|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.)
|Doc Rivers on D&C: ‘We have a chance to be really special’||10.28.10 at 10:39 am ET|
Celtics coach Doc Rivers joined Dennis & Callahan for his weekly visit and talked about the loss to the Cavaliers, the win over the Heat and the longest second in his life. It’s been a whirlwind beginning to the season, but Rivers likes what he sees from his team.
“I enjoy this group,” he said. “I enjoy coaching them. We’ve got to solidify ourselves as a group, as a team. I think we’re on our way to doing that. I think we have a chance to be really special, but we’re not there yet and we have work to do.”
Rivers conceded that the opening night win over the Heat was more than just another game. “We’d be lying if we said it was a normal game,” Rivers said. “It was still only one game, but it didn’t have a lot of meaning. A lot of people wanted to see us play Miami and a lot of people wanted to see Miami.” But Wednesday night in Cleveland, the Celtics ran into a team that was also on an emotional high. “You could feel the energy in the building in Cleveland,” Rivers said. “It was important for everybody. But those are the game you still try to find a way to win.”
The key play came late in the game when Anthony Parker made a 3-pointer with one second on the shot clock that appeared to take longer. “The tough part for the officials was, they could not overrule it,” Rivers said. “All they could do was go by video and look at the light when the light comes on. They were in a tough position. I think they knew that, but there’s nothing they could do about it. That has to be one of the longest seconds that I’ve ever experienced.”
Rivers also didn’t feel like Wednesday night was one of Rajon Rondo‘s better performances, despite scoring 18 points and having nine assists. “His numbers were great but it wasn’t his best game,” Rivers said. “It was one of those games where the ball was in his hands too much. We played the Cleveland game like we played the second half of the Miami game. Last night was an execution night. Rondo’s offense will come from transition, pushing the ball up the floor, attacking the paint.”
On the technical foul that Shaquille O’Neal picked up in the fourth quarter against the Cavs, Rivers said he was “blown away” by the call. “It’s a work in progress, obviously, whatever this is,” Rivers said of the new technical foul enforcement. “I was blown away by that tech. It’s hard to believe Shaq did enough to get that tech.”
Rivers also said he wanted to have his whole team together before making an assessment of whether this is his most talented team.
“When we get Delonte [West] and [Kendrick Perkins] back, then you can make that argument,” he said. “Until then, I’m not so sure yet. Shaq’s going to give us stuff, I don’t know every night he can and what he’s capable of. We’ve got to get more out of [Jermaine O’Neal]. We look at him as a defensive player. He can be a terrific defensive player with our unit, but he’s just not there yet.”
|Irish Coffee: Rondo Hall of Fame-bound?||10.27.10 at 10:54 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
In the first NBA game since 1969 to feature 13 former All-Stars, it was the most recent player to join that list whose star shone brightest.
In his fourth year in the league, Rajon Rondo emerged as an Eastern Conference All-Star, so what’s in store for the Celtics point guard’s fifth season — and beyond?
High praise? Sure. But Jermaine isn’t the only O’Neal heaping praise upon Rondo after playing just one regular-season game alongside him.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Shaq said of playing with Rondo, who finished with 17 assists last night. “He’s the perfect point guard. He knows where all his guys are. He led us out there, and he didn’t let us panic on the floor. Great player.”
Since entering the league, Rondo’s point, assist and steal averages have risen each season, culminating in last year’s 13.7 points, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. His rebounding numbers had also risen each season until a slight dip in 2009-10 put him at 4.4 per.
Is it ridiculous to assume Rondo could average 15 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two-and-a-half steals per contest in 2010-11?
Those statistical averages would compare favorably with the fifth-season numbers of the four most recent point guard greats (all either HOFers or HOF locks) — Steve Nash (15.6 points, 7.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals), Jason Kidd (11.6, 9.0, 4.8, 2.4), Gary Payton (20.6, 7.1, 3.4, 2.5) and John Stockton (17.1, 13.6, 3.0, 3.2).
And Shaq agrees, especially after Rondo found him with a couple floating assists around the rim last night. “The last six or seven years I really haven’t had a point guard like that,” said Shaq, “but I’m just getting back to what I’m used to. I’m by the basket, and when he comes by the basket I just gotta be ready.”
If you’ll recall, just two years ago, Shaq played one-and-a-half seasons with Nash himself.
Obviously, the most glaring weakness in Rondo’s game is his shooting. Defenders point to the .500 field goal percentage in each of his last two seasons, but it’s his 3-point (24.4 percent in his career) and free throw shooting (63.0) that need improvement.
During the preseason, Rondo demonstrated a new-found knack to knock down the mid-range jumper, but he didn’t have that touch in the opener, finishing 2-of-9 from the field last night.
Nobody’s asking Rondo to have Nash’s 3-point (40.0 percent in his 5th season) and free-throw shooting (89.5 percent in Year 5) ability, but how about Payton’s (30.2 3-point FG and 71.6 FT in Y5)?
Kidd also started his career as a sub-.300 3-point and sub-.700 free-throw shooter. Since then, he made himself into a .425 3-point and .808 free-throw shooter last year in Dallas. All I’m saying is, there’s hope.
And if indeed Rondo emerges as a Hall of Fame-type player as J.O. alluded, that would mean the C’s current starting five would feature a full lineup of HOFers.
Not bad for a guy that joked in the video accompanying this blog that he might not still be in the NBA in 2012.
SHAQ’S CELTICS DEBUT
The Celtics got exactly what they hope for out of Shaq last night: nine points, seven rebounds and a block in 18 minutes. So, how did The Big Shamrock feel about his first night as a Celtic?
“I just wanted to come out and just play,” said Shaq. “I had a couple early-game jitters. I missed a couple chippies, but Rondo … gave it back to me. We’re all gonna get better, and I’m gonna get better. It’s gonna be a great year.”
Shaq talked to the media for about five minutes after the game. Here are a few highlights:
- On the opening-night hype: “We just wanted to come out and win our first game, and that’s what we did. We let y’all worry about all the hoopla and all that. We knew that we wanted to come play a solid game, and we knew if we did what we wanted to do then we could get a win. This game is over. We’ve got a game tomorrow, and we just want to be 2-0.”
- On Ray Allen’s clutch 3-point shot in the final minute: “Ray is one of the greatest players ever to play the game — a great shooter. Doc (Rivers) drew up a play. It’s a play we practice all the time. We had many options, and that was one of our options. Ray Allen just did what he does — shoot the ball and make it.”
- On Paul Pierce: “He’s a great player. I don’t think you guys give him enough media attention that all the other guys get, but he’s up there with the other two players over there (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade). He’s a great player, a great scorer, and his name should be mentioned more.”
- On the Boston crowd: “Excellent. Electrifying. Magnetic. … It was great. It’s a great town. People here are anxious to get No. 18. It’s going to be like that all year, and we want to remain a dominant team at home.”
- On starting 2-for-2 from the free-throw line: “I was leading the league? A thousand percent? That record got messed up pretty quick.”
REACTION FROM MIAMI
The fallout from the Miami media appears unanimous: Last night’s loss was the exception, not the rule. In fact, the Heat hype consensus is that they’re still the team to beat …
Greg Cote, Miami Herald columnist:
The gleaming Maserati, so gorgeous in the showroom, so perfect to look at, hit the road for the first time Tuesday night, and the engine hiccupped a little, and the brakes squealed some.
The ride is going to be fine. Needs some tinkering and tuning, that’s all.
If anything, Miami’s 88-80 loss to the Boston Celtics verified the Heat’s awesome potential more than cast the least bit of doubt on it.
See, the Heat is good enough to come this close being that bad.
Israel Gutierrez, Miami Herald columnist:
It’s reasonable to call this the most difficult regular-season test the Heat will experience all season.
And, yet, with less than a minute left, after playing as miserable a duration of basketball as this team might ever play all season, the Heat trailed by just three points and oh-so-close to ripping out the hearts of Celtics fans on opening night.
With all that in mind, it might be time to translate Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez‘s quote from several weeks ago into the language of basketball: There’s nothing wrong with going 81-1.
Dave Hyde, Florida Sun Sentinel columnist:
In their first quarter together, the Heat’s Dream Team scored fewer points (nine) than in any Heat quarter last year. Where have you gone, Quentin Richardson?
That’s why the Heat’s loss to Boston 88-80 actually was worse news for the rest of the NBA. Go ahead and laugh a little more at that one, if you want.
But let me go further: This game was the very worst news the rest of the league could have received. There’s really no other way to assemble what happened in this Heat opener in another context.
Similarly, after the game, LeBron James tweeted, “Rome wasn’t built in a day! Work in progress. On to the next one.” The funny thing is — as Rondo points out in the video accompanying this blog — this Celtics team literally built itself in Rome, during a trip to Italy during the 2007 preseason.
No, one game won’t mean much in the standings come April, but last night’s game was about more than just the one day. It was about preparation, unity, familiarity — Ubuntu.
After all, “The Decision” happened more than four months ago. What have the Heat been doing since July? Perhaps spending one too many days checking out the talents on South Beach.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)
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