|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s triple-double helps Celtics past Spurs||01.05.11 at 10:15 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo recorded his second triple-double of the season — totaling 22 assists, 12 points and 10 rebounds — as the Celtics handed the Spurs just their sixth lost all season, 105-103, at the TD Garden on Wednesday night. And they did it without Kevin Garnett.
The Celtics (27-7) and Spurs (29-6) have the two best records in the NBA, and the C’s moved one step closer to San Antonio thanks to 31 points from Ray Allen, a season-high 23 from Glen Davis and 18 from Paul Pierce.
Allen missed a pair of free throws in the final seconds, but Pierce blocked a last-second Manu Ginobili attempt to secure the victory.
What Went Right
Rajon Rondo dished it out: Rondo had 10 assists … with five minutes to go in the second quarter. Needless to say, he guided the offense as he had before missing seven games with a sprained ankle, finding the open man with Tom Brady-like regularity. The Celtics’ 46-of-75 (61.3 percent) shooting was evidence of that.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Rondo delivered 22 assists. Pierce and Allen were the biggest benefactors, knocking down a combined 20-of-26 field goals on the night.
Ray Allen came to play: Allen hit seven of his first 10 shots to enter the locker room with a team-high 14 points at the break. While both the Celtics and Spurs struggled to generate offense during long stretches in the first half, Allen remained consistent. He finished with 31 points on 13-of-16 shooting.
Big Baby won the battle of the Big Bodies: In a battle of undersized (in terms of height, not waistline) power forwards who weren’t projected to be NBA talents despite their college success, Davis (6-foot-9, 290 pounds) owned DeJuan Blair (6-foot-7, 270 pounds). Starting at power forward in place of the injured Garnett, Davis produced 23 points. Blair, also starting, had just two points.
What Went Wrong
The bench: The starters were all forced to play big minutes because Marquis Daniels, Luke Harangody, Von Wafer & Co. couldn’t hold down a lead. In fact, those three guys combined for six points. Nate Robinson and Jermaine O’Neal had 11 between them, but that paled in comparison to the Spurs’ 27 bench points — highlighted, of course, by New Hampshire’s own Matt Bonner (10 points).
Offensive rebounding: It’s worth mentioning again, because it’s been an ongoing problem for the Celtics all season. Entering their game against the Spurs, the C’s had given up 80 more offensive rebounds than their opponents. And Wednesday night’s game didn’t help, as San Antonio out-rebounded Boston on the offensive glass, 15-5.
Jermaine O’Neal fouled out: O’Neal recorded more fouls (6) than rebounds (5). That’s not good. That meant Shaquille O’Neal played down the stretch of a close game, and considering he was 0-for-3 from the free-throw line, that could have hurt them. It didn’t, but it could’ve. A stretch? Probably, considering the effort the C’s put forth against the team with the NBA’s best record — without Garnett.
|Paul Pierce ‘forgot’ Rajon Rondo was back playing||01.04.11 at 9:45 am ET|
Rajon Rondo can be the quiet type in the locker room but when he’s on the court everyone knows he’s out there by his leadership and presence — at least almost everyone.
Doc Rivers pulled Paul Pierce aside at halftime during Monday night’s survival test against Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves and reminded him that he didn’t need to run the offense and distribute when Rondo was on the court.
All good intentions aside, getting others involved wasn’t working out that well for Pierce and the Celtics. He had just five points and had handed out just one assist as the C’s trailed, 47-43.
‘Doc at the half wanted me to be a little more aggressive,” Pierce said. “I was out there trying to make plays and I forgot that we had Rondo out there doing that so I can go back to my customary role of scoring the ball. That’s what I tried to do in the second half.’
As any coach would, Rivers wanted Pierce to do what he does best.
‘I thought Paul in the first half tried way too hard to get everybody else involved,” Rivers said of his captain, who leads the team at 19.0 points per game. “And I told him that at halftime. I said, ‘Paul, you no longer have to be the play maker. We need you to be the aggressive scorer.’ And even he, right after the game he walked up to me and it was the first thing he said was, ‘Ah, gosh, I was, I was way too passive.’
“I said, ‘Yeah, I just thought you were trying to set everybody else up,'” Rivers continued. “Consciously, you know, twice he had shots and he passed it to Nate [Robinson]. Nate’s struggling with his shot right now, but I still want Paul to shoot the ball if he’s open. And I just thought he did a little too much of that tonight.’
Pierce heard Rivers loud and clear after the intermission, remembered that Rondo was indeed in his second game back, and lit up the T’Wolves for 18 second-half points as the Celtics rallied for a 96-93 win.
Once Pierce did allow Rondo to run the show, Pierce and the rest of the team reaped the rewards.
“We got Ray [Allen] open, I thought that was the key,” Pierce said. “Rondo really pushed the ball. Got some really good looks. Defense buckled down so we were able to make a run and get back into the game. Rondo with a big shot and some big passes [to] [Shaquille O’Neal] and that’s what he’s capable of doing and that’s why I’m glad to have him back.”
Observers might have wondered if his sprained right ankle from Sunday night in Toronto might have been affecting his play in the first half.
‘A little bit. I was a little stiff, slow,” Pierce admitted. “But, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Just going to get treatment throughout the week. I don’t see any problems coming up.’
That’s good news for Wednesday as the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs come calling at the Garden. In that matchup, thanks to the second half of Monday’s contest, no one will need to remind Pierce about Rondo when No. 9 is on the court.
|Delonte West gets some really good news about his right wrist||01.03.11 at 11:16 pm ET|
When Delonte West fell after a made lay-up against New Jersey on Nov. 24 at TD Garden, he and the Celtics feared the worst about his right wrist. It was a nasty fracture that appeared to – at the least – end his regular season.
But that perspective changed on Monday.
Calling it a big step, West had the hard cast protecting his healing right wrist removed on Monday, the first step of what he hopes could be a return on or shortly after the All-Star break. It was replaced with a brace to allow him some ability to start moving it for light rehab.
“It’s feels stiff but it’s not painful,” West said. “I got great news from doctors. They said maybe three weeks [then] rehabilitation. I’ve already started out conditioning, ball-handling. I’m left-handed anyway. Fortunately, I’m left handed anyway so I able to get shots on my left hand. It’s just a matter of time before I gain game strength in this one.
“Today is Day 1. I got a lot accomplished,” he said of Monday’s milestone in recovery.
“I can’t wait to get back out there,” West said. “It’s killing me sitting back here and rooting from the sidelines but we all have a position to play and right now mine is getting healthy and getting ready to contribute.”
The initial timetable called for West to return in time for the playoffs but West said he’s hopeful for a return after the All-Star break.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” West admitted before sounding a hopeful but realistic tone. “I’m praying and I’m trying my best to get back before then. But the trainers and the coaching staff, they’re really trying not to rush me but I think I’m really rushing myself right now.”
As for his biggest test, that will come after his rehabilitation, which is still three weeks away.
“I guess it would be lifting but first I have to regain movement but picking up weights and catching a basketball,” West said. “I think right now the biggest fear is falling and having to extend [the wrist]. Today is Day 1, the cast is off. It’s a good day and it’s all uphill from here.”
|Fast Break: Celtics outlast Minnesota||at 10:05 pm ET|
The Celtics won’t get any style points for their 96-93 win over the Minnesota (recap), but no one will care about that in April. And after not closing out a similar game against New Orleans in their last home game, it was a win they were happy to get.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paul Pierce came alive: After a dreadful start, Paul Pierce made his first shot with two minutes left in the first half. The second half was a completely different story as he made 5-of-8 shots and scored 15 points in the third quarter. Pierce made only one shot in the fourth quarter, but it was a huge 3-pointer.
He finished with 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and a very smart foul in the final seconds that prevented Michael Beasley from getting a good look at a 3-pointer.
Von Wafer: Wafer had his best stretch of minutes this season in the second quarter when he scored four points and emerged as the Celtics’ best rebounder (this was not a difficult honor to achieve on Monday). Still, Wafer showed some of the ability that has kept him employed by the Celtics this season. His timing couldn’t have been better because the deadline to guarantee contracts for the season is approaching next week.
Rajon Rondo is finding his groove: It seems clear that Rondo isn’t 100 percent back to being Rondo. Before the game Doc Rivers suggested that Rondo’s ankle would probably bother him all year. What remains to be seen is if he can recapture his explosiveness. He only took four shots and rarely drove to the basket.
But even in a reduced role, Rondo is still a great facilitator (he had 16 assists) and adept at finding, and exploiting mismatches. He worked Shaquille O’Neal against Kostas Koufos every time the opportunity presented itself.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rebounding: This was predictable. Kevin Love is the best rebounding forward in the league and the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett, who is the second best. But, the Celtics got killed on both the offensive and defensive glass and Love had more rebounds (15) in the first half than the Celtics had as a team (14).
But the Celtics also got killed on the defensive glass for the second night in a row, which is not something they can afford to have happen. Even without Garnett.
Glen Davis tried to do too much, again: Love destroyed Davis on the boards, and Davis didn’t do himself any favors by getting into foul trouble and launching too many jump shots. It has been a rough transition into the starting lineup for Davis, who had a not-as-good-as-it-looked line of 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting. One rebound in 30 minutes told a much different story.
Bench woes: In 29 minutes of court time, Nate Robinson and Luke Harangody took eight shots between them. They missed all of them. Neither player registered an assist, either. Thankfully for the Celtics, Wafer supplied some offense and a whole lot of energy off the bench. Robinson did make two clutch free throws in the final seconds to put the Celtics up by three for the game’s final margin.
|Irish Coffee: Who means most to Celtics’ success?||at 11:42 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Add Paul Pierce‘s sprained ankle to the ever-growing list of injuries that have plagued the Celtics through their first 32 games this season.
Following Sunday’s 93-79 victory in Toronto against the Raptors, Doc Rivers told reporters, “We have a game [Monday] night, so he’ll be OK.” But it was another “not again” moment that reminded Celtics fans of the team’s fragility.
It also reminded me of this article from the Los Angeles Times, which made the following statement:
Rajon Rondo, their lone indispensable player, has an ankle injury and has been out three times but keeps returning before he’s 100 percent.
Is Rondo really their only indispensable player? Could they legitimately reach their goal of an 18th NBA title without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or — for that matter — any of the starters who are undefeated as a unit in the playoffs?
That’s when I decided to look at the Celtics’ record with and without each player in the lineup during The New Big Three era. Here’s how it shakes out with and without each guy (winning percentages in parentheses):
- Paul Pierce … With: 195-69 (.739); Without: 8-6 (.571)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .168
- Rajon Rondo … With: 191-68 (.738); Without: 12-7 (.632)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .106
- Kevin Garnett … With: 169-58 (.745); Without: 34-17 (.667)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .078
- Ray Allen … With: 192-72 (.727); Without: 11-3 (.786)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.059
- Kendrick Perkins … With: 167-65 (.720); Without: 36-10 (.783)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.063
Based on these numbers, Pierce has been the most valuable player on the team over the last three-plus regular seasons. Not Rondo. It’s also interesting to note the Celtics’ success without Allen or Perkins in the lineup.
One thing is certainly clear: Pierce, Rondo and Garnett are all indispensable. Well, at least that L.A. Times piece gave us one interesting note:
From the last four openers to Christmas Eve, Boston has gone an astounding 94-14 … a 71-win pace. Not even the Bill Russell teams that won 11 titles in 13 seasons ever did as well in that time frame.
The Celtics’ best four-year opener-to-Christmas Eve run in the Russell era was 94-26 from 1959-1962. Even posting win totals of 72-69-62 in Michael Jordan‘s last three seasons, the Bulls were 64-14 before Christmas.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, after the last three Christmases, they went 84-54 when injuries hit … as they have once more.
Just for fun, let’s look at the same numbers for each of the top-10 rotation players for this year’s team. How have the 2010-11 Celtics performed in their absences, taking into account the relatively small sample size?
- Kevin Garnett … With: 24-6 (.800); Without: 1-1 (.500)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .300
- Rajon Rondo … With: 18-3 (.857); Without: 7-4 (.636)
Winning percentage discrepancy: .221
- Shaquille O’Neal … With: 17-6 (.739); Without: 8-1 (.889)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.150
- Delonte West … With: 3-2 (.600); Without: 22-5 (.815)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.215
- Jermaine O’Neal … With: 7-5 (.583); Without: 18-2 (.900)
Winning percentage discrepancy: –.317
The order of these players’ importance to the Celtics is certainly not surprising, but one thing is: How little an impact Jermaine O’Neal has had on this team. The Celtics have been a significantly better team when he doesn’t see the floor.
PAUL PIERCE THE COMEDIAN
On his Twitter page, Pierce made no mention of how his ankle was feeling on Monday morning, but he did offer this: “Excuse me I need to get thru please” — accompanied by the following video …
|Fast Break: Rondo’s return helps rally Celtics past Raptors||01.02.11 at 8:31 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo returned to the Celtics lineup after missing seven games with a severely sprained ankle, and while he wasn’t in top form, he had a definite impact on the Celtics, who snapped out of their recent funk with a 93-79 victory over Toronto on Sunday night. (Recap.)
The Celtics outscored Toronto 50-37 in the second half and shot 54 percent. Their double-digit win was even more impressive when you consider they also allowed 19 offensive rebounds. There’s no rest for the Celtics, who play the Timberwolves in Boston Monday night, but this was a much-needed win after two weeks of struggles.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon Rondo returned: The Celtics led 13-8 after six minutes and Rondo was feeling so good he even busted out his fake behind-the-back layup move. Then he picked up his second foul and went to the bench. So long, early lead. Rondo played nine more minutes in the second quarter and went the whole way in the third as the Celtics opened up a nine-point lead.
Rondo wasn’t great — four points, eight assists, five turnovers in 33 minutes — but you could see the difference in how the Celtics got into sets quicker and the passing was much crisper. In the third quarter, the Celtics made 12-of-17 shots and had assists on 10 of them. That’s the kind of impact Rondo has on a game.
Paul Pierce made amends: Pierce had a bad game against the Hornets on Friday afternoon. It happens. Pierce took the extra step of taking the blame for the loss, which wasn’t necessary, but was in line with his role as team leader. You know what speaks more loudly? Taking over the next game. In the first half, when the Celtics were struggling for offense, Pierce scored 20 of their 42 points. That’s leadership.
Center depth: Shaquille O’Neal got in foul trouble again, which is like saying the sun rose in the east. The good thing for Doc Rivers was that he had options. Rivers kept Shaq in the game after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and the big guy was able to convert a layup. He could afford to take the risk because he knew he had Jermaine O’Neal waiting behind him and Semih Erden, if necessary.
The O’Neals combined for 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, which is exactly the kind of production they need from the position.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Glen Davis continues to struggle: It’s not that Davis hasn’t been able to do a decent Kevin Garnett impersonation. He hasn’t even been able to be Big Baby the last game and a half. Davis seems to be fighting himself as he adjusts to his new role as a starter, but after starting the game by missing eight of nine shots, Davis came alive in the third quarter.
He finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in what might have been the best bad game anyone on the Celtics has played this season.
Transition defense: This has become the new watchword for Rivers, and the Celtics are struggling a bit in terms of getting back on defense. They gave up 27 fast-break points against Toronto, who is one of the fastest teams in the league in terms of pace. The Celtics play a number of young teams over the next few weeks and you can believe they will want to get out and run, rather than try to go toe-to-toe with the bruising Celtics.
Defensive rebounding: Attention, Celtics big men: Kevin Love is waiting for you on Monday. You might want to tighten up on the boards.
|Paul Pierce pulls no punches: ‘I really didn’t come to play’||12.31.10 at 7:55 pm ET|
Paul Pierce did what a captain usually does after an emotional loss, one without two stars in the lineup.
After scoring just 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 36 minutes of an 83-81 loss to the Hornets Friday, Pierce was not about to make excuses for a team that was missing Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. As a matter of fact, he put most of the blame squarely on his own shoulders.
“Maybe Paul Pierce has to do a better job in stepping up his game,” Pierce said in third person. “I really didn’t come to play to today, evident when you look up, six turnovers, but we only lose by two. The responsibility is on the guys out on the floor.
‘Regardless of the injuries, I’ve [said before] injuries are going to happen. Regardless of the injuries, we’ve still got to show up to play. There’s no moral victories’¦and the guys that we put out there have got to be ready. We’re on the home court with guys who know how to play the game’¦a game that we feel like we should win.”
The Celtics used an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter to open an 73-66 lead with under seven minutes remaining, only to see the Hornets outscore them, 17-8, down the stretch.
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