|Fast Break: Celtics outlast Minnesota||01.03.11 at 10:05 pm ET|
The Celtics won’t get any style points for their 96-93 win over the Minnesota (recap), but no one will care about that in April. And after not closing out a similar game against New Orleans in their last home game, it was a win they were happy to get.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paul Pierce came alive: After a dreadful start, Paul Pierce made his first shot with two minutes left in the first half. The second half was a completely different story as he made 5-of-8 shots and scored 15 points in the third quarter. Pierce made only one shot in the fourth quarter, but it was a huge 3-pointer.
He finished with 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and a very smart foul in the final seconds that prevented Michael Beasley from getting a good look at a 3-pointer.
Von Wafer: Wafer had his best stretch of minutes this season in the second quarter when he scored four points and emerged as the Celtics’ best rebounder (this was not a difficult honor to achieve on Monday). Still, Wafer showed some of the ability that has kept him employed by the Celtics this season. His timing couldn’t have been better because the deadline to guarantee contracts for the season is approaching next week.
Rajon Rondo is finding his groove: It seems clear that Rondo isn’t 100 percent back to being Rondo. Before the game Doc Rivers suggested that Rondo’s ankle would probably bother him all year. What remains to be seen is if he can recapture his explosiveness. He only took four shots and rarely drove to the basket.
But even in a reduced role, Rondo is still a great facilitator (he had 16 assists) and adept at finding, and exploiting mismatches. He worked Shaquille O’Neal against Kostas Koufos every time the opportunity presented itself.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rebounding: This was predictable. Kevin Love is the best rebounding forward in the league and the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett, who is the second best. But, the Celtics got killed on both the offensive and defensive glass and Love had more rebounds (15) in the first half than the Celtics had as a team (14).
But the Celtics also got killed on the defensive glass for the second night in a row, which is not something they can afford to have happen. Even without Garnett.
Glen Davis tried to do too much, again: Love destroyed Davis on the boards, and Davis didn’t do himself any favors by getting into foul trouble and launching too many jump shots. It has been a rough transition into the starting lineup for Davis, who had a not-as-good-as-it-looked line of 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting. One rebound in 30 minutes told a much different story.
Bench woes: In 29 minutes of court time, Nate Robinson and Luke Harangody took eight shots between them. They missed all of them. Neither player registered an assist, either. Thankfully for the Celtics, Wafer supplied some offense and a whole lot of energy off the bench. Robinson did make two clutch free throws in the final seconds to put the Celtics up by three for the game’s final margin.
|Irish Coffee: Who means most to Celtics’ success?||at 11:42 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Add Paul Pierce‘s sprained ankle to the ever-growing list of injuries that have plagued the Celtics through their first 32 games this season.
Following Sunday’s 93-79 victory in Toronto against the Raptors, Doc Rivers told reporters, “We have a game [Monday] night, so he’ll be OK.” But it was another “not again” moment that reminded Celtics fans of the team’s fragility.
It also reminded me of this article from the Los Angeles Times, which made the following statement:
Rajon Rondo, their lone indispensable player, has an ankle injury and has been out three times but keeps returning before he’s 100 percent.
Is Rondo really their only indispensable player? Could they legitimately reach their goal of an 18th NBA title without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or — for that matter — any of the starters who are undefeated as a unit in the playoffs?
That’s when I decided to look at the Celtics’ record with and without each player in the lineup during The New Big Three era. Here’s how it shakes out with and without each guy (winning percentages in parentheses):
- Paul Pierce … With: 195-69 (.739); Without: 8-6 (.571)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .168
- Rajon Rondo … With: 191-68 (.738); Without: 12-7 (.632)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .106
- Kevin Garnett … With: 169-58 (.745); Without: 34-17 (.667)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .078
- Ray Allen … With: 192-72 (.727); Without: 11-3 (.786)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.059
- Kendrick Perkins … With: 167-65 (.720); Without: 36-10 (.783)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.063
Based on these numbers, Pierce has been the most valuable player on the team over the last three-plus regular seasons. Not Rondo. It’s also interesting to note the Celtics’ success without Allen or Perkins in the lineup.
One thing is certainly clear: Pierce, Rondo and Garnett are all indispensable. Well, at least that L.A. Times piece gave us one interesting note:
From the last four openers to Christmas Eve, Boston has gone an astounding 94-14 … a 71-win pace. Not even the Bill Russell teams that won 11 titles in 13 seasons ever did as well in that time frame.
The Celtics’ best four-year opener-to-Christmas Eve run in the Russell era was 94-26 from 1959-1962. Even posting win totals of 72-69-62 in Michael Jordan‘s last three seasons, the Bulls were 64-14 before Christmas.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, after the last three Christmases, they went 84-54 when injuries hit … as they have once more.
Just for fun, let’s look at the same numbers for each of the top-10 rotation players for this year’s team. How have the 2010-11 Celtics performed in their absences, taking into account the relatively small sample size?
- Kevin Garnett … With: 24-6 (.800); Without: 1-1 (.500)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .300
- Rajon Rondo … With: 18-3 (.857); Without: 7-4 (.636)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .221
- Shaquille O’Neal … With: 17-6 (.739); Without: 8-1 (.889)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.150
- Delonte West … With: 3-2 (.600); Without: 22-5 (.815)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.215
- Jermaine O’Neal … With: 7-5 (.583); Without: 18-2 (.900)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.317
The order of these players’ importance to the Celtics is certainly not surprising, but one thing is: How little an impact Jermaine O’Neal has had on this team. The Celtics have been a significantly better team when he doesn’t see the floor.
PAUL PIERCE THE COMEDIAN
On his Twitter page, Pierce made no mention of how his ankle was feeling on Monday morning, but he did offer this: “Excuse me I need to get thru please” — accompanied by the following video …
|Fast Break: Rondo’s return helps rally Celtics past Raptors||01.02.11 at 8:31 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo returned to the Celtics lineup after missing seven games with a severely sprained ankle, and while he wasn’t in top form, he had a definite impact on the Celtics, who snapped out of their recent funk with a 93-79 victory over Toronto on Sunday night. (Recap.)
The Celtics outscored Toronto 50-37 in the second half and shot 54 percent. Their double-digit win was even more impressive when you consider they also allowed 19 offensive rebounds. There’s no rest for the Celtics, who play the Timberwolves in Boston Monday night, but this was a much-needed win after two weeks of struggles.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon Rondo returned: The Celtics led 13-8 after six minutes and Rondo was feeling so good he even busted out his fake behind-the-back layup move. Then he picked up his second foul and went to the bench. So long, early lead. Rondo played nine more minutes in the second quarter and went the whole way in the third as the Celtics opened up a nine-point lead.
Rondo wasn’t great — four points, eight assists, five turnovers in 33 minutes — but you could see the difference in how the Celtics got into sets quicker and the passing was much crisper. In the third quarter, the Celtics made 12-of-17 shots and had assists on 10 of them. That’s the kind of impact Rondo has on a game.
Paul Pierce made amends: Pierce had a bad game against the Hornets on Friday afternoon. It happens. Pierce took the extra step of taking the blame for the loss, which wasn’t necessary, but was in line with his role as team leader. You know what speaks more loudly? Taking over the next game. In the first half, when the Celtics were struggling for offense, Pierce scored 20 of their 42 points. That’s leadership.
Center depth: Shaquille O’Neal got in foul trouble again, which is like saying the sun rose in the east. The good thing for Doc Rivers was that he had options. Rivers kept Shaq in the game after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and the big guy was able to convert a layup. He could afford to take the risk because he knew he had Jermaine O’Neal waiting behind him and Semih Erden, if necessary.
The O’Neals combined for 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, which is exactly the kind of production they need from the position.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Glen Davis continues to struggle: It’s not that Davis hasn’t been able to do a decent Kevin Garnett impersonation. He hasn’t even been able to be Big Baby the last game and a half. Davis seems to be fighting himself as he adjusts to his new role as a starter, but after starting the game by missing eight of nine shots, Davis came alive in the third quarter.
He finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in what might have been the best bad game anyone on the Celtics has played this season.
Transition defense: This has become the new watchword for Rivers, and the Celtics are struggling a bit in terms of getting back on defense. They gave up 27 fast-break points against Toronto, who is one of the fastest teams in the league in terms of pace. The Celtics play a number of young teams over the next few weeks and you can believe they will want to get out and run, rather than try to go toe-to-toe with the bruising Celtics.
Defensive rebounding: Attention, Celtics big men: Kevin Love is waiting for you on Monday. You might want to tighten up on the boards.
|Paul Pierce pulls no punches: ‘I really didn’t come to play’||12.31.10 at 7:55 pm ET|
Paul Pierce did what a captain usually does after an emotional loss, one without two stars in the lineup.
After scoring just 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 36 minutes of an 83-81 loss to the Hornets Friday, Pierce was not about to make excuses for a team that was missing Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. As a matter of fact, he put most of the blame squarely on his own shoulders.
“Maybe Paul Pierce has to do a better job in stepping up his game,” Pierce said in third person. “I really didn’t come to play to today, evident when you look up, six turnovers, but we only lose by two. The responsibility is on the guys out on the floor.
‘Regardless of the injuries, I’ve [said before] injuries are going to happen. Regardless of the injuries, we’ve still got to show up to play. There’s no moral victories’¦and the guys that we put out there have got to be ready. We’re on the home court with guys who know how to play the game’¦a game that we feel like we should win.”
The Celtics used an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter to open an 73-66 lead with under seven minutes remaining, only to see the Hornets outscore them, 17-8, down the stretch.
|Fast Break: Pistons pound Celtics||12.29.10 at 10:09 pm ET|
Kevin Garnett left the game with a lower right leg injury late in the first quarter, but even before that the Celtics were in trouble during a 104-92 loss to the Pistons on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. Paul Pierce scored a game-high 33 points on 11-of-16 shooting, but only one other Celtic (Ray Allen) reached double figures. The Celtics drop to 24-6, despite Pierce’s effort to fuel a failed fourth-quarter comeback.
Meanwhile, despite the absence of their leading scorer (Rodney Stuckey), six Pistons scored in double digits: Tracy McGrady (21), Tayshaun Prince (18), Charlie Villanueva (14), Austin Daye (12), Ben Gordon (12) and Chris Wilcox (10).
WHAT WENT WRONG
Kevin Garnett goes down: Late in the first quarter, Garnett went up for a wide-open dunk, held on to the rim for an extra second as he grimaced in pain and limped up the floor on his left leg. Moments later, Celtics trainer Ed Lacerte worked on the same right leg that kept Garnett from finishing the 2008-09 season and hobbled him last year. Then, the official word: Garnett was out for the remainder of the game with a “lower right leg injury.”
Later, the Celtics stressed it was not a knee or ankle issue, but indeed a lower right leg injury. Garnett underwent X-rays, which showed no fractures, and he’ll have an MRI on Thursday. He walked to the locker and training rooms on his own accord.
Is it New Year’s Day? As Tommy Heinsohn said on the television broadcast, “They’re playing like they’re hungover.” The Celtics looked sluggish, even before the injury to Garnett. In the first quarter alone, they committed eight turnovers and allowed the Pistons to shoot 11-of-20 (55 percent).
In all, the C’s committed 21 turnovers, leading to 23 Pistons points. Detroit also shot 39-of-69 from the field (56 percent) and 10-of-14 from 3-point range (71 percent) for the game. The Celtics even made McGrady appear like the McGrady of old, as he totaled 21 points, eight assists and four rebounds.
Sharing the wealth: In their first matchup of the season, with Rajon Rondo in the starting lineup, the Celtics recorded 20 more assists than the Pistons (33-13) in a 109-86 victory.
This time around? The Pistons actually recorded eight more assists than the C’s (26-18), as Nate Robinson (one assist) got the start in place of the injured Rondo. In fact, the Celtics totaled more turnovers than assists.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paul Pierce does it all: With Garnett out for the remainder of the game, all eyes turned to Pierce for leadership on both ends of the floor. He responded — even though his teammates did not. Pierce scored 33 points to go with eight assists, five rebounds and five steals. Allen was the only other Celtic to reach double figures, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Jermaine O’Neal contributes: In 23 minutes off the bench, Jermaine O’Neal — who had shown little to nothing since returning on Christmas Day — recorded six rebounds and seven points, making his only two shots from the field. He even drew an important fourth-quarter charge on defense.
While it wasn’t much, O’Neal produced more in this outing than he had in the two previous games combined. If Garnett misses significant time this season, a giant magnifying glass will be focused on O’Neal’s impact.
Free-throw shooting: The Celtics didn’t get to the free-throw line much, but when they did they made them count — making 18-of-19 (94 percent). Pierce, Allen and O’Neal were a combined 14-for-14 from the charity stripe.
In fact, the C’s shot pretty well from everywhere on the floor, making 34-of-66 shots from the field (51 percent) and 6-of-15 3-pointers (40 percent).
|Irish Coffee: The Paul Pierce Tribute||12.28.10 at 10:23 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Paul Pierce just tweeted a link to this hip-hop song by Damani, called “(The Truth) Paul Pierce Tribute.” I gotta say, it’s pretty good. I especially like this line: “Back to the basket, face up tragic, mix between Bird and Magic, got to have it.”
SHAQ FINE WITH HEFTY FINE
Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal got hit with a $35,000 fine by the NBA for the comments that he made to the officials — which we covered here yesterday. Here’s what Shaq had to say to the Boston Herald:
‘Here’s my quote: Over my 18-year career, I’ve probably paid $90 million in federal tax, $20 million in FICA and $1 million in [NBA commissioner] David Stern tax.’
|Danny Ainge on Big Show: ‘I like this team much better’||12.23.10 at 5:11 pm ET|
Celtics president Danny Ainge joined The Big Show for his weekly Thursday appearance and noted that he doesn’t think this season’s Celtics team will have the same kind of letdown as last season’s squad.
“I think this just a better team,” Ainge said. “I like this team much better. I like the depth better. I feel more more confident in this team and what we’re capable of doing. Last year we came very close. I feel like us at all positions. We’re playing now without Delonte [West] and Rajon [Rondo], which makes it very difficult, and we’re still finding ways to win.”
“I think last year’s regular season, we didn’t play with a lot of resolve, but we also had more injuries to more key players,” Ainge said. “Paul and KG weren’t near the same and both of those guys are having great years.”
Here are more highlights from the interview: Read the rest of this entry »