|Kevin Garnett: ‘I have nothing positive to say’ about Minnesota Timberwolves||03.30.12 at 2:36 pm ET|
On Friday night, the Celtics are shooting for their fourth straight victory and a sixth win in their last seven games when they travel to Minneapolis, the city Kevin Garnett called home for his first 12 NBA seasons.
Loyalty means everything to Garnett, and as we learned following Wednesday’s defeat of the Jazz, that devotion moved to Boston from Minnesota when the Timberwolves sent him to the Celtics in 2007 for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations, their 2009 first-round draft pick and Minnesota’s 2009 first-round pick that they had traded to Boston in the Ricky Davis–Wally Szczerbiak deal.
“It’s always special to come back to true fans and sort of your foundation, but as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say, so I’ll just let it be that,” said Garnett. “I think Kevin Love is playing at a high level. I think he’s rejuvenated the city as far as basketball goes. Other than that, nothing else.”
To say Love is playing at a high level might be an understatement, as he’s averaging 37.3 points and 16.3 rebounds over his last four games and playing himself into the MVP discussion. There’s been plenty of comparisons between Garnett vs. Love, but recently Garnett has guarded opposing centers, so it will be interesting to see if the two actually square off head-to-head in Friday night’s matchup.
Speaking of Garnett at the five position, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, he could be the perfect fill-in for the Celtics at center for the next two or three years. That would allow the Celtics to remain competitive with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and whoever else while maintaining some flexibility for the next round of superstar free agents in two or three years, when the C’s could make a run at someone like — you guessed it — Love.
|Irish Coffee: Doc Rivers molds Celtics bench … again||03.29.12 at 2:23 pm ET|
This version of the Celtics bench is somewhere between Version 3.0 and 893.7. I know because I’ve written each time Doc Rivers molds a different group into form, only to have that unit dismantled by injuries.
At the start of training camp, most expected Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to fill out the 2011-12 Celtics nine-man rotation. Along the way, injuries to Dooling (knee, hip), Green (heart), Wilcox (heart) and Jermaine O’Neal (knee, wrist) forced Bass into the starting lineup and left a rookie (Greg Stiemsma), a sophomore (Avery Bradley) and a guy who cleared waivers (Mickael Pietrus) to fill out the reserve unit.
Sprinkle in a way-past-his-prime Sasha Pavlovic, a guy coming off spinal surgery (Marquis Daniels), two more rookies (JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore) and a little bit of Ryan Hollins, and you’d expect a big old bowl of poop soup that might lead Padma Lakshmi to ask Danny Ainge to kindly, “Please pack your knives and go.”
Somehow, someway, Rivers & Co. are making it work … again. Of course, it helps the veteran core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and — save for a pair of ankle sprains — Ray Allen has remained intact. Those guys can make a lot of players look better, but they also set an example that leads them to play better.
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m in a rhythm of finding guys’||at 11:17 am ET|
Take care of the rock.
It’s the simplest of principles in basketball yet sometimes the most challenging.
No one knows this more than Rajon Rondo.
His 14 assists Wednesday gave him double-digit assist totals for 11 straight games, the first player with such a string since Steve Nash went on his remarkable run in 2009. But in those 11 games, he’s committed six turnovers three times and four turnovers twice. Doc Rivers challenged him after the All-Star break to cut down on the turnovers and see what happens.
‘Well it’s been down since All-Star break and we’ve had a couple of them, but overall our numbers are down and that’s huge,” Rivers said Wednesday. “We made some changes, which I probably should have made earlier in the year and since we’ve made those our turnovers have been way down.
‘The only big we throw it to is [Kevin Garnett], above the elbow, basically its that simple,” Rivers added. “Before we were running all the elbow offense, but it was any big and we realized that maybe Kevin should be the only ball handler above the circle.’
And the change from Rondo?
“He’s probably talking about me,” Rondo said. “When I take care of the ball, we take care of the ball as a team so I try to go in with that focus. It starts with the point guard. I have the ball in my hands a lot of the time on the floor. So, if I can take care of the ball, we tend to follow.”
The turnover ratio can explain so much. It can explain why a team that has trouble taking care of the ball possession after possession allows its opponent to get easy buckets in transition.
In the college game, we’ve seen what the University of Kentucky has done turning teams over with its pressure defense. Close games become blowouts in the blink of an eye.
In the NBA this season, we’ve seen a Philadelphia team overachieve and lead its division for most of the season because they are hardly turning the ball over at all. They are on pace to commit fewer than 11 turnovers a game, breaking the previous record of the 2006 Detroit Pistons.
And now we’re seeing the benefit of taking care of the ball from Rondo and the Celtics.
The Celtics have been beaten on the glass by an average of 10 rebounds per game over a stretch in which they’ve gone 4-2. Why? Because they’re committing fewer and fewer turnovers. Take Wednesday night for example.
The rebounding tote board read 43-25 at one point in favor of Utah. But the Celtics committed just six turnovers three quarters while Utah had committed 13, leading to 18 Celtics points. The final numbers were 49-38 and 12-15, respectively.
|Keyon Dooling: ‘This team is made for the playoffs’||at 9:56 am ET|
Winning can do lots for a team. Most of all – for the Celtics – it’s brought back their swagger.
Never was that more evident than when Keyon Dooling spoke to reporters Wednesday night after his 3-pointer keyed a 7-0 run that broke a 66-66 tie midway through the fourth quarter and helped the Celtics manage a 94-82 win over the Jazz at the Garden.
The win again put them in a flatfooted tie with the Sixers atop the Atlantic Division at 28-22.
But more than that, it gave evidence to the theory held by many inside the Celtics locker room that once they get to the playoffs, they’ll be prepared for success.
“You just stay the course,” Dooling said. “We have a team that is really about us, what we do, building habits and building for the playoffs. This team is made for the playoffs, it’s built for grind-it-out games, and that’s usually how playoff games are. We’re building our habits and guys are executing their roles and starting to get back.”
Dooling is finally healthy after a mid-season bout with a nagging hip injury.
“Just the opportunity is there,” Dooling said. “Coming back from injury, you don’t feel great and you have to earn the trust of the coach and Doc is really starting to trust me and I’m starting to feel what he wants from me when I’m on the court and I’m just trying to find my niche. Each team you’re on, you have to find your niche, get your role, you try to execute it so now I’m just trying to build my role on this team.
“One night it might be diving on the floor, one night it might be making open shots. Every night it’s contributing, keeping guys’ energy up, helping guys from an execution standpoint, just being who I am every day.”
And who he was on Wednesday was a big-time shot maker. His three just over a minute into the fourth snapped a 66-66 tie and gave the Celtics the lead for good. He drilled another jumper two minutes later to put the Celtics up, 75-70.
“Anytime when a team is making a run on you, you’re looking for that slump-buster,” Dooling said. “They tightened the screws defensively, and they packed the paint on [Kevin Garnett]. Me and Sasha were able to get a couple of wide-open looks and we were able to knock them down.”
‘Keyon, he’s just coming on,” Doc Rivers added. “We don’t want to forget how much he’s been injured and now he’s starting to come on. You can see it a little bit and its nice to see him make shots.’
|Kevin Garnett: ‘I hear y’all calling me old’||at 2:11 am ET|
Perhaps it was the presence of Al Jefferson, the kid who he has enjoyed trash talking ever since the Celtics swapped them for each other five years ago. Whatever the reason, Kevin Garnett assumed Yoda’s persona.
Wednesday night, Big Al was just another patron at the Mos Eisley Cantina, at least to the masterful Garnett, who considered Jefferson an afterthought in a mind that’s clearly had plenty weighing on it this season. Rarely do we get a glimpse into KG’s consciousness, so when we do it’s best to savor it completely. Here goes.
|Fast Break: Celtics’ third straight win earns first-place tie||03.28.12 at 9:54 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo became the first player since 2009 to register double-digit assists in 11 straight games (obviously, Steve Nash was the last to accomplish that feat), as his 14 dimes on Wednesday night helped the Celtics (28-22) defeat the Jazz 94-82 and move into another tie with the idle 76ers for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Kevin Garnett submitted his 16th double-double of the season, amassing 23 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Paul Pierce (20 points, 6 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (19 points, 4 rebounds) also turned in big nights.
Meanwhile, despite 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists from old friend Al Jefferson, the Jazz (27-24) dropped into a tie with the Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
High-flying Hollins: He may not be much of a rebounder for a 7-footer, but the 27-year-old Ryan Hollins can run the floor with Rondo, and anyone who can do that will be rewarded. On consecutive plays 30 seconds apart in the waning minutes of the first half, Hollins threw down two alley-oop dunks sandwiched around a Jazz timeout.
Seconds, please: The second quarter was vintage Celtics, who outscored the Jazz 28-14 going into the break. As a team, they shot 11-for-20 (55%) from the field. Pierce scored six points in the frame while Garnett and Bradley each netted five apiece. As good as they were on offense, they might have been better on the defensive end.
Rondo tornado: Where there is vintage Celtics, there is vintage Rondo. His four points, three assists and two rebounds in the first in the first eight minutes cued the triple-double watch early. While he didn’t shoot as much as the Celtics might have liked, he kept the engine running smoothly for most of the night.
Dooling bravos: It’s been a rough season for Keyon Dooling, battling injuries and losing his role to Avery Bradley, but the veteran guard submitted his best performance of the season. He scored seven points, including a huge fourth-quarter trey that gave the Celtics the lead back after the Jazz tied it, 66-66.
|The Celtics are in first place, can they stay there?||03.26.12 at 11:38 pm ET|
On Jan. 20, the Celtics scored 71 points in a home loss to Phoenix that put their record at 5-9. A month later, they capped off a road trip from hell with a 15-point loss to Oklahoma City that left this proud team talking about moral victories. That’s how sub .500 teams talk, which is what they were, lugging a 15-17 mark into the All-Star break.
A month after that, they’re in first place after beating the Bobcats, 102-95. The Sixers hold the tiebreaker, so technically the Celtics still have a game to make up on Philadelphia, but the accomplishment is still worth acknowledging. Did anyone really see this coming?
This is a team that showed up out of shape with a makeshift roster constructed for the main purpose of not being here after this season. They’ve had two five-game losing streaks ‘ the first time that’s ever happened in the Big 3 era — and they lost two crucial players to heart conditions, their starting center to season-ending wrist surgery and just had another get carted off the court in a stretcher.
The last two nights they have been without Ray Allen, as well as his primary backup and invaluable role player in Mickael Pietrus. Sure, they played the Wizards and Bobcats, the two worst teams in the league, but the victories all count the same and for the Celtics to remain in the mix for the division race, these are the game they have to win.
They are 8-14 against teams with winning records this season and more than a third of their 27 wins have come against four teams: Washington, Charlotte, Toronto and New Jersey.
In April, they play 15 games in 26 days with 12 of them against teams who are competing for the playoffs. The other three are on the road on back-to-back-to-back nights. Beginning on Sunday when they host Miami, the Celtics will play the following schedule in eleven days:
Miami, San Antonio, at Chicago, at Indiana, Philadelphia, at Miami (again) and Atlanta. Then they play Toronto, New Jersey and Charlotte in consecutive days.
If they are still in first place after all that, then that will really be an accomplishment because winning the division — so often an afterthought over the last four years — takes on added importance this season. The reward is a fourth seed and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The alternative will likely be the seventh seed and a first round matchup with the Heat.
Still, the Celtics have reason to feel good about themselves. They’ve won 12 of 17 games since the All-Star break and they continue to survive whatever obstacle is put in their way. Whether it was the loss of Chris Wilcox, the eight-game road trip, the trade deadline, the lack of big men depth without Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal and the frightening Pietrus incident, the Celtics have persevered.
Much of the credit belongs to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who have stepped forward in the second half of the season and carried the team. Pierce scored a season-high 36 points against the Bobcats and he’s been playing like the middle of the season Pierce again. In his last four games, he’s scored 102 points and grabbed 38 rebounds.
Garnett continues his amazing renaissance as the team’s center. He took 20 shots against Charlotte ‘ on the second night of a back-to-back ‘ and it’s suddenly not a stretch to think he could be the team’s center for the next two years if that’s what he wanted to do.
This season has not been about growth or cohesion. It’s been about survival and on March 27, they can finally look at the standings in their division and see their names on the top line. In many ways, the hard part is just beginning.
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