|Celtics-Spurs Preview||12.03.09 at 11:36 am ET|
Meanwhile, a certain team in San Antonio (9-6) might be hitting its own stride. After making a splash this summer by trading for former New Jersey Nets star Richard Jefferson (career 17.6 ppg), it appeared the Spurs positioning themselves to contend for another NBA title. But after a three-game skid dropped their season record to 4-6, questions began to surface about age, chemistry and hunger for winning.
So much for that.
Five straight victories for San Antonio and they’re right back in the title talks. That being said, the black and silver has been beating up mostly on second-tier teams; their game Thursday night against the Celtics will be another matter.
Both teams teams have been hot of late, and neither is a stranger to the NBA spotlight. The Celtics dominated the league in 2007 en route to their 17th NBA Championship, meanwhile seemingly every year the Spurs are on the brink of grabbing one of their own, including winning four titles in the past 10 years.
Tonight’s 8 p.m. clash has just about everything: the names, the legacy, and the anticipation. But how does everything else pan out? Let’s take a look:
On A Roll ‘ Both teams come in winners of five straight, though neither streaks have been star studded. Aside from Boston’s 92-85 win on Sunday over the 10-5 Miami Heat, none of the Celtic’s past five victories have come against opponents above .500. In fact, before taking down the Heat, the last time the Celtics beat a team with more notches in the win column than the loss column was back on Nov. 11, a 105-96 win over the now 10-7 Utah Jazz.
Similarly, San Antonio has benefited from a rather smooth stretch in their schedule, helping them get back on track after losing three straight in mid-November. The only above .500 team in the Spurs’ past five wins? The 10-8 Houston Rockets, whom San Antonio disposed of 92-84 back on November 27. But you’d have to travel all the way back to that same Nov. 11 to find the last time the Spurs beat an above .500 team prior to the Rockets, a 92-83 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Head to Head
Strangely Familiar ‘ They may not meet that often, but when they do, chances are it’ll be memorable. Boston and San Antonio have yet to collide this season, but last year they met two times – as they do every season ‘ and both games were spectacular. The Spurs took the first game, a 105-99 nail-biter that had San Antonio taking the lead with 20.4 seconds left off a Roger Mason three, stunning a packed house at the Garden. The second game, however, was taken by the Celtics in an equally exciting matchup, an 80-77 victory at the AT&T Center in Texas. Kendrick Perkins netted the game-winner for the Celtics, who escaped San Antonio with KG on the bench for the entire fourth quarter – in part thanks to the Spurs’ six consecutive free-throw misses to close out the game.
Boston swept the two-game series in 2007-08, but the two split again back in 2006-07 with both teams winning their home matchups.
Defense Wins Championships ‘ It’s no secret to anyone in the NBA how the Spurs run their team: a combination of stout defense and scoring mainly from anyone on the floor named Duncan, Parker or Ginobli. But the addition of Richard Jefferson this season has helped alter that perception a little, giving the Spurs a potent fourth option when it comes to putting the ball in the net. So far in 2009, Jefferson has averaged a solid 13.5 points a game, a nice complement to point guard Tony Parker (16.5) in the absence of guard Manu Ginobli (groin injury). But regardless of how much or how little Jefferson steps up, the Spurs are still the same old Spurs, and they live and die by perennial All-Star forward and team-leader, Tim Duncan.
As a result, the most exciting matchup within the Spurs-Celtics rivalry is as it has been for the past three seasons ‘ Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett. Seeing those two do battle in the paint is like watching history collide. Whenever two NBA greats the likes of Garnett and Duncan meet on the hardwood, it’s bound to be exciting, particularly considering that the two play the same position and will literally be matching up head-to-head.
.833 ‘ After posting a very less-than-Allen .259% from beyond the arc in his past six games, Ray Allen heated up in a big way in the Celtics win over the Bobcats. Allen nailed five of six shots from three-point range on Tuesday night, was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line and finished the night with a game-high 27 points. The Celtics would like that hot shooting to carry over to tonight’s game against a tough defensive squad in the San Antonio Spurs, who are surrendering 96.5 points a game, 10th in the NBA.
3/4 ‘ the amount of major statistical categories in which Tim Duncan leads the Spurs, furthering the notion that the black and silver go as No. 21 goes. So far in 2009, Duncan leads San Antonio with 18.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and an intimidating 2.00 blocks per contest. He even ranks third on the team in assists with 3.7, a rarity for a power forward with the size of Duncan.
The Ginobli We All Know and Love ‘ He’s back on the injured list ‘ again. Oh wait, never mind, he’s off. Wait, no, he’s back on. Okay, forget it ‘ he’s off it now. Ginobli finally returned to the Spurs lineup on Sunday, a 97-89 win over the 76ers that had the Spurs’ star bench-player contribute 17 minutes on the court, netting only eight points and grabbing three rebounds. Obviously a sub-par game for Ginobli, who is averaging 13.5 points a game in ‘09, but it’s apparent he doesn’t have his sea legs back yet after injuring his groin in the Spurs’ loss to the Jazz back on Nov. 19. Since then, the injury has kept the Argentinean born guard out for five-straight games until returning on Sunday. He’s only appeared in 10 games this season, and may not be at full-strength tonight against the Celtics, something that will undoubtedly hurt the Spurs both on the offensive and defensive ends.
On the other hand, San Antonio’s backup guard, Roger Mason (7.1), who was a thorn in the Celtics’ side last season, may be cleared to play Thursday night. The Spurs’ off-the-bench hot shooter has been dealing with a hamstring injury that held him off the court in Sunday’s win over the 76ers, but he is expected to be available for Thursday night’s clash with the Green. In his last two games before injuring the hamstring, Mason posted a combined 28 points, shooting a torrid 66.7 percent from the field.
Nothing new for the Celtics on the injury front, as the usuals — Glen “Big Baby” Davis” and Tony Allen — will be sidelined for tonight’s matchup. News for Tony Allen is that the Celtics will be without the 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard for the entirety of their four game road-trip, and he will be re-evaluated when the club returns to Boston.
Big Four? – “Those situations were created by that little guy. He was excellent tonight, really. … I thought he controlled this game as well as anybody and I don’t know if his stat line is really as indicative of how much impact he had on this game.” – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Celtics’ point guard Rajon Rondo after Sunday’s game.
He’s no longer a secret in the NBA. Rajon Rondo continues to improve daily, and the Celtics have all the confidence in the world in him, evident in his new five-year, $55 million contract. It will be another tough night for the point guard however, as he goes toe-to-toe with perennial All-Star Tony Parker, who is averaging 16.5 points a game this season. It’s apparent that a lot of this game hinges on Garnett vs. Duncan ‘ but make no mistake about it, it will be no small battle at the point.
|Celtics-Bobcats Preview||12.01.09 at 1:15 pm ET|
The Charlotte Bobcats have come a long way from their season-opening stomping at the hands of the Celtics, a humiliating 92-59 defeat. After falling to 3-9 following a seven-game losing streak, Charlotte (7-9) rolls into Tuesday night’s rematch as winners of four straight, including a 94-87 victory over LeBron James and the Cavaliers and a 92-76 beat-down of the Washington Wizards.
The Celtics (13-4), meanwhile, are in the midst of ‘righting the ship’ after some mid-month struggles, riding their own four-game win streak – including a hard-fought, come-from-behind win over Dwyane Wade and the Heat on Sunday.
The two collide tonight at 7:00 pm in Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, the Bobcats looking to settle the score after their miserable showing to open the season, and Boston looking to continue its return to dominance in the NBA.
Here’s how things are shaping up heading into tonight’s game:
Heating Up ‘ Both teams head into Tuesday night winners of four straight, each with highlights in their streaks. Charlotte is fresh off a bombing of the Wizards in Washington, and before that a fairly convincing seven-point win over LeBron and his Cavs. Before that? A 116-81 punishing of the Raptors, a team that took Boston to the final quarter in the Garden.
The Celtics aren’t exactly flying low either, however, coming off a solid win over a Miami squad that had every reason to beat them last Sunday. The most important thing to take from the Celtics’ past four games, however, hasn’t been just the W’s so much as it’s been the play of Kevin Garnett. Amidst all the worries and concerns about his knee injury and recovery, Garnett answered critics with an 11-for-12 shooting night Sunday versus the Heat, posting 24 points and 8 rebounds ‘ and, more importantly, putting Boston on his shoulders to seal up a win.
Head to Head
Tough Customers ‘Glancing at their overall records the past few seasons, you’d assume Boston usually has its way with Charlotte. In fact, it hasn’t exactly been that easy. Aside from their season-opening blowout of the Bobcats to open Charlotte’s 2009 season, Boston has disposed of the Cats in regulation only once in their past three meetings ‘ a five point nail-biter. The other two times Charlotte took Boston to overtime, and one of them was a Celtic loss. Tuesday’s game marks the second of three games the two will play against each other this season, with Boston holding a 1-0 edge in 2009.
The Bobcats added some punch to their offense when they traded for the Warriors’ Stephen Jackson a few weeks ago. He has totaled 17.4 points per game since he joined Charlotte. That being said, it still remains Gerald Wallace’s team. Wallace leads the Bobcats (aside from Jackson’s seven-game stat sample) in both points per game (15.9) and rebounds per game (11.8). During their four-game win streak, Wallace has led the Cats in boards in every single match, and topped the team in points in three of the four, including back-to-back 31 point nights against the Raptors and Cavaliers.
That being said, in Charlotte’s season opener against the Celtics, Boston was able to corral Wallace, holding him to a season-low 10 points.
.259 – Ray Allen’s three-point shooting percentage over the past six games. The veteran sniper has been struggling with his stroke to say the least. In fact, Allen has only hit multiple three-balls once in his past six games ‘ and twice in his past 10. It hasn’t exactly killed the Celtics, because amidst it all they’ve won four straight. But if No. 20 does not heat up, it could start hurting the Celtics down the road.
6 ‘ The amount of games in a row that Gerald Wallace has hit double figures in rebounds. He is a beast on the boards, and it’s going to be a key for Boston to keep him off them. If they don’t, he can dictate a game (20 boards, 24 points Nov. 2 vs. New Jersey).
Same Old ‘ Nothing new for the Celtics, who are still without Big Baby and Tony Allen. Ray Allen had missed last Sunday’s practice because of his son’s illness, and his status for the Miami game was in doubt, but it appears it won’t be an issue for Tuesday’s match-up. Similar story for Charlotte, which is operating with a full complement of players after the recent return of Tyson Chandler following his back spasms earlier in the season.
Pedal to the Metal – ‘This is a time where you have to concentrate more. We understand what being a successful road team is about in the past. It will give us more focus time. I think we understand being on the road, we have to focus a lot more. You can’t play the way we’ve been playing at home on the road because you won’t get those wins.’
Celtics Captain Paul Pierce knows these games are important. The Bobcats aren’t a division rival. They aren’t really even a conference rival, and at 7-9, aren’t considered a playoff threat. But it doesn’t matter. The Celtics know they need to get all the wins they can find, and Tuesday night is no different.
|Ray Allen rejoins team||11.28.09 at 3:11 pm ET|
WALTHAM — After spending time with his ill son on Friday night at a local hospital, Ray Allen re-joined the Celtics for their plane trip to Miami and should be available for Sunday night’s game in Miami in the opener of the team’s four-game road trip, according to the team.
Allen was not at Celtics practice on Saturday. Walker Allen, 2, was diagnosed with diabetes during the 2008 NBA Finals and Allen spent the night with him on Friday night after getting word after the game that he was not feeling well.
“There really is no update,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after Saturday’s practice. “It’s more his son. He’s [caring for] Walker, obviously. That’s why he’s not around.”
|Ray Allen misses practice to be with ill son||at 1:55 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Ray Allen is spending time with his ill son and may not be available for Sunday night’s game in Miami in the opener of the team’s four-game road trip. Allen was not at Celtics practice on Saturday.
Walker Allen was diagnosed with diabetes during the 2008 NBA Finals and Allen spent the night with him on Friday night after getting word after the game that he was not feeling well.
“There really is no update,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said following practice. “It’s more his son. He’s [caring for] Walker, obviously. That’s why he’s not around.”
Rivers then was asked if he’d be available for Sunday in Miami.
“We don’t know yet,” Rivers said.
The team left for Miami following their Saturday practice at the Sports Authority complex in Waltham.
|Celts’ struggles, by the numbers||11.23.09 at 2:37 pm ET|
After 14 games, the Celtics are 10-4, comfortably in first place in their division and just one game behind the league leaders (Atlanta, Orlando and Phoenix, who all beat the Celtics in the last 10 days). The Celtics also have the NBA’s best point differential at +8.8, and point differential is a more reliable indicator than record.
Despite all that, something seems wrong with the Celtics, who needed overtime to get past a dreadful Knicks team and have lost three of their last five, with all three losses coming against the aforementioned teams with better records. So, what gives?
First, their record and point differential are skewed from the first five games of the season, when the C’s ran roughshod over the league and people started seriously considering 72 wins. The Celtics won the next game, 92-90, against Minnesota, but that’s when their play started to slip.
Point differential: +21.6
Points for: 101.4
Points against: 79.8
Point differential: +1.7
Point for: 96.7
Points against: 95
By far the biggest slip in terms of individual offensive numbers belongs to Rasheed Wallace, who made 15 of his first 33 3-point attempts through the first five games and has been 7-for-48 from beyond the arc ever since. Wallace has acknowledged that he’s in a slump, but the general consensus is that he is taking good shots and they’re just not falling for him. That happens. On the positive side, it has not affected Wallace’s defense.
Ray Allen has been a similar 3-point shooting slump, although not nearly as pronounced. Through five games, Allen was 9-for-21. He is 7-for-29 in the last nine. Despite shooting 32 percent from 3-point range, Allen has continued to be a productive offensive player by shooting 57 percent on his 2-point shots (60-for-106).
Digging a little bit deeper, 82games.com has Allen as the Celtics’ most productive player in terms of on-court plus/minus with Wallace second, so while their shooting slumps may account for the Celtics’ drop offensively, the real issue is a defense that went from giving up less than 80 points a night (a number that is skewed by holding Charlotte to 59 points) to one that is surrendering 95.
After we plow through the numbers on 82games.com, a few things stand out.
The C’s defense on jump shots is worse than last year (.433, 48.1 points per game vs. .417, 43.4 points per game) and they are also struggling defending teams at the end of the shot clock compared to last season (.491 compared to .447). This brings up something Doc Rivers said last week:
“Some of our defensive sets have been very good, and then with five seconds left on the clock the guy dribbling the ball gets all the way to the basket and that’s not just the guy guarding the ball.”
That speaks to effort, fatigue or just plain understanding the defensive system. It’s probably safe to rule out effort with this group, and “understanding the system” should work itself out in time, but it does explain Rivers saying that the team was “making stuff up” after the Orlando loss. That leaves fatigue, and it’s worth noting that the Celtics’ biggest wins during this stretch ‘ Utah and Golden State ‘ came after multiple days off.
That, in a nutshell, is what makes people wary about the Celtics come playoff time. The good news is that we are a long way from April, and most teams would love to struggle out of the gate at 10-4. To be sure, there are other issues, particularly a lack of offensive rebounding and fewer trips to the free throw line, but age will continue to be the dominant theme from here on out.
|Magic know formula to beat Celtics||11.21.09 at 12:05 am ET|
BOSTON ‘ It has been nearly a year since the Magic faced a healthy Celtics squad. On Friday they proved they can beat the Celtics with or without Kevin Garnett.
‘It’s very important especially when they are full strength to show you that we’re still a good team,’ Rashard Lewis told WEEI.com after the Magic’s 83-78 victory (Recap). ‘You know they’re a great team. This is only one game, it’s early in the season and I definitely would not count them out at all. Every time we play the Boston Celtics it’s going to be a tough, tough game.’
The Celtics were 0-2 last regular season against the Magic without Garnett and were eliminated from the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Magic without him. But the truth is, the Magic have held their own against the Celtics in recent years. They improved to 5-3 against the Cs since the 2007-08 regular season.
‘I think the biggest thing playing their team is not allowing them to get a lot of second chance points, hold them to one shot, and then run,’ said Dwight Howard.
The Celtics actually outshot the Magic 87-to-70 from the floor, but the Magic shot 10-for-22 from three-point range while Celtics were a mere 2-for-19. Vince Carter attempted 29 field goals — ‘All of them weren’t open, I’ll be the first to tell you that,’ he said with a laugh — the same number as Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combined. Stifling the Celtics offense was a must-do for the Magic.
‘You’ve got to play defense,’ said Lewis. ‘I think every time we play this team we really buckle down on the defensive end and we try to take their main guys out ‘ Ray Allen at the three-point line, and we try to crowd Paul Pierce and make other guys beat us. Tonight I think we did a good job of that.’
The Celtics lost their lead just three minutes into the first quarter, and the Magic held off a 17-12 fourth quarter run after Rasheed Wallace tied the game at 78 apiece. Lewis said his team regained their composure after coach Stan Van Gundy called a timeout and buckled down, realizing how easily the Celtics can fight back from a double-digit deficit. The Magic diminished the Celtics homecourt advantage and held on in the TD Garden’s playoff atmosphere.
‘We’re not going to do that [back down] to anybody,’ said Jason Williams. ‘I mean, we feel that we’re just as good as anybody else. So if we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to win more times than not.’
On Friday night, like they have so many times in recent games against the Celtics, the Magic came out on top. Neither team can read too much into this victory, though. While the Magic know how to beat the Celtics, but they also know either team is capable of winning at any time.
‘I don’t want to say we got their number because anything can happen on any given night,’ said Lewis. ‘Tonight the ball kind of bounced our way and towards the end of the game we were able to get away. It’s not like we blew them out. We won by like four points so it could have easily gone the other way.’
|Magic: Can’t Afford to Foul Rondo||11.20.09 at 7:46 pm ET|
BOSTON — Even though Rajon Rondo enters Friday’s game shooting a mere 25 percent from the free throw line, the Magic are not going to give him extra trips to the charity stripe. Just because free throws have been a weakness for Rondo this season that doesn’t mean the same is true for his teammates.
‘With their team you don’t want to foul unnecessarily,’ said Anthony Johnson. ‘Even though maybe he’s not shooting well, Paul Pierce, KG, all the other guys, they’re going to draw fouls.’
In spite of Rondo’s struggle (4-16 FG), the Celtics are still in the middle of the pack around the league. Ray Allen is ranked eighth in the NBA (89.3%) while Shelden Williams and Pierce are both shooting better than 80 percent.
‘If you waste your fouls on Rondo, it’s going to help them as a team get into the bonus and it’s going to give those guys free points,’ Johnson said. ‘So as much as possible we want to keep them off the line, including him, and try to make them make tough shots over the top of us.’
The Magic have a lot more to worry about with Rondo than just free throws. They are without starting point guard Jameer Nelson (knee) and will depend on veterans Johnson and Jason Williams to contain Rondo.
“He’s a guy that plays with a lot of energy offensively and defensively so you’ve got to always keep him in front of you, don’t allow him to really dictate the tempo with his ball pressure and just putting pressure on our defense getting into the paint,” said Johnson. “So we’re going to have to keep him in front of us and not let him orchestrate and make all the big plays.”
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