|Fast Break: Celtics ‘play well,’ roll the Knicks in Game 3||04.22.11 at 9:36 pm ET|
For the last three days all the Celtics have been saying is that they have to play better. Their lead on the Knicks in their first round playoff series was great, but they knew they got away with uneven performances in both games. New York had something to do with that too, especially some of their role players who played above their heads, to say nothing of the tremendous individual performances by Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
But the Celtics believed that the close games had more to do with their inconsistencies. “I just want us to play well,” Doc Rivers said prior to tip-off. “[If] we play well, we will see what happens.”
They played well in Game 3. They played perhaps their best playoff game since Game 5 in Cleveland last year when they silenced LeBron James and the Cavaliers and kickstarted their run to the NBA finals. The feeling inside Madison Square Garden was eerily reminiscent. A hopped up crowd was stunned to silence early and when the Knicks tried to make a run early in the second half, the Celtics went into kill mode.
The result was a 113-96 blowout that gave them a commanding 3-0 lead. This is what the Celtics look like when they play well.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
What’s better than a great start? What the Celtics did: The pregame chatter was all about the Knicks riding the energy of the first home playoff game in seven years to a quick start. Instead it was the Celtics who established the early pace. They led 22-5, their biggest lead of the series and got center Ronny Turiaf in early foul trouble. Coming into another team’s arena and taking the crowd out of the game has always been a point of pride for the Celtics. “If you want to bother us, tell no one to come,” Doc Rivers said an hour before tipoff. “That will freak us out.”
Paul Pierce was locked in: In another quiet Celtics locker room before the game, Paul Pierce saw a couple of players engaged in small talk with a couple of reporters. “None of that,” Pierce said quietly but forcefully. He wasn’t kidding. Pierce was in his own world, all business, and he played like it, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. He took over at various times and seemed to make every big shot whenever the Knicks threatened to make a run. Ray Allen was phenomenal. Rajon Rondo had a triple double and 20 assists , but this was Pierce’s game.
The Celtics owned the 3-point line: Late in the season, the Celtics game from behind the arc went missing. It looks like they found it. Allen knocked down 8 of 11 and now has made an incredible 15-for-20 in the series. Pierce added six more and the Celtics made 14 3’s, which was a season high. They obviously won’t shoot this well again, but their success from behind the arc is a good sign for a team that has been fighting to recapture its offensive identity.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The bench was better, but still ineffective as a group: First, the bad news. The Celtics big first quarter lead evaporated as soon as Rivers went to his bench. Like clockwork it seems these days. But there was a glimmer when the second unit was able to keep the lead at five points. Not great, but it was something. There was some honest to goodness good stuff too. Jeff Green finally provided some offensive punch scoring seven first half points. But the backups have to start playing better soon.
Too many turnovers: This is nitpicking considering how well the Celtics played, but they once again turned the ball over too much. Considering the score and the way they cleaned up their work on the defensive glass, it’s perhaps asking too much for them to play a perfect game, but the turnover problem has been an issue.
|Fast Break: Celtics end season with win||04.13.11 at 10:17 pm ET|
This wasn’t so much a game as it was an exhibition contest. With Game 1 of their first round playoff series scheduled to tip Sunday night at TD Garden, the Celtics and Knicks elected to sit most of their key players with Amar’e Stoudemire being the lone exception. Doc Rivers elected to not play Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West, leaving him just eight players.
Those eight contributed to an oddly entertaining 112-102 win over New York, giving the Celtics a season sweep of the series.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Avery Bradley, stand up: The rookie guard’s previous career high was just five points and it’s been his struggles offensively that have limited his ability to help the Celtics much on the court. But Bradley was the aggressor on Wednesday. Seconds after he checked into the game, he stripped Anthony Carter in the backcourt and soared in for a dunk. He finished with 20 points in what was easily his best performance of the season.
Sasha Pavlovic showed some offensive punch: There may be a spot for Pavlovic as an 11th or 12 man in the playoffs and he scored 19 points in a surprisingly efficient offensive game.
Troy Murphy showed signs of life: Murphy has done little to make a case for any kind of a meaningful postseason role, but he scored nine points in the fourth quarter and finally made his first 3-pointer as a member of the Celtics.
|Jon Barry on Celtics winning Eastern Conference: ‘I think they will’||03.31.11 at 11:25 am ET|
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.”
|Fast Break: Celtics outlast Knicks||03.21.11 at 10:08 pm ET|
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.
|Trade deadline stunner: Nets acquire Deron Williams||02.23.11 at 3:02 pm ET|
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.
|What the Carmelo Anthony trade means for the Celtics||02.22.11 at 10:37 am ET|
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.
|Preview: Celtics at Knicks||12.15.10 at 9:28 am ET|
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)
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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