|Fast Break: Celtics 115, Knicks 111 (OT)||03.04.12 at 4:02 pm ET|
You can count the number of times Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce both played well in the same game this season on one hand, but two of those occasions occurred this weekend. In a related story, the Celtics won their fourth straight game, 115-111 against the Knicks in overtime on Sunday afternoon.
Rondo recorded his league-leading fourth triple-double of the season — and second in three games — totaling 18 points, a season-high 20 assists and 17 rebounds. According to Elias, Rondo is just the third player in NBA history with at least 15 points, 20 assists and 15 rebounds in a single game, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson in that exclusive category. Pierce added 34 points, seven rebounds and three assists as the Celtics improved to 19-17 and moved to 1.5 games up on the Knicks (18-19) for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
Absent for much of the game, Jeremy Lin (14 points, 5 assists, 6 turnovers) led a fourth-quarter charge to help the Knicks take the lead twice in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Pierce made a game-tying 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds to play, and Carmelo Anthony missed a jump shot at the end of regulation to force overtime.
And then Rondo put the finishing touches on the Knicks in overtime, as the Celtics made 45 field goals in the game, and Rondo had a hand in 27 of them.
|Paul Pierce consoles Rajon Rondo: ‘I was part of trade rumors… four or five straight years’||03.03.12 at 9:35 am ET|
As captain, Pierce felt the time was right before Friday night’s game against the Nets to deliver a message about the persistent trade rumors involving Boston’s mercurial point guard.
‘Well it’s nothing we haven’t been through before,” Pierce said after dropping 27 on the Nets in Boston’s 107-94 win that once again put the Celtics above .500 at 18-17. “Rondo’s been through it, I’ve been though it a number of times. The thing is you have to do your job, you can’t let that affect you. I kind of mentioned it to Rondo today, you know I was part of trade rumors for probably four or five straight years. I just didn’t let it affect me on how I approached each and every game. You know whatever happens, happens, it’s business. Sometimes you don’t have control of it.’
Rondo ignored the noise and went out in the first half and showed that as long as he’s in Boston, he will be the game-changer that Celtics fans have grown accustomed to. Like in the second quarter, when Rondo told everyone to get up-tempo on D and pressure the ball coming up the court.
The result: Five turnovers in a 14-0 Celtics run that – for all intents and purposes – put the game out of reach. Rondo finished with 14 points, 13 assists and five steals, with all five coming in the first half fury.
“He said before the game, ‘Let’s be aggressive. Defensively, let’s be active.’ And we followed his lead,” Kevin Garnett said of Rondo.
Rondo had help as Mickael Pietrus was a defensive force, implementing Rondo’s plan to perfection and getting nasty on whoever was trying to take the ball up the court.
‘Well you know Pietrus has started some games for us before and he’s been spectacular,” Pierce said. “He is able to come off the bench or start and give us great minutes for his defensive and shooting ability.
‘I think it definitely goes to another level, because he’s our energy guy that we use off the bench . You know when he’s out there to start the game he gets us off to a great start, he’s such a great rebounder for his size, and he can spread the floor with his point shooting. It was a real big lift to have him out there. We knew we were missing Ray tonight but we knew Pietrus could fill in.’
Now, the Celtics and their newfound pressure D will be tested by Jeremy Lin and the Knicks on Sunday, with Boston riding a three-game win streak.
‘I think we are moving the ball a lot better and hopefully hitting our stride right here at home,” Pierce said. “We are playing better basketball. We have a huge West coast trip coming up for us in the next couple weeks, so it’s important for us to get as many wins as we can under our belt before we hit the road.’
|Trade Rumor: Celtics eye Josh Smith, possibly for Kevin Garnett||03.02.12 at 3:31 pm ET|
The New York Daily News threw out the suggestion that the Celtics would be interested in Atlanta’s Josh Smith “and other young studs,” while using the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce as bait.
“With the Big Three’s window now shut, Ainge is trying to land Atlanta’s Josh Smith and other young studs, while offering up Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can also be had, for young players and draft picks. Rajon Rondo might be leaving, too, with the Lakers and Utah seen as possible destinations.”
The interesting part of this rumor is the suggestion of Garnett, which is the first time his name has been linked in any trade rumor since he’s come to Boston. Garnett is in the last year of a contract that pays him $21 million and Smith has another year left after this one at $13 million, so that wouldn’t work straight-up. The Hawks have other short contracts like Kirk Hinrich, who is in the last year of a deal that pays him $8 million.
Smith was high school teammates with Rajon Rondo at Oak Hill Academy and the two have remained close. He’s still just 26 years old and many felt that he deserved a spot on the All-Star team. He’d be the kind of player the Celtics would be looking to acquire if they move forward with Rondo.
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m at my best when I’m in transition’||03.01.12 at 1:36 am ET|
For whatever reason, 26-year-old Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo and the aging Big Three haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 17-17 record. Whether that’s the result of the All-Star point guard’s stubbornness or the unwillingness of three Hall of Famers to follow a younger, better leader or any number of other reasons is free to debate.
But one thing is certain: When Rondo plays the way he did in a 102-96 win over the Bucks Wednesday, recording his third double-double of the season while orchestrating the offense to near perfection, these Celtics might actually have a chance to salvage this season.
“We did a better job executing offensively tonight,” said Rondo (15 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), as usual simplifying the game to its most basic elements. “We got into our sets, and we executed — and we scored.”
“He got us organized earlier,” said Rivers. “The second half, he called 12 different sets, and we got to the first option, second option, and it just looked organized and good. And that’s who we were, and that’s who we have to be. And I thought it was Rondo’s doing.”
|Irish Coffee: Celtics midseason report card||02.24.12 at 1:58 pm ET|
If Danny Ainge shook a Magic 8-Ball right now, the odds of “outlook not so good” coming up are probably even. After losing seven of their past eight games for the first time since he acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen prior to the 2007-08 NBA season, Ainge’s aging Celtics are 15-17 entering the All-Star break.
It’s an uphill battle the rest of the season, but it might be all downhill from here for Doc Rivers & Co. Needless to say, based on the expectations they’ve set the past four years, this Celtics group isn’t making the grade. Let’s take a look at how the C’s have stacked up individually this year.
MICKAEL PIETRUS: A-
Last Grade: A
When the news broke that Jeff Green would undergo heart surgery for an aortic aneurysm, the Celtics once again had a hole to fill behind Paul Pierce at the small forward position. Pietrus has bridged that gap, and then some. Charged with 3-point shooting and bringing energy defensively, he has shot 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and defended vigorously (at the end of the blowout loss to the Thunder, Pietrus was one of few C’s who played to the buzzer). In an attempt to improve the team’s terrible rebounding, Pietrus has also begun to assert himself on the glass, grabbing 19 rebounds in his last two games.
KEVIN GARNETT: A-
Last Grade: B+
Of the aging Big Three, the one with the most mileage and the worst knees has enjoyed the best season. Garnett entered the NBA All-Star break by recording 23 points and 13 rebounds for the first time since December 2008. That marked his ninth double-double of the season, bringing his averages to 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in only 30.8 minutes. Paired with his usual defensive prowess, he’s played all but three games — missing only one due to a tweaked hip and two for personal reasons — and it’s no surprise the Celtics are 0-3 in those contests.
|Irish Coffee: Dichotomy of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce||02.17.12 at 1:52 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo couldn’t be hotter, averaging 28.0 points, 9.7 assists and 7.3 boards in the past three games.
Paul Pierce couldn’t be colder, averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds in his past four games.
And the Celtics are 1-4 in their past five games. So goes the 2011-12 NBA season for the aging champions.
Whether it’s the result of Rondo’s wrist injury coming on the heels of Pierce’s heel injury to start the season, compounded by whatever Pierce is going through the past handful of games (Charles Barkley credited age during Thursday night’s TNT broadcast), the C’s two best players haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 15-14 record, which only stands to get worse if the trend continues in Dallas and Oklahoma City.
Just how poorly have Rondo and Pierce meshed on the court? Besides the fact that the two have yet to both exceed 15 points in the same game this season, take a look at their overall numbers with and without each other.
|Irish Coffee: How the Celtics can score more points||02.15.12 at 12:47 pm ET|
While the Celtics rank eighth in field-goal percentage (45.8%), they’re 26th in points scored. Why? Two reasons: They don’t get to the free throw line, and they don’t attempt enough 3-pointers.
To the first point, free throws are down across the NBA, but the Celtics have been particularly inept in that regard. The C’s are one of only two teams that attempt fewer than 30 field goals per game from 0-10 feet, where the majority of fouls occur. Only the Nets (8-21) take fewer shots within 10 feet (27.9) than the Celtics (29.5). From 2007-10, when the C’s made two trips to the NBA Finals, they averaged more than 25 free throws per game and ranked in the NBA’s top 10 each season. This season, they attempt just 19.8 a night.
That last number has gotten increasingly worse as this season has progressed. The C’s nightly free throw attempts have declined from 23.8 in December to 20.2 in January and an NBA-worst 16.4 in February. For the season, the Celtics are being outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game at the free throw line.
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