|Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo, reinvigorated||04.25.11 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?
|Kevin Garnett shifts gears into clutch||04.20.11 at 12:50 am ET|
In the final seconds of close Celtics games over the last four years, you remember Ray Allen coming off screens and lord knows you remember the Paul Pierce isolations. But the Kevin Garnett hook shots? Not so much.
Less than a week ago, Jackie MacMullan wrote a piece that detailed Garnett’s lack of aggressiveness down the stretch of tight contests. Somewhere in the middle of it was this note: “In his time with the Celtics, KG has not attempted a single shot in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime in a playoff game.”
Well, scratch that off Garnett’s to-do list.
In Game 2 of their first-round series, the Celtics trailed the Knicks by one with 19 seconds remaining when Rajon Rondo inbounded to Garnett out of the timeout. The Celtics forward proceeded to back Jared Jeffries down on the dribble, turn to his left and toss in a hook shot in the paint. The basket gave the Celtics a 94-93 advantage with 13 seconds left.
“It was interesting,” said Ray Allen, who hit the game-winning bucket in Game 1. “The play wasn’t even for Kevin the way we ran it. Rondo threw it to him, and I’m glad he did, because that proves big for us going into the next game. Most of our plays have several different options on it, but it involved me, Paul [Pierce] and Kevin at some point. And he saw the matchup.”
|Doc Rivers, Celtics drop Knicks, execution style||04.18.11 at 1:25 am ET|
In the days before Game 1 of his team’s first-round series against the Knicks, Celtics president Danny Ainge said, “The biggest fear I have is the respect I have for Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire finishing games.” And prior to the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers echoed that sentiment.
But after the Knicks blew a 12-point halftime lead and after the Celtics finished an 87-85 comeback victory, both teams sang a different tune. The experienced Celtics executed. And the unfamiliar Knicks didn’t.
“We had a 13-point third quarter,” said Knicks sixth man Bill Walker, who was traded from the Celtics in the Nate Robinson deal last season. “We didn’t move the ball. They loaded up their defense, and once they load up their defense, they’re pretty good. They’ve got a former Defensive Player of the Year [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen] are great defenders themselves and [Rajon] Rondo’s a ball hawk. So, once they get set and know what you’re doing, it’s pretty hard to score. We’ve just got to keep them in transition and run them.”
Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups did their part in the first half, combining for 31 of New York’s 51 first-half points on 11-of-19 shooting. But it all fell apart in the second half.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a blowout in this series,” said Rondo, “so the team that executes down the stretch usually finds a way to win.”
In Game 1, that team was the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics.
Ray Allen had no hesitation in letting the game-winning 3-pointer fly from the left wing with 11.6 seconds remaining, needing just a 2-pointer for the lead. Allen broke free from a screen and flashed open in time for Paul Pierce to find him and feed him the ball for the shot that gave the Celtics an 87-85 win in Game 1 at an electrified TD Garden Sunday night.
“Due to the experience that we have, having played together, we’ve ran that play many times in different situations,” Allen explained. “Sometimes the shot goes in, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes Paul has the ball in his hands and he shoots it and he scores it. There are so many different options off of that play that when we went to it, we knew exactly what to expect.
“We don’t pre-determine, me setting the screen getting Paul open, sometimes he gets the layup all the way to the hoop. Sometimes my guy switches and I end up being open, Baby [Glen Davis] or Kevin [Kevin Garnett] clean up a guy and I’m open at the 3-point line, or [Pierce] rolls and he is wide open. It’s a play that has so many options and tonight, I was just the option. If I could think of every shot that I hit to win a game in a Celtic uniform Paul has probably been the guy that has passed it to me.”
Allen finished with a team-high 24 points after not taking a shot in seven minutes of playing time in the first quarter.
|Fast Break: Ray Allen’s trey sinks Knicks||04.17.11 at 9:46 pm ET|
Seconds after Chauncey Billups limped to the bench with an apparent knee injury, Toney Douglas assumed the Mr. Big Shot mantle — draining a long 3-pointer from the wing with 38 seconds left to snap an 82-82 game. But an alley-oop to Kevin Garnett, a questionable offensive foul call on Carmelo Anthony and a Ray Allen 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining helped the Celtics survive, 87-85, in Game 1 of their first-round NBA Playoff series.
Allen scored a team-high 24 points, and all five Celtics starters reached double figures, including Jermaine O’Neal (12 points). Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire led all scorers with 28 points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Ray Allen asserts himself: After not attempting a field goal in the opening quarter, Allen took advantage of a matchup against Anthony Carter to score six quick second-quarter points. He added seven in the third quarter and finished with 24 for the night, capped by the game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining. He hadn’t scored 20 points since March 19.
Second-half defense: After giving up 51 points to the Knicks on 19-of-35 shooting (54.3 percent), the Celtics held New York to 5-of-28 shooting (17.9 percent) in the first 15 minutes of the second half. In that stretch, the Celtics turned a 51-39 halftime deficit into a 66-64 lead with nine minutes to play.
Jermaine O’Neal contributes: He may have only recorded one first-half rebound, but O’Neal made his presence felt in the third quarter. The Celtics’ starting center totaled six points, two rebounds and a pair of blocks that helped slice the Knicks’ 12-point halftime lead in half. His play on both sides of the ball seemed to raise the effort of his teammates as well — as the C’s held the Knicks to 13 third-quarter points. Along with his 12 points, O’Neal finished with four rebounds and four blocks.
The Rondo conundrum: Taking advantage of the fact that Chauncey Billups was playing almost 10 feet off him, Rajon Rondo took 10 first-half shots and made five of them, heading into the locker room at the break with a team-high 10 points. On the down side, in the first half he had just two assists, didn’t attempt a free throw and passed up a couple more open lanes in favor of more difficult jump shots from his teammates.
In the second half, though, Rondo returned to his primary role as distributor. While he didn’t score again, the Celtics point guard approached a triple-double with 10 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Not taking advantage of Melo’s absence: After just 88 seconds of playoff basketball, Anthony sat on the bench with a pair of quick fouls. He didn’t return in the first quarter. It was a golden opportunity for the Celtics to snare an early lead and take control of the game. Instead, they allowed old friend Bill Walker to score a team-high seven first-quarter points and stay within one at 24-23 after 12 minutes.
The second-quarter collapse: While the Celtics shot just 6-of-18 and scored 15 points in the second quarter — including only two assists — the Knicks torched the C’s defense to the tune of 28 points. After Walker had his turn against Pierce in the first quarter, Anthony took over and scored 12 second-quarter points on the captain. Meanwhile, Stoudemire put an exclamation on the Knicks’ surge into halftime by driving past Glen Davis and throwing down a monster dunk that stretched his team’s lead into double digits. Of course, prior to the game, Davis had claimed “it’s really not that hard” to guard Stoudemire.
Where’s the bench? On paper, the Celtics have the deeper team, but led by Walker the Knicks outscored the Boston bench 23-8. Glen Davis had a lot to do with the C’s struggles in that department, shooting only 1-of-8 from the field for two points. In fact, because O’Neal performed so well, he actually took the closing center reins from Davis, who had held that position for the Celtics all season. While Davis returned in the final minute, O’Neal got the bulk of the fourth-quarter minutes at center.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics’ individual titles slipping away||04.11.11 at 12:38 pm ET|
While the Celtics’ blowout loss to the Heat probably dashed their hopes for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, with it likely went a couple of individual milestones for Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.
After Sunday’s poor showing in Miami, Rondo trails Suns point guard Steve Nash for the NBA’s assist crown and Hornets point guard Chris Paul for the steals title. Meanwhile, Allen is still chasing Spurs forward Matt Bonner for the league lead in 3-point shooting percentage.
For much of the season, Rondo led the league in assists, but his numbers have dipped in recent weeks and Nash slid into the top spot. With two games left, Nash is averaging 11.4 assists (829 in 73 games), while Rondo is producing 11.2 (760 in 68). In all likelihood, that crown is out of reach for Rondo, considering he would need 35 assists in the final two games if Nash maintains his current 11.356 assists per game average.
The NBA’s returning steals leader, Rondo has trailed Paul by a slim margin for the majority of this year. Paul is averaging 2.36 steals (184 in 78 games), while Rondo is producing 2.25 (153 in 68 games). The C’s point guard would need 13 steals in his last two games to surpass Paul’s current 2.359 steals per game average.
Despite being the NBA’s all-time career 3-point leader, Allen has never won a single-season 3-point shooting title. Making 168-of-378 3-point attempts – producing the highest percentage (.444) of his career –Allen made a push for the crown this year. But Bonner has connected on 102-of-224 treys (.455), so Allen would need to make his next eight 3-point attempts to surpass Bonner’s current 3-point shooting percentage.
|Ray Allen on D&C: ‘Talking to the media is very therapeutic’||04.06.11 at 12:34 pm ET|
Celtics guard Ray Allen joined the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the C’s as they head into the stretch run of the regular season. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
The Celtics defeated the 76ers Tuesday night, but they are only playing .500 ball over their last 16 games. Part of the reason for that has been attributed to the recent influx of new players. Allen talked about working the new players into the Celtics’ way of doing things.
“We’ve talked about it a considerable amount of times,” he said. “One of the most important for them that they see is, when we travel on the road you see all the [Celtics] fans that are in the building in the other gyms, you understand the tradition, the fan following. And then at home, they see what it’s like in our building, so they understand that they’re playing under a different monster than what they’ve been playing under before. They’ve got to make sure that every night they play hard. And it’s not just about scoring points, it’s about being a better teammate, it’s about working hard every night, it’s about playing defense, it’s about just having a passion out there on the floor.”
Rajon Rondo‘s inconsistent play of late is another frequently mentioned reason for the C’s struggles.
“He’s like the head of the monster, the head of the snake, so to speak,” Allen said of the young point guard. “We’ve got to make sure his energy is great, his attitude is great, his body language is great, everything. Because he probably takes the brunt of all the pressure, the attitude that one of us may get, if he takes it all on, and we’ve got to make sure that we always keep him right, because he’s the one that’s going to make sure he keeps us going deep into the playoffs.”
Allen acknowledged that he and his veteran teammates have talked to Rondo about staying focused before every game.
“We’ve all talked about it,” he said. “We’ve talked about having great spirit out there on the floor every night, whether you’re playing the best player or the worst player, you have to have the same energy, the same spirit, because your team follows you. And those are lessons I learned early in my career.”
Allen left the locker room at Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse last Monday night without speaking to the media after a loss to the Pacers. He explained the reason for that to Mut & Merloni.
“Sometimes you just don’t have the answers immediately after a game,” he said. “For me, personally, talking to the media is very therapeutic because it helps figure out some of the things you need to do out on the floor that you didn’t do and you get things off your chest. Some nights you don’t have the answer. Sometimes you get so frustrated with yourself, just with the game itself or with losing itself, that sometimes just talking doesn’t help. So, you’ve just got to get away and just kind of sit back and think about what you can do better. You go through those different emotions every night.”