|Fast Break: Spencer Hawes, 76ers slap Celtics silly||10.15.12 at 9:30 pm ET|
The Celtics started Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic, marking the fourth different Doc Rivers starting lineup in as many preseason games. In Philadelphia, few showed up — namely Sixers fans, centers Kevin Garnett and Andrew Bynum, and the C’s cohesiveness.
When all was said and done after an atrocious 107-75 C’s loss, only Pierce (16 points) and Brandon Bass (11 points) reached double figures, six different Celtics committed at least two of the team’s 20 turnovers and Milicic left in the second half with a sore wrist. All that said, let’s sort through the ugliness.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Turnovers and turnover: As analyst Tommy Heinsohn said at halftime, when the C’s had already coughed the ball up 14 times (Pierce 4, Milicic 3, Rondo 3, Sullinger 2) and experimented with roughly 9,736 different lineups, “There was no chemistry. It was boiling over into turnovers.” Few if any lineups appeared to have any continuity. Given the Celtics are only midway through the preseason, it’s probably too early to be concerned about excessive experimentation, but the earlier Rivers can discover which units work best together, the better.
Off center: Without Kevin Garnett, who would normally treat Spencer Hawes like Hulk treated Loki in “The Avengers,” Rivers turned to Sullinger and Milicic to guard the Sixers center. Often, the former proved too small and the latter too slow to challenge the rangy 7-footer. Understandably, the Celtics didn’t want to play Garnett in back-to-back nights, and Rivers likely wanted to experiment with his big Garnett/Milicic lineup against Brook Lopez and the Nets on Tuesday night. Still, Monday was further evidence how important KG is to the C’s chemistry.
Project Green light: Green may have guarded everywhere from the 2-4, but that didn’t mean he did it successfully. While NBA plus/minus statistics aren’t always the best indicator, he was a team-worst minus-28 against the 76ers. After reaching double digits and shooting better than 50 percent in his first three preseason games, Green made just 3-of-9 attempts, missed all three of his long-distance attempts and committed two turnovers. Outside of an unchallenged slam dunk, he failed to take advantage of a matchup against offensive-minded Nick Young.
|Ray Allen proves to Doc Rivers that he’s the ‘ultimate gunslinger’||05.27.12 at 2:49 am ET|
After starting Game 7 by missing eight of his first nine shots, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range, Ray Allen picked a great time to get hot.
He hit a three with 9:51 left that sent the Garden into pandemonium and gave the Celtics a 60-54 lead over the Sixers. The Celtics missed their first 14 3-pointers before Allen connected from beyond the arc. As the Sixers drew to within three again, Bass hit two free throws and Allen drained another three with 5:52 left to extend the lead to eight, 69-61. Again pandemonium and again, all Doc Rivers could do was sit back and appreciate Allen’s resiliency.
‘Well Ray is the ultimate gun slinger,” Rivers said. “I mean, really. That’s what makes great players great. You know, I was a basketball player one day. And I would’ve never taken that shot late in the game like Ray, after missing my first 15. First of all, I wouldn’t have been in. But you know what I mean; a lot of guys ‘ you’ve got to have a set to do that, you really do. It was just impressive.”
What really made this impressive was how much pain Allen was fighting in his right ankle.
‘You know I took him out that one stretch, and remember he had back-to-back plays where he was wide-open and passed up the shot,” Rivers said. “And when we took him out I went over to him and said, ‘Hey, listen, we’re not going to have that.’ And he just said, ‘My foot’s killing me. I need a break. I’m good.’ And I told him again, I said, ‘Ray, listen, you don’t ever pass up shots.’ The biggest part was Rondo went over there and told him the same thing, which I thought was great for Ray to hear, confidence-wise. And then Kevin went over and told him. I thought that was big for him to hear.
“I was worried about him because I know him now and I saw the last four, five minutes if you watch him he was starting to shake his foot, which has been a sign that time to get him out. But you know, I told him that; I said, ‘Hey are you alright?’ He said, ‘I’m alright after we win this game. He just said it, ‘Leave me in; I’m good. So that was good.’
|Game 7 shootaround: Keyon Dooling returns, Avery Bradley home resting after surgery||05.26.12 at 11:59 am ET|
WALTHAM — Already without Avery Bradley, the Celtics practiced on Friday without backup guard Keyon Dooling, who was out sick. Dooling returned to the team Saturday morning for its shootaround before Game 7 with the Sixers. The team worked on half-court set as per usual with no conditioning drills. Before the shootaround, the team also watched film.
With Bradley out and Ray Allen nursing two sore ankles, Dooling figures to see more playing time in Saturday night’s decisive game. In another positive sign, Greg Stiemsma took part on Saturday, a day after Doc Rivers said the backup center’s feet were “feeling better.” During Game 6 in Philadelphia, Rivers said that Stiemsma asked out of the game because he was in pain.
“He couldn’t play in the second half the other night,” Doc Rivers said on Friday. “Funny, I put him and he walks up and says, ‘I can’t go.’ I thought he was walking up to go in. But he feels better and that’s good.”
Allen has two sore ankles and Paul Pierce is nursing a sprained MCL in his left knee. Both Allen and Pierce are expected to start in Game 7.
Meanwhile, Bradley is resting after surgery Friday on both shoulders, a source with direct knowledge of the situation tells WEEI.com. He was the only Celtics player not in attendance at the Saturday morning shootaround.
The source confirms that Bradley had surgery on Friday and is expecting a summer-long rehab program that could last up to four months. If all goes as expected, Bradley should be ready for training camp in October.
Bradley initially injured the rotator cuff in his left shoulder but after playing with the injury, he also injured the right shoulder to the point where it needed to be repaired as well. Bradley had the left shoulder pop out in the third quarter of Game 4 against the Sixers and missed Games 5 and 6 before deciding to have surgery on Friday, performed by team doctor Brian McKeon, so that he could be ready for training camp in October.
|Ray Allen: Game 7 ‘just another opportunity to go out and be who we are’||05.25.12 at 6:08 pm ET|
Saturday night at TD Garden is another one of those possible scenarios so naturally, he was asked whether he’s given any thought to what could be his final game with the Celtics as part of the “Big Three.”
“Not really, not all,” Allen said before Friday’s practice. “I think I’ve in that situation many times before where that question has been posed to me so many times. We’ve been so fortunate to do what we’ve done here. It seems like we’ve been ruled out so many times before, so many years before. This is just another opportunity to go out and be who we are. We’re not worried about what’s beyond today. We’re more worried about what we have present day.”
Speaking of present day, Paul Pierce was asked point blank Friday whether the team’s tattered physical condition would take away from any joy over winning Game 7 since the rested and healthy Miami Heat wait in the wings Monday in the opener of the Eastern finals. Said another way, are the Celtics anything more than just a sacrificial lamb for the Heat if they prevail over Philadelphia?
“The focus is just one game right now,” Pierce said. “One-game series. Win or go home. You can’t look beyond that.”
But the bigger picture?
“I don’t think you should overlook it,” Pierce insisted. “Obviously, the goal is to win the championship. You have tto stake it step by step. It’s just about one game.”
And the way Allen sees it, that one game against the Sixers is a game of opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »
|Paul Pierce on Game 7: ‘I like our chances’||at 5:14 pm ET|
WALTHAM — If you go by Friday, the Celtics appeared to be calm, cool, collected and oh yes, confident, on the eve of their sixth Game 7 in the “Big Three” era.
The group of Paul Pierce, Greg Stiemsma and Ray Allen and assistant coach Tyronn Lue held a fun competition before Friday’s practice, as all right-handed shooters shot free throws with their left hands. Interestingly, Allen was the first to bow out, as he moved on to the more mundane effort of practicing shooting before the practice began.
The captain knows what’s at stake Saturday night at 8 p.m. as they take on the Sixers in Game 7 of the Eastern semifinals.
“Of course, we’re at home but they’ve beaten us on our home court,” Pierce said, referring to the 82-81 loss in Game 2. “You still have to go out and play the game but I feel good. A couple of days rest for a veteran team, much needed. I like our chances.
“I think we’ll come out with a great sense of urgency. It’s Game 7, there’s no tomorrow. In order for us to advance, we have to give it our all. We have to give it everything we’ve got. We need everything from everybody, whoever steps on that court to understand that this is it, this could be the season. That’s the way we have to play. We have to play like a desperate team, whether we’re at home or not. The team that wants it the most is going to get it.”
Overall, Pierce is 3-3 in Game 7s in his career. He lost his first in 2005 to the Pacers. Then, he won three straight, starting with wins over the Hawks and Cavaliers in 2008 on the way to his lone NBA title. Pierce led the charge over the Bulls in the first round in seven games in 2009 before falling to the Magic in a seventh game in the next round.
The most painful of all Game 7 losses, however, came the next year as the Celtics had the lead with six minutes left but couldn’t hold on and lost 83-79 to the Lakers in the final game of the 2010 NBA finals. Pierce has thrived in do-or-die games for the most part, including his 43 points in the fifth and deciding game of the 2002 first round series against Philadelphia.
“I like challenges,” Pierce said Friday. “I like being in pressure situations. It’s Game 7. I’ve been there before. I understand what it takes and I’m ready for it.
“It’s got to be a motivated group. What else is there? Game 7, what more could you ask for? If this is not the most important thing to you right now, then there’s no other way to motivate basketball players out here. Nobody wants to end their season right now. We have a great opportunity to advance to the Eastern Conference finals on our home court. That’s all the motivation we need.”
“Avery Bradley is having surgery today so he’s out for the playoffs,” Rivers said. “That’s that. When a player goes down, that’s disappointing, and especially with what Avery has given us this year. His growth this year has been terrific and it’s been great. He’s become a very valuable piece to our basketball team. His ability to guard the best [opposing] guard at [point or shooting guard] has really taken so much pressure off Rondo, in particular. And not having him means that Rondo now has to go back to that role and run the team, and that’s hard, that’s hard to do, unfortunately and especially against the team we’re playing that has two guards that attack.
“Rondo doesn’t have a lot of breaks. But that’s the way it is. We’ve been a team all year when stuff happens, you deal with it and you just move forward. That’s who we’ve been and that’s who we’re going to have to be [Saturday].”
Then Rivers explained exactly why the Celtics need to fall back on their great defensive principles to get through Game 7 without Bradley, their third straight without their best on-ball defender. The Sixers have a group of athletic guards who attack the basket, and did so at will in Game 6. Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams all took advantage of a weakened Ray Allen in drives to the basket.
“We’re great defensive team,” Rivers said. “What Avery did was he allowed us to be a great defensive team and put an individual on one guy and say, ‘Go shut him down.’ We don’t have that anymore so we have to go back to being just a great defensive team.”
Bradley was diagnosed with a sore rotator cuff during the first round series with the Hawks and attempted to play with pain. But early in the third quarter of Game 4 last Friday in Philadelphia, his shoulder popped out of place. He missed Games 5 and 6 before the decision was made to have surgery on Friday.
Bradley, in his second season out of Texas, started 10 games in the playoffs and 28 in the regular season, taking over the starting job from Ray Allen for the final 13 games of the regular season. He average 7.6 points a game in the regular season and quickly won respect around the league as one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA.
|Irish Coffee: How this Celtics team fares in Game 7’s||05.24.12 at 1:03 pm ET|
The last and only time Mickael Pietrus played in a Game 7, he played for the Magic and scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting (3-3 3P) in a 101-82 blowout of the Celtics in the Garden to win the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals. (Our own Paul Flannery reminds us of the similarities between that series and this one.)
Keyon Dooling hasn’t played in a Game 7 since 2005, when he scored six points on 3-of-6 shooting coming off the bench for the Heat in an 88-82 loss to the Pistons during the Eastern Conference finals. Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins and even Brandon Bass have never played a Game 7, not that it matters much.
How the Celtics fare in Game 7 of this Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers depends on how well the Big Four perform. Pietrus should start for Ray Allen, but Doc Rivers probably puts this game in the hands of Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Ganett and Paul Pierce. And who could blame him? After five seasons, 85 playoff games and 50 postseason victories together, they’ve gotten him this far.
Between them, Allen, Rondo, Garnett and Pierce have played 12 playoff games with the series up for grabs, including five as a unit since the 2008 NBA title run (Garnett’s 2009 knee injury cost him two of those). They’re 3-4 as individuals, and 3-2 together — the 2010 NBA finals Game 7 loss to the Lakers freshest in all their minds.
Perhaps how those four have fared in those previous 12 win-or-go-home playoff contests (Garnett, Allen and Pierce each played a Game 5 before the NBA abolished five-game, first-round series in 2003) will offer a glimpse of what to expect in their 13th and perhaps final Game 7 together, on Saturday night against the Sixers in Boston.
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