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Jon Barry on Celtics winning Eastern Conference: ‘I think they will’ 03.31.11 at 11:25 am ET
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Appearing on the Dennis & Callahan Show, ESPN NBA analyst Jon Barry said despite the Celtics’ recent struggles, he still believes they will win the Eastern Conference when it’s all said and done. (To listen to the entire interview, click here.)

“I don’t put a lot of stock what happens at the end of the regular season,” Barry said. “Last year the Lakers lost 7 of 10 and went on to win the thing. Boston was 27-27 their last 54 and got to the Finals in the seventh game. So I wouldn’t read too much into this. But I’m a bit concerned because I really thought they were the best team with Kendrick Perkins on their roster. Now I think they let the pack in a little bit closer to them. I still think they can win the East and I think they will, but I think they’ve brought the other teams back to where they have a better opportunity to beat them.

“I like their experience,” Barry added. “I think Chicago has had a tremendous year but this is a team that hasn’t gone past the first round. The Miami Heat I think still aren’t ready to do it, come playoff time they’re not built for playoff basketball. I do believe the Celtics will come back and circle the wagons and be ready to go and be the team to beat in the East.”

Barry explained that he was taken aback at how much trading Perkins away has affected the Celtics.

“I’m a bit surprised,” the analyst said. “This was the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference with Kendrick Perkins playing 12 games. The impact that he’s made on the floor obviously hasn’t been that big and they’ve played through it. I’m a bit surprised that they’re losing games. They haven’t been able to score. Their execution late in games has been poor. It’s kind of been there bugaboo the last few years.”

Some of the other topics touched on by Barry …

The Celtics recent struggles: “Obviously, since the Kendrick trade this team has not played well. [Rajon] Rondo in particular has not played well. We know how close he was with Kendrick Perkins. I know he has a pinky issue. There’s been no bones about it that these guys are unhappy that Kendrick’s left. Doc Rivers has felt the same way and they got to find a way to crank it back up here as we get started her in couple weeks for the real season.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Fast Break: Celtics outlast Knicks 03.21.11 at 10:08 pm ET
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For the second straight game the Celtics started poorly on the road and found their legs after halftime, and the result was another comeback win, as the Celtics rallied late to beat the Knicks, 96-86. The Celtics have been living dangerously, but perhaps they are proving something to themselves right now, as well. They can’t expect to play passively and win. Now they have to do it 48 minutes again.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rondo rallies: The point guard has been showing signs of coming out of his funk, but on Monday, he has still not looked like the Rajon Rondo of old. In the first half he pulled off a trio of Rondo-esque moves that stood out as the only first-half highlight. He carried that momentum into the second half and finally recorded double-digits in assists (12), his first in eight games, and finished with 13 points on 15 shots. It was by far his most aggressive outing in weeks.

Kevin Garnett leads second-half surge: It didn’t take long for an indication that the Celtics were not going to roll over in the second half. Garnett made sure of that, scoring their first eight points of the third quarter and throwing down a vicious transition dunk on Ronny Turiaf. He made many big plays in this game, but perhaps his biggest came when he chased down a loose ball and dove into Amar’e Stoudemire to force a jump ball.

Great theater at the MSG: The Celtics have played two games in New York this season and both have been classics. While this one lacked the drama — and quality play — of the December matchup, it every bit as intense. Allen left the game after catching an elbow that drew blood. Later, Carmelo Anthony got busted up after colliding with Rondo in mid-air. The Celtics showed better poise and more toughness down the stretch, but if these two teams meet in the playoffs expect the drama to be thick.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Second-unit struggles: One game after using a tight eight-man rotation in a win over the Hornets, Rivers went back to a platoon-style lineup using five reserves to start the second quarter. Four minutes in, the five had not scored a point and the Knicks were on their way to building a double-digit lead. The reserves went 2-for-10 in the first half, and while the 51-37 halftime deficit wasn’t all on them, they started the downhill slide.

Glen Davis had one of those nights: This was the bad version of Big Baby for the first three quarters. The one that misses jump shots and then allows himself to get outworked and outhustled by the likes of Turiaf — another undersized post player who relies on toughness and energy. Davis’ night was summed up by the flop he took on a phantom elbow by Anthony. While Davis lay on the ground, the Knicks raced downcourt.

On nights when his shot doesn’t fall, he still has to bring defense and energy to the game and both were in short supply until the fourth quarter when he brought both. Not surprisingly, the Celtics played much better defense. Davis is not a luxury player anymore. He has to anchor their defense every night.

Ray Allen’s tough night: Allen had a rough night shooting (4-for-15) and he took an even rougher elbow to the head that drew blood and sent him back to the locker room. But Allen returned — without stitches — and capped the night off with a clinching layup.

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Trade deadline stunner: Nets acquire Deron Williams 02.23.11 at 3:02 pm ET
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For three-plus seasons, the Atlantic Division has been the Celtics kingdom. All of a sudden, it has become a madhouse. A day after the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony, the Nets swooped in and landed Deron Williams from Utah for Devin Harris, rookie Derrick Favors and draft picks. Harris and Favors were two of the key pieces in the Nets pursuit of Anthony, but there’s two significant differences here.

First, unlike the Anthony saga, which dragged on throughout the entire season, the Nets-Jazz trade was consummated quickly and with zero media attention. Second — and most importantly — the Nets made the move with no assurances that Williams would sign an extension before he can opt out of his deal after next season. Indeed, Williams was as unaware as everyone else that this deal would go down.

Williams can’t sign an extension until the summer, which leaves New Jersey a limited window to sell their new point guard on the prospect of headlining the franchise once it relocates to Brooklyn.

The deal has layers of ramifications and intrigue. Obviously the Nets have to be giddy about stealing some of the limelight from their brethren across the Hudson river, but beyond that the Jazz are now armed with high-value draft picks and young big men including Favors, Paul Millsap and former Celtic Al Jefferson. This also closes an unfortunate chapter in Utah’s history that began when longtime coach Jerry Sloan left the team after a reported blowup with Williams about the direction of the team.

For now, though, Williams is New Jersey’s most significant addition since it pried Jason Kidd loose from Phoenix. If he stays, the prospect of Williams matching up with Rajon Rondo four times a season is enticing. As an added bonus, if the Knicks actually are able to snag Chris Paul in free agency after next season, the Atlantic Division will become point guard central.

The issue for the Celtics is obvious. They will be a much different team after next season (assuming there is a next season). All of their key players besides Rondo and Paul Pierce will either be off the books or have new deals in place. With the Knicks, Nets and even the young 76ers gathering steam, competition will be fierce and the Celtics will be facing an overhaul. That’s a discussion for another day — and another collective bargaining agreement.

We haven’t yet reached the zero-hour of this season’s trade deadline, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else making a bolder, and more far-reaching move than the Nets did when they shook up the NBA and acquired Williams.

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What the Carmelo Anthony trade means for the Celtics 02.22.11 at 10:37 am ET
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The Knicks finally got Carmelo Anthony and all it took was trading two of their top three wing players, their point guard, a young 7-footer, draft picks and $6 million of cash. All that for a player who is not a top-10 talent and who in seven years in the NBA has made it out of the first round of the playoffs once.

In the process, the Knicks got significantly older at the point by swapping Ray Felton for Chauncey Billups and dumped two shooters — Wilson Chandler and Danilo Ganillari — for two forwards who can’t shoot — Corey Brewer and Renaldo Balkman. They also sold a good chunk of their future by surrendering a No. 1 draft pick in 2014 and two second-rounders obtained from Golden State.

As it played out, it became apparent that Anthony wanted no part of a trade to anywhere except New York, so the Knicks also pulled off the rare trick of upping the price in a trade while bidding against themselves.

There’s also no telling how the future of the NBA will look once a new collective bargaining agreement is in place. Once Anthony signs his long-rumored extension, he and Amar’e Stoudemire will lock up a huge portion of whatever salary cap is in place, which could mean that the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard would be beyond their financial grasp in 2012 when Billups comes off the books.

But hey, they got their man.

It’s not as if Anthony is a bad player. He and Stoudemire form a potent scoring combination at forward, assuming they can work out how to play together. It’s just a question of how much his services are really worth. Smart teams understand value and this deal is not smart. The Knicks were played like desperate teenagers on the last day of a binge in Tijuana, and if it’s true that Isiah Thomas is really pulling the strings, then they got what they deserved.

The Knicks spent the last two years undoing the wreckage that Thomas wrought and they were finally were able to put an actual basketball team on the floor. It wasn’t a team that was going to win a championship this year or next, but it was one with assets and flexibility and now most of that is gone.

In the short-term, the new-look Knicks may have upped the star power, but they aren’t going to be beat the Celtics, Heat or Bulls. There are too many holes, especially up front where Ronny Turiaf is the only defensive-minded big man left standing. Their defense, not exactly a strength to begin with, won’t get any better with Billups and Anthony guarding the perimeter.

The NBA future holds nothing but uncertainty, and the Celtics future is cloudier than most. Beyond Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, the Celtics have none of their top 12 players under contract beyond next season. Presumably Kendrick Perkins will be part of the equation and possibly Glen Davis as well.

As the dust settles from the Melo drama, ask yourself this: Would you rather have the Celtics’ present? Absolutely. Then ask yourself if you would rather have a roster with Rondo, Perkins and a well-run front office calling the shots or Stoudemire, Anthony and dysfunctional chaos?

The Knicks got their man. Whether they can do anything else will ultimately tell if the whole thing was worth it.

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Preview: Celtics at Knicks 12.15.10 at 9:28 am ET
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Just so we’re clear: This is not a rivalry, but it is a big game. The Celtics have won 10 straight games and are back atop the Eastern Conference. The Knicks have won eight straight and 13 of their last 14 and are looking like the best New york team in a decade.

While the Celtics downplayed the significance Tuesday at practice, the Knicks Raymond Felton was more outspoken. The truth is, this is a huge game for the Knicks. This is the game that will either validate their early-season success or take them back to reality. They know that and so do the Celtics, which should make for one heck of a show at the world’s most famous arena.

“Whenever the Knicks are playing well and there’s energy in the building it’s good for everybody,” Doc Rivers said. “I loved it as an opponent. I loved it when I was playing there. It’s the only building alive still, as far as the old buildings. It has that energy.”

What makes this matchup so compelling is that the Knicks and Celtics are practically diametrically opposed in terms of philosophy. The Celtics preach defense, while the Knicks try to win with offense. Boston takes the fewest 3-pointers in the league and New York takes the most. The Celtics move and execute you to death in the halfcourt, while the Knicks try to spread the floor and let their controlled version of chaos reign.

No, this isn’t the Lakers. It’s not the Magic and it’s not the Heat. But it’s New York, Madison Square Garden and the two hottest teams in the league. Throw in the New York-Boston element, make it about an up and coming challenger against an undisputed regional champion and it makes for a uniquely unexpected winter treat on the NBA calendar.

CELTICS (19-4, 10-0 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 109.3 (9th)

Defensive Rating: 98.7 (1st)

Pace: 91.0 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden

Injuries: Shaquille O’Neal (Calf, shin, questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out).

KNICKS (16-9, 9-1 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 111.6 (4th)

Defensive Rating: 109.6 (23rd)

Pace: 96.4 (Third)

Likely Starters: Ray Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e Stoudemire

Injuries: Kalenna Azubuike (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »

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Can the Knicks challenge the Celtics? 12.13.10 at 9:46 pm ET
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Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in 2007, the Celtics have not had a legitimate challenger in the Atlantic Division. They won the division by 25 games in 2008, 21 in 2009 and while the Raptors were within 10 games last season, that said much more about the Celtics’ problems than any great surge by Toronto.

The Celtics run has neatly coincided with failed attempts at franchise building in Philadelphia and Toronto and complete overhauls in New Jersey and New York. While their opponents floundered, the Celtics took advantage, winning 47 of their 54 games against their divisional brethren.

That provided a comfortable landing space for the Celtics, who never had to worry about anything other than the Eastern Conference standings. Until now.

Finally, a challenger is emerging. The Celtics will play the Knicks Wednesday night in the most anticipated matchup in years at fabled Madison Square Garden. This is easily the biggest division game the Celtics have played since 2007, which is admittedly not saying much, but in a season that stretches as long as the NBA does you take your red-letter dates where you can find them.

Unlike other big games at the Garden in recent years this one has nothing to do with the future and everything to do with the present. While the Celtics have won 10 straight games, just like they did last year at this point in the season, all eyes are on New York.

The Knicks are the talk of the basketball world again, having won eight straight games to improve to 13-1 in their last 14 games. This comes after a dreadful 3-8 start that had many questioning, among other things, Mike D’Antoni’s system, Ray Felton’s ability to run said system and whether Isiah Thomas would make a triumphantly catastrophic return to New York at some point.

Things have changed. Felton is being hailed as the best Knicks point guard since Mark Jackson and MVP chants are raining down on Amar’e Stoudemire, who set a franchise record by scoring over 30 points in each of the last eight games. For his part, Thomas has faded blissfully into the background.

Of course, this being New York, a good deal of the attention has been consumed by someone not on the current roster, namely Carmelo Anthony, who more or less made it clear that he only wants to be traded to New York. (Whether or not he is in control of the process is another matter.)

After waiting patiently to build a proper roster, the Knicks are once again faced with a choice: Go for broke or give this team a chance. All of that makes for hot and heavy rumors, but until the day Anthony actually arrives – if he ever does – the Knicks are once again relevant for basketball reasons.

Here are five things to know about the Knicks: Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Celtics-Knicks 10.28.10 at 11:27 pm ET
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celtics_knicksFor the last two seasons, the New York Knicks tried to pretend that their team didn’t exist. The goal, which was carefully articulated and plotted by Donnie Walsh, was to remove contracts, not to win games. The fans bought into this strategy and in truth, it was an easy sell. They had their fill of shortsighted quick fixes with long-term implications and two years of penance wasn’t so bad if the return turned out to be LeBron James.

There were two problems with this plan. One, Walsh and his coach Mike D’Antoni did very little to make the last two years anything more than a chore. The only development players on the roster were Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Tony Douglas and Bill Walker, which left a roster full of players who knew they were going elsewhere eventually and they reacted accordingly. The other was that there was no guarantee LeBron would want to go to New York, and when he didn’t, Walsh was forced to scramble.

On the whole, the scramble doesn’t look so bad as the Knicks were able to sign Amar’e Stoudemire and Ray Felton and acquire Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf for David Lee. Throw in a potential second-round steal in Landry Fields and a 7-foot Russian named Timofey Mozgov and suddenly the Knicks look like an actual team with direction and a directive to be competitive.

If the Celtics are going to have any competition in the Atlantic Division it’s going to come from the Knicks. Stoudemire is an A-list scorer and Gallinari doesn’t look to be too far behind. Felton is a solid point guard, which alone is a huge upgrade from what they were running out in previous seasons, and now there is depth.

To be sure there are still holes on New York’s roster, especially when it comes to size and rebounding and a team that plays D’Antoni’s system could always use more shooters, but the Knicks finally resemble a coherent basketball team whose goal is winning games, not shedding contracts.

NEW YORK (1-0)

Probable Starters: Felton, Fields, Gallinari, Stoudemire, Mozgov

Injuries: Randolph (ankle), Azubuike (knee surgery), Eddy Curry (hamstring)

BOSTON (1-1)

Probable Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Avery Bradley (ankle), Kendrick Perkins (knee surgery)

KEY MATCHUP: Stoudemire vs. Garnett

Garnett shutdown Chris Bosh in the first game of the season to such an enormous degree that people are already questioning whether Stoudemire would have been a better frontcourt running mate for James and Dwyane Wade. In his second game, Garnett recorded 15 rebounds, which is more than he had in any game last season.

He will have his hands full with Stoudemire who is the focal point on the Knicks offense. Stoudemire had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the Knicks opening night win over Toronto, but he also turned it over nine times. This will be a solid early-season test for Garnett because Stoudemire is one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league and he will Garnett work all game.

KEY STAT: Turnovers

The Celtics have already turned it over 39 times. That’s how a team that is shooting 47 percent for the floor and 39 percent from 3-point range has an efficiency rating in the 20′s and has scored less than 90 points in both of its games. The Celtics simply must take better care of the ball. (Related: Zach Lowe had an interesting post about the Celtics turnover problems on The Point Forward).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Celtics have not yet played a complete, 48-minute game and their struggles in the fourth quarter against Cleveland brought back bad memories of regular season collapses from a year ago. This will be their third game in four nights and it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers uses his bench in what should be fast-paced game.

There’s also the matter of establishing their homecourt advantage, something that the players have noted over the past few days. The C’s are off until Tuesday and this would be a good spot to finish their first week on a winning note at home against a team in their division.

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