|Sean Grande: Not your Garden variety night for Celtics in New York||04.18.12 at 10:59 am ET|
Editor’s note: This is a guest piece by Celtics radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande. He wrote the story just before 3 a.m., after the Celtics’ 118-110 loss Tuesday night to the Knicks in New York.
You know what’s a bad idea?
Starting a blog at 3 a.m. But hey, doubling down on Carmelo Anthony and giving J.R. Smith and Steve Novak open looks at 3′s also is a bad idea.
So bad, in fact, it made history.
And that’s really what I’m doing here at 3 a.m., and what you’re doing there, likely early in the morning, maybe putting off the work that you left sitting in your cubicle when you went home last night. Because, hey, if it could wait overnight, it can wait another few minutes.
Besides, it’s going to be a long, long time before we see another one like that.
At 6 p.m., as the Celtics were preparing to leave their hotel in midtown Manhattan, an SUV pulled up in front of our bus. A few seconds later, from the back, emerged one William Martin Joel.
In New York, and the rest of the world, but really in New York, everyone calls him Billy.
He once said, in a song he considered a real next-level breakthrough for him, that it’s either sadness … or euphoria.
And it’s a shame that ‘It’s fantastic!’ was just so darn catchy, because the NBA could have easily adopted that as its slogan instead.
It’s been a remarkable second half for the Celtics. Their 21-9 record is one of the NBA’s best, Wednesday night on their home floor they can clinch their fifth straight division title, the defense has been the league’s standard and they’ve put together a string of outstanding nights and quality wins that with the playoffs approaching have made people think about what’s still possible.
This … was not one of them.
Big picture, the 118-110 loss to the Knicks Tuesday night may end up just a footnote on a division championship season with the truly memorable moments still ahead in the playoffs.
But these were some remarkable footnotes.
|Poll: Should Danny Ainge have broken up the Big Three?||at 10:10 am ET|
At the trade deadline, the Celtics were 23-19 and just beginning to show signs of a second-half surge. Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Magic, they are 36-26, on course to win the Atlantic Division and possibly play more than just a spoiler’s role in the postseason.
Team president Danny Ainge didn’t make any moves at the deadline, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. He said he had a handful of deals in the works that just couldn’t reach completion and now we know what they were, thanks to a report from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Per Woj, Ainge had a deal in place to send Ray Allen to Memphis for a package involving O.J. Mayo and a draft pick. Things were so far along that coach Doc Rivers even told Allen that it was done, only to have to pull back at the last minute when it fell apart.
Additionally, a deal that would have sent Paul Pierce to New Jersey for Mehmet Okur‘s expiring contract and their lottery pick also didn’t make it to the finish line. (The Nets made a similar deal involving Portland’s Gerald Wallace, leaving their pick top-3 protected).
If the deals had gone through, Ainge would have had Mayo — a 24-year-old shooting guard who has averaged 15 points in his four seasons — and multiple picks in what many consider to be a loaded draft. He also would have had essentially a blank canvas and more than $40 million in cap space to rebuild around Rajon Rondo with Pierce’s contract off the books.
One side effect of the deals that didn’t happen. Not only have the Celtics played better since the deadline, they have also seen Avery Bradley emerge as a potential cornerstone for the future. With Mayo in place, perhaps Bradley never gets a chance to get significant playing time. Since March 23, Bradley has averaged over 14 points a game and the Celtics are 11-4 with wins over Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami (twice) and Atlanta.
Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make, but Ainge doesn’t necessarily feel that way. He told The Big Show last week that he still would have made the deals knowing what he knows now.
What do you think?
|Should the Heat be worried about the Celtics?||04.10.12 at 2:14 pm ET|
As things sit currently in the jumbled Eastern Conference, the Celtics are holding the fourth seed, which would put them in the Bulls’ bracket. They have a three-game lead on Philadelphia and New York with 10 games to play and while nothing is assured for the Celtics, it’s looking like a safe bet that they will walk away with the Atlantic Division title for the fifth straight season, thus landing the fourth seed, as opposed to the seventh.
(Note: Winning the division does not guarantee homecourt advantage in the first round. The Celtics would still have to finish with a better record than the fifth seed and they enter play on Tuesday a game and a half behind Atlanta and Orlando.)
There’s a chance that Miami, which is just one game back in the loss column, could overtake Chicago for the top spot in the conference and set up a rematch of last season’s semifinal series that the Heat won rather convincingly, 4-1. The Celtics felt then — and feel now — that if not for a couple of bad breaks like Paul Pierce‘s dubious ejection in Game 1 and Rajon Rondo‘s elbow injury in Game 3, they could have made it a much tougher series. Still, four games to one speaks for itself.
And yet, there’s a feeling that the Heat should be afraid of the Celtics in the playoffs for the simple reason of matchups. Miami has no real answer for Rondo, who was brilliant in Boston’s 91-72 victory a week and a half ago when he went for 16 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists and was a plus-28.
Additionally, Pierce is one of the few small forwards in the league who can hope to guard LeBron James for 40 minutes and match his production, if not come out ahead. Pierce went for 23-7-3 in their last meeting, while LeBron posted a 24-4-0. It was James’ first assist-free game since 2009.
The real revelation in the April 1 meeting was the play of Avery Bradley, who held Dwyane Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, including a memorable block at the rim. Bradley also scored an efficient 13 points on 10 shots and presented a problem with his cuts to the basket.
|Doc Rivers: ‘Guys are locked in’||04.09.12 at 11:59 am ET|
Doc Rivers has preached it over and over.
The shots aren’t always going to fall but the defense will always be there.
Such was the case on Saturday night when they shot just 42 percent in Indianapolis.
But they held the Pacers to 35 percent in an 86-72 win. Sunday night, they followed that up by holding the Sixers to 38 percent in a 103-79 romp that put them on the brink of their fifth straight Atlantic Division title.
How appropriate since defense has been the backbone of everything in the Doc Rivers “Big 3″ plus Rajon Rondo era.
Sunday, the Celtics held the Sixers to 6-of-22 shooting the second quarter to take command of the game.
‘The defense is really good; guys are locked in,” Rivers said after Sunday’s game that improved the Celtics to 32-24 on the season. “Your offense will fail you, you know that guys; I don’t care how well you play, your offense is going to fail you sometimes. But if you come with the right mindset your defense never should. And it’ll always give you a chance to win a game.’
Even two weeks ago it would’ve seemed far fetched that Avery Bradley would succeed Ray Allen as the starting off guard next to Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. But combine his newfound ability to cut the basket with his shutdown defense and he’s become too valuable not to start. He has seen success defensively from both sides now.
‘Its very important for the bench to come in and bring the intensity,” Bradley said. “That’s something that Doc always, we take pride in as a team so we want to come in and bring the intensity and play hard on the defensive end and that’s what we did in the second quarter.
‘It was very important for us to win this game. We want to come out and play hard and ya know coming in the second half we wanted to come out in the third quarter and we wanted to bring our intensity up even higher. That’s what Doc told us, he told us to come in the third quarter and play hard and we were making shots and we just continued to make the lead even higher.’
Part of defense is rebounding and with Paul Pierce staying home and crashing the boards, like his six first-quarter rebounds Wednesday against the Spurs, the Celtics are not giving up as many second and third-chance points. Even Sasha Pavlovic has bought in. He had four rebounds in the first half Sunday, including three in seven minutes in the second quarter.
‘Well it’s a combination of things,” Pierce said. “We got to take care of the ball definitely, but we got to rebound the ball and I thought we did a better job competing on the rebounds, especially at the guard level myself, Avery, Sasha, Rondo getting in there rebounding the ball. So its going to be important for us as we wind down the season and in playoffs, that’s what our one true weakness is and if we can address that down the stretch we will be a tough team to beat.’
|Paul Pierce: With LeBron James and Heat on Tuesday, ‘it doesn’t get any easier’||04.08.12 at 10:22 pm ET|
The Celtics have earned a day in the sun on Monday in South Florida after they all but locked up their fifth straight Atlantic Division title on Sunday with a 103-79 shutdown of the fading 76ers at TD Garden.
They’ll need that rest.
LeBron James and the Heat most certainly feel they have debt to pay after the Celtics handed them their worst loss of the season on April 1 in Boston.
‘Oh yeah, I’ve looked at this since the schedule came out,” Paul Pierce admitted. “It doesn’t get any easier of course. You go to Miami, you come home and play Atlanta, then you got three in a row. Its tough, every team in the league has to deal with it, unfortunately we got to deal with it at the end of the season when teams seem to be winding down, getting tired legs. But maybe its good for us, cause it seems like we are playing our best basketball right now in this crucial stretch.’
Then the Celtics return home to play the suddenly resurgent Hawks, whom they could face in the first round – and would if the playoffs started today. Then they have Thursday off before playing three straight on the road, albeit against the Raptors, Nets and Bobcats.
It appears that the message of Doc Rivers was heeded very well in the last two games as the Celtics have allowed 72 and 79 points in wins over the Pacers and the Sixers. Doc might have been ticked off but Pierce said after Sunday’s game, he wasn’t the only one.
“He was frustrated but we all were frustrated, of course we were frustrated from losing a game that we all feel like was a very winnable game,” Pierce said. “As veterans we know how to respond, we know how to take our game up another level, you felt the frustration from the coach but we felt it ourselves. Even if Doc didn’t express it, I think we would have came out and play the way we played the last couple nights.’
The Celtics are now 32-24 and lead the Knicks and Sixers by three games with 10 left on the schedule. The division ensures no worse than a No. 4 seed and home court in the first round. But obviously, the Celtics have their sights set much higher.
|Paul Pierce: ‘Some days they fall, some days they don’t’||04.04.12 at 11:43 pm ET|
When you have the reputation as one of the best clutch shooters in recent NBA history, you have to live with the occasional failure.
Wednesday night was that occasional moment of frustration for Paul Pierce as his shot from the right side of the free throw line extended hit the rim but never fell through, allowing the Spurs to escape with a heart-pounding 87-86 win Wednesday night at a breathless TD Garden.
Pierce was making no excuses for taking the inbounds pass from Rajon Rondo and using the last 7.9 seconds of regulation before missing the shot that would’ve dramatically extended the Celtics winning streak to six. The play called for Rondo to inbound to Pierce, facing the basket. Pierce then has the option of driving to the basket or recognizing who’s guarding him and drive to a spot to get off an open jump shot.
When he saw Tim Duncan switch to guard him, Pierce chose the second option. Kevin Garnett was open but once Pierce put the ball on the floor with a dribble there was no time to get it to him for a clean shot. Instead, Pierce, as he has before dribbled to one of his favorite spots on the court.
“You just play the game and you see what happens, you don’t know what to expect,” Pierce explained. “There are numerous possibilities of things that could have happened when I come off the pick and roll and obviously they switched, they could have trapped, Stephen Jackson could have stayed on me, but that’s not what I’m thinking about. You play a lot of this game on instinct and the things that happen, they happen on the fly and happen so quick. I like the shot that I took, but at the end of the day it came down to I thought lose balls, they got two huge offensive rebounds late for buckets and to me that killed us.’
‘We got Paul into an iso,” Doc Rivers said of the trademark isolation play that he has drawn up for Pierce many times before. “He got probably the shot he wanted. He just didn’t make it… and they had a foul to give. So most teams switch. We actually said that they probably would and we were trying to get Duncan on a Paul matchup because we thought we had the speed advantage.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Paul Pierce is playing his best basketball of the season||04.02.12 at 3:15 pm ET|
UPDATE: Just after this story was posted, Paul Pierce was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Now that the Celtics have returned to the public conscious, the first thing everyone wants to know is when did they begin to turn it around? That one’s easy. It was the second half of the Oklahoma City game right before the All-Star break when Doc Rivers made a few decisions and the players made a vow to play better in the second half.
The Celtics have gone 15-5 since the All-Star break and have vaulted into first place in the Atlantic Division and re-emerged as the proverbial team no one wants to face in the playoffs.
There are many reasons for their turnaround, but two have been given the most attention. First, Rivers moved Kevin Garnett to center and inserted Brandon Bass into the starting lineup. Second, he decided to shorten the rotation, which essentially meant not playing rookies.
The first move worked flawlessly, the second move has required some adjusting on the fly. It’s important to remember that Greg Stiemsma wasn’t a part of the first nine-man system that Rivers employed. The role of first big off the bench belonged to Chris Wilcox and Stiemsma’s role only became more prominent after a physical turned up cardiac issues for Wilcox that required surgery. Additionally, Keyon Dooling has risen from the ashes to become an incredibly solid third guard at a time when they are without Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus.
There’s also been the play of Rajon Rondo, who has performed much better this March than last season. Like last year, Rondo has been shooting less in the second half of the season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been as active. He has recorded double-digit assists in each of their last 13 games and cut his turnovers down dramatically. He also showed on Sunday that when the situation calls for it, he can elevate his game. That wasn’t always the case last season.
For all that, one of the biggest reasons for the Celtics’ turnaround remains largely ignored. Paul Pierce is playing his best basketball of the season.