|Fast Break: Celtics clinch fifth straight division title||04.18.12 at 10:42 pm ET|
Captain Paul Pierce followed up his 43-point effort on Tuesday night in New York with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists on Wednesday night in Boston — including the dagger with 7.6 seconds left — to guide the Celtics to a 102-98 win over the visiting Magic and clinching a fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title in the process.
Avery Bradley (23 points) tied a career high, Brandon Bass contributed 21 points against his old team, and Kevin Garnett amassed 15 points and nine rebounds, as the Celtics (37-26) clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference — even without Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus in the lineup against Orlando.
Old friend Glen Davis totaled 27 points and seven rebounds in Dwight Howard‘s absence, but the Magic (36-26) dropped a game behind the Hawks (37-25) — 116-84 winners over the Pistons — for the fifth seed and the right to face the Celtics in the first round. With three games left on their schedule, the C’s travel to Atlanta on Friday night trailing the Hawks by a game in the loss column for home court advantage in their potential playoff matchup.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Shoot first: The Celtics shot a blistering 73.7 percent in the first quarter (14-19 FG), staking themselves to a 33-22 lead that even survived a second-quarter starting lineup of E’Twaun Moore, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Greg Stiemsma and Garnett. In the first 12 minutes, Bradley, Garnett, Bass and Pierce shot a combined 13-of-16 and scored 31 points. That allowed the undermanned C’s to play with a lead for the majority of the night.
Brad-ical: As discussed in Wednesday’s Irish Coffee, Bradley entered the game averaging 14.2 points on 53 percent shooting in 15 games since joining the starting lineup on March 25. Those averages will only increase, as he scored 17 points by halftime on 8-of-10 shooting, eclipsing 15 points for the fifth consecutive game.
Captain steering: With Rondo resting a sore back and wrist, Pierce assumed the role of distributor, and played it well. He made Rondo’s streak of 23 straight games with at least 10 assists seem easy, as the Celtics captain amassed 11 dimes by halftime. He also added 13 points in the opening 24 minutes to earn a double-double and take the Celtics into the break with a 55-51. Considering it’s been a roller coaster season that started with a heel injury and recently featured a toe injury, Doc Rivers & Co. must be pleased to see Pierce — who dropped 43 points on the Knicks on Tuesday — peaking at the right time.
|Irish Coffee: How will this strange Celtics trip end?||03.20.12 at 4:32 pm ET|
The NBA lockout ended. Rajon Rondo nearly got traded for Chris Paul during a frenzied training camp. Paul Pierce has played his way into shape, Kevin Garnett has enjoyed a vintage Kevin Garnett season and Ray Allen is shooting better than ever because he’s wearing bigger shoes.
And that’s not all. Jermaine O’Neal played all of 25 games. Heart problems ended both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox‘s seasons. Mickael Pietrus came on board, guaranteeing an NBA title. The Celtics lost five straight games — twice. They’ve also had two separate 10-game stretches where they’ve won nine and eight games.
Now, with one third left of this long, strange trip that has been the Celtics regular season, they sit in the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff spot. Trailing the Bulls (38-10) and Heat (33-11) by a respective 12.5 and 9.5 games with 21 games left, the Celtics (24-21) can forget about catching either for the No. 1 or 2 seed.
Catching the Magic (29-18), owners of a four-game lead on the C’s for the No. 3 seed, isn’t inconceivable, but more likely the Celtics will vie with the 76ers (26-20), Pacers (25-18) and Hawks (26-20) for the No. 4 seed. All are within 1.5 games of each other. The Knicks (21-24) and Bucks (20-24) are battling for the final playoff spot.
Three division winners and the conference’s next best team are seeded 1-4 based on records, so the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers are slotted fourth, even though the Pacers own a better record. The remaining teams are ranked 5-8 based on record, but division winners are not guaranteed a home series. So, should a lower seed own the better record, they’d still play four road contests in a seven-game series — negating the seeding advantage.
For example, should the Celtics win the division but have a worse record than the Pacers, they’d still be playing the first two games of their playoff series on the road. With all that said, let’s see who has the best shot of getting those three and four seeds based on how the strength of their remaining schedules.
|Irish Coffee: Dwight Howard ‘looks up to a team like Boston’||01.24.12 at 2:23 pm ET|
In the third quarter of Monday night’s Celtics victory, as Howard attempted to establish position in the paint and bumped O’Neal on the block, the latter stuck his finger in the former’s face and voiced his displeasure. The two bigs at dichotomous points in their careers were separated by teammates and each assessed technicals.
“That’s kind of crossing the line when somebody puts their hand in your face,” said Howard (18 points, 14 rebounds), who had four of his team’s NBA record low 16 field goals in the 87-56 loss. “I just put his hand out of my face. I didn’t run up on him. It’s basketball. We’re not MMA fighters. I don’t know why I got a tech, but I’m cool.”
‘You’re at his mercy to be honest,” said Garnett, who totaled 14 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and two blocks. “You have to do what we call dirty work early, which is to try to take him off his sweet spots, contest his shots. He’s strong, he’s very powerful and explosive. You’re at his mercy, man, seriously. I’m not about to sit up here in front of the cameras and give y’all defensive schemes and secrets, but different ways you play different guys.”
Davis didn’t profess his love for Boston in his postgame press conference the way Perk did. He wanted a change in scenery and an upgraded role, and Orlando offered that opportunity. Or so he thought.
“I’m in the same situation I was here — coming off the bench,” said a dejected Davis after losing to his former team, 87-56. “The only thing I know is that I got paid a little bit more money. Like I said, it’s a process and a system that I’ve got to get used to. I don’t know. I know what I’m supposed to do, but I don’t know yet. I’m still searching.”
As they did for fellow members of the 2007-08 NBA championship team Eddie House and Perkins before him, the Celtics gave Big Baby the video montage treatment. When the Garden crowd responded with a standing ovation, Davis flashed his signature smile and acknowledged the fans with a wave before returning to the Magic bench.
“It was good to remember all the memories that you had,” he said. “I looked really big, like really fat. I was like, ‘Wow, chubby.’ I look a little more leander now. But it was good. It’s always good to see things like that, memories I can never forget. The fans showed love, and I appreciate that.”
|Fast Break: Magic pull disappearing act vs. Celtics||01.23.12 at 10:09 pm ET|
Maybe this is the win this Celtics team needed. It was hard to see this one coming, especially with five Celtics regulars sidelined by injury against a Magic team that won 11 of its first 15 games, but the C’s put together their best stretch of basketball in a 87-56 welcome home victory against Glen Davis & Co. at the Garden on Monday.
Paul Pierce (19 points, 7 assists) once again led the offensive charge, with a little help from friends Kevin Garnett (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (19 points, 8 rebounds). Meanwhile, starting in place of the injured Rajon Rondo, guard Avery Bradley (3 steals) wreaked havoc on the defensive end to help the C’s (7-9) hold Orlando to 16-of-65 shooting (24.6%) — the best defensive effort of this Big Three era.
Davis scored just six points (2-9 FG) but grabbed 11 rebounds, and Dwight Howard led the Magic’s anemic offensive effort with 18 points (4-15 FG) and 14 boards.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Defending their life: Led by defensive-minded starters Garnett and Bradley, the Celtics put together their best defensive game of the season. They held the Magic to just 11-of-38 shooting (28.9%) before the break, and actually improved upon that in the second half (5-27; 18.5%). The C’s recorded six blocks (shockingly, none by rejection artist Greg Stiemsma) and six steals by halftime, building an early lead — something that escaped them through their 6-9 start.
Familiar foes: Lost in the drama surrounding Big Baby’s return to the Garden was the fact Bass was also facing his former team, as the two former LSU teammates were traded for each other after the lockout. One of few healthy bodies coming off the bench, Bass reached double digits by halftime and gave the C’s a much-needed boost against his old teammates.
Avery Bradley, defensive stopper: The Celtics sophomore guard gave veteran Magic point guard Jameer Nelson problems all night long, picking his pocket twice, forcing a jump ball and altering his shot — all in the third quarter. Given his third consecutive start in Rondo’s absence, this stretch might be just what the Doc ordered in building Bradley’s confidence and expediting his development in what some believed could be a breakout season for the young guard.
|Celtics montage: ‘Thank you Big Baby’ Glen Davis||at 8:21 pm ET|
Just as they did a week ago for Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics honored Glen “Big Baby” Davis with a tribute video during the first timeout of Monday night’s game against the Magic. A member of the 2007-08 NBA championship team and a key contributor in the 2010 NBA Finals run, Davis was traded along with Von Wafer to Orlando in exchange for Brandon Bass after the lockout.
Considering the Garden was far from filled (Patriots hangover, anyone?), the montage didn’t have quite the emotional impact Perk’s did. Prior to the game, Dwight Howard guessed that his new teammate might shed a tear during the video, but the opposite turned out to be true. Big Baby was all smiles as he waived to the cheering crowd. There were dry eyes pretty much everywhere in the house.
|Flagrant foul: Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis drops his pants||01.19.12 at 10:23 am ET|
When babies don’t agree with something, they cry. When Big Baby doesn’t agree with something, he pulls his pants down (he’s already tried the crying route, and it didn’t go over too well). Former Celtics forward Glen Davis pulled a Psycho Steve Lyons and dropped trou in the midst of a game — protesting an admittedly bad call during the Magic’s 85-83 overtime loss to the Spurs. Watch carefully. It happens about five seconds in. As Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said Thursday morning on WEEI, thank God this didn’t happen in the jock strap era.