their 21-9 record is one of the NBA’s best, Wednesday night on their home floor they can clinch their fifth straight division title, the defense has been the league’s standard and they’ve put together a string of outstanding nights and quality wins that with the playoffs approaching have made people think about what’s still possible.
This … was not one of them.
Big picture, the 118-110 loss to the Knicks Tuesday night may end up just a footnote on a division championship season with the truly memorable moments still ahead in the playoffs.
But these were some remarkable footnotes.
|Kevin Garnett’s unusual shot patterns||04.11.12 at 3:27 pm ET|
Everyone knows that Kevin Garnett is one of the best long-range shooting big men in the league. He’s made 48 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet this season, which is pretty much what he’s done every season since he’s been in Boston. Garnett ranks third in field goal percentage from that distance among power forwards (where he’s still listed on HoopData) behind only Dirk Nowitzki and teammate Brandon Bass.
Garnett’s not a power forward anymore, technically. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich put it perfectly when his team was in town last week. “You can pigeonhole him if you want to,” Popovich said. “He’s Kevin. He does what he does.”
With the emergence of Greg Stiemsma as a legitimate backup center, Garnett has been playing more four recently, but for all intents of purposes he’s a center now. Yet he hasn’t changed his game that much. He still guards fours and fives depending on the matchup and he’s still taking those jumpers.
What has changed is the opponents’ having to match up with two jump shooting bigs in Garnett and Bass. That draws the defense away from the basket and creates openings for Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce to work a pick and pops with Garnett and Bass, or allow Avery Bradley room to cut to the basket. Garnett, who is the second-best passer on the team after Rondo, has hooked up with Bradley on a number of occasions.
On his CourtVision blog, Kirk Goldsberry took the time to chart where Garnett actually shoots from and the data offers and interesting look into Garnett’s shot selection. For example, he’s more effective when shooting long range jumpers from the left side toward the basket, but he’s better everywhere else on the right side: deep corners, midrange and on the block. Against the Heat on Tuesday, he took seven shots shots from the right side, four from the left and three at the rim, while making 11-of-14.
Doc Rivers said after the game that his team was doing a good job of keeping things simple, but within that tight structure Garnett is free to move around from side to side and keep things fresh.
The Celtics have had trouble scoring points this season — they shot all the way to 26th in points per possession after dropping 115 on the Heat — but they have been in a decent rhythm lately. In six of their last nine games, they’ve scored at an above-average rate (at least for them ) and have recorded three of their most efficient games in that stretch against Minnesota, Philadelphia and Miami on Tuesday.
Garnett’s role in the offense is a piece of a larger whole, but it’s taken on an increased importance down the stretch. He’s averaging better than 15 shots per game over the last 10 and making better than 50 percent of them while taking on a larger work load. As the playoffs draw close, Garnett is adjusting quite well to his position change, and his increased role in the offense.
|Fast Break: Kevin Garnett, Celtics tame Heat again||04.10.12 at 9:48 pm ET|
On 60.6 percent shooting, led by Kevin Garnett (24 points, 9 rebounds), the Celtics defeated the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seeded Heat 115-107 for the second time in nine days, taking a 2-1 series lead with one matchup left between the possible playoff opponents in the penultimate game of the season.
The Celtics (33-24) won their third straight and eighth of their last 10 games, moving within two games of the idle Pacers for third in the Eastern Conference. Paul Pierce (26 points) and Rajon Rondo (18 points, 15 assists) helped the C’s set a new season high for points scored.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Opening statement: When the first quarter came to a close, the top six Celtics rotation players all had between 4-6 points, handing the Heat a 33-22 deficit. The C’s shot 61.1 percent (11-18 FG) offensively, holding Miami to 42.9 percent (9-21 FG) defensively. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was Boston’s 13-5 rebounding advantage after the first 12 minutes.
Three party: Taking advantage of a Heat defense that entered the game ranked 28th in 3-point defense, the Celtics converted 7-of-10 treys in the first half (9-14 for the game), establishing a 65-57 lead at the break on 61.5 percent shooting as a team. Pierce and Sasha Pavlovic led the effort, each converting a pair of 3-pointers.
Two-guard duo: As for the Avery Bradley/Ray Allen shooting guard combination, the pair combined for 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 10 points in a first quarter that saw both the defensive-first Bradley lineup and the offensively boosted Allen group. Not only that, but they frustrated Dwyane Wade to the tune of 20 points on 21 shots — lowlighted by a fourth-quarter technical foul after he fell for a Rondo fake 20 feet from the basket.
|Should the Heat be worried about the Celtics?||at 2:14 pm ET|
As things sit currently in the jumbled Eastern Conference, the Celtics are holding the fourth seed, which would put them in the Bulls’ bracket. They have a three-game lead on Philadelphia and New York with 10 games to play and while nothing is assured for the Celtics, it’s looking like a safe bet that they will walk away with the Atlantic Division title for the fifth straight season, thus landing the fourth seed, as opposed to the seventh.
(Note: Winning the division does not guarantee homecourt advantage in the first round. The Celtics would still have to finish with a better record than the fifth seed and they enter play on Tuesday a game and a half behind Atlanta and Orlando.)
There’s a chance that Miami, which is just one game back in the loss column, could overtake Chicago for the top spot in the conference and set up a rematch of last season’s semifinal series that the Heat won rather convincingly, 4-1. The Celtics felt then — and feel now — that if not for a couple of bad breaks like Paul Pierce‘s dubious ejection in Game 1 and Rajon Rondo‘s elbow injury in Game 3, they could have made it a much tougher series. Still, four games to one speaks for itself.
And yet, there’s a feeling that the Heat should be afraid of the Celtics in the playoffs for the simple reason of matchups. Miami has no real answer for Rondo, who was brilliant in Boston’s 91-72 victory a week and a half ago when he went for 16 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists and was a plus-28.
Additionally, Pierce is one of the few small forwards in the league who can hope to guard LeBron James for 40 minutes and match his production, if not come out ahead. Pierce went for 23-7-3 in their last meeting, while LeBron posted a 24-4-0. It was James’ first assist-free game since 2009.
The real revelation in the April 1 meeting was the play of Avery Bradley, who held Dwyane Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, including a memorable block at the rim. Bradley also scored an efficient 13 points on 10 shots and presented a problem with his cuts to the basket.
|Irish Coffee: Do Celtics own NBA’s best defense?||04.09.12 at 2:03 pm ET|
Over their last five games, the Celtics have held the Heat, Spurs, Bulls, Pacers and 76ers — all likely playoff-bound teams — to just 80.6 points per game. That ridiculous stretch included the lowest scoring output of the Miami Thrice era and Indiana’s worst offensive game this season (both 72 points).
The point? A case can be made, rather easily, that the C’s now own the NBA’s best defense.
This recent run vaulted the Celtics to No. 1 in points allowed per 100 possessions (95.3). Their 89.3 points allowed per game still ranks third behind the only other teams that give up fewer than 90 points a night — the Sixers (88.5) and Bulls (88.9) — but that’s dropped to an NBA best 83.4 points surrendered over the past 10 games.
In fact, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics have allowed 80 points or fewer in six of their last 12 games (including four of their last six), holding opponents to 40 percent shooting or worse in eight of those 12 contests.
For the season, the Celtics have held opponents to the league’s lowest field goal percentage (41.8%) and 3-point percentage (29.8%), both still tops in the NBA and even better over the past 10 games (38.7 FG%, 25.2 3P%). They make an offense’s life miserable everywhere on the court, ranking top-10 everywhere from at the rim (3rd) to 3-9 feet (8th) to 10-15 feet (1st) to 16-23 feet (7th) to 3-point range (1st).
|Irish Coffee: LeBron, Heat ‘never count Celtics out’||04.02.12 at 2:57 pm ET|
Was Sunday’s Celtics blowout, as Chris Bosh suggested, “just a bad, sh#tty game” by his Heat, or was it a warning signal to potential playoff opponents flashed from Boston — one if by C’s, so to speak?
On their way to producing the NBA’s second-best record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have won five straight and seven of their last eight games, the most recent of which handed Miami its third loss in five contests. Over the past week, Doc Rivers & Co. have surged from the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed to within 1.5 games of Dwight Howard‘s Magic and the No. 3 slot. Count the Heat among those in the league taking notice.
“I’m going to say the same thing I said last year: We are one team and I am one guy that never counts the C’s out,” said NBA MVP favorite LeBron James. “I would never count them out. They’ve just got too many winners. They’ve got guys who have been in the moment before. Like I told you guys last year, when everyone was down on the C’s, I always said I’m not going to turn my back on those guys.”
Of course, those guys James referred to are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the latter of whom missed his sixth straight game on Sunday. Didn’t matter, thanks to Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass.
“It’s because we’re a great team,” said Garnett following their 91-72 win over the Heat on national television. “Our positions and personnel, it’s all about a system. You know your role in the system. You do what you’re told in the role. You carry out your role 100 percent wholeheartedly, and that’s your contribution to the team.”
|Watch the throne: C’s heat up as Sunday showdown nears||03.31.12 at 5:46 pm ET|
The elation was reminiscent of a championship ceremony. The collective relief from the crowd, the exhaustive expressions of the victors and the sour disappointment of the losers were all palpable. The Heat had beaten the Celtics in five games … to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Re-watching the celebration unfold, it becomes extremely difficult to keep the moderate accomplishment in perspective. LeBron James began “Tebowing” (before “Tebowing” was a thing), Dwayne Wade fell to the floor like Michael Jordan after he won his third NBA title in 1993, and Doc Rivers (who was rumored to be stepping away from coaching after the conclusion of the Celtics’ playoff run) wandered around the floor like a lost puppy.
Needless to say, it felt like something was happening. A coronation of some sort. Presumably, the hoary Celtics would no longer be a threat following the 2010-11 playoffs, and the manner in which James spoke about his adversary in the immediate aftermath was extremely deferential — almost like a eulogy.
“First of all, I want to give a lot of thanks to the Boston Celtics,” James said. “Doc Rivers, that coaching staff, them players — they make [you] fight for everything, you can never take your foot off the gas, you can never take a second off against that team, so a lot of respect for that team.”
However, as James was giving praise and soaking in the moment, Rivers was preparing for his post-game press conference, where he unexpectedly declared he was coming back to coach the next season and beyond.
The Heat would advance to the NBA finals, eventually losing to the Mavericks in six games. Rivers’ decision made ripples, putting a moratorium on the passing of the crown, but most likely flew under the radar in the Heat locker room since they had advanced and the Celtics were going home.
That playoff series featured emotions that seemed elevated beyond the stakes of the individual contest. Regardless of where the two teams stand in the conference rankings, there’s enough star power — one Big Three facing another — to make matchups between the teams an event. And that is part of the allure of the next meeting of the teams on Sunday, when the Heat come to TD Garden to face a Celtics team playing at its highest level this season.
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