|Irish Coffee: Harshing Celtics playoff buzz||04.14.11 at 12:17 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
If you don’t want your Celtics playoff buzz harshed, you might want to avoid The Wall Street Journal this week. First, Scott Cacciola wrote a Tony Allen feature, entitled, “The Most Unlikely Impact Player.” Then, WSJ reported that should Shaquille O’Neal start on Sunday the Celtics will be the sixth-oldest NBA Playoff team since 1992, and among the 20 oldest playoff squads in that span only Michael Jordan‘s 1998 Bulls took home championship rings. And then came this interview with TNT NBA analyst Steve Kerr:
“It seems to me that ever since the [Kendrick] Perkins trade, they’ve lost their soul,” Kerr said. “They’ve lost their identity and I think that team was really affected emotionally by that trade. And even though they played well early in the season without him when he was injured, I think knowing that Perkins would be back along with having Shaq playing pretty well at the time, I think that was a comforting time for them.
“Now that he’s gone, especially with the way that they’ve built that team the last couple of years and sustained their confidence through Doc [Rivers]‘ comments that we’re undefeated when we’re fully healthy, the celebrated Ubuntu philosophy, it’s like they sort of threw that out the window and I don’t see the belief in their eyes right now. …
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the East that scares the daylights out of Boston. But with that said, they’re going to have to recapture the old glory, the old spirit somehow in the next couple of weeks and I haven’t seen anything to indicate that that’s going to happen,” Kerr said. “I was convinced that Boston was the best most of the season, but that’s kind of thrown out the window now for me.”
As if on cue, the trailer for the final episode of “The Association: Boston Celtics” dropped, and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo opened up about the Perkins trade like never before:
|Irish Coffee: Celtics’ individual titles slipping away||04.11.11 at 12:38 pm ET|
While the Celtics’ blowout loss to the Heat probably dashed their hopes for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, with it likely went a couple of individual milestones for Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.
After Sunday’s poor showing in Miami, Rondo trails Suns point guard Steve Nash for the NBA’s assist crown and Hornets point guard Chris Paul for the steals title. Meanwhile, Allen is still chasing Spurs forward Matt Bonner for the league lead in 3-point shooting percentage.
For much of the season, Rondo led the league in assists, but his numbers have dipped in recent weeks and Nash slid into the top spot. With two games left, Nash is averaging 11.4 assists (829 in 73 games), while Rondo is producing 11.2 (760 in 68). In all likelihood, that crown is out of reach for Rondo, considering he would need 35 assists in the final two games if Nash maintains his current 11.356 assists per game average.
The NBA’s returning steals leader, Rondo has trailed Paul by a slim margin for the majority of this year. Paul is averaging 2.36 steals (184 in 78 games), while Rondo is producing 2.25 (153 in 68 games). The C’s point guard would need 13 steals in his last two games to surpass Paul’s current 2.359 steals per game average.
Despite being the NBA’s all-time career 3-point leader, Allen has never won a single-season 3-point shooting title. Making 168-of-378 3-point attempts – producing the highest percentage (.444) of his career –Allen made a push for the crown this year. But Bonner has connected on 102-of-224 treys (.455), so Allen would need to make his next eight 3-point attempts to surpass Bonner’s current 3-point shooting percentage.
|Fast Break: Celtics rebound against Wizards||04.08.11 at 10:00 pm ET|
The Celtics allowed the Wizards to hang around for much of the night, until the starters returned in the fourth quarter and mercifully put their stamp on a 104-88 victory.
Rajon Rondo (20 points, 14 assists), Kevin Garnett (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (22 points, 12 rebounds) all recorded double-doubles, and Ray Allen (13 points) showed signs of coming out of his recent slump, making 5-of-10 shots (but only 1-of-6 3-pointers). The Celtics (55-24) did their part in the race against the Heat for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.
Andray Blatche led the Wizards (21-58) with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon Rondo’s fast start: One night after reportedly asking coach Doc Rivers for a 1-on-1 meeting, the Celtics point guard came out of the gates with a full head of steam, recording more assists in the first quarter against the Wizards (7) than he did all night against the Bulls (6). By the third quarter, he had already recorded a double-double. As a side note, Rondo continued to incite concerns about his aggressiveness around the basket, passing up easy shots to create more difficult ones.
Kevin Garnett came to play: It’s no surprise that a showdown with Blatche brought out the best in Garnett, as the two have a long history of back-and-forth bickering. Knocking down six of his first eight shots, the Celtics forward registered his 28th double-double of the season by the third quarter. Of course, Blatche wasn’t so bad himself, producing a double-double of his own.
Back to the basics: Of course, it helped that they were playing the Wizards. The Celtics totaled only 22 points in the paint and 14 assists (on 28 field goals) against the Bulls. Against Washington, they nearly doubled their output from the previous night in both areas (48 points in the paint and 25 assists), as all five starters reached double figures and each of the Big Four had at least three assists.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Just when you think they’re out of it … the Celtics let them back in. After building a lead as big as 12 points and appearing to be in total command during the first 6:39 of the game, the C’s predictably — as they have all season — let the Wizards close the gap to 59-56 at the half. As the season nears a close, Rivers would love to be able to rest his stars, but the bench hasn’t been productive enough and the starters haven’t been aggressive enough to put bad teams away.
Will Troy Murphy ever contribute consistently? The C’s waiver wire acquisition saw some rare early playing time against the Wizards. Offensively, he committed a turnover and seemed lost for many of his 14 minutes on the floor, although he made a couple layups. Defensively, he got burned by unstoppable force JaVale McGee and immovable object Andray Blatche. All in all, not a great showing by Murphy, who’s in desperate need of good showings if he wants to see playoff minutes.
Delonte West gets the heave ho: The team’s best point guard against the Bulls Thursday night, Delonte West didn’t even make it through the second quarter Friday. Playing tough defense but scoring just two points in less than six minutes of play, West picked up Washington point guard John Wall on full-court pressure, only to be whistled for a cheap foul. He didn’t complain. Instead, he picked up Wall again, defending all the way up the court until another, worse whistle 14 seconds later.
After two separate verbal exchanges between West and referee Josh Tiven, the Celtics backup point guard picked up two technical fouls and, as a result, the ejection. West quietly walked off the court, leaving the C’s with Carlos Arroyo and Avery Bradley as their options off the bench.
|Irish Coffee: The Rajon Rondo roller coaster||at 12:16 pm ET|
Make no mistake: The Celtics’ 97-81 loss to the Bulls falls on Rajon Rondo‘s shoulders.
To say he got outplayed by Derrick Rose is like saying the seas got a little choppy during “The Perfect Storm.” Rose obliterated Rondo, tying a neat little bow around his NBA Most Valuable Player trophy and effectively clinching the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the process.
The box score tells you plenty. Rose outscored Rondo by 23 points on just six more shots. He got to the free-throw line seven more times (making nine more foul shots). He knocked down as many 3-pointers on Thursday night as Rondo has totaled in his last 33 games. He recorded more steals than the league’s second-best theft. He produced more assists than a guy who had averaged 3.3 more dimes per game. And the most damning statistic: In terms of plus/minus, Rose (+24) owned a 38-point edge over Rondo (-14).
But the box score doesn’t tell the entire story. Offensively, Rose blew by Rondo at will, wreaking havoc on the league’s best defense. Kevin Garnett and another Celtics defender constantly provided help, leaving Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and just about every other Bulls big wide open on the weakside to put back rare Rose misses.
Remember when Rose stormed by Rondo and lost the ball underneath the basket, only to fire the ball out to Luol Deng for a wide open 3-pointer to put the Bulls up, 44-37? Those are the kinds of things that happen when a point guard walks into the lane as easily as my mother walks along Bay Lane. And those are the kinds of things that Rondo failed to do for the Celtics all night.
You wonder why Keith friggin’ Bogans played Ray Allen to a standstill, and then you realize that Rondo failed to create open shots for the game’s greatest shooter. When’s the last time the Big Three were all held to 15 points or fewer? Oh, that’s right, it was an awful 93-77 loss to the Rockets on March 18, when Rondo (4 points, 6 assists) got torched by Kyle Lowry (20 points, 9 assists).
It’s fairly simple: When the Celtics have more assists than their opponent, they’re 50-11; when they don’t, they’re 4-13. And who’s “the head of the monster” who steers the C’s ship, as Allen said on Mut & Merloni? That’s right, Rondo.
If Rondo succeeds, the Celtics succeed. When he produces 10 or more assists, the Celtics are 35-6, and that .854 winning percentage only climbs higher as his assist totals sore. When Rondo gets to 13 assists, the Celtics are 13-2 (an .867 winning percentage). In the 10 games he’s reached 16 assists, the C’s are a perfect 10-0.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Bulls tale of the tape||04.07.11 at 2:42 pm ET|
In a potential Eastern Conference finals preview on Thursday night, little separates the Celtics and Bulls — head-to-head, offensively or defensively. Chicago (57-20) owns a three-game lead over the C’s (54-23) for the No. 1 seed, but Doc Rivers & Co. have won two of their three head-to-head matchups against their old assistant Tom Thibodeau. In order to determine where the advantages lie, let’s go straight to the tape …
Celtics vs. Bulls
97.7 … points … 95.7
11.0 … fast break points … 9.3
44.7 … points in the paint … 40.0
37.7-79.0 (47.7) … FGM-A (%) … 34.7-74.0 (46.9)
3.3-10.7 (31.3) … 3PM-A (%) … 4.0-10.7 (37.5)
19.0-23.0 (82.6) … FTM-A (%) … 22.3-29.0 (77.0)
34.0 … rebounds … 41.7
5.0 … o-rebounds … 9.0
29.0 … d-rebounds … 32.7
22.7 … assists … 19.7
10.0 … steals … 5.3
4.0 … blocks … 4.3
10.3 … turnovers … 17.3
22.7 … personal fouls … 20.0
Considering the Celtics were missing Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1, Jermaine O’Neal in Game 2 and Kevin Garnett in Game 3, while the Bulls missed Carlos Boozer in Game 1 and Joakim Noah in Game 3, injuries didn’t play a huge role in the overall production. So, the Celtics’ shooting (points & FG%), passing (assists) and defensive (points/percentages allowed, steals and turnovers) are legitimate, as is the Bulls’ across-the-board rebounding edge.
Now, let’s examine how well the Celtics and Bulls have produced throughout the season:
|Ray Allen on D&C: ‘Talking to the media is very therapeutic’||04.06.11 at 12:34 pm ET|
Celtics guard Ray Allen joined the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the C’s as they head into the stretch run of the regular season. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
The Celtics defeated the 76ers Tuesday night, but they are only playing .500 ball over their last 16 games. Part of the reason for that has been attributed to the recent influx of new players. Allen talked about working the new players into the Celtics’ way of doing things.
“We’ve talked about it a considerable amount of times,” he said. “One of the most important for them that they see is, when we travel on the road you see all the [Celtics] fans that are in the building in the other gyms, you understand the tradition, the fan following. And then at home, they see what it’s like in our building, so they understand that they’re playing under a different monster than what they’ve been playing under before. They’ve got to make sure that every night they play hard. And it’s not just about scoring points, it’s about being a better teammate, it’s about working hard every night, it’s about playing defense, it’s about just having a passion out there on the floor.”
Rajon Rondo‘s inconsistent play of late is another frequently mentioned reason for the C’s struggles.
“He’s like the head of the monster, the head of the snake, so to speak,” Allen said of the young point guard. “We’ve got to make sure his energy is great, his attitude is great, his body language is great, everything. Because he probably takes the brunt of all the pressure, the attitude that one of us may get, if he takes it all on, and we’ve got to make sure that we always keep him right, because he’s the one that’s going to make sure he keeps us going deep into the playoffs.”
Allen acknowledged that he and his veteran teammates have talked to Rondo about staying focused before every game.
“We’ve all talked about it,” he said. “We’ve talked about having great spirit out there on the floor every night, whether you’re playing the best player or the worst player, you have to have the same energy, the same spirit, because your team follows you. And those are lessons I learned early in my career.”
Allen left the locker room at Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse last Monday night without speaking to the media after a loss to the Pacers. He explained the reason for that to Mut & Merloni.
“Sometimes you just don’t have the answers immediately after a game,” he said. “For me, personally, talking to the media is very therapeutic because it helps figure out some of the things you need to do out on the floor that you didn’t do and you get things off your chest. Some nights you don’t have the answer. Sometimes you get so frustrated with yourself, just with the game itself or with losing itself, that sometimes just talking doesn’t help. So, you’ve just got to get away and just kind of sit back and think about what you can do better. You go through those different emotions every night.”
It took nearly 20 minutes after the final buzzer of the Celtics’ 99-82 win over the Sixers Tuesday night for Doc Rivers to show up for his postgame news conference in the small media room at TD Garden.
Turns out, he was being showered with praise by Sixers coach Doug Collins.
“We ran up against a team that played probably as well as they’ve played in a long time,” Collins said. “I talked to Doc after the game, 29 assists, they executed brilliantly, they had two or three really great defensive spurts. To start the third quarter, we fought to get back in, and we cut it to four again, and then they had another defensive spurt.”
Then came the really sugar-coated stuff.
“I told our guys how that’s really what championship teams do, they might not play it for 48 minutes, but they’re going to lock you down for stretches, and win those what I call five minute skirmishes. And I thought they won two five-minute skirmishes in the second half which I really thought gave them separation.”
As for the message sent and received business that was in vogue after the game should this be a playoff preview, Rivers said he was really only concerned about the final score, nothing less, nothing more.
“No. No. Not at all,” Rivers said, downplaying the mere suggestion. “I just think we won today, and they lost today, and they’re going to watch film and we’re going to watch film. But it’s good to win.”
That doesn’t mean everyone was buying it. Rondo admitted he thought the Celtics made a ‘little statement’ about just how hard it’s going to be for the Sixers to knock off the Celtics in a seven-game series.
But back to Collins. Without mentioning him by name, the Sixers coach also had praise for the way C’s GM Danny Ainge has rebuilt the depth of the bench to support his starting guards.
“Delonte West really helps them, Jeff Green has played very well against us, and they played a very very good game,” Collins said. “Rondo once again leading their team, Ray Allen shooting a high percentage. So when they play like that, it should make Doc smile because they’re one of the best teams in the league.”
Collins has been around long enough to know that trash-talking a superior opponent, especially one you might see in the first round of the playoffs in 10 days, almost never does any good.
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