|Fast Break: Celtics topple Heat on starless night||04.24.12 at 10:42 pm ET|
Of the seven current or former NBA All-Stars on the Celtics and Heat rosters, only Paul Pierce graced the Garden parquet on Tuesday night, and even he only played 18 minutes. That left major minutes for guys like Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic, the only C’s to reach double figures in an ugly 78-66 victory against the Heat.
Pavlovic (16 points) and Daniels (13 points) helped the Celtics (38-27) outscore Miami 28-16 in the fourth quarter and finish the season 3-1 against the Heat. With only a home game against the Bucks on Thursday remaining, the Celtics trail the Hawks (39-26) — 109-102 winners over the Clippers — by a game. As division winners, the Celtics own the tiebreaker for home court advantage in their first-round playoff series, but they would have to beat Milwaukee and hope Atlanta loses to the Mavericks.
Dexter Pittman (12 points) led the Heat (46-19), who officially conceded the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed to the Bulls.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Quis to the game: From the season opener on Christmas Day to April 19, Daniels never reached double digits in scoring or grabbed more than six rebounds in a single night. He almost exceeded both those benchmarks in the last two games. After totaling 12 points and eight boards against the Hawks on Friday night, he amassed 13 points and five rebounds against the Heat. He’s not likely to see much, if any, playing time in the playoffs, but at least something other than his shoes did the shining.
Block party: With the Celtics clinging to a 54-52 lead in the fourth quarter (yes, the fourth quarter), rookie JaJuan Johnson blocked a Juwan Howard layup attempt. Just 42 seconds later, newly signed Boston College product Sean Williams blocked Howard’s 10-foot baseline jumper, sending it into the stands for a 24-second violation. Williams sandwiched a four points around his rejection to help the C’s establish a six-point lead.
Heroic Herren: Each home game, the Celtics honor a member of the community who goes to extraordinary lengths to help those in need with a “Heroes Among Us” ceremony. Tuesday, the C’s recognized a member of their own community: Chris Herren. The Fall River native and Durfee High graduate battled substance abuse issues throughout a career that led the former McDonald’s All-American to Boston College, Fresno State, the Nuggets (No. 33 overall pick in 1999 NBA Draft) and the Celtics before several destinations abroad. Since recovering from addiction, a journey detailed in the ESPN Films production “Unguarded,” Herren founded Project Purple to fight drug abuse. As a result, he found himself back on the Garden parquet, the recipient of a rousing standing ovation — this time in a suit, clean and sober.
|Irish Coffee: An All-NBA case for Rajon Rondo||04.17.12 at 2:16 pm ET|
By now, you know Rajon Rondo‘s streak of 22 straight games with at least 10 assists trails John Stockton‘s record of 29 by seven. With only five games left, that record will stand at least until the 2012-13 NBA season begins.
But just how good has Rondo been during this streak, and this entire season for that matter?
In his last 22 games, Rondo has averaged 10.1 points, 13.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals, leading the Celtics to a 15-7 record. He has totaled 223 points and 303 assists — 57 of which led to 3-pointers — putting his hand in 886 of the C’s 2,050 points (43.2%) in that span.
To put that in perspective, NBA MVP favorite LeBron James has averaged 26.1 points and 5.5 assists in his last 22 games, leading the Heat to a 14-8 record. He has totaled 574 points and 121 assists (25 on 3P) in that span, generating 841 of Miami’s 2,081 points (40.4%).
And those numbers aren’t too far off Rondo’s season averages of 12.1 points, 11.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Out of all the players in NBA backcourts, Rondo may fall outside the top 50 in scoring, but he ranks first among guards in assists, fourth in rebounds (behind two guards Paul George, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade) and fourth in steals (behind only Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio).
All of which begs the question: Should Rondo make First Team All-NBA?
|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.
|Rajon Rondo proves again: ‘It starts with me’||04.09.12 at 11:08 am ET|
Rajon Rondo has put up numbers this season that are pretty unreal.
At halftime Sunday night, his numbers were again staggering, but for a far different reason – five turnovers to go with six assists – and still the Celtics were cruising by 14 over the fading 76ers.
In his streak of 17 games of double-digit assist totals, Rondo has also prided himself on taking care of the ball. The first half Sunday night made Rondo really, really upset.
“He was really upset at halftime because he had the five turnovers,” Doc Rivers said. “I think he had a bet – not real money – with [assistant coach Ty Lue] that he’d have zero turnovers in the second half.”
Well, Rondo played the odds well because Rondo had the perfect second half, including nine third-quarter dimes without a turnover, and played 12 minutes in the second half without a miscue. He played so well that he got the entire fourth quarter off as the Celtics rolled, 103-79.
He finished with 15 assists but it was the zero turnovers in the second half that meant the most to Rondo after the game.
“The second half I just tried to keep it simple,” Rondo said. “We ran particular play the entire third quarter and it was good for myself and the team. It’s a good win for us. Guys got some rest for Miami.”
So how did the Celtics double their lead from 14 to 28 in the first nine minutes of the third?
“It starts with me,” Rondo said. “I had five [turnovers] in the first half. I played 12 minutes in the third and I didn’t have any turnovers and I think that’s why we were able to open up the lead on Philly and blow this game out.”
Rivers was certainly on board with Rondo’s approach, as he watched his point guard simply things.
“Keeping it simple,” Rivers said. “As simple as Rondo can.”
That doesn’t mean Rondo won’t pull of the spectacular – like when he hit a turnaround, fadeaway baseline jumper as the shot clock was expiring midway through the third.
But Rivers realizes, turnovers or not, put the ball in Rondo’s hands when he’s pushing the ball up the court and good things almost always happen.
“Guys do a great job, they know when Rondo is pushing the ball up,” Rivers said. “We’ve changed a little bit. Early in the year, we were always running toward Rondo to set a pick for him. Now we’re running away from Rondo and setting a pick on everybody else. And it’s been a good move by us and [the picks] are getting guys open.”
|Paul Pierce: With LeBron James and Heat on Tuesday, ‘it doesn’t get any easier’||04.08.12 at 10:22 pm ET|
The Celtics have earned a day in the sun on Monday in South Florida after they all but locked up their fifth straight Atlantic Division title on Sunday with a 103-79 shutdown of the fading 76ers at TD Garden.
They’ll need that rest.
LeBron James and the Heat most certainly feel they have debt to pay after the Celtics handed them their worst loss of the season on April 1 in Boston.
‘Oh yeah, I’ve looked at this since the schedule came out,” Paul Pierce admitted. “It doesn’t get any easier of course. You go to Miami, you come home and play Atlanta, then you got three in a row. Its tough, every team in the league has to deal with it, unfortunately we got to deal with it at the end of the season when teams seem to be winding down, getting tired legs. But maybe its good for us, cause it seems like we are playing our best basketball right now in this crucial stretch.’
Then the Celtics return home to play the suddenly resurgent Hawks, whom they could face in the first round – and would if the playoffs started today. Then they have Thursday off before playing three straight on the road, albeit against the Raptors, Nets and Bobcats.
It appears that the message of Doc Rivers was heeded very well in the last two games as the Celtics have allowed 72 and 79 points in wins over the Pacers and the Sixers. Doc might have been ticked off but Pierce said after Sunday’s game, he wasn’t the only one.
“He was frustrated but we all were frustrated, of course we were frustrated from losing a game that we all feel like was a very winnable game,” Pierce said. “As veterans we know how to respond, we know how to take our game up another level, you felt the frustration from the coach but we felt it ourselves. Even if Doc didn’t express it, I think we would have came out and play the way we played the last couple nights.’
The Celtics are now 32-24 and lead the Knicks and Sixers by three games with 10 left on the schedule. The division ensures no worse than a No. 4 seed and home court in the first round. But obviously, the Celtics have their sights set much higher.
|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.”
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