|Irish Coffee: Celtics midseason report card||02.24.12 at 1:58 pm ET|
If Danny Ainge shook a Magic 8-Ball right now, the odds of “outlook not so good” coming up are probably even. After losing seven of their past eight games for the first time since he acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen prior to the 2007-08 NBA season, Ainge’s aging Celtics are 15-17 entering the All-Star break.
It’s an uphill battle the rest of the season, but it might be all downhill from here for Doc Rivers & Co. Needless to say, based on the expectations they’ve set the past four years, this Celtics group isn’t making the grade. Let’s take a look at how the C’s have stacked up individually this year.
MICKAEL PIETRUS: A-
Last Grade: A
When the news broke that Jeff Green would undergo heart surgery for an aortic aneurysm, the Celtics once again had a hole to fill behind Paul Pierce at the small forward position. Pietrus has bridged that gap, and then some. Charged with 3-point shooting and bringing energy defensively, he has shot 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and defended vigorously (at the end of the blowout loss to the Thunder, Pietrus was one of few C’s who played to the buzzer). In an attempt to improve the team’s terrible rebounding, Pietrus has also begun to assert himself on the glass, grabbing 19 rebounds in his last two games.
KEVIN GARNETT: A-
Last Grade: B+
Of the aging Big Three, the one with the most mileage and the worst knees has enjoyed the best season. Garnett entered the NBA All-Star break by recording 23 points and 13 rebounds for the first time since December 2008. That marked his ninth double-double of the season, bringing his averages to 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in only 30.8 minutes. Paired with his usual defensive prowess, he’s played all but three games — missing only one due to a tweaked hip and two for personal reasons — and it’s no surprise the Celtics are 0-3 in those contests.
|Irish Coffee: Dichotomy of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce||02.17.12 at 1:52 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo couldn’t be hotter, averaging 28.0 points, 9.7 assists and 7.3 boards in the past three games.
Paul Pierce couldn’t be colder, averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds in his past four games.
And the Celtics are 1-4 in their past five games. So goes the 2011-12 NBA season for the aging champions.
Whether it’s the result of Rondo’s wrist injury coming on the heels of Pierce’s heel injury to start the season, compounded by whatever Pierce is going through the past handful of games (Charles Barkley credited age during Thursday night’s TNT broadcast), the C’s two best players haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 15-14 record, which only stands to get worse if the trend continues in Dallas and Oklahoma City.
Just how poorly have Rondo and Pierce meshed on the court? Besides the fact that the two have yet to both exceed 15 points in the same game this season, take a look at their overall numbers with and without each other.
|In glorious defeat, Rajon Rondo faces media music||02.16.12 at 1:10 am ET|
BOSTON — Give Rajon Rondo credit. Three days earlier, the Celtics point guard ducked out of the locker room without speaking to reporters after a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. On Wednesday night, he faced the media music following a 98-88 loss to the Central Division-worst Pistons.
Silent in victory, vocal in defeat. Not that he really said all that much. So goes the enigma that is Rajon Rondo.
Upon scoring a career-high 35 points against Detroit three days after equaling his career best against Chicago, Rondo simply said, “I made some, I missed some.” For the record, he made 15 field goals and four free throws, missing 12 field goals and five free throws.
On Sunday, Rondo became the fourth player in NBA history to record 32 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and two steals in a single game, joining Magic Johnson (thrice), LeBron James and Reggie Theus. Wednesday’s performance brought his totals for the last two games to 67 points, 21 assists, 15 rebounds and six steals.
Rondo’s reaction? “The main thing is our record is 1-1 in these last two games,” he said.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Celtics trailed the Pistons, 73-72. Detroit’s lead grew to six as Rondo sat the first 3:33 of the final frame, and even after his return the Pistons stretched the lead to 13 with just over five minutes remaining. The C’s never recovered, as just four of Rondo’s 35 points came in the final quarter.
|Fast Break: Not enough horsepower for C’s against Pistons||02.15.12 at 10:07 pm ET|
BOSTON — Rajon Rondo scored a career-high 35 points, but only four of those came in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons built a 13-point lead the Celtics couldn’t erase in a 98-88 defeat — their third loss in four games.
Rondo’s 35 points came on 15-of-27 field goals and came with six assists and five rebounds as the C’s drop to 15-13. While Kevin Garnett (hip) missed his first game of the season, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen didn’t show up either, combining for just 20 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Where’s the Truth: Thrown off by Bill Russell‘s presence courtside or just plain having an off night, Pierce looked as though his mind was elsewhere. He finished just 3-of-11 from the field, and while he didn’t record a turnover in 37 minutes, he seemed to juggle the ball each time he touched it and generally be a step behind in the early going.
JO vs. Monroe: Returning from a two-game absence, Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal (knee) appeared overmatched at times by the younger, left-handed Greg Monroe (22 points, 11-14 FG, 9 rebounds). Of course, it didn’t help that O’Neal picked up five fouls in his first 18 minutes on the floor.
What the Stuckey? As Rondo’s point total increased, lost in the shuffle was Rodney Stuckey, who totaled 25 points (including 11-11 FT), four assists and three rebounds. He led four Pistons in double figures and helped keep Detroit in a game they had no business hanging around for three quarters, let alone pulling away in the fourth quarter.
|Irish Coffee: How the Celtics can score more points||at 12:47 pm ET|
While the Celtics rank eighth in field-goal percentage (45.8%), they’re 26th in points scored. Why? Two reasons: They don’t get to the free throw line, and they don’t attempt enough 3-pointers.
To the first point, free throws are down across the NBA, but the Celtics have been particularly inept in that regard. The C’s are one of only two teams that attempt fewer than 30 field goals per game from 0-10 feet, where the majority of fouls occur. Only the Nets (8-21) take fewer shots within 10 feet (27.9) than the Celtics (29.5). From 2007-10, when the C’s made two trips to the NBA Finals, they averaged more than 25 free throws per game and ranked in the NBA’s top 10 each season. This season, they attempt just 19.8 a night.
That last number has gotten increasingly worse as this season has progressed. The C’s nightly free throw attempts have declined from 23.8 in December to 20.2 in January and an NBA-worst 16.4 in February. For the season, the Celtics are being outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game at the free throw line.
|Irish Coffee: Bulls consider Celtics ‘dangerous team’||02.13.12 at 11:17 am ET|
BOSTON — The Celtics haven’t had two days off between home games for more than a month — and won’t again until April — so the process of building a cohesive team capable of contending in the Eastern Conference continues for head coach Doc Rivers in Waltham on Monday and Tuesday.
“If you want quality product, you have to give time for quality product to be quality. And you have to have time for that,” said Kevin Garnett, who totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in Sunday’s win over the Bulls. “It’s not just something just because you have four guys who have been together — you’ve got a whole group of guys that’s in here, and chemistry is everything. And I’m not going to back off that. So, we have some days where we do have some practice time, and you’ll see a better, more quality product, so I’m happy for that.”
Of course, the same was said on Jan. 7 when the Celtics had a stretch of four days off between home games, and then promptly lost four straight to cap the longest losing streak of this Big Three era (5 games). Since then, though, the Celtics have won 11 of their last 15 games — including a string of nine out of 10 — capped by the 95-91 victory against the Bulls, albeit without reigning MVP Derrick Rose in the lineup.
“That team is very experienced, and I think that they’re playing at a very high level,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who served as an assistant under Rivers during the 2007-10 glory years. “As I said before the game, even in the Lakers game I thought they played very well and could’ve won that, of course they won the nine out of 10 and I throw out the Toronto game because to me that was a scheduling game. They had back-to-back — a late start here and then the travel to Toronto — so that was a tough game for them.
“Throw that one out, they’re playing at a very high level,” added Thibs. “When you have [Paul] Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin and [Rajon] Rondo running the team, their bench has been playing very well, they’ve been getting a number of contributions from different people, so they’re going to be a dangerous team.”
|Kevin Garnett on Rajon Rondo: ‘He had a bit of rough day’ (before his triple-double)||02.12.12 at 8:43 pm ET|
And the Celtics needed every bit of his 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds to hold on for dear life in a 95-91 win over the Bulls, providing Boston with arguably its biggest win of the season.
After approximately an hour wait in the dressing room, Kevin Garnett finally came out and gave a clue as to why Rondo was radio silent.
“He had a bit of a rough day but he played through it,” Garnett said. “He was professional. I thought he… played with that edge.”
Asked to clarify what the rough day meant afterward, Garnett would only smile and joke, spinning the following answer: “I’d love to have that kind of rough day.”
Garnett also spoke at length about a tough film session coach Doc Rivers gave to the team before the game, less than 48 hours after Rondo put up a very mediocre performance in an 86-74 loss in Toronto Friday night.
Rondo was 2-of-10 from the field, finishing with five points, seven assists and five rebounds and five turnovers in 41 minutes.
Sunday, he posted his ninth career triple-double. Quite the turnaround.
Was Rondo extra motivated?
‘Oh, I don’t know. I’m going to let you guys be that deep,” Rivers said. “I wish I could get in someone’s head that deep. I just think he wanted to win. And I thought we played at a better pace today. You could see it: we were trying to run today. And that’s how we have to play. [If] we didn’t turn the ball over we would’ve had far more points. But I just liked our pace and that’s all we talked about after the game in Toronto and today in our morning walk-through ‘ was enough of the walking. And it was not Rondo, it’s the team. The bigs have to run the floor. [Paul Pierce] and [Ray Allen] have to run the floor.”
Then came another clue as to what might have transpired to contribute to Rondo’s “rough day.”
“It does a lot of things,” Rivers said of Rondo running the fast break. “We get early posts from our bigs, we get jump shots from the break, and we get Rondo in the open court. And when you walk, it’s easy to guard.’
Hmmm. The Celtics finished the game with a 33-7 advantage in fast break points, converting all 13 chances.
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