|Fast Break: 76ers sink Celtics in final preseason game||10.21.12 at 10:02 pm ET|
Dorell Wright (20 points) and Nick Young (15 points) led the 76ers in scoring, and no member of the Celtics scored more than 12 points. It was that kind of night at the Garden in the C’s eighth and final preseason game — an 88-79 loss to Philadelphia.
The Celtics finished 3-5 during the preseason (2-4 against NBA teams), but more importantly emerged from those eight games with a healthy Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett entering their final week of training camp before facing the Heat on opening night.
Rondo (12 points, 10 assists) and Jeff Green (12 points, 10 rebounds) each notched a double-double, but the rest of the Celtics shot a combined 17-of-44 (38.6%). Here’s what else went wrong (and a few things that went right, too).
WHAT WENT WRONG
Captain lost at sea: With all the attention that Rondo, Garnett and even Ray Allen garnered this past offseason, Pierce has been somewhat of a forgotten star entering this year — as much as the franchise fixture can be. Still, over his previous three games, he shot 58 percent and scored 63 points on 36 shots. Last night? Not so much. Pierce finished his night 3-for-12 from the field and missed all three of his 3-point attempts.
Sloppy second: Despite sticking to an eight-man rotation that included the usual suspects (except for Jason Terry), the Celtics got completely outplayed by an undermanned Sixers squad in the second quarter. Pierce, Green and Courtney Lee shot a combined 3-for-13, and the C’s shot 33.3 percent as a group. Suddenly, a 22-21 Celtics lead transformed into a 51-41 halftime hole from which they couldn’t escape.
Turnovers: For all that’s changed from last Celtics season to this one, one aspect certainly hasn’t. The turnover bug continues to plague these C’s, as they racked up 21 turnovers that led to 19 76ers points. Pierce was the biggest culprit, committing five, but multiple giveaways by Green and Brandon Bass didn’t help, either.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Pointed in the right direction: After the summer of Rondo, when he declared himself the game’s best point guard, the C’s floor general has emboldened the belief that he’ll enjoy a career year — no small feat for a 26-year-old with four All-Defensive bids and three All-Star nods in addition to an All-NBA selection, an assist crown, a steals title and an NBA championship. Once again, he looked sharp, collecting 12 points, 10 assists and four rebounds against just one turnover.
Two’s a crowd: With a wealth of options at his disposal — including Terry, Lee and eventually both Avery Bradley and Leandro Barbosa — Celtics coach Doc Rivers continued to try just about anything and everything, opting for Green as his starting shooting guard. As he’s done in just about every role he’s been asked to play this preseason, Green produced at the 2, totaling four points, five rebounds, two steals and a pair of blocks in the opening quarter. The logjam at the off-guard spot isn’t such a bad problem for a coach to have.
Lee from 3: Shooting just 4-for-17 from 3-point range in his first seven preseason games, Lee had yet to knock down multiple triples in a single game. This from a career 39 percent 3-point shooter. In his final attempt before the regular season begins on Oct. 30, Lee connected on 2-of-3 long-balls. He also reached double-digit scoring (10 points) for the fifth time in eight games.
|Irish Coffee: Limiting Doc Rivers’ Celtics lineup options||10.19.12 at 5:21 pm ET|
Celtics coach Doc Rivers has options. Kind of like Leonardo DiCaprio has options. It’s hard to choose from the depth and versatility of talent at his disposal, so he tries every combination at his disposal. Eventually, the cream rises to the top, and that appears to be what has happened over the C’s past two preseason games against the Nets. In other words, Rivers may have found his Gisele Bundchen, Bar Rafaeli and Blake Lively of lineups.
In the first three-plus quarters of the two games against Brooklyn — before Micah Downs, Kris Joseph, Robert Kurz or Fab Melo made obligatory fourth-quarter appearances — Rivers used 23 different lineups. Other than starters Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Kevin Garnett, no unit played longer than 8:36 together. Before making any observations, here are the combinations, playing time and plus/minus statistics.
|Irish Coffee: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee still searching for magic potion in Celtics’ backcourt chemistry experiment||10.17.12 at 12:08 pm ET|
If you look at their production during the preseason, newest Celtics guards Courtney Lee and Jason Terry appear headed in different directions in terms of adjusting to their new team, but both are confident they’ll end up in the same place when the NBA season starts on Oct. 30 — meshing their strengths into an established system.
“We’re not worried about that,” said Terry. “Right now, we’re just trying to execute what [Celtics coach] Doc [Rivers] lays out there for us, and we know that part of our game will come here shortly. We’ve got three games in a short amount of time to get right and get ready and prepare.”
After struggling in the C’s 97-91 loss to Istanbul’s Fenerbahce Ulker to start the preseason, Lee’s comfort level has steadily progressed, culminating in his most extended minutes (33) and most complete performance (13 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 block) during a 97-96 loss to the Nets on Tuesday night. It marked his third start in five preseason games and his third double-digit scoring output in the four games since the opener.
“I was trying too hard to fit in,” Lee said of his early struggles. Obviously, a collision with Fab Melo‘s shoulder that left him with a deep right thigh contusion and kept him out of the C’s unofficial practices from Sept. 6 to the start of training camp didn’t help. “I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t being aggressive at all.
“Doc came to me and said that hurts the team. He needs me to play my game, be aggressive and make the right plays. The more practice we get and the more games we play, I’m getting more and more comfortable with that.”
|Irish Coffee: Grooming Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger||10.11.12 at 8:00 am ET|
Jared Sullinger isn’t easily fazed. Not even when they called him and the other Celtics rookies in front of the entire organization during a team dinner and made him sing his favorite song: Jay-Z‘s “Public Service Announcement.”
Check out my swag’ yo, peep the way I wear it
No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change, but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here
Fitting. Sullinger isn’t intimidated by a team full of headstrong veterans whose system has produced one championship, two NBA finals appearances and three Eastern Conference finals showings in the past five years, and that’s because his basketball journey started almost from the day he was born.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics’ Rajon Rondo offers insight into why he believes he’s NBA’s best point guard||10.10.12 at 9:31 am ET|
After Rajon Rondo proclaimed himself the NBA’s best point guard over the summer, the Celtics All-Star has been asked to clarify at some point during almost every interview he’s conducted since, except there’s no clarification.
He believes it, and he hasn’t backed down from it, as evidenced once again in Steve DeOssie‘s cover story for Boston Common magazine. While most people not named Rondo readily admitted they’d take Chris Paul over him a year ago — and maybe even Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook, too — the C’s floor general certainly closed the gap during the playoffs. In fact, he might have eliminated the gap completely.
After all, Rondo led the league in assists by a full dime over Steve Nash last season and averaged almost three more assists than any other point guard in the postseason. Few outside of Magic Johnson could replicate Rondo’s 44 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat. There’s more to Rondo than meets the eye, and that’s what he believes separates him from the pack.
In DeOssie’s piece, Rondo not only reiterates his claim to the throne, but he clarifies exactly why he thinks so:
|What we learned from Celtics second preseason game||10.07.12 at 2:26 pm ET|
We may as well start the season now because Rajon Rondo is clearly ready. Rondo repeatedly torched Milano’s defense, burying his first seven shots including a 3-pointer and four free throws in the first quarter as the Celtics left Europe with a split of their exhibition schedule after a 105-75 victory.
Everyone goes under screens on Rondo and everyone knows that when he’s making jump shots there’s basically no way to guard him. It’s way too early to tell if Rondo has conquered his shooting demons — especially at the free throw line where he made all 10 of his attempts in two preseason games — but it’s worth pointing out that he shot a respectable 39 percent on his jumpers from 16-23 feet last season.
Still, the early returns are encouraging and Rondo looks like he’s ready to take his game to another level this season. Here are more takeaways from the C’s preseason victory:
JARED SULLINGER STARTED: When the Celtics acquired Brandon Bass from the Magic, they originally had him as a scoring sixth man whose outside shooting would help open up the floor and take some pressure off the starters. Bass moved into the starting lineup midway through the season and fit in well, but the addition of Sullinger could present an interesting situation for coach Doc Rivers.
Sullinger’s offensive game is way ahead of his defense, which is to be expected for a rookie, and the Celtics have often tried to cover up defensive deficiencies by pairing those players with Kevin Garnett. So great is KG’s impact defensively that the C’s feel he can compensate for at least one weaker defender. Perhaps a little more juice offensively at the start of games would help break them of their slow-start habit and it’s not as if Bass isn’t capable of playing off the bench.
Preseason caveats apply, but it’s obvious that the Celtics will not bring Sullinger along slowly. He had 9 points and 7 rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.
JASON TERRY STARTED TOO: This may be less interesting. Terry and Courtney Lee both figure to play about 30 minutes a game regardless of who’s in the starting lineup, but it’s worth noting that after Lee struggled through a rough preseason opener that Terry got the call instead. That’s the great part of Terry’s game: He can start or relieve.
Terry pumped in 11 points and was an absurd Plus-29 in 28 minutes. Lee had a much stronger outing, making four of his five shots and finishing with 11 points. Read the rest of this entry »
|Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett keeps Celtics’ championship heart beating||10.05.12 at 11:20 am ET|
On the bus after Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, Rajon Rondo sat next to his ‘closest friend on the team’ and asked Kevin Garnett the obvious: ‘What are you going to do? I’d really like it if you would come back.’
‘When he made the decision to come back,’ said Rondo, ‘I was really excited.’ Along with every other member of the organization — from the brass to the ball boys, who bring out a jovial side of Garnett in the locker room that few others often do — and the millions of Celtics fans who waited anxiously for his June 30 announcement.
‘It was an absolute no-brainer,’ said Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca of the decision to commit $36 million more to a 7-footer who will be 39 years old by contract’s end. ‘It was a very short conversation. We were just really hoping Kevin would want to come back and finish out his career here.’
You could argue whether Rondo is the head of the Celtics snake on the floor, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Josh Smith all have, or whether Paul Pierce is the face of the franchise, but any debate about who embodies the heart and soul of the grit-and-balls mentality that has come to define these Celtics begins and ends with KG.