|Irish Coffee: Why Celtics should earn No. 1 seed||02.14.11 at 1:21 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Rest up, Celtics, because it doesn’t get any easier than this. The C’s are midway through their most relaxing regular-season stretch of the New Big Three Era in terms of travel.
And never have they needed it more. Seven members of the team’s 15-man roster are battling known injuries as the All-Star break looms, and that doesn’t include Glen Davis‘ bruised noggin, Kevin Garnett‘s rehabbed knee or Rajon Rondo‘s feet.
The good news: The Celtics are in the midst of a 15-day stretch between road games. They played in Charlotte on Feb. 7 and travel to Oakland on Feb. 22. In between, they’ll have played just three home games, all three days apart. Sure, there’s an All-Star Game in between (in Los Angeles) but that’s hardly heavy lifting for Garnett, Rondo, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (depending on Pierce’s MRI results), especially since Doc Rivers is manning their minutes.
In the previous three seasons, the Celtics’ longest stretch between road games around the All-Star break was seven days. And in the last two seasons, the NBA has sandwiched a pair of road games for the C’s around the All-Star Game — hardly the mini vacation players desire.
The bad news: Since 2007, the Celtics have had three stretches of 15 days or more between road games. This current span is one. The other two have come at an even more ideal time — days before season’s end. Two years ago, the C’ss played five straight home games from March 27 to April 12. Last season, they had six consecutive home contests from March 22 to April 6.
This season, they’ll have no such luck. Starting with a four-game West Coast road trip after the All-Star Game, the Celtics play 17 of their final 28 games on the road, including 10-of-16 to close out the season. However, only 10 of those 28 games come against teams above .500.
With a half-game lead for first place, the Celtics are battling the Heat — and perhaps the Bulls — for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. In all likelihood, nobody will catch the Spurs (45-9) for the league’s best overall record, so we’ll only include the Lakers out West as we take a look at how many of these teams’ post-All-Star break games are against teams above .500:
Instead, Davis had 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting – with one very embarrassing miss – and Wafer was 4-for-5 and had his most important game as a Celtic with 10 points, including a pair of huge 3’s in an 85-82 win over the Heat.
Forget the fact that the Celtics leap-frogged the Heat back into first in the Eastern Conference. Sunday was significant if for no other reason than the Celtics had every reason – and excuse – to lose this game.
Paul Pierce – as we found out after the game – was really banged up and it showed as he missed all 10 shots from the field. Rajon Rondo turned in another all-world performance in 43 minutes of action but Doc Rivers couldn’t really rely on Nate Robinson who played just five minutes. And Avery Bradley played the final nine seconds of the first quarter.
That left it up to Davis and Wafer.
With the Celtics up 71-61, Wafer nailed a 3-ball for the Celtics’ final points of the third. He also gave the C’s their first three points of the fourth on another jumper from long range.
Davis’ big moment came even later. With 6.3 seconds remaining, Davis was fouled by LeBron James, who had just missed 1-of-2 free throws that could’ve tied the game. Instead, Davis had a chance to put the C’s up three, where a 3-pointer wouldn’t beat them.
He drained both, even with some talking going on in front of him from the Heat.
‘You want to be in those positions,” Davis said. “That’s why you practice so hard, that’s why you get in the condition.
‘We’re just trying to play the game like it’s supposed to be played. You know these are two of the best teams in the NBA. We got a lot of things to accomplish, getting over injuries, just trying to get better every day. We have 31 games left, we need to go out there and try to play 31 perfect games until the post-season starts.”
The more serious Wafer said there was an important message behind Sunday’s win.
‘It says that we shouldn’t have lost the last two games,” Wafer said of the losses to the Bobcats and Lakers. “It’s kind of frustrating, but it’s already done so we just have to move on and work with what we got.’
Rivers was just happy his team found a way with the team missing Daniels, both O’Neals, Delonte West, Robinson and a banged-up captain in Pierce.
“The bench won the game in the first half,” Rivers said of his team’s seven-point deficit in the first quarter. “They got us back into it. You know, it was amazing watching the two units play; the first unit was kind of dragging, obviously, and I thought all of them except for Rondo ‘ and then the second unit comes in and we don’t change anything; they just ‘ everything was quicker, harder, more desperate. And they made things happen.
“I thought in a role-reversal they showed the first unit how we were going to have to win this game. And then I thought our first unit took it from there. But Von and Baby were absolutely huge for us and terrific.’
No discussion of Sunday’s game and Davis would be complete without mentioning what happened with 10:30 left in the second quarter. Davis, who played remarkable defense all day, stole the ball from Dwyane Wade and his reward was an open court to go to the basket for an easy two – except for the fact that he left the floor on the wrong foot and missed the lay-up/dunk in front of gasping crowd. Whoops.
‘That was just what it was,” Davis smiling in very good humor. “I missed it, I went up the wrong way too. I can’t wait to see it on ESPN Not Top 10 that was a classic one. I was laughing. I’m glad it happened cause it kind of got me going in the game’
And may have just helped the Celtics register the most significant win of the season.
|Chris Bosh: ‘I really hate losing to’ the Celtics||02.13.11 at 8:36 pm ET|
Chris Bosh tripled his scoring output from his Heat’s 88-80 opening-night loss to the Celtics, and it still didn’t matter. The C’s held Miami to 82 points in a three-point victory on Sunday that gave the East leaders a 3-0 season advantage over the conference’s second-place team.
“We’ll just have to wait to beat the Celtics in another month or so,” said Bosh. “I really hate losing to these guys, man. We’re just going to have to wait a little bit longer. Things like this are going to make us better. Coming into an environment like this, against tough teams like this, battling for first place, it’s going to add to our experience and add to our trust. We’re just going to have to keep going and learn from it.’
The two teams don’t actually face each other until April 10 — three days before the end of the regular season — but the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed could already be determined by then. As it stands now, the Celtics (39-14) own a half-game lead on the Heat (39-15).
“We’re in each other’s way of winning an NBA championship with other teams in the Eastern Conference like Chicago and Orlando and a few other teams,” said Lebron James. “This is a team that everybody is trying to catch. They’re the defending Eastern Conference champions.”
Despite the fact that the Heat only committed two more turnovers than the Celtics (15-13) and led 43-39 at the half, Miami attributed much of the loss to their 12 first-half turnovers.
“The margin for error against a great team like that is very small. ‘¦ We dug ourselves a hole, and we just couldn’t get out of it,” said Bosh. “Like I said, against a good team like that, you can’t really do that.”
“You can tell I’m upset,” added James. “I just want to win. We all want to win. We know for the most part it was our mistakes. Give a lot of credit to Boston, of course, but we had a lot of unforced turnovers. We were shooting 56 percent from the floor in the first half, but we had 12 turnovers. We’ve got to at least give ourselves a chance to get the ball up on the rim. In the third quarter, they caught fire, and you can’t get behind a team like that.”
The Celtics outscored the Heat 35-18 in the third quarter. Interestingly enough, Rajon Rondo opted to play defense on James in that same quarter. But don’t look for James to credit Rondo, as the former shoved the latter twice for listening in on a Heat huddle.
|Rajon Rondo gets inside the heads of the Heat||at 7:24 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo may be a guard but he certainly is getting accustomed to being in the center of the action.
“D-West talked to me coming out of halftime and couple of guys told me to try and up the tempo and the only way I could do that was by pressuring the ball,” Rondo said.
Even if it meant picking up LeBron James at midcourt. And he did. And the Celtics responded with a 20-3 run that gave them the lead they never relinquished.
“I was just trying to cut the head of the horse, just wanted to change the tempo of the game,” Rondo added.
Rondo had a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and Kevin Garnett added 19 points as the Celtics won for the third time in as many tries against King LeBron and the Heat, 85-82, Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
So Doc, whose brilliant idea was it?
“It was Rondo’s idea,” Rivers said. “Really what it was, was that we just ‘ I told him to pressure the ball, and he took that whoever brought it up. I didn’t mean that. He took it that way and then I stayed with it. He actually during a time-out thought we were going to switch back, and when I didn’t say anything he was surprised. Because I liked it.
“Sometimes you go off the book and today was clearly that. That match-up made no sense, honestly. And it hurt us a couple times. The only thing I saw honestly is that it gave us life. Because he was trying so hard and working so hard, I just sort of force everybody else to join in. And even [Assistant Coach] Lawrence [Frank] was like ‘We can’t do this!’ And I said, ‘You’re right, but we’re just going to keep doing it.’ And it was good for us.’
The Celtics, who scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter, reclaimed first in the Eastern Conference by a half-game over the Heat, improving to 39-14 while the Heat fell to 39-15. With a chance to tie the game, James missed the front end of a pair of free throws with 12.5 seconds remaining and Mike Miller missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
The Celtics had six players in double figures but captain Paul Pierce was not one of them. He missed all 10 shots and finished with just one point in 39 minutes. The Celtics shot just 30 percent in the opening quarter and 37 percent in the first half, and trailed 43-39 at the half. But Boston outscored Miami, 20-3, to open the third quarter and take command of the game.
The third quarter also featured some playoff-brand physical play and frustration from the the Heat. After Zydrunas Ilguaskas set a devastating screen on Rondo, who immediately got up. Moments later, Garnett got retribution with a clean pick on Mike Miller. But Dwyane Wade took exception and threw an elbow at Garnett. Wade was whistled for a flagrant foul and the two teams had to be separated.
The Celtics are off until Wednesday when they host the Nets in the final game before the All-Star break.
After missing all 10 shots from the field on Sunday, an ailing Paul Pierce said he will have an MRI on his aching left foot on Monday to determine the extent of the injury. Pierce also aggravated his sprained right hand, which he first injured Saturday in practice.
“I sprained my hand yesterday in practice, it got hit today and then just have to get my foot checked out tomorrow, going to get an MRI on it and go from there.”
Despite scoring just one point, Pierce played 40 minutes and the Celtics beat the Heat for the third time in as many tries this season, 85-82.
‘It was tough, you know right now, just battling a couple minor injuries to my hand and my foot,” Pierce said after his least productive game of the season. “So I think that really explains my tentativeness and my off-shooting today. I told Doc that I really didn’t have it today but I just tried to grind it out and thank goodness we came out with a win.’
Asked when he injured it, Pierce said, “it happened about a week ago, actually.”
Pierce, who missed Wednesday’s practice home sick with flu-like symptoms, said he wasn’t sick on Sunday.
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s triple-double cools Heat||at 3:46 pm ET|
The first half felt like a preseason exhibition, and the second half played like a postseason battle. In the end, the Celtics defeated the Heat, 85-82, recapturing first place in the Eastern Conference by a half-game on Sunday afternoon in the TD Garden.
With 12.5 seconds to go and Lebron James on the line with a chance to tie the game with a pair of free throws, the Heat forward made just 1-of-2. Moments later, Glen Davis nailed a pair on the other end, and Mike Miller missed a game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer, as the Heat (39-15) lost to the Celtics (39-14) for the third time in three tries this year.
Rajon Rondo‘s third triple-double of the season (11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists steered the Celtics, despite Paul Pierce‘s worst offensive performance (1 point) since March 9 of his rooke season. The C’s survived 62 combined points from the Heat’s Big Three of Chris Bosh (24), Lebron James (22) and Dwyane Wade (16).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Heat get chippy: When things got sloppy midway through the third quarter, it ignited the Celtics — and their crowd. First, Zydrunas Ilgauskas knocked Rondo to the ground on a legal screen, and then Kevin Garnett returned the favor on Miller. That’s when Wade decided to shove Garnett.
As the referees discussed the severity of Wade’s foul (a flagrant-1), Rondo listened in on the Heat’s non-timeout huddle. That’s when James decided to shove Rondo — twice. Those events came during a stretch in which the Celtics expanded a two-point lead to a 13-point advantage.
Don’t get Rajon Rondo angry: Rondo was playing well before Ilgauskas decked him. Afterwards? He was on a mission. The Celtics point guard produced his first triple-double since totaling 22 assists, 12 points and 10 rebounds against the Spurs on Jan. 5. Not to mention the fact he had just one turnover. As a result, Garnett, Davis, Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins and Von Wafer all reached double figures as well.
Bench boost: Despite leaping 9.5 feet instead of 10 while missing a fast-break dunk attempt, and then belly-bumping Chris Bosh on the rebound, Glen Davis performed admirably off the bench. He totaled 16 points and four rebounds in 30 minutes. Over the previous eight days, in the Celtics’ three losses, he shot 5-of-18 and averaged six points. That was a far cry from the guy who cemented himself as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate earlier this season.
And despite looking lost at times, Von Wafer made two big second-half 3’s to total 10 points.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Paul Pierce feeling the Heat:: After missing practice with an illness earlier in the week, Pierce still appeared sluggish on Sunday against the Heat. He missed all 10 of his shots — including five 3-pointers. Meanwhile, his defensive assignment, James, made 10-of-21 buckets and outscored him 22-1 for the game.
Easy like Sunday morning: Even the crowd didn’t seem entirely into the game in the first quarter. The Celtics took three more shots than the Heat in the opening 12 minutes, yet they trailed 20-15. That’s because the C’s shot just 6-of-20 (30 percent) while defensively allowing the Heat to connect on 9-of-17 field goals (52.9 percent) in that same span.
Riding the starters: Considering the Celtics’ depth was as shallow as a kiddie pool, and they still defeated the next-best team in the East, the C’s couldn’t have asked for much more. It’s a stretch in the “what went wrong” department, but Doc Rivers was forced to play Rondo and Allen 40-plus minutes, Perkins 30-plus minutes for the fifth straight game and a (less than 100 percent) Pierce 35-plus minutes. Since the C’s play just once (Wednesday) in the next nine days, that shouldn’t cause much concern.
|Doc Rivers: We weren’t up the challenge of the Lakers||02.11.11 at 10:57 am ET|
One characteristic Doc Rivers has always admired about his team was that it fights through almost every kind of adversity.
On Thursday night, he didn’t have that feeling. Whether it was the overwhelming number of injuries, the foul trouble of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, Kobe being Kobe or just all of the above, Rivers just didn’t have the feeling that his team had the energy or will to overcome all of it. And that, more than the 92-86 loss to the Lakers at TD Garden seem to bug him the most.
“I thought they came out and jumped on us early in the third quarter, first ‘scored the first 10 points,” Rivers began. “And I never thought we fought through it, really. I mean obviously the fatigue and all that ‘ you know, one of our concerns going into the game were Paul or Ray couldn’t get in foul trouble obviously, because of what we had left. And that happened.
“But I just thought mentally we were not a very good team tonight and usually we are. I didn’t think we fought hard enough through adversity, and we’re great at that usually.”
But not on this night. While the Celtics are not a great rebounding team to begin with, they usually find a knack of dominating their opponent in the paint. Not on this night when they were outscored, 50-32.
They usually get to loose balls and find a way to score on second-chance points. Not on this night. They were outscored, 16-9, in that category. And while Rajon Rondo posted his 21st double-double of the season, he was just 5-of-14 and – after feeding Ray Allen for his record-breaking three in transition – couldn’t let his team back. It didn’t help that Nate Robinson went down with a bruised right knee in the second quarter and didn’t return.
“It was one of those nights; I just thought we didn’t do a very good job of [battling],” Rivers said. “And we obviously did have a lot of adversity with the injury of Nate and foul trouble and the lack of bodies, but you know that that could happen before the game and I don’t think we handled that very well.’
And watching Kobe Bryant – with just three shots in the first half – take over in the third quarter didn’t help either.
‘Well once he saw there was a chance to win, Kobe was going to be Kobe,” Rivers said. “I think we knew that a week ago. And, he also knew that we had foul problems on the floor and he was aggressive. Kobe didn’t win the game with his offense. Kobe won the game today with his defense. I thought defensively he was absolutely phenomenal. He was everywhere. He was trapping, he was helping, you know off Rondo all night, and trapped the post, blocked shots. I mean, he just had a great floor game to me more than just scoring.’
The Celtics face another NBA superstar when LeBron James and the Heat come calling on Sunday. The same Heat team that has been dominated twice this year by the Green. And whether or not Delonte West returns from a broken right wrist, the C’s better find their fight on Sunday or history will repeat itself.
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