|Irish Coffee: Banged-up Celtics ‘hoping everybody is’||04.27.12 at 1:12 pm ET|
He might not be a real doctor, but he must feel like one after all the injuries he’s seen in the past four months.
“We’ve got to be careful with them, even in the playoffs,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “It just doesn’t take much, it seems like, right now, for a guy to not be able to play the next night. So we have to be very careful.’
Take Paul Pierce as Exhibit A. The Celtics captain began this lockout-shortened regular season with a bone bruise in his right heel and ended it with a sprained big left toe. The original plan was to rest Pierce’s ailing feet for the final two games, but his desire to stay in rhythm won out, so Rivers played him 18 minutes on Tuesday and just 2:18 on Thursday before March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month limped back to the locker room.
“He hurt it,” said Rivers, referencing the toe that led the C’s to list Pierce as likely unable to return. “That’s why he’s been sitting. And then he wanted to play. We’re not sure if it was the tape, or whatever, because when he wanted to come back, he just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose.’ So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in, but he really wanted to play a couple minutes just to get up and down the floor.”
The Celtics dodged a bullet, as Pierce returned for the final 4:24 of the first half to score seven quick points and ease fans’ fears. The same can’t be said for Ray Allen, who missed his ninth straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. On Thursday, Rivers dubbed him probable for Game 1 against the Hawks, but the Celtics announced via Twitter on Friday, “Allen will not practice today and his status for Game 1 on Sunday is still unknown.”
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics stop Bucks season here||04.26.12 at 10:11 pm ET|
The trio combined for just 13 points, but Rondo dished out 15 assists despite taking just one shot. Avery Bradley (14 points) and Paul Pierce (12 points) were the only Celtics to reach double digits, but the Celtics (39-27) cruised nonetheless.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Recovery act: At times, Rondo ran the floor like, well, a guy with a bad back, but it appeared more like an act than anything worth concern. He toyed with defenders at will, improving his streak of games with at least 10 assists to 24 by halftime. Meanwhile, Pietrus returned from his four-game absence to register nine points off the bench. Garnett only played 11 first-half minutes, but he showed no signs of the sore hip flexor that kept him out against the Heat. All in all, the trio of walking Celtics wounded appeared ready to go for the playoffs.
S’Moore: After totaling seven points and seven rebounds against the Heat on Tuesday night, rookie E’Twaun Moore put together another nice performance. At one point against the Bucks, he was a plus-18 in his time on the floor. Moore finished with eight points, five assists and four rebounds.
Hollins of Fame: It took all of 51 seconds for Ryan Hollins to put together his most productive stretch of the season. He scored seven points in just under a minute, including a pair of dunks — one of which even came on a putback after a rebound — that helped the Celtics establish a double-digit advantage early in the second quarter. After a month of discouragement, Thursday night was an encouraging sign for Hollins.
WHAT WENT WRONG
My left big toe: Just minutes into the game, Pierce limped back to the Celtics locker room accompanied by team Dr. Brian McKeon — a scary sight for a Celtics team hobbled by injuries entering the playoffs. Scarier still was the Celtics diagnosis that Pierce had sprained his left big toe and was “probably not likely to return.” Naturally, the C’s captain returned before halftime, scoring seven of the team’s final 11 points before the break. The feet have been an issue for Pierce ever since his heel injury during training camp, but on a night he accept an Eastern Conference Player of the Month trophy, his injuries don’t appear too serious.
Ray of hope: While Rondo, Pietrus and Garnett all returned, Ray Allen missed his ninth consecutive game — and 15th in his last 20 — with bone spurs in his right ankle. Celtics coach Doc Rivers pronounced Allen “probable” to play Game 1 of the Hawks series, but even if he does play, there has to be some doubt about his effectiveness after such a long absence. As for Greg Stiemsma, his foot problems shouldn’t keep him from his first career playoff game, even if he missed a second straight game on Thursday.
On the road again: With the Hawks holding a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, they appeared well on their way to claiming home court advantage in their first-round series against the Celtics. The C’s will own the fourth seed as the Atlantic Division winners, but will have to travel to Atlanta for Game 1 (on Sunday). The Celtics finished 2-1 against the Hawks (1-1 in the ATL) this season, but 2-0 when they weren’t missing five of their top eight rotation players.
|Home court is still in play, thanks to Sasha Pavlovic||04.25.12 at 12:46 am ET|
If the Celtics do wind up hosting Game 1 of their playoff series with the Hawks, they’ll have enigmatic swingman Sasha Pavlovic to thank. With Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma all sitting out of Tuesday’s game against the Heat, Pavlovic got the start in the backcourt and promptly went scoreless in six minutes of play. In the second half, he made 7-of-8 shots and scored a game-high 16 points in a 78-66 Celtics win that is best left to the dustbin of history.
“Well, someone had to win the game and we did, which was really nice,” was how Doc Rivers summed it up.
It was a game that had some meaning with home court still on the line and was also totally meaningless in that Paul Pierce was the only player of consequence on the floor and he played only 18 minutes. In that it was an appropriate conclusion to a season that has been rushed, hurried and physically taxing.
“It’s not good on your body as an athlete,” guard Keyon Dooling said. “It’s your vehicle to make your money. As a basketball player, recovery is very important. We haven’t had that luxury this year. It’s not just us, it’s everybody. It’s not a normal season.”
As Pierce put it on Monday, “All you can say is you got through it.”
Like many teams, the Celtics decided a week ago that gaining an extra home game simply wasn’t worth it. They may still get it, even after giving forgotten souls like E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Ryan Hollins extended looks. If they beat the Bucks on Thursday and the Mavericks beat the Hawks, then Game 1 will be in Boston. If not, they’ll be getting on a plane just like they’ve done basically every other day since December.
“We’re going to play our guys Thursday anyway, especially since they didn’t play today,” Rivers said. “I said that the other day and I thought they were going to play today, so, we’ll see.”
The playoffs promise to be just as unpredictable with health playing a dominant factor. The Hawks are waiting on Al Horford. The Celtics presumably will have Rondo, Pietrus and maybe Allen back in time for the opener.
“I think Ray will be ready,” Rivers said. “I don’t know that. I do think he will be ready, but if he’s not someone else has to be.”
If Allen can play then their rotation is basically set. It’s the five starters plus Allen, Pietrus and Stiemsma. If Pietrus or Allen is limited, Pavlovic has put himself in position to be the ninth man depending on matchups. Dooling, the consummate pro, will be ready when called upon. In other words, Tuesday’s game didn’t change anything in the Celtics world, even with home court still in the balance.
|Irish Coffee: How Celtics re-match up against Hawks||04.23.12 at 4:27 pm ET|
UPDATE: Since Al Horford‘s original claim that playing against the Celtics in their first-round series was unrealistic, the Hawks center has changed his tune. A consultation with his surgeon resulted in a prognosis that he could return to the court on Thursday in a limited role, according to the most recent Yahoo! Sports report.
“It remains to be seen what I can bring,” Horford told reporter Marc J. Spears. “But I hope to bring some scoring. They can’t expect a lot from me defensively because it’s been a while since I’ve even played. That’s one of the things that will hold me back, but scoring I can help. And also with presence with the team in general.”
It’s official. When the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs begin at month’s end, the Celtics will face the Hawks — the same team that in 2008 took them to seven games in the first round. That was then, when the championship nucleus of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was just finding its groove. This is now, five years later.
The first four of this core’s 43 playoff wins came against Atlanta, but will its last also come against the Hawks?
|Irish Coffee: Avery Bradley ‘beautiful’ in Kevin Garnett’s eyes||04.19.12 at 2:10 pm ET|
Twice after their division-clinching victory against the Magic, Kevin Garnett made his case to the Celtics organization for rewarding Avery Bradley financially after his successful sophomore campaign.
“I love seeing young guys who work hard and it pays off,” said Garnett. “I love young guys who listen and actually put in the work. Just from seeing where he’s come from to where he’s at now is just beautiful, man. I hope they’re able to reward him with some longevity and some loyalty — something long-term. I’ve always said to him, ‘Continue to work, because that’s what’s got you here,’ so I’m happy for him.”
The problem is Bradley isn’t slated to become an unrestricted free agent until the 2015-16 NBA season. He’ll make $1.6 million next season, $2.5 million in 2013-14 and at least the qualifying offer of $3.6 million in 2014-15, facts that may have escaped Garnett, who has made at least $14 million in each of his last 14 seasons.
It’s a great problem for the Celtics, because Bradley has established himself as one of the best bargains in basketball. With Rajon Rondo also locked up through 2014-15 at an average of $12 million over the three years, the C’s have one of the youngest, most affordable starting backcourts and two of the best trade chips in the NBA.
“Avery’s emerging,” said Keyon Dooling, “so we might have to give him like a Big Five or something.”
|Irish Coffee: The rise of Avery Bradley’s offense||04.18.12 at 12:02 pm ET|
By now, everyone knows of Bradley’s defensive exploits, but his shooting of late has been downright Ray Allen-esque. That’s not to say Bradley is a clone of the man he’s replaced in the starting lineup, but his 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against the Knicks — including 5-of-6 from long distance — can’t be ignored.
In 15 games since joining Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett in the first five on March 25 (with the exception of an 87-86 loss to the Spurs), Bradley is averaging 14.2 points while shooting 53.1 percent from the field (86-162 FG), 56.7 percent from beyond the arc (17-30 3P) and 85.7 percent from the line (24-28 FT). He’s reached double figures in 11 of those 15 games, including the last four.
|Poll: Should Danny Ainge have broken up the Big Three?||at 10:10 am ET|
At the trade deadline, the Celtics were 23-19 and just beginning to show signs of a second-half surge. Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Magic, they are 36-26, on course to win the Atlantic Division and possibly play more than just a spoiler’s role in the postseason.
Team president Danny Ainge didn’t make any moves at the deadline, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. He said he had a handful of deals in the works that just couldn’t reach completion and now we know what they were, thanks to a report from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Per Woj, Ainge had a deal in place to send Ray Allen to Memphis for a package involving O.J. Mayo and a draft pick. Things were so far along that coach Doc Rivers even told Allen that it was done, only to have to pull back at the last minute when it fell apart.
Additionally, a deal that would have sent Paul Pierce to New Jersey for Mehmet Okur‘s expiring contract and their lottery pick also didn’t make it to the finish line. (The Nets made a similar deal involving Portland’s Gerald Wallace, leaving their pick top-3 protected).
If the deals had gone through, Ainge would have had Mayo — a 24-year-old shooting guard who has averaged 15 points in his four seasons — and multiple picks in what many consider to be a loaded draft. He also would have had essentially a blank canvas and more than $40 million in cap space to rebuild around Rajon Rondo with Pierce’s contract off the books.
One side effect of the deals that didn’t happen. Not only have the Celtics played better since the deadline, they have also seen Avery Bradley emerge as a potential cornerstone for the future. With Mayo in place, perhaps Bradley never gets a chance to get significant playing time. Since March 23, Bradley has averaged over 14 points a game and the Celtics are 11-4 with wins over Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami (twice) and Atlanta.
Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make, but Ainge doesn’t necessarily feel that way. He told The Big Show last week that he still would have made the deals knowing what he knows now.
What do you think?
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