|Irish Coffee: Don’t forget about Paul Pierce||10.29.12 at 12:18 pm ET|
Paul Pierce has been an afterthought this Celtics camp. Well, you know, as much as the captain and face of the NBA’s most storied franchise — and one of the league’s few legit title contenders — can remain in the shadows.
Think about it. The summer began with the return of Kevin Garnett, whose arrival five years ago saved a team relegated to mediocrity for two decades. And it ended with the emergence of Rajon Rondo, who grabbed the reins for the next 10 years. In between, Ray Allen spurned the Celtics, who in turn made their own headlines: Drafting Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph; adding Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jason Collins, Darko Milicic and Leandro Barbosa; re-signing Brandon Bass; and restoring Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox.
Meanwhile, Pierce quietly shared a family photo at the beach here or a picture of his workout routine there. After all, he too rehabbed from injury — a sprained left MCL this past June that may have meant the difference between a Game 7 loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals and a third NBA finals appearance in five seasons.
Heck, Pierce had to share his 35th birthday on Oct. 13 with C’s coach Doc Rivers, who turned 51 the same day. Even his admission to potentially retiring or requesting a trade had Garnett not returned barely moved the needle, as they say. Such is the life now of the 10-time NBA All-Star entering his 15th season for the same franchise.
|Irish Coffee: C’s chemistry at a 9 or 10 but not ’08 level||10.23.12 at 6:57 pm ET|
After the Celtics started an unofficial training camp almost a month early, Rajon Rondo organized a players-only trip to Los Angeles and everyone drew parallels between the C’s Euro trip prior to the 2008 NBA championship run and their exhibition expedition to Turkey and Milan this preseason, we’re quick to assume this unit can form a bond on the court as quickly as that one did. After all, both groups returned only six players from the previous year.
On a scale from 1 to 10, Jeff Green called this team’s current chemistry a nine. In typical Rondo fashion, he placed it at a 10. And Kevin Garnett said, “Chemistry is very, very high, man.” But Paul Pierce disagrees.
“We’re still building chemistry,” he said. “Chemistry sometimes doesn’t happen overnight like in ‘08, so we’re still trying to build that. When you look at the number of new players we’ve got, we’re still trying to implement them.”
Let’s get one thing straight: This group isn’t anything like the one five years ago. That 2007-08 team started 29-3. Twenty nine and freaking three. For a variety of reasons, don’t expect this team to replicate that feat.
“As far as being ready, we’re going to continue to get better as the year goes on,” added Pierce. “We’re not where we want to be, but that’s going to come as we play more games, as the year goes along, until we reach our peak.”
|Irish Coffee: Limiting Doc Rivers’ Celtics lineup options||10.19.12 at 5:21 pm ET|
Celtics coach Doc Rivers has options. Kind of like Leonardo DiCaprio has options. It’s hard to choose from the depth and versatility of talent at his disposal, so he tries every combination at his disposal. Eventually, the cream rises to the top, and that appears to be what has happened over the C’s past two preseason games against the Nets. In other words, Rivers may have found his Gisele Bundchen, Bar Rafaeli and Blake Lively of lineups.
In the first three-plus quarters of the two games against Brooklyn — before Micah Downs, Kris Joseph, Robert Kurz or Fab Melo made obligatory fourth-quarter appearances — Rivers used 23 different lineups. Other than starters Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Kevin Garnett, no unit played longer than 8:36 together. Before making any observations, here are the combinations, playing time and plus/minus statistics.
|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.
|Fun with lineups: Jeff Green and Paul Pierce together?||10.12.12 at 2:55 pm ET|
WALTHAM — With all the attention on who’s starting and who’s going to be on the court when the game ends, it’s important to remember than an NBA game is filled with multiple lineups and each has its own purpose. It’s the starters job to get a lead. It’s the bench’s job to provide support or change the flow of the game if it gets off on the wrong foot.
Some lineups have shooters. Some have defenders. Some strive for balance across the board.
More than most teams, the Celtics have relied on their starters to carry the weight. The potentially wonderful thing about this year’s squad is that Doc Rivers has options, and he’s excited about trying them all out. The reality is that Rivers has eight or nine players who could conceivably start or finish games and he seems far more worried about the middle part of the games than the beginning or the end.
Here’s Rivers on a big lineup with Kevin Garnett at power forward:
“You’re still going to play the same guys. Kevin’s going to play his 30 minutes and then you move around, but it does allow you to be big all the time if you want to be. It allows you to move Kevin to the r at times, which is good. So it gives you more options.”
“[Terry] could start. Whatever I prefer is whatever I think will be the best fit for our team. We may start Jason Terry and use him like Kevin for the first five minutes, just to get him some minutes and then bring him back in. We may start Courtney, so there’s a lot of ways we can go with it.”
“You can do it with the same lineup, just one’s a 2 and one’s a 3,” Rivers said. “You wouldn’t want to do it against a Miami with [Dwyane] Wade because one of those guys would have to guard Wade or a Ray Allen, a Reggie Miller type. You wouldn’t want them chasing guys off of screens. They don’t do that very well. It will be definitely a lineup we use, it will probably be a lineup we use every night at some point in games just to create our own matchup.
“There’s teams with big guards. That works offensively and defensively. There’s teams with a small guard, but not a great shooting guard and we can definitely do that because now that gives us an offensive advantage. It can go both ways.”
While Miami might not be the best look for this kind of lineup there are teams in the East who might make this interesting. Take Indiana with 6-foot-8 Paul George and Danny Granger on the wing. Or Brooklyn with Joe Johnson. Green would have played a huge role against Philadelphia in last year’s playoffs with all their funky combinations.
One of Rivers’ tasks this season is finding lineup where Green can be utilized to the best of his abilities. He can soak up minutes when Pierce is on the bench, but that’s at most 16 minutes or so and probably less on a given night. Getting the two of them together on the court would help increase Green’s time.
It’s easy to say now before the season has even started, but the rest of the Celtics seem on board with whatever combinations Rivers decided to use.
“Doc has a lot of options,” Garnett said. “He’s been playing with a lot of them during practice. Jeff Green in the lineup, the lineups that he’s playing with remind me of the 07-08 year when we had four smalls and one big and we had shooters and different dynamics to score the ball.”
If there’s one underlying hint to the coach’s direction, it seems that he’s trying to find ways to maximize their offensive potential and save some of the burden from his veterans. Terry and Jared Sullinger, for example, are more offensively-inclined than Lee and Brandon Bass, which may be why Rivers is thinking about starting them at times.
That seems smart considering the Celtics were once again a top defensive outfit last season, but a woeful offensive one. Along those lines, playing Pierce and Green together may take something away on the defensive end, but could potentially bolster that anemic attack.
|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.
|Irish Coffee: Making the most of Paul Pierce’s minutes||10.03.12 at 6:29 pm ET|
“We’re going to try some things with Paul in the preseason,” said Rivers, “and just see how that goes.”
Last season, Rivers instituted Kevin Garnett‘s 5-5-5 plan, playing his center in five-minute increments. While Garnett’s time on the floor each game barely changed (31.3 in 2010-11 vs. 31.1 in 2011-12), his minutes were less taxing, and that paid dividends in the playoffs, when he enjoyed perhaps his greatest stretch in a Celtics uniform.
The plan is to execute the same plan for Garnett and a similar one for Pierce this season, although both the Celtics captain and Rivers admitted playing that duo on the same 5-5-5 schedule might not benefit the team.
‘Doc is the coach around here,” said Pierce. “I trust his judgment and everything he does. We’ve been together a long time. I’m giving myself to the team. Whatever’s going to be best for the team, that’s what it’s gotta be. I think with me and Doc, we’ll figure things out, because if I’m on fire the first five minutes I can’t come out. Simple as that.”
‘I’m all for it,” countered Rivers. “Paul is a gym rat. Paul is a guy I’ve never really worried about with minutes, but I’m going to watch his minutes. Obviously, if we can keep [Rajon] Rondo‘s minutes down, we will. And Paul’s minutes down. It doesn’t mean we will. It would be nice. I like our bench.’
That last addendum could be the difference this season. Despite approaching his mid-30’s, Pierce’s minutes per game haven’t changed much the past three seasons (34.0, 34.7 and 34.0, respectively), and that can largely be attributed to having Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and an ailing Mickael Pietrus behind him.
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