|Preview: Bucks at Celtics||11.03.10 at 11:54 am ET|
As the 2009-10 season entered the final stretch, the team that none of the Eastern Conference contenders wanted to play in the first round was the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks went 10-4 in February and 11-4 in March, but on the night of April, 3 Andrew Bogut lost control during a dunk and landed with a sickening thud, injuring his right hand, elbow and wrist.
Bogut had surgery on his broken hand a week later and missed the rest of the season and the playoffs. Even without their center, who was named third-team All-NBA, the Bucks still took the Hawks to seven games in the first round. The Celtics missed matching up with Milwaukee after Miami beat New Jersey in overtime on the regular season’s final day making the Bogut injury an interesting what-if?
The Celtics didn’t really hit their stride until halfway through the Cavaliers series. Would they have even advanced that far against a healthy Bucks team? Would they be back as currently constituted if they had bombed out in the first round?
Bogut has returned, although he told the Journal-Sentinel that he doesn’t think he’ll be 100 percent this season. In four games this season, Bogut is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes a night. But Bogut isn’t the only Milwaukee player dealing with an injury. John Salmons sat out the entire preseason with a sprained knee and he has struggled early.
The Bucks were a surprisingly active player last summer, re-signing Salmons and adding Drew Gooden, while trading for Corey Maggette. Those moves suggested that the Bucks are trying to win now, and while they are off to a slow start they have the pieces to be in the East’s next tier of contenders behind Boston, Miami and Orlando.
This is the second night of a back-to-back for the Celtics as they enter a stretch of five games in seven days. They handled their business against Detroit in surprisingly easy fashion Tuesday and will look to build upon that performance tonight.
Offensive Rating: 97.0 (28th)
Defensive Rating: 102.3 (8th)
Pace: 90.2 (28th)
Probable Starters: Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Carlos Delfino, Drew Gooden, Andrew Bogut
Injuries: Michael Redd (Knee, out), Chris Douglas-Roberts (Eye, out), Darlington Hobson (Hip, out)
Offensive Rating: 105.6 (15th)
Defensive Rating: 98.2 (4th)
Pace: 92.1 (25th)
KEY MATCHUP: Brandon Jennings vs. Rajon Rondo
Rondo has decimated the opposition in the first four games, racking up 67 assists, the best four-game start in NBA history. Jennings is among a crop of young, talented point guards trying to make their own name in the league.
While still only 24 years old, Rondo has already ascended to the top tier which also consists of Chris Paul and Deron Williams. The order depends on your perspective. The challenge for Rondo this season is to play at a high level every night because he has gone from the hunter to the hunted.
KEY NUMBER: Field goal percentage
The big problem for the Bucks is that they are shooting 40 percent in their first four games. The only perimeter player who has shot a consistently high percentage has been Carlos Delfino, who 15-for-31 from 3-point range. Jennings, Salmons and Maggette have all struggled with their shooting, although Maggette is 29-for-29 from the free throw line.
The Celtics are off to a solid defensive start in all phases. They will need to continue to clamp down on the Bucks scorers and hit the glass when the shots are off.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This is a chance for the Celtics to build some early-season momentum. They play the Bulls Friday and then hit the road for games at Oklahoma City, Dallas, Miami and Memphis. The players have talked about reestablishing their home court advantage and the next few games would be a good time to start.
|Irish Coffee: Did Kevin Garnett go too far?||at 11:04 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
First, the evidence, which is circumstantial so far, considering it comes from Charlie Villanueva‘s Twitter account. Still, here are the pointed comments the Detroit Pistons wingman made about Kevin Garnett between 2 and 3 a.m. this morning …
- “KG talks alot of crap, he’s prob never been in a fight, I would love to get in a ring with him, I will expose him”
- “KG called me a cancer patient, I’m pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he’s tossing it like it’s a joke.”
- “I wouldn’t even trip about that, but a cancer patient, I know way 2 many people who passed away from it, and I have a special place 4 those.”
Villanueva suffers from alopecia universalis, a skin disease that results in hair loss on the scalp. He won the 2006 Community Assist Award for his work as a spokesman for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
If Villanueva’s accusations are proven to be true, man, he’s sure gone too far this time.
In his time with the Celtics, he’s had some notable taunting episodes with Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless — among countless others. He’s been suspended for striking Andrew Bogut and Quentin Richardson.
But this would be the worst of them all.
Talk about a low blow. There may not be a person alive who hasn’t been touched by cancer, and that includes Garnett. I’m not saying he was badmouthing cancer. He’s done his share of charity work — including when he made a dream come true for one 17-year-old kid who was suffering from the disease. Still, it would be a bad choice of words. A terrible choice of words.
Sure, this stuff might be said on a nightly basis in the NBA, but does that make it right?
Whether he likes or not, by wearing Celtics green, Garnett represents the city of Boston — the same city where the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was founded.
If KG indeed made a comment about Villanueva being a cancer patient, an apology — at the very least — is in order. A charitable donation to Dana-Farber wouldn’t hurt, either.
GUARDING RAJON RONDO
HoopSpeak’s Beckley Mason suggested setting up a trap against Rondo, denying him the ball to force the offense through his teammates, dare him to score 40 points, or, at the very least, guard him close …
In his phenomenal 24 assist game, Rondo only had one assist on a pure dribble drive. Three were on cuts or catch-and-slashes, five were on fast breaks, five came from just handling the ball and finding an open shooter coming off a screen and 11 were out of the pick and pop or roll. So how smart of a strategy is applying no pressure to Rondo when he’s more than happy to hook up his skilled teammates?
After discussing the issue with NBA Analyst David Thorpe, TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott agreed wholeheartedly — guard Rondo, closely, or allow him to do “whatever he wants.” Here’s how Thorpe told Abbott he would guard the C’s record-setter …
I’d get in his face. You can go with size, or you can go with speed. But either way I’d try to hunt like lions do. One lioness goes out there and chases the prey right into the trap, where the other lions are waiting. I wouldn’t need my one defender to keep him on the perimeter — that’s impossible — but you can at least push him to places on the floor where things might be tougher for him.
For instance, almost every team knows almost every other team’s play calls. So you know which direction he wants to go as he crosses midcourt. I’d look at the data and see, of the different way he approaches the hoop, which areas of the floor, or approaches to the rim, give him the most trouble. Then I’d steer him there, with my best help defenders and shot-blockers ready to meet him.
Then I’d mix it up. Keep him from getting comfortable. Out of timeouts, you might try someone else on him. If he brings the ball up the left side of the floor, maybe have the defense ready to force him to a different spot. Keep him from getting comfortable. It might not work, but sagging off him all night, that’s clearly not working. At least you give yourself a shot. Maybe you can force a few more turnovers, and inspire a few more tough shots. That can turn a game.
There are a few problems with these theories: 1) You actually have to have someone on your team quick enough to guard Rondo up close; 2) If you’re throwing multiple defenders at him, that leaves guys open (and Rondo will find them); 3) You can deny Rondo the ball all you want, but the Celtics are going to find a way to get it into his hands; and 4) How do you dare him to score 40 points, other than to sag off of him defensively?
In other Rondo news, last night he became just the 16th player since 1986 to record at least 17 assists without a turnover. Celtics coach Doc Rivers actually did it in 2002 with the Hawks. John Stockton actually achieved that feat three separate times against the C’s.
RICK CRAZY LIKE A FOX
After getting booted from “Dancing with the Stars” last night, former Celtic and Laker Rick Fox said dancing on the show was harder than Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Of course, he never played a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, but still …
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)
|The Three-Pointer: Backup Bigs Boost C’s||11.02.10 at 10:43 pm ET|
And they responded.
Getting his first start of the season, Jermaine O’Neal totaled 12 points in 21 minutes during last night’s 109-86 win over the Detroit Pistons, despite dealing with a few nagging injuries that kept him out of Friday night’s game against the New York Knicks.
From the start, J.O. set an early tone with aggressive defense — blocking two first-quarter shots while also picking up a pair of fouls that kept him from completely getting into a rhythm.
As a result, O’Neal started slow offensively, but kept finding open spots. Eventually, his knack to find the right place was rewarded by Rajon Rondo at the right times — leading to a 5-of-8 shooting night.
In O’Neal’s absence, Erden also blocked a pair of Pistons attempts, picked up three rebounds and ran the floor for a wide-open dunk. The latter was a shining example of the energy the Turk played with throughout his 15 minutes on the floor.
Most importantly, Erden looked as though he belonged on an NBA floor.
The first-half play of Erden could be the best sign for the Celtics future, as he showed that the potential to spell both O’Neals — who, as we know, will need their share of spelling. That leaves Glen Davis to continue giving Kevin Garnett his rest, limiting minutes for all three veteran big men over the course of the 82-game season.
Of course, any excitement over the play of J.O. and Semih last night can be tempered by the fact that they played the Pistons, who by the looks of things should be one of the worst five teams in the league.
It’s important to note, too, that both bigs faded as the game went on. Erden did all of his damage in the first half, and O’Neal grabbed only two rebounds in his time on the floor. It’s no coincidence that Shaq’s absence led to the Celtics getting out-rebounded for the first time all season.
But it was a start — literally, a start in place of Perkins and Shaq. And any time the C’s can win without those two, it’s a good sign. After all, that’s what they’re here for.
WHAT IS RONDO’S CEILING?
In the last 28 seasons, only nine players have led the NBA in assists: John Stockton (9 seasons), Jason Kidd (5 seasons), Steve Nash (4 seasons), Magic Johnson (4 seasons), Chris Paul (2 seasons) Isaiah Thomas (once), Mark Jackson (once), Rod Strickland (once) and Andre Miller (once).
Of those nine players, only Stockton managed to average 12 assists or more. Through the first four games, Rondo has totaled 67 assists, and nobody in the history of the league has done that. He totaled 17 assists last night, and his average only moved from 16.5 to 16.8 per game.
Currently, only one other player in the NBA is averaging more than 10 assists, and that’s Kidd at 11.7. There’s no doubt that Rondo’s departure from the USA team and all the talk about who’s the best point guard in the league -Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose – lit a fire under the Celtics point guard.
And did anybody else notice Rondo’s pull-up, knock-down, 17-foot jumper in the first half? If he ever gets that going, there’s no telling how good he’ll be this season. I’m talking MVP consideration. Even without the scoring — just 10.8 points per game — he’s already the story of this NBA season (unless you count the off-the-court hype of the Miami Heat).
WANTED: DELONTE WEST
The Celtics got little to nothing from their backup guards behind Rondo and Ray Allen. The starting duo combined for 25 points and 20 assists. Von Wafer and Nate Robinson? They combined for a whopping four points in 27 minutes between them.
Marquis Daniels has really been the lone bright spot at guard from the bench. He totaled nine points and four rebounds, but Doc has used him mainly at the 3 in smaller lineups this season.
Simply based on their play, we should’ve known better than to think Danny Ainge might cut Delonte West after his reported scuffle with Wafer late last week. I’m sure Doc is counting the games until West can return to the lineup. He’s now served four games of the 10-game suspension.
|Fast Break: Rondo, C’s pound Pistons||at 10:04 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo became the only player in NBA history to record 67 assists through four games, leading the Celtics to a 109-86, wire-to-wire victory over the winless Detroit Pistons. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce scored 22 and 21 points for the C’s (3-1), respectively, as five Boston players reached double figures.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT
1. Taking care of the ball: After averaging 19 turnovers in their first three games, the Celtics committed just two turnovers in the first half and eight for the entire game.
Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett had been the C’s biggest culprits, averaging nine giveaways between them through three contests. Last night, though, neither committed a turnover in a total of 69 minutes on the floor.
2. Spread the wealth: The Celtics totaled 33 assists on 42 field goals in the victory. Rondo, of course, led the way with 17 dishes, while Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson each chipped in three dimes.
By contrast, the Pistons managed just 11 assists on 35 field goals for the game. Detroit’s starting point guard, Rodney Stuckey, had just two assists in 38 minutes on the floor.
3. They played the Pistons: Facing little to nothing in the way of defense, the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field, scoring 67 of their 109 points in the paint. KG and Pierce combined to shoot 17-of-25 from the floor (68 percent), getting open look after open look around the basket. Of course, it also helped that the Celtics made all 18 of their free throws on the night.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG
1. Technical difficulty: While Glen Davis played well – totaling 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes – he picked up a technical midway through the first quarter. Doc Rivers was noticeably upset, as the C’s are attempting to make a concerted effort not to pick up cheap techs as a result of the new rules.
2. Getting out-rebounded: Rivers has made rebounding a focus for the Celtics early in the season, and they had owned a plus-six margin entering last night’s game. However, the Pistons out-rebounded the Celtics, 38-36. No Celtics reached double digits in rebounds, as KG led the team with six.
3. Bench depth: Big contributions from Big Baby off the bench have become an expectation, and he delivered again. But other than a few bright spots from Semih Erden, the C’s got very little from the rest of their reserves – as Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, Luke Harangody and Erden combined for 19 points in 61 total minutes.
The lack of contribution from the bench led to the Pistons nearly bringing a 20-point lead to single digits – forcing Rivers to bring the starters back in for the majority of the fourth quarter.
|Jermaine O’Neal, Rajon Rondo and Tiger Woods||11.01.10 at 4:46 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Jermaine O’Neal admitted following practice on Monday that he’s been a disappointment so far, in part because of injuries that have affected his conditioning.
‘It’s been challenging,” O’Neal said of his slew of injuries. “Obviously, the hamstring, the back a little bit, the wrist, now the knee so it’s been extremely disappointing for me so far. But obviously, trials and tribulations will make you stronger and you have to take that as you never can be successful if you don’t fail. So far, I haven’t been able do things out there that I want to do out there.”
The 31-year-old O’Neal, who practiced with the first team and will play on Tuesday in Detroit, was signed in early July to a two-year, $12 million deal. He played in the first two games, scoring just three points, before swelling in his left knee sidelined him for the game against the Knicks last Friday.
‘I know the people that are happy about me aren’t happy quite yet with what they’ve seen but I can guarantee that before the year is over with, they’ll be really happy with my play and it’s just about finding ways of getting yourself going.’
Rajon Rondo, the Eastern Conference player of the Week for Week 1 after dishing 50 assists in three games, dressed up as Tiger Woods to win the team’s award for best Halloween costume on Sunday. ‘We did a little vote on it Rondo won for being Tiger Woods,” captain Paul Pierce said. As for the video of Shaquille O’Neal as Shaqeeta, his drag costume for Halloween that is making the rounds on the internet and local TV, ‘No, I haven’t seen it,” Pierce added. “I’ll have to check it out.’
|Fast Break: Celtics Rondo the Knicks||10.29.10 at 10:06 pm ET|
The best thing to happen to Doc Rivers Friday night was Rajon Rondo. Watching his All-Star point guard dissect the Knicks for a career-high 24 assists helped him forget about an ugly occurrence just hours earlier.
Before his team and Rondo beat the Knicks, 105-101, at TD Garden, he had to answer questions about an altercation between Delonte West and Von Wafer earlier in the day after a shootaround – an altercation that Rivers acknowledged by saying “There was a fight. I ‘m not real happy about it. We’ll deal with it.”
Wafer did play, albeit only three minutes off the bench, committing one foul and missing one shot from the floor.
The Celtics trailed by nine early as the Knicks came out shooting well but the Green recovered quickly and led 27-20 after the first. They didn’t trail again and led by as many as 12.
The Celtics are off until Tuesday when they play in Detroit.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon is Rondo-ing everyone right now: The point guard had a career 24 assists and is clearly the team leader. No one in an opposing uniform can seem to keep up with him in the half-court. About the only thing Rondo is doing wrong now is making passes that are so good, his teammates don’t always anticipate them, like Marquis Daniels midway through the fourth. Rondo’s 24 assists were the second-most in Celtics history, trailing only Bob Cousy’s 28. To put a cherry on the sundae, Rondo finished with a triple double, adding 10 points and 10 rebounds to his astronomical helper total.
Celtics dominated the paint: Thanks to the work of Rondo, the C’s went to the paint early and often and kept going there consistently throughout the game. They finished the game outscoring the Knicks, 54-38, in the paint. Glen Davis had 16 points off the bench, a huge contributor to the 54-point total.
Celtics found their shooting range: Paul Pierce shot 9-of-20 – including 4-of-6 from long distance – and finished with a team-high 25 points while Kevin Garnett made 12-of-17 from the floor and finished with 24. Shaquille O’Neal connected on 5-of-7, all from in close as the Celtics finished around the basket.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG
Still too many turnovers: Despite talking about the issue before the game, Doc Rivers had to sit on the bench and watch as his team committed another 18 turnovers. The Celtics have now committed 55 turnovers in their first three games. The turnovers were the biggest reason a team like the Knicks, who shot only 44 percent, were able to close to within two with 17.5 seconds remaining on an Amar’e Stoudemire three.
Celtics look their age coming out of the block: That has be a huge concern considering they are starting the season fresh. They are getting beat in two aspects of the game the Celtics of the last three seasons have dominated. They are getting beat on rotations, allowing the ball to find its way to the open shooter and too often they are getting beaten in transition. When Rajon Rondo is trailing on defense, you have a serious issue to address.
Big men are knicked up: With 5:11 left in the fourth, Shaquille O’Neal left for the locker room limping. Already without Jermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins, the C’s can hardly afford to lose another big man or they run the risk of burning out Big Baby who looks as fresh as he has in his career. Shaq did not return to the game. He bruised his right knee when he banged into Stoudemire. He said after the game that he would be fine and not miss any time. Jermaine O’Neal meanwhile is day-to-day with swelling in his left knee, an ailment that cropped up after the loss in Cleveland.
|Irish Coffee: Vin Baker Comes Clean||at 10:37 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Six years after the Boston Celtics terminated him for violating his alcohol treatment program, a near-broke Vin Baker has come to terms with how alcoholism and depression squandered a 13-year career — and an $87 million contract.
While promoting a book he’s written about his ordeal, Baker admitted in an appearance on Connecticut’s Stan Simpson Show that he began to recognize the existence of a problem before the 2002 trade that sent him from the Seattle SuperSonics to the Celtics.
“Towards the end of my Seattle career, when I was traded to Boston, I knew something was going on that I had to change,” Baker told Simpson. “At the time, I really couldn’t change it, because it’s a disease. It affects 18 million Americans. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on. I had to fix it. It was a situation where the support system around me was tough.”
Irish coffee, indeed.
One season removed from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2001-02, the Celtics had hoped Baker could return to some semblance of the player that made four straight All-Star Games from 1995-98 and won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.
In Boston, Baker sunk deeper into the diseases that had already derailed a promising career. In just 89 games over two seasons, he averaged only 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds before being suspended from the team when coach Jim O’Brien smelled alcohol on his breath during a practice. Baker said he wanted to change, but couldn’t.
“I had to figure out a way to make it right,” Baker said in his appearance on the Connecticut FOX affiliate. “I couldn’t make it right. The Celtics — a great organization — they worked with me, but with my issues I didn’t take the time I needed to take to make it right.”
It’s a shame Baker’s career fell off so sharply and abruptly, considering that four-year stretch — averaging 19.7 points and 9.6 rebounds — before a 1998-99 NBA lockout that saw the New England native balloon to 300 pounds.
“When you’re doing certain things on the court, a lot of times people just trust your talents,” Baker added in the interview. “They don’t know what’s going on inside your heart and your mind, and it becomes very difficult to relay to people that, you know, I might be struggling with something. Entertainers, basketball players, NFL players – sometimes it gets to a point where they don’t understand who you are as a person. They just look at the money, the power, the fame.”
SCALABRINE ON THIBODEAU
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Brian Scalabrine revealed what made Tom Thibodeau such a valuable asset in Celtic practices over the last few seasons: The C’s assistant coach and defensive guru wasn’t afraid of anybody, including Kevin Garnett.
“He likes KG, and KG loves Thibodeau, but he stared right at Garnett and said, ‘We’re doing it this way, you have to do it better, do it harder, and do it more together or I’m going to have to make a change,'” Scalabrine told the Tribune. “If coach Thibodeau can do that to Kevin Garnett, he can do that to anybody.”
The question moving forward is — when this year’s Celtics suffer defensive lapses — can Lawrence Frank do the same to guys like KG and the O’Neal brothers? Time will tell.
By the way, if you’re wondering how Scalabrine is performing in Chicago, the answer is: Just fine, thank you very much. He’s shooting 100 percent from the field. Of course, he’s only taken one shot in 11 minutes.
Oh, and my new favorite Twitter personality to follow is @FakeScalabrine. Over the last few days, he’s given us gems like: “Shaq is picking up my slack with the missed layups,” and, “Watching Nate clank threes and just thinking, ‘Man, that could be me.'”
SI: GARNETT GOING STRONG
Speaking of Garnett, Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Mannix details just how much KG’s knee problems affected his play last year — and how far he’s come since.
One Eastern Conference scout told Mannix that he thought KG was “finished” last season after seeing Andray Blatche score 23 points on the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year.
“Offensively, he understood what he could or couldn’t do,” Doc Rivers told Mannix of last season. “He had become a pick-and-pop player. It frustrated him that he couldn’t post more. He couldn’t get his balance. Defensively, guys were driving by him, beating him off the dribble. He couldn’t get blocked shots.”
“Watching Kevin now is like night and day from last season,” Rivers added in the interview. “In camp last year, I thought he was physically healthy, but mentally he wasn’t sure. He was scared to do things.”
One of the driving forces behind KG’s return to the old KG was Pau Gasol’s 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in the 2010 NBA Finals.
“Gasol having that good series,” Rivers added, “really ticked Kevin off.”
RONDO’S NEW SHOE
Nike revealed a new shoe: Zoom Hyperfuse Rajon Rondo PE. What do you think?
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)