|No passing fancy: C’s determined to show NBA ‘what basketball is like’||01.22.11 at 11:35 am ET|
In a stat sheet filled with superlatives, the thing that shone for the Celtics like a neon sign could be found several columns over and several rows deep.
The Celtics had 31 assists on 37 baskets in Friday’s 110-86 dismantling of the Jazz at TD Garden to improve to an Eastern Conference-best 33-9. The most impressive part of the performance was that it wasn’t all Rajon Rondo. Yes, the Celtics point guard led the way with 12 dimes, but Marquis Daniels had six, Ray Allen had four and Kevin Garnett had three. Of the 11 players who dressed, only Paul Pierce and Semih Erden failed to register at least one helper.
From the opening tip, the Celtics were determined to spread the wealth. Shaquille O’Neal drew people to him in the paint as he usually does then found Pierce to his left on a cut to the basket for a lay-up 35 seconds in. The Celtics were off to the races.
That would be the first of 31 times one Celtic teammate found another for a field goal.
“It’s just a product of our work,” Pierce said. “Everyday we come in here and that’s what we work on. We work on making the passes, running our offense. Believing in one another, not caring who gets the credit. When you have a selfless group like this, that’s what happens.”
The Jazz did their best early to keep up but as a team built on strength and power, the Celtics seemed determined to take advantage of that. Let KG explain:
“Typical stuff. We know a lot of the offense goes through their bigs,” Garnett began. “They lay a lot of high post, lot of movement. Everybody knows Jerry Sloan’s system, he has been here for 30 years, 25-plus years. They are a physical team. We knew that we had to come out and not only meet their bigs’ physicality, but to be aggressive ourselves.
“I thought for the most part, we moved the ball. The things we worked on in practice the other day definitely showed and good showing by us. I liked the way we were forceful, physical. I thought we were firm. Again we moved the ball, everything we worked on and everything we have practiced up until this point was exemplified tonight.”
Utah Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan pushed every button he could but the Celtics were too much for his team, which came in tied for first with Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division.
“Well they showed us what basketball is like tonight,” Sloan said. “They came out and they played a terrific game, they took us out of our offense, we couldn’t do anything of what we were trying to do. I thought they were terrific passing the ball, and they made us turn the ball over way too many times, 21 turnovers for 26 points, it’s tough to beat anybody when you have that happen.
“But give them credit for how they came out and got after us. They were good in their offense getting the kind of shots they wanted and the kind that they can make. Doc was pretty generous not keeping his players out there, letting us breathe a little bit I guess.”
|Irish Coffee: Celtics midseason report card||01.20.11 at 10:53 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
After Wednesday night’s game against the Pistons , the Celtics have played 41 games and are exactly halfway through the NBA regular season. It’s time for a report card (you can check out the first-quarter grades here) …
- Grade: A
- Comments: Among the NBA’s small forwards, Pierce ranks second in free-throw percentage, third in field-goal percentage and ninth in 3-point percentage. That’s efficient. He’s also ran the offense in Rondo’s absence and rebounded in Garnett’s absence. Save for Allen, the Celtics have struggled to stay healthy, but Pierce has played all 41 games, remaining the constant he’s been for this team since his selection in the 1998 draft.
- Grade: A
- Comments: Allen’s numbers are pretty much up across the board from last season, while his field-goal percentage (51.3 percent) and 3-point percentage (46.8!) are the highest of his career. And that’s saying something for a guy who’s 28 treys away from breaking the all-time record. Allen ranks second on the team in minutes and first (unofficially) in clutch shots down the stretch.
- Grade: A–
- Comments: When he’s on the court, he’s an A-plus. Easily the leading candidate for a second Defensive Player of the Year honor in the last four years, Garnett is averaging 15.0 points and 9.3 boards — but those numbers don’t demonstrate the rejuvenation he’s enjoyed, the lift in his legs or the bite to go with his bark. His calf strain struck a scare into Celtics fans, though, and he’ll have to prove he can stay healthy to cement his A.
- Grade: A–
- Comments: Averaging 29.7 minutes in 32 games off the bench, Davis has established himself as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, shooting 48.4 percent from the field and grabbing 5.7 rebounds per game. Averaging 34.6 minutes in nine games as a starter, he’s shot 41.1 percent from the field and grabbed 4.4 boards a game. The former is precisely what the Celtics need. The latter? Not so much.
- Grade: B+
- Comments: Rondo averages a league-leading 13.2 assists per game, and only one other guy (Steve Nash) is averaging double-digits in that category. He’s also second in the league in steals. But to the naked eye he simply hasn’t had the same impact he had in the first few weeks of the season. His turnovers (3.9 per game) are too high, and he’s shooting worse from the free-throw line (46.0) than Allen is from 3-point range.
|Ray Allen never thinks about the misses, neither do Doc Rivers or his teammates||01.19.11 at 11:38 pm ET|
Ray Allen is a future hall-of-famer so when shots aren’t falling he doesn’t panic. After drilling the game-winning jumper with 24.5 seconds remaining in an 86-82 win over the Pistons, he said that approach helped him again Wednesday night when he missed two fourth-quarter free throws and was just 1-for-7 before hitting the decisive jumper.
With 31.8 seconds remaining, Rajon Rondo grabbed a loose-ball rebound and Doc Rivers called timeout. He drew up a play that had Allen coming off a screen and Paul Pierce, with a game-high 22 points – available as a second-option.
“It was more than him as the option,” Rivers said. “He was the first option on the play. And then Paul was the second, on the flare. Ray just makes shots, you know? He’s one of those guys, he can go 0-for-10; you know the one guy that believes he’s going to make it is Ray. And the second group is our team. When we drew it up, you could tell, they thought it would work and they went with it. It was great.”
“I wasn’t surprised,” Allen said of being given another chance on a pass from Rondo. “Anytime the situation comes down to the end of the game, we’ve been in these situations enough to know that it’s going to be either me, Paul [Pierce], Kevin [Garnett] or Rondo if he gets in the gaps.
“If he didn’t throw it to me, it would’ve went somewhere else and somebody would’ve been able to make the shot. I’ve said this before, I wasn’t shooting the ball particularly well and I didn’t really think I had a great rhythm but I always think the next one is going to go in. So, I was never worried about it.”
The second-most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history, Allen also wasn’t worried about missing all four of his 3-point shots on the night before getting a chance to drill the game-winner – which ironically was ruled a trey before officials reviewed it during a timeout and changed it to a two-pointer.
“It wasn’t odd at all because I was kind of replaying in my mind the shots I had tonight,” Allen said. “Early, I had two threes and one of them was a ’911′ shot trying to beat the buzzer. Offensively, we weren’t in a great rhythm , a bad rhythm overall for the team and that translated into how we were playing.”
If Allen had no hesitation about taking the shot, Rivers certainly didn’t. “Not with Ray,” Rivers answered without any hesitation. “No, No. Ray is a shooter. Shooters make shots. So, no.”
|Fast Break: Celtics not pretty, but squeak by Pistons||at 10:13 pm ET|
Well, that was just about the ugliest game of basketball the Celtics have played this season. Or at least one of them. But the Celtics prevailed against the Pistons at the TD Garden, 86-82, thanks to a Ray Allen (who else?) jump shot that gave the C’s the lead in the final minute.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics (32-9) with 22 points, while Shaquille O’Neal chipped in with a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) in an ugly victory that saw the C’s shoot 44.7 percent from the field. Rodney Stuckey (15 points) led five players in double figures for the Pistons, who fell to 15-27.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Even when he’s poor, he’s money: Through 47-plus minutes of basketball — about 37 of which he was on the floor — Allen was just 1-of-7 from the field, but that doesn’t bother great shooters. And Allen is a great one. No doubt about it. Coming off a screen, he nailed a 23-foot jumper with 24.5 seconds remaining that gave the Celtics the lead for good. The shot was originally ruled a 3-pointer but rescinded upon replay.
Shaq provides diesel fuel: Of all the Celtics to show the most determination, it was 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal — the oldest player in the league. On back-to-back plays, O’Neal chased an offensive rebound and got to the foul line on one end, and then blocked a Rodney Stuckey shot before chasing it into the stands on the other end. He finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes of hustle-filled basketball.
Big Baby being Big Baby: With the Celtics trailing 56-50 midway through the third quarter, Glen Davis drew his 27,653rd charge of the season, or at least it seemed that way. Settling back into his Sixth Man role with Garnett returning to the starting lineup, Davis put together a typically efficient night off the bench: 11 points, six rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Celtics play “hero ball” in the first half: Where was the passing that had made the Celtics the No. 1 passing team in the NBA? The team’s two leading assist distributors — Rajon Rondo and Pierce — had just three assists at the half (they finished with 11 combined). Meanwhile, Tracy McGrady had six assists himself running the show for the Pistons in the opening 24 minutes (he finished with just seven). The Celtics looked sluggish in the opening half, hoping perhaps that the talent gap alone would carry them past the Pistons. It did, eventually.
Boston becomes brick city: Fans have become accustomed to 50 percent shooting nights from the field from the Celtics — not to mention a few 60 percent shooting nights — but the Celtics shot just 44.7 percent, and most of the night it was worst than that. Not to mention the 14-for-25 effort fromt the free-throw line. For the season, the Pistons had been allowing opponents to shoot 48.0 percent (27th out of 30 teams) from the field.
Charlie Villanueva played Kevin Garnett tough: Ever since the whole “cancer patient” vs. “cancer to your team” ordeal between Villanueva and Garnett, the former had the edge over the latter. Their last meeting wasn’t really fair, since that’s when Garnett went down with his strained calf, but there weren’t any excuses for Wednesday night.
For the large majority of the night, until the final minutes, Villanueva had the edge. He finished with 11 points and eight boards. More spirited play from Garnett down the stretch gave him 11 points (on 5-of-14 shooting) and six boards on the night.
|Kevin Garnett: ‘These two weeks have been dark days for me’||01.18.11 at 1:09 am ET|
How happy and relieved was Kevin Garnett to be back Monday night?
“I was just called up from the D-League,” he joked.
Playing his first game back from a nine-game absence due to a strained right calf, Garnett scored 19 points in 30 minutes while Paul Pierce converted the go-ahead three-point play with 38.7 seconds remaining to lift the Celtics to a 109-106 win over the Magic Monday night at TD Garden.
Ray Allen had a team-high 26 points and Rajon Rondo had 10 points and 13 assists in a contest that provided a thrilling rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals. No one seemed more excited about the turn of events than the man who was playing his first game of 2011.
“You get out of it what it what you put into it,” Garnett said.”These two weeks have been dark days for me, trying to keep my morale up, be around the guys, travel. But being hurt is not one of my things I like to be a part of. I hate it. I don’t deal with it well.
“But as I get older, along with these knuckleheads here keeping it real light for me, keeping my spirits up, I just worked through it. Tonight, I just felt stronger and I’m going to continue to build on this and not have any mishaps.”
He certainly showed no ill-effects of the strained right calf sustained on Dec. 29 in Detroit. Garnett ran and moved without a limp while starting out very strong. He had six rebounds, two assists and four points in nine minutes of the first quarter. Garnett also stole the ball from Jameer Nelson late to help seal Boston’s 31st win, keeping them on top in the Eastern Conference.
After scoring just six points on Christmas Day, Dwight Howard had one of his strongest games yet against the Celtics, scoring 33 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. But still, the Celtics, thanks to the interior passing of Garnett and Pierce dominated scoring in the paint, 52-26.
Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce were happy to have the noise back. That noise that comes from someone yelling non-stop throughout the game and playing with defensive intensity rarely seen in the history of the NBA.
It had been so quiet for the Celtics since Kevin Garnett went down on Dec. 29 in Detroit, with what looked far more serious than a strained right calf at the time.
The Celtics defensive coordinator was back on Monday night against the Magic, and within the first three minutes you could tell a difference in defensive energy as he was calling out plays on the court.
And Rivers didn’t feel the two teams played very good defense in the first 45 minutes, the last three were what mattered in a 109-106 Celtics win Monday night over the team they eliminated in the Eastern Finals last year. So, Garnett yelling out defensive calls and making plays like a steal on Jameer Nelson with 10 seconds remaining to seal the win was music to Rivers’ ears.
“Listen, they all talk, but no one talks like Kevin,” Rivers said. “He’s the best talker in the league. When you’re talking defense. And I think Perk [Kendrick Perkins] may be the second best. So, it is clear tonight – and I didn’t think we had a great defensive night; I thought we were actually average – but it was clear the communication, especially those last four possessions, you could hear it. He was calling their sets out. He’s a defensive coach on the floor.”
Rivers had no doubt the energy would be there. His stamina and effectiveness were another thing altogether.
“I knew he’d play with energy,” Rivers said after Garnett scored 19 points and hauled in eight rebounds in 30 intensity-filled minutes. “You could see that. You could see it [Sunday], and I was telling guys that our practice was just crazy with energy. And so, you knew that. I was concerned about his wind; I wasn’t concerned about his health at all.”
One area where it was noticeable that Garnett might have been a little rusty was in the foul column where he came within one of disqualification.
“I knew one of the things we said: he wasn’t playing until he was 100 percent,” Rivers said. “But [Sunday], we went an hour and after about ten minutes he was – he looked like he needed an oxygen tank. And that’s why I took him out early in the first quarter; I thought he was struggling then. And then he came back and he felt great. So, yeah, he surprises you all the time.”
But don’t take Rivers’ word for it. Ask the man whom Garnett was helping to direct on the court, Paul Pierce.
“I mean I said to somebody else that we look like a totally different team,” Pierce said. “Just with Kevin on the court, and also people you can’t replace what Kevin gives to a ball club. He doesn’t always show up with his numbers but his presence and his feel for the game and everything he does for this team goes far beyond the numbers and you see it tonight. We look like a team who is ready, who is energized, who is locked in, and you know that’s the culture he’s brought here since day 1 he’s been here and its infectious. He raises everyone’s play when he’s on the court.”
|With an eye on big picture, Doc Rivers admits ‘I don’t like where we’re at right now’||01.11.11 at 2:16 am ET|
Sure, Monday was a very distasteful and bitter pill to swallow for the Celtics. But really what concerned Doc Rivers afterward was how he felt his team approached the game.
With or without Kevin Garnett and with or without the high-scoring Kevin Martin in the game for the Rockets, Rivers felt his team was capable of a whole lot better than they showed in a 108-102 loss at TD Garden.
But the trademark defense that has been a staple of these championship-driven Celtics has not been there in the last week, and Rivers fears that if they start falling in love with scoring instead of doing the dirty work, they’ll lose something a lot more important – home court advantage in the NBA playoffs.
Don’t look now but not only are the Spurs putting some distance between themselves and the Celtics – who fell to 28-9 – but the Miami Heat have, in the space of about three weeks, caught up to them with a torrid winning streak.
If the Celtics aren’t careful, they not only might have to win an NBA Finals Game 7 on the road like last year in LA but they may have to do the same thing against Miami just to get there.
“To me, you can see them thinking about the individual game and not the ramifications of the entire season,” Rivers said of his team. “And playing Game 7 on the road. And hell, not just in the Finals if you make it there, but in the playoffs. In the East, which is going to be difficult. This year’s not like last year where you can coast. You don’t have home court this year, you could go home.
“You know especially at home, I think we need to really take advantage of games where their best player isn’t playing, guys coming off injury,” captain Paul Pierce added. “These games mean a lot down the road, and but at the same time, they’re going to suit up and play, and we got to understand that nothing is given to us cause their down a man, or they’ve been struggling for most of the year. We got to put our work boots on and come with our A game, we’re not taking advantage of this, there are a lot of games that we’re letting slip away that we’re supposed to win” Read the rest of this entry »