|Should the Heat be worried about the Celtics?||04.10.12 at 2:14 pm ET|
As things sit currently in the jumbled Eastern Conference, the Celtics are holding the fourth seed, which would put them in the Bulls’ bracket. They have a three-game lead on Philadelphia and New York with 10 games to play and while nothing is assured for the Celtics, it’s looking like a safe bet that they will walk away with the Atlantic Division title for the fifth straight season, thus landing the fourth seed, as opposed to the seventh.
(Note: Winning the division does not guarantee homecourt advantage in the first round. The Celtics would still have to finish with a better record than the fifth seed and they enter play on Tuesday a game and a half behind Atlanta and Orlando.)
There’s a chance that Miami, which is just one game back in the loss column, could overtake Chicago for the top spot in the conference and set up a rematch of last season’s semifinal series that the Heat won rather convincingly, 4-1. The Celtics felt then — and feel now — that if not for a couple of bad breaks like Paul Pierce‘s dubious ejection in Game 1 and Rajon Rondo‘s elbow injury in Game 3, they could have made it a much tougher series. Still, four games to one speaks for itself.
And yet, there’s a feeling that the Heat should be afraid of the Celtics in the playoffs for the simple reason of matchups. Miami has no real answer for Rondo, who was brilliant in Boston’s 91-72 victory a week and a half ago when he went for 16 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists and was a plus-28.
Additionally, Pierce is one of the few small forwards in the league who can hope to guard LeBron James for 40 minutes and match his production, if not come out ahead. Pierce went for 23-7-3 in their last meeting, while LeBron posted a 24-4-0. It was James’ first assist-free game since 2009.
The real revelation in the April 1 meeting was the play of Avery Bradley, who held Dwyane Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, including a memorable block at the rim. Bradley also scored an efficient 13 points on 10 shots and presented a problem with his cuts to the basket.
|Irish Coffee: Do Celtics own NBA’s best defense?||04.09.12 at 2:03 pm ET|
Over their last five games, the Celtics have held the Heat, Spurs, Bulls, Pacers and 76ers — all likely playoff-bound teams — to just 80.6 points per game. That ridiculous stretch included the lowest scoring output of the Miami Thrice era and Indiana’s worst offensive game this season (both 72 points).
The point? A case can be made, rather easily, that the C’s now own the NBA’s best defense.
This recent run vaulted the Celtics to No. 1 in points allowed per 100 possessions (95.3). Their 89.3 points allowed per game still ranks third behind the only other teams that give up fewer than 90 points a night — the Sixers (88.5) and Bulls (88.9) — but that’s dropped to an NBA best 83.4 points surrendered over the past 10 games.
In fact, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics have allowed 80 points or fewer in six of their last 12 games (including four of their last six), holding opponents to 40 percent shooting or worse in eight of those 12 contests.
For the season, the Celtics have held opponents to the league’s lowest field goal percentage (41.8%) and 3-point percentage (29.8%), both still tops in the NBA and even better over the past 10 games (38.7 FG%, 25.2 3P%). They make an offense’s life miserable everywhere on the court, ranking top-10 everywhere from at the rim (3rd) to 3-9 feet (8th) to 10-15 feet (1st) to 16-23 feet (7th) to 3-point range (1st).
|Rajon Rondo proves again: ‘It starts with me’||at 11:08 am ET|
Rajon Rondo has put up numbers this season that are pretty unreal.
At halftime Sunday night, his numbers were again staggering, but for a far different reason – five turnovers to go with six assists – and still the Celtics were cruising by 14 over the fading 76ers.
In his streak of 17 games of double-digit assist totals, Rondo has also prided himself on taking care of the ball. The first half Sunday night made Rondo really, really upset.
“He was really upset at halftime because he had the five turnovers,” Doc Rivers said. “I think he had a bet – not real money – with [assistant coach Ty Lue] that he’d have zero turnovers in the second half.”
Well, Rondo played the odds well because Rondo had the perfect second half, including nine third-quarter dimes without a turnover, and played 12 minutes in the second half without a miscue. He played so well that he got the entire fourth quarter off as the Celtics rolled, 103-79.
He finished with 15 assists but it was the zero turnovers in the second half that meant the most to Rondo after the game.
“The second half I just tried to keep it simple,” Rondo said. “We ran particular play the entire third quarter and it was good for myself and the team. It’s a good win for us. Guys got some rest for Miami.”
So how did the Celtics double their lead from 14 to 28 in the first nine minutes of the third?
“It starts with me,” Rondo said. “I had five [turnovers] in the first half. I played 12 minutes in the third and I didn’t have any turnovers and I think that’s why we were able to open up the lead on Philly and blow this game out.”
Rivers was certainly on board with Rondo’s approach, as he watched his point guard simply things.
“Keeping it simple,” Rivers said. “As simple as Rondo can.”
That doesn’t mean Rondo won’t pull of the spectacular – like when he hit a turnaround, fadeaway baseline jumper as the shot clock was expiring midway through the third.
But Rivers realizes, turnovers or not, put the ball in Rondo’s hands when he’s pushing the ball up the court and good things almost always happen.
“Guys do a great job, they know when Rondo is pushing the ball up,” Rivers said. “We’ve changed a little bit. Early in the year, we were always running toward Rondo to set a pick for him. Now we’re running away from Rondo and setting a pick on everybody else. And it’s been a good move by us and [the picks] are getting guys open.”
|Irish Coffee: LeBron, Heat ‘never count Celtics out’||04.02.12 at 2:57 pm ET|
Was Sunday’s Celtics blowout, as Chris Bosh suggested, “just a bad, sh#tty game” by his Heat, or was it a warning signal to potential playoff opponents flashed from Boston — one if by C’s, so to speak?
On their way to producing the NBA’s second-best record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have won five straight and seven of their last eight games, the most recent of which handed Miami its third loss in five contests. Over the past week, Doc Rivers & Co. have surged from the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed to within 1.5 games of Dwight Howard‘s Magic and the No. 3 slot. Count the Heat among those in the league taking notice.
“I’m going to say the same thing I said last year: We are one team and I am one guy that never counts the C’s out,” said NBA MVP favorite LeBron James. “I would never count them out. They’ve just got too many winners. They’ve got guys who have been in the moment before. Like I told you guys last year, when everyone was down on the C’s, I always said I’m not going to turn my back on those guys.”
Of course, those guys James referred to are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the latter of whom missed his sixth straight game on Sunday. Didn’t matter, thanks to Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass.
“It’s because we’re a great team,” said Garnett following their 91-72 win over the Heat on national television. “Our positions and personnel, it’s all about a system. You know your role in the system. You do what you’re told in the role. You carry out your role 100 percent wholeheartedly, and that’s your contribution to the team.”
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I just tried to go out there and be great’||04.01.12 at 11:23 pm ET|
More and more, Rajon Rondo looks like a hit man carrying out his mission.
And more and more, he is looking really comfortable taking his orders from Doc Rivers.
Sunday, he scored 10 points in the first six minutes, making all four field goals he attempted, grabbing four rebounds and four assists. As a matter of fact, the Celtics led Miami, 21-10, midway through and Rondo had accounted for all 21 points. He scored 10, assisted on seven and fed Brandon Bass twice on plays that results in four free throws.
‘Coach ordered it, I was just trying to get it done,” Rondo said, sounding just like a hit man.
Did Rondo and the C’s make a statement?
‘Statement or not, we did what we’re supposed to do tonight, which is get a win on our home court,” Rondo said. “We’re playing pretty good as of late. Avery Bradley is playing tremendous. He’s changing the game right now with his defensive energy, and the way he’s playing offensively as well.’
After his fifth triple-double of the season and 18th career, Rondo spoke like a point guard who feels confident he can lead his team deep in the NBA playoffs, even against the powerhouses like the Heat and Bulls.
“I think when we have at least four or five guys healthy, we follow the game plan,” Rondo said after his 16-point, 14-assist and 11-rebound performance in Boston’s 91-72 spanking of Miami Sunday at the Garden. “But when I’m healthy, I think we can probably beat anybody.”
Last year, Rondo suffered a grotesque dislocation of his left elbow in Game 3 against the Heat. The Celtics won that game but lost the Eastern semifinals four games to one.
Rondo said he does not pay particular attention to the national spotlight, despite the fact that 14 of his career 18 triple-doubles have come on national TV.
“I think my teammates put a spotlight on me more than the media or the televised games,” Rondo said. “Four or five guys came up to me today and told me to be aggressive and show what a great point guard is. So I just tried to go out there and just be great.”
‘Yeah, we’re just going to tell him we’re playing on ABC every day,” Rivers joked. “One of the things going in the game today: we told Rondo that we needed him to be a scorer. Not necessarily a playmaker; a scorer. And I thought he set the tone at the beginning of the game by doing that, and I thought that loosened it up for everybody else to get into the game. He was terrific.
“I thought everyone played well. I thought [Kevin Garnett] defensively was unbelievable tonight. And it’s good. That’s where we’re making our hay right now. We’re still struggling on the glass, even though today we held our own by the end they had 15 offensive rebounds. But they had them because they were missing a lot of shots; they had more offensive rebound opportunities.’
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s triple-double beats Heat||at 6:02 pm ET|
Nobody else in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season. Rajon Rondo now has five.
Dominating the first and third quarters of Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised game against the Heat (37-14), Rondo recorded 16 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds in a 91-72 dismantling of the Eastern Conference’s current No. 2 seed.
The Celtics (30-22) move a full game up on the 76ers for the Atlantic Division lead and within two games of the third-seeded Magic, who were scheduled to play the Nuggets without Dwight Howard (back spasms) later Sunday afternoon.
All five starters reached double figures, including Bass (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Bradley (13 points), while Pierce and LeBron James canceled each other out with 23 points apiece, as the C’s led by as many as 29 points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
A nation awaits: Rondo amassed seven points and three rebounds in the game’s first 3:43, sparking a 9-4 Celtics run (he assisted Kevin Garnett on the only other field goal) to start the game and forcing a Heat timeout less than four minutes into the game. Apparently, Rondo remembered Sunday’s game was nationally televised (like 14 of his 18 career triple-doubles). He finished the first quarter with 10 points, four assists and four rebounds, giving the C’s a 29-19 advantage. The third quarter was more of the same, as Rondo totaled six points and eight assists in that frame to stake the Celtics to an 80-56 lead.
No Wade out: With Ray Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (concussion) still out of the Celtics lineup, all eyes were on Avery Bradley as he drew the defensive assignment on Wade. Further earning his reputation already as one of the game’s great defenders, Bradley held Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, including this ridiculous second-quarter block. Conversely, Bradley’s knack for cutting to the basket offensively paid dividends against the gambling Wade.
All glass Bass: Considering the stage, this might have been the best Bass performance of the season. He registered his fourth double-double of the year, giving the Celtics the advantage on the defensive glass (44-32) and getting to the line offensively. He made all 10 of his free throw attempts, totaling his 16 points on five official field goal attempts. Rarely do the Celtics get to the line as frequently as the Heat, but on Sunday they owned a 22-17 advantage in free throws.
|Watch the throne: C’s heat up as Sunday showdown nears||03.31.12 at 5:46 pm ET|
The elation was reminiscent of a championship ceremony. The collective relief from the crowd, the exhaustive expressions of the victors and the sour disappointment of the losers were all palpable. The Heat had beaten the Celtics in five games … to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Re-watching the celebration unfold, it becomes extremely difficult to keep the moderate accomplishment in perspective. LeBron James began “Tebowing” (before “Tebowing” was a thing), Dwayne Wade fell to the floor like Michael Jordan after he won his third NBA title in 1993, and Doc Rivers (who was rumored to be stepping away from coaching after the conclusion of the Celtics’ playoff run) wandered around the floor like a lost puppy.
Needless to say, it felt like something was happening. A coronation of some sort. Presumably, the hoary Celtics would no longer be a threat following the 2010-11 playoffs, and the manner in which James spoke about his adversary in the immediate aftermath was extremely deferential — almost like a eulogy.
“First of all, I want to give a lot of thanks to the Boston Celtics,” James said. “Doc Rivers, that coaching staff, them players — they make [you] fight for everything, you can never take your foot off the gas, you can never take a second off against that team, so a lot of respect for that team.”
However, as James was giving praise and soaking in the moment, Rivers was preparing for his post-game press conference, where he unexpectedly declared he was coming back to coach the next season and beyond.
The Heat would advance to the NBA finals, eventually losing to the Mavericks in six games. Rivers’ decision made ripples, putting a moratorium on the passing of the crown, but most likely flew under the radar in the Heat locker room since they had advanced and the Celtics were going home.
That playoff series featured emotions that seemed elevated beyond the stakes of the individual contest. Regardless of where the two teams stand in the conference rankings, there’s enough star power — one Big Three facing another — to make matchups between the teams an event. And that is part of the allure of the next meeting of the teams on Sunday, when the Heat come to TD Garden to face a Celtics team playing at its highest level this season.
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