|Celtics and Heat offer interesting matchups||04.28.11 at 1:40 pm ET|
All along the Celtics and Heat figured that they would meet in the playoffs.”It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t go through them,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters in Miami after his team eliminated Philadelphia on Wednesday.
The Celtics had a similar reaction. “We assumed when they put this team together, at some point if we want to put another banner up then we’ll probably have to go through them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before the team went through practice on Thursday.
Now that it’s upon us expect no small amount of hype to emerge. But when you break through the thicket of noise, the thing that makes this series so compelling from a basketball standpoint are the individual matchups. There are seven members of the 2011 Eastern Conference All-Star team competing in this series and six of them will be matched directly against each other:
Chris Bosh vs. Kevin Garnett
Expect the Celtics to approach their defensive assignments in a straightforward manner.
“The numbers bare out when we guard our own guys we’re pretty good and when we guard other guys we’re pretty bad, against this team in particular,” Rivers said. “They may look good on paper and they look good visually for two minutes, statistically they’ve been horrendous for us.”
Rivers was referring directly to the fullcourt defense Rajon Rondo employed against James in the Celtics 85-82 win back in February. While Rondo’s gambit stirred the Garden crowd and provided some inspirational moments, once the postgame fog of exuberance gave way to sober analysis, the matchup did more harm than good for the Celtics.
But Rondo is the wild card in this series because asking Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers to stay with him for 48 minutes may be asking too much. That could mean Wade or James switching their assignments to try to contain Rondo. “We’ll see one of those guys guarding Rondo, which means one of them aren’t guarding Ray or Paul, so we’re good with all those,” Rivers said.
One thing the Celtics want to avoid are having to rely on double-teams or switches, but that’s easier said than done against this team.
“Every time we’ve overhelped in any series, including the New York series, we tend to hurt ourselves more than just playing our solid one-on-one defense with support,” Rivers said. “They run some stuff that’s honestly difficult to not switch, but we really try to avoid the switch as much as possible.”
“Jeff is going to have to be a great defender,” Rivers said. “He ran into that in the New York series where by the end of the series he was terrific on Carmelo [Anthony. That’s gives us another big, athletic body.” Asked if Green could help with Wade, Rivers said, “We may do it in stretches, but you’re asking for trouble in the long run.”
The plan is for Shaquille O’Neal to participate in the walkthrough segment of Thursday’s practice and then try to get on the floor for for the full session on Friday. The Celtics will fly to Miami on Saturday so Friday will be the last chance for O’Neal to get on the floor before Sunday’s Game 1.
The Celtics know the hype will approach histrionic levels throughout the series, but they also know this is ultimately just one step in a larger process.
“It’s the second round,” Paul Pierce said. “It’s the halfway point of where our goal is. I know there’s going to be a lot of hype around it, like it’s a championship series, but you’ve got to understand it’s still just the second round. But a very big second round [series] because you’ve got two potential teams that can win it all. I’m excited. This is a great stage for basketball. It’s going to be great for fans and the guys that we have here love these type of series.”
PIERCE VS. LEBRON, III
Pierce has faced James two other times in the playoffs and the Celtics have won both series. In 2008 they beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game epic that featured brilliant Game 7 performances for both players. James scored 45 points in the 97-92 Celtics win, while Pierce went for 41 of his own. James got the better of Pierce in their individual matchup last season, but the Celtics won in six games.
Asked if it was personal for James to finally get past the Celtics, Pierce said, “Probably so at this point. When you lose to a team consecutive times in the playoffs — I mean, it would be personal for me. I’m sure he’s going to take it personal and you’ve got to expect his best.”
|Adrian Wojnarowski on M&M: Leaving C’s would be difficult for Doc Rivers||04.25.11 at 2:43 pm ET|
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports joined the Mut & Merloni show Monday afternoon to discuss the NBA playoffs and other Celtics items of interest. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Rajon Rondo put up huge numbers in the C’s first-round series sweep of the Knicks, and Wojnarowski said the point guard will again be tough for Boston’s opponent to handle in Round 2. “He’s Miami’s most difficult matchup,” Wojnarowski said. “They don’t have a guy to deal with him.”
The Heat, who need one more win to close out the 76ers, also appear to be at a disadvantage vs. the Celtics when it comes to bench play. “The question marks around Miami’s bench continue to be immense,” Wojnarowski said. “Mike Miller, who they had signed to be a key part of that team, he’s got issues with both thumbs. He can’t shoot the ball. And so, his minutes have diminished. They’re getting less and less from that bench. That’s why they thought about signing Eddy Curry. That’s the level of desperation they had with that group there. That’s where Boston’s supposed to have the advantage here.”
If Shaquille O’Neal can return and give the C’s some quality minutes to complement Jermaine O’Neal, that would give Boston another advantage. “We’ll see what happens with Shaq, if he comes back,” Wojnarowski said. “Because Jermaine O’Neal really established himself as a big part of this Celtics postseason run with the way he played. He probably won Game 2 for Boston. I think Doc said he did, and I agree with him. His ability to defend the rim and block shots. Now, if Shaq comes back ‘ maybe Shaq comes off the bench, maybe Shaq starts ‘ but Boston’s bench has shown some signs in that New York series of playing better.”
Added Wojnarowski: “Doc said it all along: They had to have one of the O’Neals play. And Jermaine has played better. He exceeded my expectations. ‘¦ You saw him defending, rebounding and just his movement around the floor and getting out, really being a lot of places, his rotation on defense, getting back, showing on the pick and roll and then getting back and protecting the rim. He brings a very high basketball IQ. He’s a smart guy, a veteran guy. And I thought he played great in that series and was the difference for Boston.
“But listen, Shaq still commands a double team in the post offensively. He still can rebound the ball. He can’t move like Jermaine can and defend all over the floor defensively the way Jermaine has showed himself to do. But there’s still things that Shaq brings to them that are going to help them, not just against Miami.
“You know, it’s funny: They don’t need him against Miami in terms of, Miami doesn’t have great size. But what it is is, he gives you an advantage. He gives you an edge where they have trouble matching up, and guys still have to foul him or double him. And so, while you don’t need him to match up with one of their guys, you say, ‘Hey, we have an advantage with him playing.’ So, that’s why you want him to play.”
|Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo, reinvigorated||at 1:07 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
I think everyone can agree we saw a different Rajon Rondo against the Knicks then we did in the last month-and-a-half of the regular season. Sure, he played the majority of his minutes against the likes of Toney Douglas and Anthony Carter, but still — it’s not like he’s going to be facing Chris Paul in the next round.
Rondo is the switch. The numbers illustrate as much, and I see no reason he can’t replicate his performance against Mario Chalmers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Rondo averaged 10.0 points on 40.9 percent shooting, 9.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.0 free-throw attempts in 21 regular-season games during March and April. Then, in the playoff sweep of the Knicks, he averaged 19.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting, 12.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 6.5 free-throw attempts. Essentially, without warning, he reverted to the player we saw when the Celtics started 23-4 before Christmas.
It’s not like the Big Three played that much better offensively against the Knicks than they had during the regular season in March and April. In fact, their field-goal percentage actually dropped from 50.2 percent in March and April to 49.4 percent against New York.
What really changed for the Big Three? As a result of Rondo’s ability to get into the paint whenever he wanted, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen got far more open looks on the perimeter. They made a ridiculous 27-of-46 3-pointers (58.7%) — averaging 6.8 makes on 11.5 tries — in the Knicks series, as opposed to their 66-of-176 3-point shooting (37.5%) — 3.0 makes on 8.0 attempts per game — in the final 22 games of the regular season.
Can those two continue to shoot close to 60 percent from 3-point range? Probably not, but two of the game’s great shooters will keep getting more open looks as Rondo forces the Heat defense to sag on him in the paint. And if you think Dwyane Wade or LeBron James might take a shot at guarding Rondo, do you have any confidence that Chalmers or Mike Bibby or James Jones or whoever can keep up with Pierce and Allen?
|Mike D’Antoni on Rajon Rondo: ‘I’d like to see him play in Minnesota and see how he does’||04.24.11 at 3:09 pm ET|
NEW YORK — For as long as Rajon Rondo plays with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, people will question his place in the great point guard hierarchy. Is he a product of the environment of playing with three future Hall of Famers or a great player in his own right? Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni raised the issue prior to Game 4 of the Celtics‘ first-round playoff series with New York.
“He’s a very good player,” D’Antoni said. “I’d like to see him play in Minnesota and see how he does. Everybody’s tied together and they have three Hall of Famers playing out there. But Rondo’s a very, very good basketball player. Really good. There’s no doubt about that.”
Rondo had 20 assists against the Knicks in Game 3 and at least nine of those were on jump shots, according to Synergy Sports, which tracks every play. But Rondo also had a triple double in the game, his sixth in his postseason career.
“You play with those guys, that’s probably what you’re going to get,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t think he would trade it. I think he enjoys playing with them. If there is a negative side ‘ I guess ‘ that would be it. No matter how well you play, the question will be [that]. And someday that will be answered, too. I’ve got a feeling he’ll answer them all in the way he’s answering them now.”
Asked if this kind of talk fueled Rondo, Rivers said, “I don’t talk about it a whole bunch. He doesn’t bring it up a lot. It probably does in some way, it would bother anyone in some way and it’s probably good for him. Keep doing it. If it’s going to make him play like this, I’m all for it.”
|Rajon Rondo isn’t happy with the win but he and the C’s will take it||04.20.11 at 12:35 am ET|
You score 14 points in the first quarter, 18 in the first half and 30 for the game. You’re the point guard and your team just won a playoff game to go up 2-0 in a best-of-7 series. You’d think you’d be pretty pleased.
‘We’re not happy with the win but obviously you’ll take any one you get in the playoffs,” Rondo said in his patented calm tone. “But we know we have a lot to improve on. There are so many areas.”
Like rebounding, where the Knicks beat the C’s, 53-37, including 20-9 on the offensive glass.
“They destroyed us on the glass,” he said. “Obviously, without Amar’e [Stoudemire], we had to help a lot, but we’ve got to crack back, and our guys have to do a better job of boxing out the bigs. As a team overall, we have to do a better job at rebounding the ball, that’s been our problem throughout the season. We escaped tonight, another one, but nevertheless, we got the win.’
But it wasn’t all bad. As a matter of fact in the first quarter, Rondo showed he was ready to take over the game, scoring 14 points, including 12 on lay-ups as the Celtics were getting out in transition at will against the Knicks thanks to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
‘I just thought, Kevin and Paul gave me great outlet passes and I tried to attack the rim,’ Rondo said. ‘I think I tried to attack Game 1 but my layups were getting blocked and I didn’t make a couple. But tonight I made them, I stayed aggressive, I tried to expose them because I don’t think they did a great job getting back in transition. But they made an adjustment, in the second half I tried to go to my guys, Paul, Ray [Allen], and Kevin.’
The tempo was so fierce at one point of the first quarter, Rondo signaled to coach Doc Rivers that he needed a break. Who could blame him? He was running up and down the court at will thanks to the Knicks and their ole’ transition defense.
‘I just got tired in the first quarter, at like three minutes, I think it was like 3:59 actually, because like I said I was trying to push the pace and I got a little winded,” Rondo said.
But Rondo made a point of saying he didn’t tire in the second half when the game was on the line. Rondo wound up playing 42 minutes, just three less than captain Pierce.
“I told Doc to give me a rest. As soon as I was ready I came back in to start the second quarter, but after that my wind was fine. D-West came in and gave me a little breather off the ball. I’m comfortable playing the minutes I’m playing. It was just that first session was like a track meet.’
|Fast Break: Kevin Garnett’s will spoils Carmelo Anthony’s effort||04.19.11 at 9:51 pm ET|
With the Celtics trailing 93-92 with 19 seconds remaining, Celtics coach Doc Rivers called for Kevin Garnett to post up Jared Jefferies on the block. He did, backed down Jefferies and made a hook shot over him with 13 seconds to play. Moments later, on a loose ball that Jefferies lost underneath the Knicks basket, Garnett dove to the floor, grabbed the ball and called timeout with four seconds left. Delonte West made a pair of free throws with 0.6 seconds on the clock, and the C’s held on for a 96-93 victory to take a 2-0 lead against the Knicks.
The C’s spoiled a remarkable 42-point, 17-rebound effort from Carmelo Anthony, who singlehandedly kept the Knicks in the game after losing Amar’e Stoudemire to back spasms. The Celtics’ Big Four all reached double figures, led by Rajon Rondo‘s 30 points and Paul Pierce‘s 20.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo attacks early: With Chauncey Billups (strained left knee) sidelined and Toney Douglas starting for the Knicks, Rondo went to work. He released on New York field-goal attempts, and his Celtics teammates hit him in stride on the break for layup after layup. As Rondo outscored the Knicks 12-11 in the first 7:08, Douglas committed two fouls — leaving the visitors extremely thin at the point guard position. Generally, when Rondo attacks in transition, the Celtics succeed, and Game 2 was no different.
Rondo attacks late: While Anthony was busy scoring at a ridiculous pace or drawing enough defenders to open up opportunities for his teammates, Rondo kept the Celtics in the game during the fourth quarter. Once again taking advantage of the Douglas matchup, he scored three straight layups midway through the fourth that either tied the game or gave the Celtics a late lead. And he even added a 17-foot jump shot that put the Celtics up 88-86 advantage with four and a half minutes remaining.
Denying Stoudemire the ball: Whether it was Stoudemire’s comments before the game or the back spasms that forced him to leave the game in the second quarter, Garnett completely neutralized his defensive assignment. In 16 first-half minutes, Stoudemire shot just 2-of-9 from the field and scored four points — a far cry from his 12-of-18, 28-point performance in Game 1.
Between the first two games of the series, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the game plan was to deny Stoudemire the ball, thus stopping him before he ever gets going. The Celtics attempted to do that in the first game but couldn’t until Garnett succeeded in the final minutes. Game 2 was an entirely different story — whether it was all Garnett’s defense or part that/part injury.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Melo being Melo … and then some: After being called out by just about every New York media outlet after his 1-of-11 shooting performance in the second half of the Knicks’ Game 1 loss, Anthony returned to his All-Star form. Considering he was the only member of the Knicks’ Big Three left standing, the Knicks desperately needed him to rise to the occasion. And he did, scoring 13 straight points during one second-half stretch and finishing with 42 points (the highest individual total against the C’s this season), 17 rebounds and six assists on the night.
Another lost opportunity: After taking an early 10-point lead in the first quarter, the Celtics had a golden opportunity to make Game 2 a lot more comfortable than Game 1, especially considering the Billups/Stoudemire injuries and the fact that Landry Fields appeared completely lost. But the bench couldn’t hold the advantage that the starters staked them to, and the gap closed to 23-21 after one quarter. It got worse, too, as the Billups-less, Stoudemire-less Knicks took a 45-44 lead into the break, thanks to Anthony’s 16 points and 10 rebounds in the first half.
Knicks wipe the glass clean: How did the Knicks shoot just 35.6 percent from the field for the game and actually lead a playoff game in the final minute? Well, they grabbed 20 of their 53 rebounds on the offensive end. By contrast, the Celtics had 37 rebounds (9 offensively). It’s been a problem all season long for the Celtics, and continued to be in Game 2 — despite facing a Knicks team that’s been poor in that respect.
|Speaking with the enemy: Celtics vs. Knicks||04.15.11 at 2:09 pm ET|
First question: Despite being 0-3 against the Celtics, the Knicks seem pretty confident. Why?
Date: Wednesday, April 13, 2:20 p.m.
Subject: RE: Celtics-Knicks
From: Seth Rosenthal
To: Ben Rohrbach
Well, a few things. First of all, the guys you hear talking are Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. They’re nothing if not confident. Amar’e unblinkingly called Pau Gasol “soft” the other day, and thought nothing of it. These guys like to talk. To some degree, they’re qualified. Those three all have meaningful playoff experience, and more or less know what it takes to win a playoff series against a good team.
Moreover, each of those three losses included some sort of silver lining. One of ’em was tenths of a second short of being a win, and the most recent one was dominated by the Knicks until the Celtics woke up in the fourth quarter (that might actually be more foreboding than promising, but…).
Maybe it’s got something to do with the Celtics’ struggles of late. The Knicks might smell blood in the water, or some other sort of predatory analogy. What’s the deal with that, by the way? Does this strike those who know the Celtics as another late-season stretch of playing possum before a sudden surge in the playoffs, or does the slide seem to have some inertia?
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