|Fast Break: Nothing Cavalier about Celtics victory||02.28.12 at 9:44 pm ET|
In a battle between two teams vying for eighth in the Eastern Conference (yup, you read that right), the Celtics blew a 16-point lead but salvaged the night when Ray Allen sandwiched a fast-break layup and two free throws around a big Kevin Garnett offensive rebound in the final minute to secure an 86-83 win over the Cavaliers.
Allen (22) and Garnett (18) combined for 40 points to help the Celtics (16-17) avoid the first six-game losing streak of the new Big Three era and stretch their lead over the Cavs (13-19) to 2.5 games for the eighth seed.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Welcome back Bass: The Celtics finished 1-5 in Bass’ recent six-game absence, and it didn’t take long for the consistent big man to demonstrate his value on the court, scoring 10 points on six shots by halftime. Bass brings a combination of scoring and toughness that the C’s simply don’t have outside of Garnett. If the Celtics have any hope for success in the second half of the season, they need a healthy Bass contributing like this.
Nothing but Garnett: Garnett reportedly called a team meeting prior to the All-Star break, and even if the entire team didn’t respond in its first game since, at least KG came to play. Wincing at times, possibly still battling the hip injury that kept him out of a game before the break, Garnett totaled 18 points and eight boards while playing his usual staunch defense. In the final seconds with the C’s leading by one, Garnett willed an offensive rebound off his own miss, got fouled and made both foul shots.
Jumping the run: Perhaps the result of an aging team benefiting from the five-day NBA All-Star break, the Celtics rattled off runs of 9-0 and 13-0 in the first quarter to establish a rare double-digit lead early (28-15 after one). Rondo recorded six assists in the first 12 minutes, including one on another fast break with his new running mate Chris Wilcox. The have only led after the first quarter in 16 of their 33 games, accumulating a 12-4 record.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics midseason report card||02.24.12 at 1:58 pm ET|
If Danny Ainge shook a Magic 8-Ball right now, the odds of “outlook not so good” coming up are probably even. After losing seven of their past eight games for the first time since he acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen prior to the 2007-08 NBA season, Ainge’s aging Celtics are 15-17 entering the All-Star break.
It’s an uphill battle the rest of the season, but it might be all downhill from here for Doc Rivers & Co. Needless to say, based on the expectations they’ve set the past four years, this Celtics group isn’t making the grade. Let’s take a look at how the C’s have stacked up individually this year.
MICKAEL PIETRUS: A-
Last Grade: A
When the news broke that Jeff Green would undergo heart surgery for an aortic aneurysm, the Celtics once again had a hole to fill behind Paul Pierce at the small forward position. Pietrus has bridged that gap, and then some. Charged with 3-point shooting and bringing energy defensively, he has shot 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and defended vigorously (at the end of the blowout loss to the Thunder, Pietrus was one of few C’s who played to the buzzer). In an attempt to improve the team’s terrible rebounding, Pietrus has also begun to assert himself on the glass, grabbing 19 rebounds in his last two games.
KEVIN GARNETT: A-
Last Grade: B+
Of the aging Big Three, the one with the most mileage and the worst knees has enjoyed the best season. Garnett entered the NBA All-Star break by recording 23 points and 13 rebounds for the first time since December 2008. That marked his ninth double-double of the season, bringing his averages to 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in only 30.8 minutes. Paired with his usual defensive prowess, he’s played all but three games — missing only one due to a tweaked hip and two for personal reasons — and it’s no surprise the Celtics are 0-3 in those contests.
|Irish Coffee: 5 awful Celtics statistics, 1 good one||02.21.12 at 12:55 pm ET|
Following a 89-73 loss to the Mavericks, the Celtics dropped to 15-16 and the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed (just two games ahead of the lowly Cavaliers) — the worst start to any season of the Kevin Garnett era.
Facing the Thunder on Wednesday night without the suspended Rajon Rondo and possibly sans KG (personal reasons), things don’t stand to get any better, especially with injuries to bigs Jermaine O’Neal (wrist), Chris Wilcox (adductor) and Brandon Bass (knee).
Should all be unavailable in the team’s final game before the All-Star break, the C’s starting center midway through the 2011-12 season will come down to a choice between rookies Greg Stiemsma and JaJuan Johnson. Generally, that’s the kind of thing that happens when a team enters the year with an injury-plagued 15-year veteran as its only established center. Not to mention Kendrick Perkins will be starting for the opposing team.
In some respect Celtics president Danny Ainge had to see this coming, although nobody could have expected them to be this bad. Here are five shockingly awful statistics the 2011-12 Celtics have produced.
|Irish Coffee: How the Celtics can score more points||02.15.12 at 12:47 pm ET|
While the Celtics rank eighth in field-goal percentage (45.8%), they’re 26th in points scored. Why? Two reasons: They don’t get to the free throw line, and they don’t attempt enough 3-pointers.
To the first point, free throws are down across the NBA, but the Celtics have been particularly inept in that regard. The C’s are one of only two teams that attempt fewer than 30 field goals per game from 0-10 feet, where the majority of fouls occur. Only the Nets (8-21) take fewer shots within 10 feet (27.9) than the Celtics (29.5). From 2007-10, when the C’s made two trips to the NBA Finals, they averaged more than 25 free throws per game and ranked in the NBA’s top 10 each season. This season, they attempt just 19.8 a night.
That last number has gotten increasingly worse as this season has progressed. The C’s nightly free throw attempts have declined from 23.8 in December to 20.2 in January and an NBA-worst 16.4 in February. For the season, the Celtics are being outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game at the free throw line.
|Irish Coffee: Bulls consider Celtics ‘dangerous team’||02.13.12 at 11:17 am ET|
BOSTON — The Celtics haven’t had two days off between home games for more than a month — and won’t again until April — so the process of building a cohesive team capable of contending in the Eastern Conference continues for head coach Doc Rivers in Waltham on Monday and Tuesday.
“If you want quality product, you have to give time for quality product to be quality. And you have to have time for that,” said Kevin Garnett, who totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in Sunday’s win over the Bulls. “It’s not just something just because you have four guys who have been together — you’ve got a whole group of guys that’s in here, and chemistry is everything. And I’m not going to back off that. So, we have some days where we do have some practice time, and you’ll see a better, more quality product, so I’m happy for that.”
Of course, the same was said on Jan. 7 when the Celtics had a stretch of four days off between home games, and then promptly lost four straight to cap the longest losing streak of this Big Three era (5 games). Since then, though, the Celtics have won 11 of their last 15 games — including a string of nine out of 10 — capped by the 95-91 victory against the Bulls, albeit without reigning MVP Derrick Rose in the lineup.
“That team is very experienced, and I think that they’re playing at a very high level,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who served as an assistant under Rivers during the 2007-10 glory years. “As I said before the game, even in the Lakers game I thought they played very well and could’ve won that, of course they won the nine out of 10 and I throw out the Toronto game because to me that was a scheduling game. They had back-to-back — a late start here and then the travel to Toronto — so that was a tough game for them.
“Throw that one out, they’re playing at a very high level,” added Thibs. “When you have [Paul] Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin and [Rajon] Rondo running the team, their bench has been playing very well, they’ve been getting a number of contributions from different people, so they’re going to be a dangerous team.”
|Kevin Garnett on Rajon Rondo: ‘He had a bit of rough day’ (before his triple-double)||02.12.12 at 8:43 pm ET|
And the Celtics needed every bit of his 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds to hold on for dear life in a 95-91 win over the Bulls, providing Boston with arguably its biggest win of the season.
After approximately an hour wait in the dressing room, Kevin Garnett finally came out and gave a clue as to why Rondo was radio silent.
“He had a bit of a rough day but he played through it,” Garnett said. “He was professional. I thought he… played with that edge.”
Asked to clarify what the rough day meant afterward, Garnett would only smile and joke, spinning the following answer: “I’d love to have that kind of rough day.”
Garnett also spoke at length about a tough film session coach Doc Rivers gave to the team before the game, less than 48 hours after Rondo put up a very mediocre performance in an 86-74 loss in Toronto Friday night.
Rondo was 2-of-10 from the field, finishing with five points, seven assists and five rebounds and five turnovers in 41 minutes.
Sunday, he posted his ninth career triple-double. Quite the turnaround.
Was Rondo extra motivated?
‘Oh, I don’t know. I’m going to let you guys be that deep,” Rivers said. “I wish I could get in someone’s head that deep. I just think he wanted to win. And I thought we played at a better pace today. You could see it: we were trying to run today. And that’s how we have to play. [If] we didn’t turn the ball over we would’ve had far more points. But I just liked our pace and that’s all we talked about after the game in Toronto and today in our morning walk-through ‘ was enough of the walking. And it was not Rondo, it’s the team. The bigs have to run the floor. [Paul Pierce] and [Ray Allen] have to run the floor.”
Then came another clue as to what might have transpired to contribute to Rondo’s “rough day.”
“It does a lot of things,” Rivers said of Rondo running the fast break. “We get early posts from our bigs, we get jump shots from the break, and we get Rondo in the open court. And when you walk, it’s easy to guard.’
Hmmm. The Celtics finished the game with a 33-7 advantage in fast break points, converting all 13 chances.
|Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum ‘can be a dominating couple’||02.10.12 at 3:51 pm ET|
BOSTON — He might look like a llama, but he sure doesn’t play like one.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol recorded 25 points and 14 rebounds against the Celtics on Thursday night, but his biggest play of the 88-87 Los Angeles victory came when he blocked Ray Allen‘s put-back attempt off a Paul Pierce miss as the overtime buzzer sounded.
“Probably, for sure,” Gasol said when asked if he thought Allen’s attempt would have sunk the Lakers had he not blocked the shot. “I think he had momentum, he was going to the rim, he’s obviously got amazing touch and I continued to play. I made a big play down the stretch, which could have cost the game.”
The Lakers wouldn’t have been in position to win the game had it not been for Gasol and center Andrew Bynum‘s combined 41 points and 31 rebounds — 20 of which came on the offensive end.
“We try to play hard and dominate every game and be a dominating couple every game,” added Gasol. “I think with our size and our level of skills, we can be. Sometimes we get to do it. Sometimes it doesn’t work both ways, but I think tonight obviously we got a great effort from Andrew. … I was able to be effective, too.”
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