|What If: Tony Allen||01.10.09 at 1:56 pm ET|
On January 10, 2007 Tony Allen blew out his left knee in a post-whistle slam dunk. Two years later, he still isn’t the same player.
At the time of his injury Allen was one of the few bright spots on a dismal Boston Celtics team. He had stepped up in the absence of Paul Pierce and was doing his best to lead his team with explosiveness and defensive hustle. He was also averaging a career high 11.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and shooting 51.4% from the field. In an instant, it was gone.
Reminders of Allen’s injury have come to mind with the recent struggles of the Celtics bench. He has missed the last three games with an ankle strain and has been inconsistent when healthy. Allen, who turns 27 on Sunday, has learned to accept his role as a defensive specialist. At times there are flashes of the old TA, slashing to the basket, getting up for a dunk, or attacking the hoop for a rebound. But those highlights have been few and far between.
On the date of his injury it’s easy to wonder, what if Tony Allen never went up for that dunk?
If Allen had continued his breakout season, he most likely would have been packaged in the Ray Allen trade instead of Delonte West. If not, the Minnesota Timberwolves probably would have pushed for him in the Kevin Garnett deal. Allen was playing too well to stay on a team desperate to make moves.
There would be no need to wonder what if. Chances are Tony Allen wouldn’t be on the Celtics.
|900 Games for Ray Allen||01.09.09 at 9:57 am ET|
If there’s one thing the Celtics never have to worry about it’s the availability of Walter Ray Allen. It’s almost taken as an article of faith that when the ball goes up, Allen will be there. For the first five years of his career Allen never missed a game, and since coming to the Celtics the 33-year-old Allen has been logging 36 minutes consistently every night, which is remarkable when one considers that the primary objection to the Allen trade was his health.
Allen played in the 900th game of his career the other night against Houston and it’s a testament to his career that such an accomplishment happened with very little fanfare. (Kobe Bryant is the only other player from the 1996 draft class to appear in 900 games to date, and Allen ranks 10th on the list of active players for games played).
Allen’s career is a study in consistency, which is easily explained by his tremendous conditioning and his legendary pre-game shooting routine. There is no wasted motion with Ray. He is the smoothest robotic player in the game, and that’s meant as a compliment of the highest order.
A lot has been made about Allen’s revitalized play this year. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field (up from 44 percent last year) and just seems to be more integrated offensively with the Celtics system. There is an interesting quirk in Allen’s numbers, however.
While it’s true that his FG shooting is up, his 3-point shooting has actually gone down (from 39 to 36 percent), which brings up something Kevin Pelton from Basketball Prospectus mentioned to me about a month ago. That is that Allen’s shooting on 2-point shots has gone up dramatically (from .486 in 2007-08 to .579 this season). Pelton feels that sort of trend is usually not sustainable, so it’s something to keep an eye on as 2009 develops.
Still, by any measure Allen is enjoying a very successful year. He has the highest adjusted +/- rating on the team, according to 82games.com (which in layman’s terms means the Celtics are more effective with him on the court than off it than any other player) and the highest Offensive Rating, as well. Allen also remains the best starter option when Doc Rivers subs in the second unit, which is both a blessing and a curse, since Doc would love to manage Allen’s minutes in the second half of the season.
Beyond the bench’s issues, of which there are many, keeping Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett healthy and somewhat rested remains Rivers’ primary challenge for the rest of the season.
|LeBron isn’t Celtics biggest competition||01.08.09 at 9:54 pm ET|
Ask the Boston Celtics who their toughest competition in the East is and they won’t say LeBron James. They’ll tell you it is themselves who stand in their way of another title, that only they can control the fate of their season. On Friday night when the suddenly skidding Celtics take the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers, their biggest challenge is not stopping King James. It is simply not getting beat by their own mistakes.
“I really don’t care who we play next,” Ray Allen said. “It’s just, I look at it personally as an opportunity to get back on track to do what I need to do to help this team. Every little thing that I look at that has my input or my stamp individually for this team, I’ve got to find out ways to do it better, to make it better out there.”
After winning 19-straight, the Celtics are on a three-game losing streak and have dropped six of their last eight contests. At this point they aren’t seeing Friday as a chance to beat an Eastern Conference rival but rather an opportunity to get back on track.
“The thing about our team is that we don’t ever look ahead. Now that we’ve got Cleveland, we’re concentrating on Cleveland. But we never once had just talked about beating Cleveland,” Kendrick Perkins said. “We need a win. We’re desperate for one right now.”
Even though winning on the road has been a struggle for the Celtics this season, spoiling the Cavs perfect home record is a test they are up for.
“We have an opportunity to go in down there playing one of the best teams in the league,” Leon Powe said. “They’re real hot at home too. I think they’ve won about 18 straight in their house. Man, it’s going to be a challenge. But we’ve got a wonderful opportunity to go in there and play well and hopefully pull out a win to give us a big confidence boost.”
A win in Cleveland would do more than get the Celtics back on the winning side. The Eastern Conference standings are so close this season that an early January victory could pay dividends in the playoffs.
“Really, we’re just trying to win all the games we possibly can and get homecourt advantage,” Perkins said. “That just would make it a little bit easier for us in the playoffs. But if we don’t get homecourt advantage I’m not saying we won’t win he championship, but it’d really be a whole lot harder.”
With an electrified crowd behind them, the Cavs will also look to avenge last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals elimination. The biggest key is matching their intensity.
“It has the same sense of urgency,” Powe said. “We’ve got to go out there, play hard, it’s going to be just like a Game 7. They’re going to come at us and try to hit us in the mouth first. We’ve got to take it and then respond back. We haven’t been doing that as of lately but I think we should be alright going out there. Our captains and everybody on this team know what we’ve got to do to win the game.”
Playing hard is one thing, but the Celtics don’t have a panicked attitude toward the game. Allen added the team has not reached the point of frustration yet, and Sam Cassell, the only member of the Celtics who has won back-to-back titles, explained there’s no need to get flustered this early in January.
“When you’re repeating you’ve got all that stuff with big matchups, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “You want to win every game possible but it doesn’t make you or break you. A team that got its rhythm in April going into the playoffs is a team that can win a championship … Why should we [worry]? We aren’t breaking .500. When I won a championship we were 10 games over .500, that’s all.”
The Celtics won 19 straight by focusing on one day at a time. After Friday night they have 44 more regular season games left and each one is just as important as a match up against LeBron James. It doesn’t matter who’s on the opposite side of the court. The Celtics have to take care of the five guys in green first.
“It wouldn’t have made a difference if it were Cleveland or Sacramento,” Allen said. “It wouldn’t have made a difference. We lost three in a row and that’s the mentality we have to have going into the game.”
|Sounds of the game… Rockets 89, Celtics 85||at 8:14 am ET|
You can sense the concern growing each and every day. What was a juggernaut headed for 70+ wins two weeks ago is now a team that has lost three straight, six of eight and in second place, IN ITS OWN CONFERENCE. Talk about a change of direction. The Celtics haven’t hit a bump in the road, they’ve hit a Boston-sized pothole that has messed up their alignment and they desperately need a trip to the garage to get it fixed. Problem is their next pit stop is against the Cavaliers, the team ahead of them in the East, in Cleveland Friday night where they haven’t lost at home this season in 18 games. Wednesday night, someone named Von Wafer drilled a three with 44 seconds remaining and the Celtics couldn’t overcome Yao Ming’s 26 points as Houston handed the Green their sixth loss in eight games since Christmas.
|Are the Celtics in trouble?||01.06.09 at 9:45 pm ET|
The Boston Celtics knew there would be a target on their backs this season. But the threats sounded empty after winning 19 straight and blowing out their opponents in embarrassing fashion. Eventually, though, the rest of the league began to fight back. The Los Angeles Lakers were the first to take a stand. The Golden State Warriors followed suit and soon the Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats wanted in. (CLICK HERE for a recap of Tuesday’s loss to the Bobcats.)
For every game the Celtics win, there is an opponent circling their next meeting. The problem is, the Celtics can’t mark every game as their biggest and defending their title is taking a toll on them. They are 2-5 since losing to the Lakers on Christmas Day and holes in the roster are being exposed. The once unstoppable Rajon Rondo has been contained by big men. The bench that was supposed to compensate for the loss of James Posey has blown numerous leads. Final minutes that used to be garbage time are now seconds of desperation.
December 25, 2008: Lakers 92, Celtics 83
The Celtics made the Lakers look soft last season during the NBA Finals. The Lakers got payback by snapping the Celtics’ 19-game winning streak on Christmas Day, challenging the Celtics to test them again for the title. Phil Jackson inspired other coaches to put their bigs on Rondo, which stifled the Cs soaring offense.
December 26, 2008: Warriors 99, Celtics 89
The Warriors kicked the Celtics while they were down and handed them their second consecutive loss of the season in Oakland. It was a rude awakening that offered a reminder that, no matter what kind of advantage the Celtics have on paper, stats can’t compensate for the motivation of their opponents.
December 30, 2008: Trail Blazers 91, Celtics 86
The Brandon Roy-less Trail Blazers forced the Celtics to make bad plays and dealt Boston its first loss in Portland in four years. The Celtics were outrebounded by 15 in a sloppy defensive effort.
January 4, 2009: Knicks 100, Celtics 88
Thirty points from Al Harrington served as a reminder to the Cs of what a deep bench can do for you. The Celtics were simply outhustled and there was no secret who wanted this win more.
January 6, 2009: Bobcats 114, Celtics 106 (OT)
The Celtics practically welcomed the Bobcats into the paint with open arms early on to jumpstart this loss. They forced far too many shots from long range (6-23 3PG) and did not hit enough from the line (22-30 FT). This game affirmed the concern that the Celtics have work to do.
As long as the Celtics wear the rings, they will also wear a target. It is an inevitable struggle they will have to overcome if they want to face the same curse next season.
|It’s not just Yankees fans …||01.04.09 at 4:27 pm ET|
Yankees fans aren’t the only New Yorkers who speak their minds. The Madison Square Garden crowd is just as vocal when the Boston Celtics come to town. Rather than get annoyed, the Cs appreciate their dedication to the Knicks.
“One thing I’ve always liked about Madison Square Garden, and actually our fans … they actually come to watch the game,” Doc Rivers said. “I mean seriously, they don’t walk around and it’s not a fashion show. Both Garden crowds, Boston and Madison Square, people sit and watch basketball and that’s what they’re there for. They’re not there to be seen and they’re there to cheer for their team. And I’ve always appreciated that.”
Ray Allen attributes their die-hard mentality to the intense media coverage in New York.
“You figure from any New Yorker who comes to a game, you know baseball or you know basketball or you know football, and you know every team basically around the United States,” he said. “You might not see them but you know them because being in New York, walking through Times Square you see every stat, sport, game, whatever it is, through the media outlets in New York. So the fans are very knowledgeable, they appreciate good sports. They appreciate great athletes, the ones that works hard.”
Whether they are loved or hated, at least the Celtics always know where they stand in the Big Apple.
“When you’re walking down the street and everybody knows who you are,” Allen said. “They’ll tell you if you suck or if they really appreciate you.”
|Destination Championship: Why Boston has become a hotspot for NBA vets||01.03.09 at 9:53 pm ET|
Come to Boston and win, that’s how the Celtics organization is seen by many around the NBA. It has become a paradise of victory, a hotspot for veterans who want a legitimate shot at a championship. But it is also a place where selfishness and egos are checked at the door. Personal accolades mean nothing unless the team wins.
So what makes the Celtics, who downplay individual achievements, so much more appealing to vets than other teams who celebrate superstardom? Why settle for blending in when you could stand out next to Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? For those who have made the sacrifices, the explanation is very simple.
“Coming here you get to fit in and be a cog in the wheel,” Ray Allen said. “It’s not about any one individual here on this team. We play together and we beat teams together. We lose together. Everything is together.”
Over the past few weeks the Celtics have been named as possible destinations for veterans Stephon Marbury, Robert Horry, and Dikembe Mutombo, among others. Even though they could have a legitimate shot of winning all with the Los Angeles Lakers or Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston has been a primary destination in the rumor mill.
“I think what’s appealing is that we play together. We have three stars and they actually play together and I think that shows more,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “But honestly I think they would play with Kobe as well and I think they would play with LeBron as well. We may be more aggressive in the market, let’s say, than some of those teams. And maybe we’re not. I think they would play for any of them. At least I would if I were the player.”
Eight-year vet Eddie House, who has signed two contracts in two years with the Celtics, can understand why these players would be interested in Boston. The journeyman had already played with plenty of big names before — Elton Brand, Steve Nash, and Jason Kidd, to name a few – and was lured back by selflessness rather than headliners.
“When you’re playing with one guy then the ball’s dominated by one guy,” House explained. “Here, you’ve got a group of guys who like to share the basketball, who can take the load if they’re asked to take the load. They aren’t depended on the take the load, but if they are asked to take the load that night they will do it.
“But for the most part, it’s very unselfish and it’s not a ‘me’ attitude. With those guys (Bryant and James) it’s more so they have to dominate the ball and you have to play off of them. To where these guys will get you the ball and play with you, instead of you playing off of them.”
The Celtics are set apart from the rest of the league by more than just their trophy. The success of Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce sent the message that being the superstar doesn’t guarantee being the best. It was only when these vets took a step back that they won it all.
“The point of us coming together last year, we were at a point in our lives, in our careers where we were somewhat content with what we had done individually,” Allen said. “We could continue at that pace and finish our careers out that way being a great scorer on a team that never won. But if we didn’t [let go] of our egos and come together, we would have been doing that for the rest of our careers. That’s why, at that time, it seemed like it was a great moment for all of our careers. And I think there’s that progression for most athletes.”
Should the Celtics make any mid-season moves, they already know how to adapt to new additions. Last season veterans P.J. Brown emerged from semi-retirement and Sam Cassell accepted a buyout from the Los Angeles Clippers for the prospect of a ring. These acquisitions could have rattled the Celtics, but those already on the team didn’t see less playing time. They saw a better shot at the title.
“The late in the season addition when you’re already the number one team, you could have some grumbles about that and guys might not welcome guys in,” House said. “But everybody knew this is a business and not only is this a business, but we were on a mission to a hang a banner in the rafters. So we had to accept what was going on for the greater good.”
39-year-old Cassell re-signed with the Cs fully aware that he could be inactive the entire season. At this stage in his career, he doesn’t need 20 minutes per game to be happy.
“It’s about winning,” he said. “For me, I don’t know what [other veterans'] agendas are, but for me it was about winning. I just got a nice taste of winning so I just wanted to win. This was the best opportunity for me to win again.”
As long as the Celtics continue to win with their unselfish play, Boston will stay on the map for veterans who want to capture a championship without having to do it all on their own.
“We welcome the help,” Allen said. “Our egos, we’re pretty selfless here on this team when it comes to playing basketball. We just want to win.”
The door is open for eager vets, just as long as they leave their egos behind.
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