|Kevin Garnett: ‘Together, Celtics play hard as sh*t’||04.27.12 at 1:27 am ET|
It wasn’t pretty. Not the NBA lockout. Not the 0-3 start. Not the losses of Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to heart surgeries. Not the two five-game losing streaks. Not the way Paul Pierce started the season, Ray Allen ended it or everything in between that involved Jermaine O’Neal. But it’s over.
The 2011-12 Celtics regular season is in the books, resulting in another Atlantic Division title to toss into the supply closet along with the franchise’s 21 others that mean little compared to the 17 NBA championship banners hanging from the rafters. All in four months work for Kevin Garnett.
“We’re a very, very motivated group,” said Garnett. “Individually, we have a lot of pride. Together, we play hard as sh*t. Like I said, we’re a very prideful team. Like I always said, man, when you come in here and put that jersey on, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that, and we don’t take that lightly in here.”
The Celtics finished 39-27, capturing the fourth seed as the division winner, but finishing a game behind the Hawks (40-26), who will host Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday at 7 p.m. on TNT (full schedule here), presumably without injured centers Al Horford and Garnett’s personal favorite Zaza Pachulia.
“This Atlanta team is a very exciting team — athletic, a better team since we’ve seen them, a more mature team,” said KG. “Smooth, Josh Smith, has played to me some of his best basketball. Joe Johnson is classic Joe Johnson. And they’re coming together as a team. … They’re feeling good about themselves, and that’s a thing we have to reckon with. And we’re going to prepare for them starting tomorrow.”
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics stop Bucks season here||04.26.12 at 10:11 pm ET|
The trio combined for just 13 points, but Rondo dished out 15 assists despite taking just one shot. Avery Bradley (14 points) and Paul Pierce (12 points) were the only Celtics to reach double digits, but the Celtics (39-27) cruised nonetheless.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Recovery act: At times, Rondo ran the floor like, well, a guy with a bad back, but it appeared more like an act than anything worth concern. He toyed with defenders at will, improving his streak of games with at least 10 assists to 24 by halftime. Meanwhile, Pietrus returned from his four-game absence to register nine points off the bench. Garnett only played 11 first-half minutes, but he showed no signs of the sore hip flexor that kept him out against the Heat. All in all, the trio of walking Celtics wounded appeared ready to go for the playoffs.
S’Moore: After totaling seven points and seven rebounds against the Heat on Tuesday night, rookie E’Twaun Moore put together another nice performance. At one point against the Bucks, he was a plus-18 in his time on the floor. Moore finished with eight points, five assists and four rebounds.
Hollins of Fame: It took all of 51 seconds for Ryan Hollins to put together his most productive stretch of the season. He scored seven points in just under a minute, including a pair of dunks — one of which even came on a putback after a rebound — that helped the Celtics establish a double-digit advantage early in the second quarter. After a month of discouragement, Thursday night was an encouraging sign for Hollins.
WHAT WENT WRONG
My left big toe: Just minutes into the game, Pierce limped back to the Celtics locker room accompanied by team Dr. Brian McKeon — a scary sight for a Celtics team hobbled by injuries entering the playoffs. Scarier still was the Celtics diagnosis that Pierce had sprained his left big toe and was “probably not likely to return.” Naturally, the C’s captain returned before halftime, scoring seven of the team’s final 11 points before the break. The feet have been an issue for Pierce ever since his heel injury during training camp, but on a night he accept an Eastern Conference Player of the Month trophy, his injuries don’t appear too serious.
Ray of hope: While Rondo, Pietrus and Garnett all returned, Ray Allen missed his ninth consecutive game — and 15th in his last 20 — with bone spurs in his right ankle. Celtics coach Doc Rivers pronounced Allen “probable” to play Game 1 of the Hawks series, but even if he does play, there has to be some doubt about his effectiveness after such a long absence. As for Greg Stiemsma, his foot problems shouldn’t keep him from his first career playoff game, even if he missed a second straight game on Thursday.
On the road again: With the Hawks holding a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, they appeared well on their way to claiming home court advantage in their first-round series against the Celtics. The C’s will own the fourth seed as the Atlantic Division winners, but will have to travel to Atlanta for Game 1 (on Sunday). The Celtics finished 2-1 against the Hawks (1-1 in the ATL) this season, but 2-0 when they weren’t missing five of their top eight rotation players.
|Irish Coffee: Avery Bradley ‘beautiful’ in Kevin Garnett’s eyes||04.19.12 at 2:10 pm ET|
Twice after their division-clinching victory against the Magic, Kevin Garnett made his case to the Celtics organization for rewarding Avery Bradley financially after his successful sophomore campaign.
“I love seeing young guys who work hard and it pays off,” said Garnett. “I love young guys who listen and actually put in the work. Just from seeing where he’s come from to where he’s at now is just beautiful, man. I hope they’re able to reward him with some longevity and some loyalty — something long-term. I’ve always said to him, ‘Continue to work, because that’s what’s got you here,’ so I’m happy for him.”
The problem is Bradley isn’t slated to become an unrestricted free agent until the 2015-16 NBA season. He’ll make $1.6 million next season, $2.5 million in 2013-14 and at least the qualifying offer of $3.6 million in 2014-15, facts that may have escaped Garnett, who has made at least $14 million in each of his last 14 seasons.
It’s a great problem for the Celtics, because Bradley has established himself as one of the best bargains in basketball. With Rajon Rondo also locked up through 2014-15 at an average of $12 million over the three years, the C’s have one of the youngest, most affordable starting backcourts and two of the best trade chips in the NBA.
“Avery’s emerging,” said Keyon Dooling, “so we might have to give him like a Big Five or something.”
|Fast Break: Knicks Garden 3 party barrages Celtics||04.17.12 at 10:58 pm ET|
Another Atlantic Division title will have to wait. A record-setting 3-point barrage by the Knicks put the undermanned Celtics in a hole Paul Pierce couldn’t even dig them out of in a 118-110 defeat at Madison Square Garden.
Pierce (43 pionts, 11-19 FG, 4-6 3P, 17-18 FT) became the first Celtics player to eclipse 40 points since he scored 50 on Feb. 15, 2006, but Knicks reserves J.R. Smith (25 points, 7-10 3P) and Steve Novak (25 points, 8-10 3P) helped New York set an NBA record for 3-point field goals off the bench in a remarkable effort.
Carmelo Anthony‘s triple-double (35 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and Tyson Chandler‘s inside presence (20 points, 7 rebounds) also contributed to a 56.8 shooting night for the Knicks.
With the bench getting outscored 55-2, the Celtics dropped to 36-26 despite quality offensive nights from Rajon Rondo (13 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds) — who recorded 10-plus assists for the 23rd straight game — Kevin Garnett (20 points), Avery Bradley (17 points) and Brandon Bass (15 points).
The Knicks (32-29) moved a game ahead of the 76ers (31-30), who lost to the Pacers (40-22), so the C’s magic number for the division title and the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed remains at one. They also dropped a game back in the loss column behind the idle Magic (36-25) and Hawks (36-25), who would own homecourt advantage as the fifth seed should they finish with a better record.
WHAT WENT WRONG
New York 3 party: When the horn mercifully signaled halftime, the Knicks had made 14-of-21 3-pointers (66.7%) — including 11 in the second quarter — to enter the break with a 72-53 advantage after the worst defensive 24 minutes of the Celtics season. Victimized by J.R. Smith (7-9 3P) and Steve Novak (4-6 3P) helped the Knicks tie records for treys both in a half and a quarter, and the 14 triples tied the most the C’s allowed in a game all season.
Finishing touches: Led by the starting backcourt duo of Bradley and Rondo, the Celtics staked themselves to a 24-17 advantage with 3:38 remaining in the first quarter, but Anthony led a Knicks charge that resulted in a 32-26 deficit after the opening 12 minutes. Anthony finished the frame with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Forwards, backwards: The ailments of Ray Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (knee) forced Celtics coach Doc Rivers to start the second quarter with a lineup that included Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling. That translated into the Knicks putting the finishing touches on an 18-0 run (and 23-2 overall) that began in the first quarter. And that was before New York’s 3-point onslaught really got going.
|Irish Coffee: An All-NBA case for Rajon Rondo||at 2:16 pm ET|
By now, you know Rajon Rondo‘s streak of 22 straight games with at least 10 assists trails John Stockton‘s record of 29 by seven. With only five games left, that record will stand at least until the 2012-13 NBA season begins.
But just how good has Rondo been during this streak, and this entire season for that matter?
In his last 22 games, Rondo has averaged 10.1 points, 13.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals, leading the Celtics to a 15-7 record. He has totaled 223 points and 303 assists — 57 of which led to 3-pointers — putting his hand in 886 of the C’s 2,050 points (43.2%) in that span.
To put that in perspective, NBA MVP favorite LeBron James has averaged 26.1 points and 5.5 assists in his last 22 games, leading the Heat to a 14-8 record. He has totaled 574 points and 121 assists (25 on 3P) in that span, generating 841 of Miami’s 2,081 points (40.4%).
And those numbers aren’t too far off Rondo’s season averages of 12.1 points, 11.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Out of all the players in NBA backcourts, Rondo may fall outside the top 50 in scoring, but he ranks first among guards in assists, fourth in rebounds (behind two guards Paul George, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade) and fourth in steals (behind only Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio).
All of which begs the question: Should Rondo make First Team All-NBA?
|After a major scare, Brandon Bass is ‘more and more comfortable’ and it shows||04.12.12 at 11:28 am ET|
The irony of the situation was just too much for Brandon Bass to fully appreciate.
With just over a minute left in overtime Wednesday night, he had just tried to box out the Hawks for a rebound on one of the best rebounding nights of the season for the Celtics.
Bass went up under the basket and landed awkwardly, laying on the ground as the Celtics came rushing over to see how he was. Doc Rivers rolled his eyes to the heavens, pleading for good fortune. He and Bass got it as it was only a temporary injury to his right knee, and not the same knee that forced him to miss two weeks in February.
“I just hyperextended my knee but I’m alright,” Bass said after an 88-86 overtime win over the Hawks. “I was blocking out and I guess I tried to jump. I don’t know what I did to be honest with you.
“I felt like a little kid. I was just scared. I didn’t know what had happened. It was hurting so bad but I think it was because I was so tensed up. Once I breathed and relaxed, everything started calming down.”
“They said a bunch of things. Some said I was tired. Some said I was acting and had gone Hollywood. But man, I was scared and it was hurting, too. I wasn’t going to let the team down.”
Rivers was scared, too, as he had flashbacks to his own career-changing knee injury.
‘Well I thought he was hurt,” Rivers said. “I’ve had that injury,” Rivers said of the dreaded ACL. “I don’t even like saying the word. And where he was grabbing. I didn’t think it was going to be a good thing, so that was great.
‘The guys were laughing that he was exhausted and he needed some rest. I’m not sure what it was, actually. I’m not sure.’
Bass didn’t even miss a beat – or a play for that matter. He stayed in the game and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds in 42 massive minutes for the Celtics, who outrebounded the younger, more rested Hawks, 56-39.
“We needed a night like that to build on,” Bass said. “We had been struggling on the boards, and that’s an area we want to improve on, and we have been improving on and I just want to keep it going.”
Bass was a big reason the Celtics, playing 24 hours after an emotional battle in Miami, were able to overcome Atlanta in overtime.
“Doc just came in and laid it out and let us know, ‘No excuses tonight.’ It’s a back-to-back and everybody’s tired. He just told us to go out and fight and do what we do every night, and that’s grind,” Bass said.
Grinding is something that the Celtics loved about Bass when they traded Glen Davis to Orlando and got him in return over the summer. After 58 games this season, the Celtics are reaping the benefits of the man who has helped fill the void left by the injury to Jermaine O’Neal.
“I would say I’m getting comfortable,” Bass said. “Being with the guys, they talk to talk to me. Rondo’s out there to shoot the ball, telling me to be ready. Doc is calling plays and I feel like it’s for me. Every game I’m feeling better and more comfortable in the system. I just want to keep it going and build on it.”
In many ways, it was the ugliest of the 19 triple-doubles in the career of Rajon Rondo.
But no Celtics fan alive cares that he made just three of his 16 field goal attempts. They’ll live with that when you’re talking about a point guard on a record-setting pace few have ever seen in NBA history. Wednesday, he had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 20 assists to lead the Celtics over the Hawks, 88-86 in overtime at delirious TD Garden.
‘Putting the ball in the hole, pretty simple,” was Rondo’s answer when asked how one goes about getting 20 assists in a game, referring to his teammates. “They were concentrating a little bit more today. I don’t know you got to ask them. I think a lot of them were uncontested shots, we got out, we got stops. We did a great job rebounding and that hasn’t been what we do best but tonight we did an excellent ball rebounding the ball.’
The 13 missed shots weren’t the only ugly part of the game. The Celtics again could not take care of the ball in the first half, committing 12 of their 23 turnovers in 53 minutes of play.
And there were the questionable calls. The two on Greg Steimsma and the one on Kevin Garnett that sent both to the bench for the night with six fouls. And there was the offensive foul on Paul Pierce with 5.3 seconds remaining that gave Atlanta one last shot. But still and all, Rondo and the Celtics found a way to win.
It’s just how it is, you win some you lose some,” Rondo said. “We kept fighting regardless of the other stuff out there, we stuck together and we followed through and got the win.’
There were no reported outbursts tonight at halftime or bets with assistant coach Ty Lue. Everyone was just too tired to expend the energy. And who can blame them. But still, they knew they had to cut down on the turnovers.
‘It starts with me, if I take care of the ball I think we do as a team because I think I dominate the ball a lot, more than anybody, so I try to be more conscious when I am turning the ball over in the first half, but overall I think we got to slow down as a team and try to execute our assists and not try to force anything,” Rondo said.
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