|Celtics-Spurs Preview||12.03.09 at 11:36 am ET|
Meanwhile, a certain team in San Antonio (9-6) might be hitting its own stride. After making a splash this summer by trading for former New Jersey Nets star Richard Jefferson (career 17.6 ppg), it appeared the Spurs positioning themselves to contend for another NBA title. But after a three-game skid dropped their season record to 4-6, questions began to surface about age, chemistry and hunger for winning.
So much for that.
Five straight victories for San Antonio and they’re right back in the title talks. That being said, the black and silver has been beating up mostly on second-tier teams; their game Thursday night against the Celtics will be another matter.
Both teams teams have been hot of late, and neither is a stranger to the NBA spotlight. The Celtics dominated the league in 2007 en route to their 17th NBA Championship, meanwhile seemingly every year the Spurs are on the brink of grabbing one of their own, including winning four titles in the past 10 years.
Tonight’s 8 p.m. clash has just about everything: the names, the legacy, and the anticipation. But how does everything else pan out? Let’s take a look:
On A Roll ‘ Both teams come in winners of five straight, though neither streaks have been star studded. Aside from Boston’s 92-85 win on Sunday over the 10-5 Miami Heat, none of the Celtic’s past five victories have come against opponents above .500. In fact, before taking down the Heat, the last time the Celtics beat a team with more notches in the win column than the loss column was back on Nov. 11, a 105-96 win over the now 10-7 Utah Jazz.
Similarly, San Antonio has benefited from a rather smooth stretch in their schedule, helping them get back on track after losing three straight in mid-November. The only above .500 team in the Spurs’ past five wins? The 10-8 Houston Rockets, whom San Antonio disposed of 92-84 back on November 27. But you’d have to travel all the way back to that same Nov. 11 to find the last time the Spurs beat an above .500 team prior to the Rockets, a 92-83 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Head to Head
Strangely Familiar ‘ They may not meet that often, but when they do, chances are it’ll be memorable. Boston and San Antonio have yet to collide this season, but last year they met two times – as they do every season ‘ and both games were spectacular. The Spurs took the first game, a 105-99 nail-biter that had San Antonio taking the lead with 20.4 seconds left off a Roger Mason three, stunning a packed house at the Garden. The second game, however, was taken by the Celtics in an equally exciting matchup, an 80-77 victory at the AT&T Center in Texas. Kendrick Perkins netted the game-winner for the Celtics, who escaped San Antonio with KG on the bench for the entire fourth quarter – in part thanks to the Spurs’ six consecutive free-throw misses to close out the game.
Boston swept the two-game series in 2007-08, but the two split again back in 2006-07 with both teams winning their home matchups.
Defense Wins Championships ‘ It’s no secret to anyone in the NBA how the Spurs run their team: a combination of stout defense and scoring mainly from anyone on the floor named Duncan, Parker or Ginobli. But the addition of Richard Jefferson this season has helped alter that perception a little, giving the Spurs a potent fourth option when it comes to putting the ball in the net. So far in 2009, Jefferson has averaged a solid 13.5 points a game, a nice complement to point guard Tony Parker (16.5) in the absence of guard Manu Ginobli (groin injury). But regardless of how much or how little Jefferson steps up, the Spurs are still the same old Spurs, and they live and die by perennial All-Star forward and team-leader, Tim Duncan.
As a result, the most exciting matchup within the Spurs-Celtics rivalry is as it has been for the past three seasons ‘ Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett. Seeing those two do battle in the paint is like watching history collide. Whenever two NBA greats the likes of Garnett and Duncan meet on the hardwood, it’s bound to be exciting, particularly considering that the two play the same position and will literally be matching up head-to-head.
.833 ‘ After posting a very less-than-Allen .259% from beyond the arc in his past six games, Ray Allen heated up in a big way in the Celtics win over the Bobcats. Allen nailed five of six shots from three-point range on Tuesday night, was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line and finished the night with a game-high 27 points. The Celtics would like that hot shooting to carry over to tonight’s game against a tough defensive squad in the San Antonio Spurs, who are surrendering 96.5 points a game, 10th in the NBA.
3/4 ‘ the amount of major statistical categories in which Tim Duncan leads the Spurs, furthering the notion that the black and silver go as No. 21 goes. So far in 2009, Duncan leads San Antonio with 18.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and an intimidating 2.00 blocks per contest. He even ranks third on the team in assists with 3.7, a rarity for a power forward with the size of Duncan.
The Ginobli We All Know and Love ‘ He’s back on the injured list ‘ again. Oh wait, never mind, he’s off. Wait, no, he’s back on. Okay, forget it ‘ he’s off it now. Ginobli finally returned to the Spurs lineup on Sunday, a 97-89 win over the 76ers that had the Spurs’ star bench-player contribute 17 minutes on the court, netting only eight points and grabbing three rebounds. Obviously a sub-par game for Ginobli, who is averaging 13.5 points a game in ‘09, but it’s apparent he doesn’t have his sea legs back yet after injuring his groin in the Spurs’ loss to the Jazz back on Nov. 19. Since then, the injury has kept the Argentinean born guard out for five-straight games until returning on Sunday. He’s only appeared in 10 games this season, and may not be at full-strength tonight against the Celtics, something that will undoubtedly hurt the Spurs both on the offensive and defensive ends.
On the other hand, San Antonio’s backup guard, Roger Mason (7.1), who was a thorn in the Celtics’ side last season, may be cleared to play Thursday night. The Spurs’ off-the-bench hot shooter has been dealing with a hamstring injury that held him off the court in Sunday’s win over the 76ers, but he is expected to be available for Thursday night’s clash with the Green. In his last two games before injuring the hamstring, Mason posted a combined 28 points, shooting a torrid 66.7 percent from the field.
Nothing new for the Celtics on the injury front, as the usuals — Glen “Big Baby” Davis” and Tony Allen — will be sidelined for tonight’s matchup. News for Tony Allen is that the Celtics will be without the 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard for the entirety of their four game road-trip, and he will be re-evaluated when the club returns to Boston.
Big Four? – “Those situations were created by that little guy. He was excellent tonight, really. … I thought he controlled this game as well as anybody and I don’t know if his stat line is really as indicative of how much impact he had on this game.” – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Celtics’ point guard Rajon Rondo after Sunday’s game.
He’s no longer a secret in the NBA. Rajon Rondo continues to improve daily, and the Celtics have all the confidence in the world in him, evident in his new five-year, $55 million contract. It will be another tough night for the point guard however, as he goes toe-to-toe with perennial All-Star Tony Parker, who is averaging 16.5 points a game this season. It’s apparent that a lot of this game hinges on Garnett vs. Duncan ‘ but make no mistake about it, it will be no small battle at the point.
|Danny Ainge on The Big Show||11.24.09 at 6:09 pm ET|
Celtics Executive Director of Basketball Operations and GM Danny Ainge joined the Big Show on Tuesday to discuss the Celtics’ recent play, the development of Rajon Rondo, the three-point difficulties of Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett’s recovery from injury. To listen to the interview, visit the Big Show’s Audio On Demand page.
Do you think the team’s recent play has anything to do with the fact the players are getting older?
I don’t think so, no. I think our team has played well in a lot of scenarios and I just think that we haven’t been as consistent. But, shooting the ball accounts for a lot. We haven’t been hitting a lot of fairways but we have been hitting a lot of puts. Right now we are a shot of two shots away from winning these games and we have been shooting the ball very poorly from the outside.
You can’t be happy with the defense thus far though?
No, I have been happy with the defense we’ve played in a lot of the stretch but I think we get sloppy and we get lazy and we lose our focus a little bit. Defensively, statistically we were doing well defensively.
Two things that are worrying about Rondo: lack of defensive pressure at the point and that he is not breaking down the defense quite as much. Is this the same guy we saw last year?
I think he is playing better than last year. I think his defense is significantly better than last year. I think he is not getting to the line as much but I think part of that is that we are getting the ball inside more to our post players and not relying on his penetration as much but he is shooting a much better percentage than he did last year which says he is getting to the basket more, he is just not getting to the line more. Read the rest of this entry »
|Rondo helping Hudson improve defense||11.21.09 at 3:33 pm ET|
The two point guards were in the midst of an intense post-practice drill and neither wanted to stop. Rondo drove, pulled up for shots, and tried to shake Hudson on the way to the basket. Hudson buckled down and tried to stay one step ahead of him.
‘I just play defense and he’s on offense the whole time,’ Hudson explained.
The drill, while competitive, was friendly in nature — ‘Me and Lester are pretty close. I like Les,’ said Rondo. They decided some extra practice time would help Hudson improve on defense and Rondo was happy to help him out.
‘[I’ve learned] you’ve got to be ready,’ said Hudson. ‘There are multiple pick-and-rolls in practice. Just he’s very quick so he’s going to help me out guarding quicker guards in the NBA, so hopefully I can get my defense right.’
Rondo participated in similar drills as a rookie against Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West and knows the benefits of additional time on the court. It is especially valuable for Hudson, who has clocked just 37 minutes so far in his first season.
‘He can play D, he’s long, he’s athletic, he’s quick,’ Rondo said of Hudson. ‘He’s going to be a great player in the league one day. He’s young, he’s just trying to learn the way and try to find his way on the team.’
Hudson also learned about Rondo’s game as well. Rondo is shooting 55.9% from the field this season, the second best percentage among all guards behind Chris Paul, but his offense has been criticized in the past.
‘He can shoot better than I thought he could. He’s very quick, so it helps me on my defense. I’m trying to get my defense up,’ Hudson said. ‘He can shoot from the three. In one-on-ones he’s been hitting, so I think he can shoot it. He just has to shoot the ball.’
Neither player keeps score in this drill. It just comes down to shots and stops.
Said Hudson, ‘We just go til we say we’re done.’
|Magic: Can’t Afford to Foul Rondo||11.20.09 at 7:46 pm ET|
BOSTON — Even though Rajon Rondo enters Friday’s game shooting a mere 25 percent from the free throw line, the Magic are not going to give him extra trips to the charity stripe. Just because free throws have been a weakness for Rondo this season that doesn’t mean the same is true for his teammates.
‘With their team you don’t want to foul unnecessarily,’ said Anthony Johnson. ‘Even though maybe he’s not shooting well, Paul Pierce, KG, all the other guys, they’re going to draw fouls.’
In spite of Rondo’s struggle (4-16 FG), the Celtics are still in the middle of the pack around the league. Ray Allen is ranked eighth in the NBA (89.3%) while Shelden Williams and Pierce are both shooting better than 80 percent.
‘If you waste your fouls on Rondo, it’s going to help them as a team get into the bonus and it’s going to give those guys free points,’ Johnson said. ‘So as much as possible we want to keep them off the line, including him, and try to make them make tough shots over the top of us.’
The Magic have a lot more to worry about with Rondo than just free throws. They are without starting point guard Jameer Nelson (knee) and will depend on veterans Johnson and Jason Williams to contain Rondo.
“He’s a guy that plays with a lot of energy offensively and defensively so you’ve got to always keep him in front of you, don’t allow him to really dictate the tempo with his ball pressure and just putting pressure on our defense getting into the paint,” said Johnson. “So we’re going to have to keep him in front of us and not let him orchestrate and make all the big plays.”
|Open practice, open questions||11.16.09 at 3:49 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The Celtics conducted an open practice session for one of their sponsors Monday, which allowed the media a window into their mostly closed off world. NBA teams have been conducting practices in private for several years now, usually allowing the last 20-30 minutes to be open for viewing for the press.
That tends to mean a whole lot of watching guys take free throws, but with the open session we were able to see how hard they work on defense, and how loud and vocal the practices tend to be. The Celtics worked a lot on halfcourt situations and it had the same intensity as a regular game.
Paul Pierce (bruised left knee) sat out the session. Doc Rivers said that he shouldn’t have let Pierce play on Saturday against Indiana, but that he let Pierce talk him into it. Pierce tried to sneak on to the court Monday, but Rivers shut him down.
“He’s not going to practice today or tomorrow,”Rivers said. “I told him that after the game. He tried to get on the floor at the beginning, I told him no. he doesn’t miss practices. The only way you can get him to miss is to force him.”
Tony Allen did take part in his first practice since training camp, but he’s unlikely to see game action, unless as Rivers said, “We need him.”
After the session there was ample talk about what’s been going wrong the last two games, and it starts with the pick and roll defense.
“Our pick and roll coverage is the main thread,” Rivers said. “It’s been inconsistent. It’s two guys not just the guy on the ball. It’s the guy guarding the ball who sets the pick. And then dribble penetration. Some of our defensive sets have been very good and then with five seconds left on the clock the guy dribbling the ball gets all the way to the basket and that’s not just the guy guarding the ball.”
Rivers also said that he thought fatigue was a factor. He blamed himself for working his team too hard during practice last Thursday before a set of back-to-back games. “I made a mistake on Thursday,” Rivers said. “We went way too hard in practice. I thought it carried over to our back to back on Thursday and Friday. I thought we could get away with it, and I was wrong.” Read the rest of this entry »
|KG: ‘Rondo and I have a connection’||11.12.09 at 4:10 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Kevin Garnett had a polite warning following Thursday’s practice for all of those who think he might have lost a step and is not as dangerous on his patented alley-oop play with Rajon Rondo.
Just try us.
“Rondo and I have a connection where I don’t think you can really play that play because if you go back it’s a pick and roll and if you go up too far, it’s an oop,” Garnett said of the highlight below that happened with three minutes remaining in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s blowout win over the Jazz.
Paul Millsap was the Utah player caught in defensive no-man’s land, as he pinched up. Garnett gave a shake as if he were cutting in front and went behind.
“Then if the guy on the bottom [post] wants to stick his nose in there, he ends up like that guy last night,” Garnett said. “It’s not even a play. It’s more of a read in playing basketball than anything.”
That guy, by the way, would be Kyrylo Fesenko, the player who came from the weak side and appeared to foul Garnett on the play, but none was called.
“It was a foul,” Garnett said. “You don’t have to say it. I’ll say it for you.”
|Celtics generous in win over Jazz||11.11.09 at 11:00 pm ET|
There is a reason why the Celtics entered Wednesday’s game leading the league in assists. It isn’t only because of Rajon Rondo — point guards Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams are all ahead of him in dimes per game. It’s because the Celtics as a team look to pass, and that ball movement and selflessness were determining factors in their win over the Jazz.
‘Doc [Rivers] and Coach [Armond] Hill were just saying move the ball,’ Rondo said after the Celtics 105-86 victory. ‘It started in practice. We kept getting each other involved and we made plays for each other.’
The Celtics dished out 30 assists to the Jazz 18. Rondo accounted for 11, which totals more than Jazz starting guard Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer combined.
They looked for not just one or two extra passes on Wednesday. One of the most significant possessions of the game involved four in the third quarter — Rondo to Ray Allen, Allen to Kendrick Perkins, Perkins behind the back to Kevin Garnett, Garnett back to Rondo for the lay in.
That sequence was memorable to many, but Rondo is so accustomed to sharing the ball that it was just another trip down the floor for him.
‘I don’t even remember the play,’ he said. ‘I think it was like five passes maybe, but I don’t remember how I got there.’
If the Celtics continue to see each other on the court like they did against the Jazz, they will remember how they ended up in the win column throughout the season.
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