|Fast Break: Paul Pierce ends this Celtics-Nets debate||10.16.12 at 10:00 pm ET|
Even Celtics coach Doc Rivers couldn’t watch a full preseason game against a Nets team that didn’t send any of its starting five out for the opening tip. Conveniently, the second half of the C’s 97-96 loss coincided with the start of the presidential debate, and that’s when Rivers — an ardent support of President Barack Obama, a fellow former Chicagoan — excused himself, “allowing his assistant coaches to handle the bench duties.”
At least Paul Pierce stayed for the second half, capping a 29-point night on 10-of-17 shooting (6-8 3P) in 27 efficient minutes. Jeff Green (14 points) and Courtney Lee (13 points) also stuck around until the end of the C’s bench eventually coughed up a double-digit lead in the final minutes. Here’s what else Rivers missed.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Sharp Pierce: After entering training camp out of shape and suffering a foot injury that lingered long past the three games he missed to start the 2011-12 NBA season, Pierce seems prepared to begin this season in much better shape, showing no ill effects of the knee injury that hobbled during the playoffs. The Celtics captain connected on four of his first seven shots against the Nets, scoring 10 of the C’s 14 points in the opening seven minutes.
Green party: After struggling for the first time all preseason against the 76ers, Green turned in another aggressive performance, recapturing his leadership role on the second unit. After falling hard to the floor early in the second quarter, he shook off the trainer and even drew a charge on the other end. If there were any lingering questions about Green’s hesitance after returning from heart surgery, he answered them in that stretch.
On guard: Lee’s outside shot wasn’t dropping (1-4 3P), but the C’s starting shooting guard once again demonstrated the athleticism and defensive ability that made him so coveted. Also, his chemistry with backcourt mate Rajon Rondo is clearly developing, as Lee found open spots on the perimeter and Rondo naturally found him with a few nice crosscourt passes. Eventually, the career 39 percent 3-point shooter’s stroke will connect.
|Fast Break: Spencer Hawes, 76ers slap Celtics silly||10.15.12 at 9:30 pm ET|
The Celtics started Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic, marking the fourth different Doc Rivers starting lineup in as many preseason games. In Philadelphia, few showed up — namely Sixers fans, centers Kevin Garnett and Andrew Bynum, and the C’s cohesiveness.
When all was said and done after an atrocious 107-75 C’s loss, only Pierce (16 points) and Brandon Bass (11 points) reached double figures, six different Celtics committed at least two of the team’s 20 turnovers and Milicic left in the second half with a sore wrist. All that said, let’s sort through the ugliness.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Turnovers and turnover: As analyst Tommy Heinsohn said at halftime, when the C’s had already coughed the ball up 14 times (Pierce 4, Milicic 3, Rondo 3, Sullinger 2) and experimented with roughly 9,736 different lineups, “There was no chemistry. It was boiling over into turnovers.” Few if any lineups appeared to have any continuity. Given the Celtics are only midway through the preseason, it’s probably too early to be concerned about excessive experimentation, but the earlier Rivers can discover which units work best together, the better.
Off center: Without Kevin Garnett, who would normally treat Spencer Hawes like Hulk treated Loki in “The Avengers,” Rivers turned to Sullinger and Milicic to guard the Sixers center. Often, the former proved too small and the latter too slow to challenge the rangy 7-footer. Understandably, the Celtics didn’t want to play Garnett in back-to-back nights, and Rivers likely wanted to experiment with his big Garnett/Milicic lineup against Brook Lopez and the Nets on Tuesday night. Still, Monday was further evidence how important KG is to the C’s chemistry.
Project Green light: Green may have guarded everywhere from the 2-4, but that didn’t mean he did it successfully. While NBA plus/minus statistics aren’t always the best indicator, he was a team-worst minus-28 against the 76ers. After reaching double digits and shooting better than 50 percent in his first three preseason games, Green made just 3-of-9 attempts, missed all three of his long-distance attempts and committed two turnovers. Outside of an unchallenged slam dunk, he failed to take advantage of a matchup against offensive-minded Nick Young.
|Brian Scalabrine: Black Mamba vs. White Mamba||10.11.12 at 4:52 pm ET|
“The black mamba is the world’s most deadliest snake: One bite and you’re dead. The white mamba is the world’s most dormant snake: He just chills; he just watches and chills.” Clearly, Brian Scalabrine is the Kobe Bryant of broadcasting. It’s about time someone starts breaking down real NBA issues like this. (h/t Beyond the Buzzer)
|Irish Coffee: Grooming Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger||at 8:00 am ET|
Jared Sullinger isn’t easily fazed. Not even when they called him and the other Celtics rookies in front of the entire organization during a team dinner and made him sing his favorite song: Jay-Z‘s “Public Service Announcement.”
Check out my swag’ yo, peep the way I wear it
No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change, but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here
Fitting. Sullinger isn’t intimidated by a team full of headstrong veterans whose system has produced one championship, two NBA finals appearances and three Eastern Conference finals showings in the past five years, and that’s because his basketball journey started almost from the day he was born.
|Kevin Garnett: ‘I don’t really talk a lot’||10.10.12 at 8:15 pm ET|
“If you’re sitting over here bullsh@tting, they tend to bullsh@t,” he said. “That’s why I don’t really talk a lot. I like to be the example. Anything after practice that I can help them with, I kind of pull them to the side and show them different things. We watch a lot of film in the locker room and talk. For these young guys, man, I just try to be there for when they need me. I’m not a guy to push myself on anybody, but anything that they want to know, anything that they’re having trouble with, I try to be accessible to them.”
I’m not sure Charlie Villanueva, Zaza Pachulia and the entire city of Philadelphia would agree Garnett “doesn’t really talk a lot.” To be fair, I think he’s claiming he doesn’t force advice upon younger players unless asked for it, but still — this is a guy who has talked to inanimate objects before every single game of his 17-year career.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics’ Rajon Rondo offers insight into why he believes he’s NBA’s best point guard||at 9:31 am ET|
After Rajon Rondo proclaimed himself the NBA’s best point guard over the summer, the Celtics All-Star has been asked to clarify at some point during almost every interview he’s conducted since, except there’s no clarification.
He believes it, and he hasn’t backed down from it, as evidenced once again in Steve DeOssie‘s cover story for Boston Common magazine. While most people not named Rondo readily admitted they’d take Chris Paul over him a year ago — and maybe even Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook, too — the C’s floor general certainly closed the gap during the playoffs. In fact, he might have eliminated the gap completely.
After all, Rondo led the league in assists by a full dime over Steve Nash last season and averaged almost three more assists than any other point guard in the postseason. Few outside of Magic Johnson could replicate Rondo’s 44 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat. There’s more to Rondo than meets the eye, and that’s what he believes separates him from the pack.
In DeOssie’s piece, Rondo not only reiterates his claim to the throne, but he clarifies exactly why he thinks so:
|Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett keeps Celtics’ championship heart beating||10.05.12 at 11:20 am ET|
On the bus after Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, Rajon Rondo sat next to his ‘closest friend on the team’ and asked Kevin Garnett the obvious: ‘What are you going to do? I’d really like it if you would come back.’
‘When he made the decision to come back,’ said Rondo, ‘I was really excited.’ Along with every other member of the organization — from the brass to the ball boys, who bring out a jovial side of Garnett in the locker room that few others often do — and the millions of Celtics fans who waited anxiously for his June 30 announcement.
‘It was an absolute no-brainer,’ said Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca of the decision to commit $36 million more to a 7-footer who will be 39 years old by contract’s end. ‘It was a very short conversation. We were just really hoping Kevin would want to come back and finish out his career here.’
You could argue whether Rondo is the head of the Celtics snake on the floor, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Josh Smith all have, or whether Paul Pierce is the face of the franchise, but any debate about who embodies the heart and soul of the grit-and-balls mentality that has come to define these Celtics begins and ends with KG.