|Greg Stiemsma has ‘big plans’ for Celtics playoffs||04.19.12 at 2:56 am ET|
When the Celtics reflect on their 2011-12 season — which saw them capture a fifth Atlantic Division crown Wednesday night despite a variety of injuries throughout the campaign — they might ask themselves, “How did we pull that off?”
Sure, they benefited from a renaissance season from Kevin Garnett, enjoyed Rajon Rondo‘s streak of 23 straight games with 10 or more assists and saw a rather unexpected growth from Avery Bradley. Then there’s the ascension of Greg Stiemsma.
Stiemsma didn’t begin seeing extended playing time until the second half of the season. In January, he was buried on Doc Rivers‘ bench and only averaged just over seven minutes. That number sky-rocketed to 18 minutes in March, and then 20 in April, due to season-ending injuries to Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal.
Still, despite the uneven playing time, Stiemsma is averaging 1.56 blocks per game this season, which ranks him 15th in the entire league, and second among all rookies (The seventh overall pick in last year’s draft, Bismack Biyombo, ranks first). Not bad for a training camp invitee.
Since being traded from the Celtics to the Magic prior to the season, Glen Davis is now 0-3 against his former team. Yet, Big Baby believes his new squad is fully prepared to defeat the C’s should they meet in the playoffs — even without the injured Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu.
“I think we’re capable of beating them,” said Davis, who totaled 27 points in the Magic’s 102-98 loss in Boston.
If the playoffs started today, the Celtics (37-26) — who clinched a fifth straight Atlantic Division title and the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed — would face the Hawks (37-25) in the first round, but the Magic (36-26) still have a shot at the fifth seed and a date with the C’s. However, Orlando may have to do it without Howard (herniated disc) or Turkoglu (fractured face), both of whom remain doubtful until the playoffs and questionable beyond.
Which is why those in the Magic locker room viewed their four-point loss in Boston as a positive, even if the Celtics were also without two stars in Rajon Rondo (back) and Ray Allen (Allen) as well as a key role player in Mickael Pietrus (knee) — all of whom are expected back for the playoffs.
“Today, we didn’t even have two of our guys,” said Davis. “They didn’t have two of their guys, but at the same time we had a big missing piece today, and we still came out there and played the right way and was in the game. So, whatever happens, happens. Whoever we play, Indiana or Boston, we are going to bring energy, and we are going to play hard, and that’s all that matters.”
|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.
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.’
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