|Irish Coffee: How the Celtics can score more points||02.15.12 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.
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics outrun the Bulls||at 6:10 pm ET|
BOSTON — Receiving little help from Paul Pierce and Ray Allen through the first three quarters, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo put the team on his back, taking advantage of reigning MVP Derrick Rose‘s absence and recording a triple-double in leading the C’s to victory against the visiting Bulls, 95-91.
Rondo finished with a season highs of 32 points (11-22 FG, 10-13 FT) and 15 assists to go along with his 10 rebounds. His 4-for-4 free throw shooting down the stretch helped the Celtics snap a two-game losing streak and improved to 15-12.
While Pierce and Allen combined for just 10 points (3-11 FG) and one rebound through the third quarter, they totaled 10 points in the fourth quarter as the C’s built a double-digit lead that nearly disappeared. Fourth amigo Kevin Garnett (13 points, 12 rebounds) contributed a double-double to provide a Robin to Rondo’s Batman.
Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah combined for 38 points and 16 rebounds for the Bulls (23-7) with Rose sidelined by back spasms.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo goes: With Rose nursing his back spasms, Rondo had free reign against Bulls backup point guards C.J. Watson and John Lucas. In the first 10 minutes, Rondo amassed 11 points, two assists and two rebounds as the Celtics PA announcer seemingly called his name every time down the floor. His first-quarter effort staked the C’s to a 28-23 lead. The Celtics entered the game with a 10-2 record when leading after the opening 12 minutes.
Automatic transition: Likewise, without Rose running the floor, Rondo & Co. roamed free on the fast break. The Celtics entered the game averaging just 10.3 fast break points per game (ranked 25th in the NBA). They outscored the Bulls by a 33-7 margin — with Rondo’s layups and alley-oop assists leading the way.
Willing Wilcox: With Jermaine O’Neal and Brandon Bass both sidelined by knee injuries, Chris Wilcox got his first start in a Celtics uniform. He rose to the occasion, totaling 11 points (5-6 FG) and nine rebounds.
|Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum ‘can be a dominating couple’||02.10.12 at 3:51 pm ET|
BOSTON — He might look like a llama, but he sure doesn’t play like one.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol recorded 25 points and 14 rebounds against the Celtics on Thursday night, but his biggest play of the 88-87 Los Angeles victory came when he blocked Ray Allen‘s put-back attempt off a Paul Pierce miss as the overtime buzzer sounded.
“Probably, for sure,” Gasol said when asked if he thought Allen’s attempt would have sunk the Lakers had he not blocked the shot. “I think he had momentum, he was going to the rim, he’s obviously got amazing touch and I continued to play. I made a big play down the stretch, which could have cost the game.”
The Lakers wouldn’t have been in position to win the game had it not been for Gasol and center Andrew Bynum‘s combined 41 points and 31 rebounds — 20 of which came on the offensive end.
“We try to play hard and dominate every game and be a dominating couple every game,” added Gasol. “I think with our size and our level of skills, we can be. Sometimes we get to do it. Sometimes it doesn’t work both ways, but I think tonight obviously we got a great effort from Andrew. … I was able to be effective, too.”
|Irish Coffee: Kobe Bryant on his admiration of Austin Rivers, love of Rob Gronkowsi and ignorance of Jeremy Lin||at 8:52 am ET|
Despite his team emerging victors by an ugly 88-87 margin in an overtime game, Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant sounded more impressed by the Celtics than his own squad when asked if the two once great and now aging championship clubs mirrored one another.
“I don’t know,” said Bryant, who finished with 25 points on 24 shots. “They’ve got three Hall of Famers and a fourth one coming. That don’t look too familiar to me over here.”
Not only did Bryant sound off about his own teammates, but he pulled no punches on the topics of Rob Gronkowski, Austin Rivers and Jeremy Lin (particularly priceless stuff), among other subjects thrown his way. The following are highlights from the Black Mamba’s postgame interview.
ON THE CELTICS
“We know each other so well. The unit we had on the floor, and their unit — we’ve played against each other so many darn times. We know what’s coming before it happens.”
[Asked again about the rivalry:] “It’s always a brawl in every fight. It’s ugly. It’s physical. I’ve enjoyed competing against them. I like all of them personally. On the court, that personal stuff goes out the window. It’s been fun.”
[And again:] “It’s a throwback in the sense that we’re old school. Ray [Allen] is old school. Paul [Pierce] is old school. Kevin [Garnett] is old school. And so is Rajon [Rondo]. How we prepare for the game, how much the game means to us, you can see the emotion that they pour into it, how much they put into the game, you don’t really see that too much from the young guys nowadays.”
[And again:] “It’s been great. It’s been a dream come true growing up and watching it. Here I am part of it. It’s great. The only difference between us and the ‘80s is that guys over there in the other locker room I actually know and like. That’s the big difference between this time around and the ‘80s.”
[And again:] “They’ve been playing extremely well. They’ve won nine out of their last 10 games coming into tonight, so they’re figuring things out obviously. Us, we’re still searching. It’s a whole new system. We’re trying to figure things out still. You kind of see it on the court. You kind of see things that are kind of botched plays every now and then, miscommunication now and then, because we’re kind of practicing things on the fly. But all in all, we’ll be Ok. Both of us will.”
|The All-Star cases for Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo||02.09.12 at 12:33 am ET|
Through his first 11 games of the season, Paul Pierce averaged less than 15 points a game and shot 37 percent from the floor. He also averaged fewer than five rebounds and a little more than four assists.
The Celtics lost six of those 11 games, including the first-ever five-game losing streak in the new Big Three era, and when that was combined with an 0-3 start without Pierce while he was recovering from a bone bruise in his heel, there were naturally questions about whether it was all over for this group of Celtics.
Then Pierce scored 34 points against the Wizards to go with eight rebounds and 10 assists, and that kickstarted a remarkable renaissance. Over the next 10 games, Pierce averaged 22.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists and the Celtics went 9-1 with Pierce leading the way.
Are those 10 games enough to make Pierce an All-Star?
Through the first 13 games of the Celtics season, Rajon Rondo essentially carried the offense. With Pierce injured and then working his way back into game condition and Kevin Garnett off to a slow start, the Celtics asked Rondo to take on more of an aggressive role and he attempted almost 200 shots (making 52 percent of them) while handing out 122 assists.
The Celtics weren’t good, but Rondo was, rebuilding his reputation after a late-season swoon in 2011 and an offseason of trade rumors. Then Rondo fell awkwardly on his right wrist and missed eight games. The Celtics went 6-2 and when he came back he was able to return to his preferred playmaking role, racking up 28 assists in his last two games.
Are 16 games enough to make the All-Star team?
After the starters are chosen by the fans, the reserves are selected by the coaches who vote for two guards, two forwards, a center and two wild-card choices. They will be announced before the Celtics play the Lakers on TNT on Thursday night. There are roughly 20 players in the East who could be considered for the honor, but only a few truly stand out. Compare that to the West where the competition is tighter, but also much tougher.
It says more about the Eastern Conference than it does the seasons that Pierce and Rondo are having that the answer is yes — although there is more of a debate in Rondo’s case.
With the obvious exception of LeBron James — who is the clear front-runner for MVP — Pierce has been the most productive small forward in the East. Among players at his position in the Eastern Conference, Pierce ranks second in true shooting and assist percentage behind LeBron and he grabs rebounds at roughly the same rate as Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng.
That’s including the first 11 games when even considering Pierce for an All-Star berth would have been laughable. His last 10 make his selection an obvious choice.
Rondo’s competition among point guards comes from the trio of Brandon Jennings, Deron Williams and rookie Kyrie Irving. In Rondo’s favor he has the highest True Shooting, assist percentage and rebound rate among the four guards. Working against him is the simple fact that he’s missed a third of the team’s games in this condensed schedule.
It should also be noted that picking an All-Star team after 24 games of a season like this essentially comes down to subjective arguments. Does Rondo get credit for picking up his game when his team needed him, or penalized for not winning more games? Without Williams, are the Nets the Bobcats? The argument here is that Rondo has been statistically the second-best point guard in the East after Derrick Rose, but the margin is thin.
Here are my selections for both the East and Western Conference All-Stars.
Guards: Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson
Forwards: Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh
Center: Tyson Chandler (narrowly over Anderson Varejao)
Wild cards: Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith
Toughest omissions: Deron Williams, Greg Monroe, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, somebody from the Pacers
Forwards: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge
Center: Marc Gasol
Wild cards: Tony Parker, Paul Millsap
Toughest omission by far: James Harden
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