|NBA Power Rankings, 12/2||12.02.10 at 4:57 pm ET|
1. Boston (14-4): The Celtics rank first in the NBA in field goal percentage and assists per game, while ranking fourth in points allowed. They’re in the midst of their second five-game win streak of the season, and their four losses are by an average of just 4.0 points. On Wednesday night, they showed an ability to beat a good team (the game Trail Blazers) despite playing poorly. All that adds up to one dangerous team.
2. San Antonio (15-3): The Spurs are the biggest surprise of the season, and they’ve done it by reinventing themselves — again. While the dynasty Spurs of yesteryear were more of a slow-’em-down, defensive-minded team, this year’s edition ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring at 106.6 points per game. Maintaining a veteran core, they’ve integrated younger talent like James Anderson, DeJuan Blair, George Hill and Tiago Splitter onto the roster.
3. LA Lakers (13-6): The Lakers have lost four straight for the first time since acquiring Pau Gasol three years ago. That’s pretty significant. Speaking of Gasol, as a result of Andrew Bynum‘s absence, he’s been logging 39.4 minutes per game this season. What’s more concerning for the Lakers is the fact that they’ve struggled to integrate their newcomers into their defensive schemes — and rank 18th in points allowed as a result.
4. Dallas (14-4): Believe it or not, the Mavericks are actually playing defense. Tyson Chandler has set a tone that’s translated into a third-place ranking in points allowed. And Dirk Nowitzki continues to be an offensive force. He may look like he’s flopping around the court, throwing up rainbows, but he makes 54 percent of them. As a result, the Mavs already have wins over the Nuggets, Celtics, Spurs, Hornets, Hawks and Heat.
5. Orlando (14-4): Having won nine of their last 10 games, the Magic are the hottest team in the NBA. The main reason? Their defense. They allow the fewest points per game of any team in the league. Dwight Howard is making his case for MVP, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. Even Rashard Lewis has shown signs of life, as he’s back to shooting 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
|Irish Coffee: Big Baby buoys bench||at 1:29 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
BOSTON — In the aftermath of Wednesday night’s 99-95 victory against the Blazers, Celtics forward Glen Davis sat, seemingly exhausted, at his locker.
Following what may have been his most complete and efficiently productive game in a Celtics uniform, Davis had earned the rest. He had just recorded 16 points (7-of-9 FG; 2-2 FT) and seven rebounds in 29 minutes, including a stretch of eight straight points and three consecutive 20-foot jumpers over a three-minute span in the third quarter that singlehandedly kep the Celtics within striking distance of the Blazers.
“I took the shots that were given to me,” said Davis. “That’s what it’s about.”
Taking that notion further, what it’s really all about is making those shots, and Davis has done that at a remarkable rate this season, shooting 50 percent from the floor — the highest clip of his four-year career. The benefit of that is two-fold: 1) obviously, points on the board, and 2) opening up opportunities for his teammates.
“If I can spread the floor, I can help out Kevin [Garnett],” said Davis. “Teams won’t double-team him. They’ve got to guard me.”
In this space, before the season started, I presented an argument for Davis as a potential NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner: “Given any injury to Shaquille or Jermaine O’Neal, Davis would be the first to gobble up those minutes. Is there any reason he couldn’t average 14 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes a game?”
Through 18 games this season, he’s averaging career highs of 11.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 29.4 minutes per game — but it’s his efficiency and versatility that have vaulted him into the NBA’s Sixth Man discussion.
Assume the role of a go-to scorer as a power forward for the one of the best benches in the league? Sure. Perform the “little things” — like taking charges — as the center alongside Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett down the stretch of close games? Done. Drag smaller defenders into the post? Easy (especially with his frame). Pull bigger defenders away from the basket? Not a problem.
So, what does being in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year conversation mean to Davis?
“Nothing, until you win it,” he said. “You can talk all you out. You can say, ‘He’s top two, he’s top whatever.’ It doesn’t really count until you’re No. 1 at the end of the season, when you’re having a press conference, congratulating your team and thanking all the people who helped you get that award. I’d be excited to get it. Just to be considered is not enough for me.”
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers told Dennis & Callahan on WEEI on Thursday morning that he was in Danny Ainge‘s ear, urging him to select Davis with the 35th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Rivers knew Big Baby’s potential, because he’d seen Davis succeed against his sons and the nation’s top talent on the AAU circuit.
“But we didn’t know he was going to be this good,” Rivers admitted.
After struggling with some maturity issues over his first few seasons in the league, Davis has earned the trust of not only Rivers but all of his teammates as well.
“Most definitely,” said Davis. “I’ve been here for four years now, and that’s Doc’s system. You’ve got to trust his players. He’s looking at me as a player that he trusts.”
DOC RIVERS: COACH OF THE MONTH
The NBA named Rivers the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month prior to the Celtics’ victory against the Blazers. It didn’t mean much to Doc, but Garnett elaborated:
‘I love him,’’ Garnett told The Boston Globe. ‘I told Danny that the day y’all get rid of Doc is the day I sort of tip my hat and thank the Boston area and the Boston fans. I love Doc, he’s a credit to our success and the building of the players, because he’s always motivating and he’s always pushing you, finding ways to get you rekindled.’’
IN SUPPORT OF BILL RUSSELL
In case you missed it, our own Paul Flannery detailed why the Celtics should build a statue outside of the Garden in Bill Russell‘s honor. In a fantastic Boston Magazine piece, he builds an argument that’s pretty hard to disagree with. Here’s a nugget:
In Boston, we now have statues of three sports figures – Bobby Orr, Red Auerbach, and Ted Williams – sprinkled throughout the city. (Williams, oddly, also has a tunnel named after him.) That’s quite a list, actually. But there’s one glaring omission: the one sports star – no disrespect here to Teddy Ballgame or Tom Brady – who left a bigger mark on this city than any other. I’m talking about a guy who won 11 championships in 13 seasons. Whose name has become synonymous with victory, hard work, and shared sacrifice. I’m talking about Bill Russell.
This is a disappointing oversight – absurd, really, given Russell’s accomplishments – but a correctable one. What we need is a Bill Russell statue outside the Garden, where the greatest Celtic of them all will stand watch over the franchise he helped build.
KOBE BRYANT: ‘WE’RE SLOW’
Wednesday night’s loss to the Rockets marked the first four-game losing streak for the Lakers since they acquired Pau Gasol. So, what’s the reason for the skid? ESPN.com presented that question to Kobe Bryant:
The general assessment of the team by its players remained that the team had a lot of work to do on both offense and defense, leading to a chicken-or-the-egg type of situation about which is more damning when it’s lousy.
“We’re slow. We’re slow. We’re slow. We’re slow on rotations,” Bryant said, picking on the defense and maybe subconsciously mentioning the word once for every consecutive loss.
THE LEBRON JAMES SAGA
You may not have heard, but a guy named LeBron James who plays for a team called the Miami Heat is returning to his hometown to take on a team by the name of the Cavaliers. The Cleveland Plain Dealer consulted everyone from players to fans to therapists to clergy in order to determine what the reaction should be. Here’s Cavs point guard Mo Williams‘ take:
“This game is not just for us. It’s for 20,000 fans and for the millions watching and pulling for us. We’ve got people that ain’t even Cavs fans pulling for us. We’ve got a lot behind us.”
Lost in all the discussion of LeBron’s return to Cleveland is this: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has launced a probe into alleged tampering by the Heat in their pursuit of James, according to Yahoo! Sports:
Prior to the start of free agency on July 1, no Miami Heat representative ‘ including star Dwyane Wade – was allowed to discuss with James the specific circumstances around Wade, Toronto’s Chris Bosh and James joining together with the Heat.
One focus of the law firm’s probe includes an alleged Pat Riley-James meeting in Miami in November 2009, and a meeting of James’ inner circle with Wade in Chicago in June 2010, sources said.
Riley, James, Wade and Bosh have denied there was a predetermined collusion in the historic free-agent binge, although the players have admitted to discussing the possibility of playing together as far back as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
If Gilbert’s accusations turn out to be truths, the Heat could lose draft picks. As if there weren’t enough drama surrounding Thursday night’s Cavs-Heat game.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)
|C’s injury bug so bad even Kevin Garnett can’t get home cooking||12.01.10 at 11:44 pm ET|
For now, the injury list is not having an impact on the Celtics record. Doc Rivers knows his luck can only last so long while he moves banged up players in and out of a make-shift rotation. The C’s have the best record in the East at 14-4 following their win over the Trail Blazers Wednesday night at TD Garden.
But that great record is coming with a price – nagging injuries.
And making matters worse Wednesday, the Celtics lost Kevin Garnett for over five minutes in the third quarter when team doctors had trouble closing up a wound under his chin that required five stitches, leading Rivers to wonder openly what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on. For a moment, he thought he was on the road, not on the parquet.
Garnett took an elbow early in the third quarter from Andre Miller and had to leave at the 7:47 mark. He didn’t return until 2:24 remained in the quarter. The Celtics, who trailed 68-62 just moments earlier, were kick-started by KG and finished the quarter on a 13-4 run that gave them the lead for good.
“It usually does,” Rivers said of Garnett’s high-energy impact. “He was pissed because someone hit him in the mouth so you knew he was come either with energy or attacking everybody else on the floor.
“The third quarter was huge because we didn’t want to sub [Shaq] him out. We wanted to wait until Kevin [returned]. Whoever did our stitches, we’re going to have a talk. That was the longest [wait]. I thought we were on the road. That’s what the opposing doctors do. They can’t find the sutures, they take their time.”
And try as he might, Rivers couldn’t get an explanation from chief trainer Ed Lacerte about why it was taking so long to get the cut under Garnett’s chin fixed.
“It did take a long time,” Rivers said. “I kept checking with Eddie, like ‘What’s going on back there?’ That was big for Shaq. He kept saying he could stay in and that was huge for us.”
Not only did O’Neal played the five-minute stretch, he played the first 9 minutes, 36 seconds of the third quarter, until getting a blow when Garnett finally returned to the game.
Rivers said after the game Wednesday that Rajon Rondo‘s strained left hamstring, which Rivers thought was no longer an issue early in the week, started to get sore in the fourth quarter. Then Rivers said that back-up point Nate Robinson has an aching left foot which was bothering him.
“I left Rondo in because Nate’s foot was hurting,” Rivers said. “Rondo’s hamstring was starting to get sore and he was worried that if he came out he couldn’t return. So, the injury thing is really starting to creep up on us a little bit, and it is what it is.”
Robinson confirmed after the game that he’s been dealing with a sore right heel since Nov. 22, when the Celtics beat the Hawks in Atlanta.
|Nate Robinson battling pain in foot||at 11:12 pm ET|
According to Robinson, he’s been feeling pain in the bottom left side of his left foot since the Celtics blowout victory against the Hawks on Nov. 22, and it acted up on Wednesday night.
“It’s been bothering me since the Atlanta game, but I’ve been trying to pull through,” said Robinson. “I’m in a little bit of pain, but I’ll be all right. I’m a tough cookie.”
While the symptoms are similar to plantar fasciitis — the same ailment Rajon Rondo battled earlier in the season — Robinson said “it’s not that.”
Rondo played a season-high 35 minutes against the Raptors and followed that with another 31 minutes a night later in Atlanta. His minutes declined in the next two games before bumping back up to 22:35 against the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
On the second night of a back-to-back on Wednesday night, however, he played just three-and-a-half minutes in the first half and didn’t see the floor after the break. Still, Robinson doesn’t expect to miss any games, as he plans to battle through the pain.
Said Robinson: “I’m going to keep icing it, getting treatment and working.”
|Fast Break: Celtics hold off Blazers||at 10:15 pm ET|
The Celtics led 96-80 with 5:09 left in the game, but the Blazers went on a 15-point run that closed the gap to one point in the final minute — until Paul Pierce found Allen in the corner.
Pierce netted a game-high 28 points to go along with seven rebounds, as the Celtics improved 14-4 on the season. Kevin Garnett (17), Glen Davis (16), Shaquille O’Neal (14) and Rajon Rondo (10) also reached double digits in scoring.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Pierce asserted himself: With the Celtics trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, Pierce took action — creating offense for himself. A nifty driving layup as he faked two defenders got him going, jumpstarting a 10-point second quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers that got the C’s back into the game.
Pierce didn’t miss his first shot until five minutes remained in the third quarter. In all, he finished with 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 from 3-point range).
Big Baby buries jumpers: In a span of 2:49, Davis scored eight straight third-quarter points — including three 20-foot jump shots — to help the Celtics stay within striking distance of the Blazers. He scored 16 points on the night on 7-of-9 shooting.
Combined, Pierce and Davis scored 20 of the Celtics’ 31 third-quarter points, leading an otherwise stagnant offensive effort and giving the C’s a seven-point cushion entering the fourth quarter.
Shaq showing hustle: O’Neal turned in another solid performance. Running the floor throughout his 26 minutes, he totaled 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and he even made four of his six foul shots. His rebounding could’ve used some work, though, as he finished with just four boards on the night.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Too many turnovers: How could the Celtics shoot 61 percent from the field while holding the Blazers to 45 percent shooting and still trail by one at the half? One word: Turnovers.
In the first quarter alone, the Celtics committed seven turnovers, including careless traveling violations on consecutive possessions by Garnett and Pierce. Meanwhile, the Blazers turned the ball over just twice in the first 12 minutes, taking a 26-20 lead into the second quarter.
In all, the Celtics committed 17 turnovers, resulting in 19 Trail Blazers points.
Wesley Matthews happened: Shooting from pretty much everywhere on the court, Matthews shot a blistering 5-of-7 from beyond the arc (8-of-13 altogether), dropping 23 points on Allen and the Celtics.
On the other end, the stronger Matthews chased Allen around screen after screen, holding the Celtics shooting guard to just 2-of-11 shooting and six points — until Allen’s last-second 3-pointer that clinched the game.
Defensive rebounding: As if the Celtics’ 17 turnovers didn’t give the Trail Blazers enough extra possessions, Portland also collected seven offensive boards — including a putback dunk by LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points) that gave the Blazers an eight-point cushion in the third quarter. As a result, the Blazers outscored the Celtics 42-38 in the paint.
|Irish Coffee: Is Greg Oden pick Sam Bowie 2.0 or worse?||at 11:18 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Amid countless comparisons of Greg Oden to Sam Bowie that surfaced after another season-ending Oden injury, I got to thinking: Is Oden’s draft selection over Kevin Durant worse than the biggest “what if” in NBA history – picking Bowie over Michael Jordan?
As the Celtics welcome the Trail Blazers to Boston on Wednesday night, it’s as good a time as any to determine — through three seasons — which Portland pick was more unfortunate.
First, let’s take a look at Oden and Bowie’s averages through their first three seasons:
Greg Oden vs. Sam Bowie
82 ….. GAMES ….. 119
9.4 ….. POINTS ….. 10.8
7.3 … REBOUNDS … 8.5
1.4 ….. BLOCKS ….. 2.6
0.6 …. ASSISTS …. 2.7
0.4 ….. STEALS ….. 0.7
Bowie played one more partial season (20 games) for the Blazers before playing at least 60 games per season in six of the next seven year for the Nets and Lakers. He actually averaged a double-double (14.7 points, 10.1 boards) during his first season in New Jersey.
There’s serious doubt whether Oden will ever suit up for the Blazers again, as he hasn’t played since December 2009 and becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
And now let’s examine Durant and Jordan’s averages through their first three seasons:
Kevin Durant vs. Michael Jordan
236 ….. GAMES ….. 182
25.3 ….. POINTS ….. 31.7
6.2 … REBOUNDS … 5.7
2.7 …. ASSISTS …. 5.0
1.2 ….. STEALS ….. 2.6
09 ….. BLOCKS ….. 1.2
The only solace Portland fans can take from all of this is that, while Oden may be a bigger bust (medically) than Bowie, Durant also isn’t as good as Jordan. Have you looked back lately at Jordan’s statistics in just his third season? He averaged a ridiculous 37.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.
On one hand, there’s no doubt the Blazers would’ve won the NBA title in 1992 had they drafted Jordan, since they lost to his Bulls in the Finals, 4-2. And they might’ve hung a couple more banners around that one. On the other hand, the present-day Blazers would be championship contenders for the next 10 years with Durant.
Either way you slice it, the knife still cuts deep through the heart of Portland.
CELTICS ROCK CLEVELAND
Well, for one final week for what will likely be a fairly long time, Cleveland is the center of the NBA universe. The discussion ranged from the Cavaliers‘ rematch against the Celtics on Tuesday night to the return of LeBron James on Thursday night.
Let’s start with the rematch, which turned into a 106-87 Celtics vengeance victory against the Cavaliers (after we explained why the C’s would cover the seven-point spread, please send 25 percent of your winnings to the WEEI offices in Brighton).
”No matter what team I’m coaching, we match up against Boston and there’s a little extra incentive for me,” Scott told the Akron Beacon Journal. ”All of that is because of the ’80s. It was fun, but it’s a little different now because Doc is over there. You have a good friend on the other side, it kind of waters it down a little bit. But anytime I see that green and white, I want to beat them.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston compared the Heat’s Three Amigos to the Celtics’ Big Three, and the contrast was none too kind:
For his part, James could have stayed here and been beloved, or he could have gone to New York, the nation’s media capital, or Chicago, the best basketball fit. Instead, he went to Miami, where he would not have to be a leader anymore.
The Boston Big Three, however, stood squarely in the shadows of the Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish triumvirate of the 1980s. They played beneath 16 championship banners hanging from the rafters. And they promptly won a 17th.
They were old and tired of losing. The Heat’s newcomers are young and used to babying.
”You don’t want to see anything stupid happen,” Gilbert told the Akron Beacon Journal. ”I’m sure a lot of them will make their feelings known, but as long as everybody plays by the rules and doesn’t go over the top, I think everything will be fine. I really believe that Cleveland people will do the right thing.”
Meanwhile, even while LeBron is trying to say all the right things, he still manages to sound pretty disingenuous (note the “showcase my talent” line):
“I think it’s going to be very emotional for myself,” James said. “I’ve got a lot of great memories in that city. So many times, from ups and downs, and a lot of things that I’ve done in my life, I give a lot of thanks to that city, lot of thanks to those fans for giving me the opportunity to not only showcase my talent but grow from a young boy to a man.”
Considering Shaquille O’Neal played with LeBron in Cleveland and has had plenty of homecomings himself — in Orlando, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Cleveland — reporters asked him if he’d be watching on Thursday night:
”My situation in Orlando was a six, my situation in LA was a seven,” O’Neal told the Akron Beacon Journal. ”This is like a 12.”
“I’m a silly fan,” O’Neal told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I’m anxious to see if he’s going to do that powder thing,” referring to when James fills his hands with powdered white rosin and tosses it in the air before the game.
Great point by Shaq. There’s no way he does “that powder thing” before the game, right?
DELONTE WEST’S TIMETABLE
I read about 87 stories about Delonte West‘s successful wrist surgery yesterday, and all of them said the team had no timetable for his return, which is why I was surprised to read this in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday morning:
“We don’t know his timetable [to return] yet,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ve heard anywhere from two to three months or longer.
“That’s a tough one for us. That hurt us. My plan going into the year was to literally have two units — a starting unit and a second unit — because of the age of our team. But now we have to scrap those plans and some of our starters are going to have to play different minutes.
“It’s not what we wanted, but the season takes its own turns and you just have to adjust to them.”
Two months? That would mean a Feb. 1 return date — leaving plenty of time for West to rehab his way to health heading into the playoffs. That’s not nearly as bad as I thought.
Count Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler among the NBA players on Kevin Garnett‘s side in the whole Charlie Villanueva “cancer patient” saga. He explained how easy it is to get caught up in trash talking to Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thompsen:
“I love [Garnett], I love what he does. I look at it this way: He gives you his heart and soul every single night out there, and if it takes him to pump himself up and do whatever he has to do, I’ll take that rather than him collecting a check and not giving you a great effort. That’s the other side of it — the guys you feel like are not giving you as much as they can. So I’ll take him screaming and talking and pumping his chest and doing whatever it takes you to do to give what you got. I’ve admired him and looked up to him before my career started.”
You wonder how many NBA players feel the way Chandler does about Kevin Garnett and how many players feel the way Joakim Noah does about him.
WILL BRANDON ROY PLAY?
Celtics fans have already missed Durant and John Wall at the Garden this season. Will they also miss another NBA star when Brandon Roy‘s Blazers come to town Wednesday night?
According to the Oregonian, even after playing 33 minutes in a loss to the 76ers on Tuesday night, Roy expects to suit up for the Trail Blazers agains the Celtics:
Roy said he expects to play Wednesday against Boston. It would be his first back-to-back games since returning to play with a sore left knee.
However, Celtics fans might be robbed of the only opportunity to see Joel Przybilla. A tragedy, I know.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)
|The Three-Pointer: Marquis Daniels delivers what Doc ordered||11.30.10 at 11:14 pm ET|
In other words, he was forgettable, even for Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who designated Daniels as a DNP for 13 of their 24 playoff games last season.
Since entering the NBA in 2003, Daniels has missed at least 20 games in six of his seven full seasons. After signing a $2 million deal with the Celtics last season, he played in just 51 games — reaching double figures only eight times and looking more like Lou Tsioropolous than the guy who averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Pacers during the 2006-07 season.
In the Celtics’ 106-87 victory over the Cavaliers, we saw a different Daniels — one the Celtics must have known still lurked somewhere beneath those dreads, or else they wouldn’t have re-signed the swingman to another one-year deal (this time for more money, at $2.5 million).
“He surprises me, and he upsets me, because I know he can do it every night,” Rivers told reporters after Tuesday night’s win. “I’m going to stay on him, because he has that in him. I think he can be that terrific every single night. I really do.”
When the final seconds had ticked off the clock in Cleveland, Daniels’ line read like this: 16 points (on 7-of-10 shooting), four rebounds, two steals and one block — all improvements from his averages of 4.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks. But it wasn’t just his statistical production that endeared him to Rivers for at least one night. It was his defense.
“We put him on [Ramon] Sessions, he was guarding Mo Williams and moving his feet,” added Rivers. “They couldn’t beat him off the dribble. That was huge. We didn’t know how long we could go with that. We were going to try to get them on the other end in the post. We didn’t know we could stay in front of those guys, and the fact that Marquis could do that was a big deal for us.”
In the wake of Delonte West‘s surgery after suffering a broken wrist last week, the Celtics desperately needed someone off the bench to help Glen Davis — who had his usual productive night off the bench with 17 points and 11 rebounds — ease the burden for the Celtics starters. They’ve been waiting for more than a season for Daniels to be that guy, and for at least one game he met the challenge.
It’s no surprise that his best game of the season came two games after West’s injury and just one day after Rivers made the Celtics bench pull double duty at practice.
“We brought the second unit in early [Monday],” said Rivers. “They had their own practice before the regulars had their practice, and you could see that it got to them a little bit. And it was great, but we need them like that every night.”
Consider that a challenge to Daniels going forward, as if the motivation of another, bigger payday wasn’t already enough.
‘STEP ON THE GAS PEDAL’
After falling behind the Cavaliers 17-8 in the first 6:34 of Tuesday night’s game, the Celtics outscored Cleveland 48-28 to close out the half and take a 56-45 lead into the locker room.
That’s when Celtics commentator Tommy Heinsohn said it, as a ton of Celtics fans were thinking it: “All right, now step on the gas pedal.”
Too often this season the Celtics have rushed out to double-digit leads, seemingly in total control of every aspect of the game, only to have their advantage start to vanish like Marty McFly‘s image in that “Back to the Future” photograph.
Tuesday night, however, the Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 24-20 in the third quarter, stretching their lead from 11 to 15 points and allowing Rivers to give his starters some much-needed rest, considering the C’s host the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
In their first 13 games, the Celtics led all three of their games at halftime but were outscored in nine of those games during the third quarter — leading to close games and forcing the Celtics to rely on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo for well over 30 minutes a night.
That trend has changed in the C’s last four games, as they have won the third-quarter battle in wins over the Hawks, Nets, Raptors and — after Tuesday night — the Cavaliers. That allowed Rivers to limit Pierce and Allen to just 23 minutes apiece in the final game of that stretch.
‘TOP OF THE FRONT RIM’
My father could drain free throw after free throw in the driveway. He’d make 200 in a row, or at least it seemed that way when I was a kid. His mantra: “Aim for the top of the front rim.” He ingrained that — and as a result the importance of foul shooting — into my head at an early age.
Despite having three guys — Allen, Garnett and Pierce — shooting 89, 85 and 84 percent from the free-throw line, the Celtics entered Tuesday night’s game ranked 21st in the NBA in foul shooting. And they didn’t do themselves any favors, shooting just 13-of-23 from the charity stripe against the Cavaliers.
Shaquille O’Neal‘s struggles at the line are a given (he’s at 57 percent). It’s really only Rondo who can help the Celtics improve in that arena. The Celtics point guard is shooting a putrid 47 percent from the line this season, and he made just 1-of-4 against the Cavaliers.
This problem may not have much effect on the C’s success during the regular season, but there’s no doubt it could be an Achilles heel in the playoffs, when games are more physical and tighter at the end. After all, the Celtics ranked eighth in free-throw percentage when they won the title three years ago.