|Fast Break: Celtics shot down in flames against Suns||01.29.11 at 1:20 am ET|
This one was simple, but oh so painful to watch. The Celtics got into Phoenix around 4 a.m. local time Friday night and started out in a not-surprising funk. By the end of the first half they had set new season lows for points in the first quarter (16), points in the first half (35) and they continued their futility throughout the second half.
Then they lost their coach after referee Steve Javie tossed Doc Rivers at the 4:33 mark of the second quarter and Glen Davis who strained his right hamstring. If that wasn’t enough, Kevin Garnett was ejected after low-blowing Channing Frye on a 3-point attempt.
The final was 88-71, which extended their run of futility in back-to-backs. Their last three have been particularly ragged with a loss 90-79 loss to Chicago that was their offensive low point before Friday and the 83-81 loss in Washington last week.
The Celtics return to action Sunday against the Lakers, who lost at home to Sacramento. Chances are good that both teams will be in a lousy mood for that one.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Offensive stagnation: Unlike Thursday when the Celtics recovered long enough to put enough points on the boards and beat the Blazers, the C’s never got into any kind of a rhythm. That’s discouraging because the Suns are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Back-to-back or not, there’s simply no excuse for the Celtics to shoot 34 percent in the first half, or turn it over six times in the first quarter against the Suns.
Much of the blame for the Celtics offensive woes falls on Rajon Rondo. He had a miserable night on both ends of the floor, scoring just seven points on 1-for-6 shooting and registering more turnovers (seven) than assists (six).
Glen Davis missed the second half with a hamstring injury: This could be a potentially bad blow for the Celtics because Davis is their most important bench player and the key to their frontcourt versatility. The Celtics don’t really have another backup power forward on the roster (Luke Harangody is next in line), but Davis has become much more than just Garnett’s replacement. He also plays important fourth quarter minutes at center, which makes him a matchup nightmare in his own right.
Hamstring injuries are notoriously difficult to calm down — Rondo’s lingered weeks after he was supposedly healthy. If Davis is out for any length of time, the Celtics could have a serious problem.
They got nothing from the bench: Before the Celtics pulled their starters, their bench players had scored 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Nate Robinson couldn’t provide a spark and Davis did little before his injury. Von Wafer got some early minutes, but the shots just weren’t there for him either.
This has been a constant theme for the Celtics this season and while Rivers hopes to cobble together a coherent second unit after Delonte West returns from his broken wrist, the bench has been a huge disappointment to this point. With the amount of talent the Celtics have they don’t need their bench to win them games very often, but there are nights when they need a change in direction and energy and the second unit has provided neither on a consistent basis.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Celtics fought it out (literally): Give them credit for not packing it in when they could have, but they couldn’t get the lead under 10 in the third quarter and make a serious run. They did cut the lead down to 11 after Mickael Pietrus elbowed Garnett and picked up a technical foul. That seemed to energize the Celtics for a bit, but with a chance to cut the lead to single digits Marquis Daniels was whistled for an offensive foul in transition. Their last chance evaporated after Garnett’s ejection.
|Why Nate Robinson was reason Celtics won||05.29.10 at 1:23 am ET|
When he speaks, everyone who cares about the team listens.
In the moments following Boston’s second Eastern Conference title in three years, he gave credit to one player for helping the Celtics to get over the emotional hump of losing two straight games after having a 3-0 lead against the Magic.
“He really won the game for us,” Pierce told ESPN’s Doris Burke in the midst of a parquet celebration following the 96-84 triumph.
Why did the man who scored a game-high 31 points while grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out five assists give so much credit to the man with the new tatoo on his throat? Because without him, the Celtics might have lost their swagger when Rajon Rondo took a hard first-quarter fall to the floor, courtesy Dwight Howard.
‘It was huge, it was big,” Robinson said after scoring all 13 of his points in a furious second-quarter spurt. “I am just speechless right now. My teammates, we got the job done today.
‘Just do whatever coach asked. He asked me to play as much defense as I could. The best way that I knew how, and the offense is going to come. That’s something that comes naturally, just play the game for what it is and for the love of it. That’s what I went out there and did.’
Robinson, who came to Boston in a much-talked about mid-season trade with the Knicks, didn’t even play in Games 1 and 2 of the series as Rondo was exerting his dominance. Coach Doc Rivers has always told his players to be prepared. Friday’s huge Game 6 stage was Robinson’s chance.
‘It was a great opportunity,” Robinson said. “I thank God, I thank Doc, the fans for giving me so much energy and my teammates for believing. They always told me be ready, be ready you never know. Today was that day.
‘I mean just the opportunity to play. I got my chance today. I just showed that I could play the game of basketball.’
And now Robinson gets his first chance to play on an even bigger stage: the NBA finals.
|Report: DJ voted to Hall of Fame||04.03.10 at 3:47 pm ET|
Point guard Dennis Johnson has been elected to the basketball Hall of Fame, according to a report in the Boston Globe. Sources tell the paper that Johnson will be inducted in the latest class this fall in Springfield, Mass.
The official announcement is expected on Monday. Johnson led three teams to NBA championships, including the 1984 and 1986 Celtics. Johnson also led the Seattle SuperSonics to their only championship in 1979, earning NBA Finals MVP.
Johnson, drafted 29th overall in 1976 by Seattle, began his professional career as a shooting guard. After a short stint with the Phoenix Suns, he became the starting point guard for the Celtics and led the team to the NBA title in 1984, his first season in Boston.
‘DJ” was voted to five All-Star teams, one All-NBA first and one second team, and nine consecutive All-Defensive first and second Teams.
|Fast Break: Celtics-Suns||12.30.09 at 11:28 pm ET|
The losing streak is now three games, and while there were extenuating circumstances, this was the worst of the three. Yes the injuries are piling up and yes, the trip was long and tiring, but the Celtics had less pop than day-old champagne and provided decidedly less buzz. The Celtics clearly have bigger issues than one game, and in truth it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Phoenix Suns were able to blow them off the court Wednesday night, 116-98.
The big news came before tip-off as Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis (again) joined Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels on the injured list, and it looks like it will be a little while before Garnett returns. The Celtics are saying that Garnett suffered a hyper-extended knee when he got kicked against the Warriors, which they are saying is different than the thigh bruise that kept him out last week and different than the knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs.
With more than a week between now and a Jan. 6 game at Miami and only one more game in between against the Raptors on Saturday, this seems like an ideal time to give Garnett some rest. That’s how the Celtics are playing it, but there will certainly be questions about Garnett’s injuries, which coincidentally or not, have all affected the same leg.
Despite all that the Celtics did come out with the best of intentions. They went into the post repeatedly in the first quarter in an effort to play from the inside out and they took the ball hard to the basket and lived at the free throw line for most of the second quarter. Those good intentions couldn’t mask a lack of players, energy or hustle, however.
Player of the Game: Amar’e Stoudemire. The Suns forward dominated the Celtics in the first quarter, making nine of 10 shots and scoring at will. He was far too quick for Kendrick Perkins, which is just one place the Celtics missed Garnett. If not for persistent foul trouble, Stoudemire might have gone for 40 points. Instead he settled for 26 and seven rebounds.
Turning Point: Unlike most Phoenix runs, the Suns decisive move didn’t happen quickly. But it did happen early. Lasting 1o possessions and carrying on through a timeout, they turned a 12-8 deficit into a 26-14 lead. From that point on, the Celtics were in deep trouble.
* Those waiting for the kids, i.e. Bill Walker, J.R. Giddens and Lester Hudson to get some run will have to continue the vigil. If ever there was a night for them to play it was Wednesday. Instead all three were idle until the fourth quarter when the game was well in Phoenix’s grasp.
* This could have been a night for Rasheed Wallace to pick up some of the slack, but he struggled against the quicker Suns. He failed to take advantage of what should have been a mismatch against Channing Frye and played just 29 minutes. Wallace was 3-for-11 and 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
* Rajon Rondo played despite his sore hamstring and seemed to lack his usual burst to the hoop. Even playing the defensively-challenged Steve Nash, Rondo rarely took it to the rim and was content to settle himself about 20 feet from the basket most of the night. In 31 minutes Rondo scored 13 points and recorded eight assists, which were solid enough numbers but it was clear that Rondo wasn’t at his best.
* Perkins picked up his 10th technical foul, which ties him with Wallace for most in the NBA. He would be subject to a one-game suspension if his count reaches 16 techs.
* The Celtics were able to stay in the game for a time with a small-ball lineup of Rondo, Eddie House, Ray Allen and Brian Scalabrine along with Wallace and Perkins. But every time they inched closer the Suns shot them right back out of the game.
* Shelden Williams had 14 points and five rebounds, which was his most productive outing in weeks.
|Preview: Celtics-Suns||at 10:59 am ET|
It’s funny what a couple of losses can do to a team. Just last weekend everyone was hailing the Celtics resiliency and toughness after they found a way to beat the Magic in Orlando. Now, they’re careless and sloppy and not quite as dominant as everyone thought. Or maybe, they just miss Paul Pierce, especially late in games.
The C’s play the Suns Wednesday night and it’s a matchup that should have been circled back when the schedule came out because it’s two good teams who play an entertaining, but completely different, brand of basketball. If the Celtics lose, which they might, it would be three straight defeats and the ship will be sinking. Or something.
Do they need to tighten up? Absolutely. Do they need to play better? Sure. Are they headed for an inevitable playoff fall after a couple of lackluster games on the road in late December? Um, no. For one night, forget about the playoffs. Forget about wherever this team is eventually heading and just enjoy the hoops.
CELTICS (23-7, 7-3 last 10)
Points Per Game: 100.5
Points Allowed: 91.9
Differential: +8.7 (First)
Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.5 (First)
Pace: 92.0 (21st)
SUNS (20-12, 5-5 last 10)
Points Per Game: 109.8
Points Allowed: 106.0
Differential: +3.8 (Ninth)
Offensive Efficiency: 114.6 (First)
Defensive Efficiency: 110.6 (27th)
Pace: 95.8 (Fourth)
Key Matchup: Nash vs. Rondo
Nash won a couple of MVP’s earlier this decade that in retrospect most feel he probably shouldn’t have won. That’s not a knock on Nash who has been one of the game’s great guards of this or any other era, just the reality of suspect MVP voting. What’s interesting, however, is that Nash may be having an even better season than his MVP years. He ranks first in every assist category in the league, and in free throw shooting. He is the top-ranked guard in True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage and owns the best Offensive Efficiency Rating in the NBA. He’s the key to everything the Suns do and represents yet another test for Rondo.
Celtics in a Paragraph: The Celtics turn the ball over a lot. They average a little more than 15 per game, which puts them in the lower half of the NBA. It’s even worse when you factor in pace where they rank near the very bottom of the league. More than a quarter of their possessions end in turnovers, which puts their 26-turnover performance in a 100-possession game against the Warriors in a little better perspective. That said, turnovers have always been an issue for the Celtics in this era. They had been doing a better job managing them this season, but even a little slippage in this area turns an issue into a full-blown problem.
Suns in a Paragraph: In the past 10 games the Suns have defeated the Lakers, Spurs and Magic and lost to the Blazers, Nuggets and Cavs. They remain a very good team in a hyper-competitive conference that is good enough to beat anyone, but probably not good enough to get to the Finals. That’s a shame for anyone who loves watching well-executed fast-break basketball. Until they break through, their style will always be suspect, but when the Suns did try to play a more conventional game they were not only boring, they were mediocre. For a league that prides itself on its creativity, the NBA can be surprisingly conservative.
What to watch For: Phoenix has four players that have already launched at least 100 3-pointers this season: Nash, Richardson, Frye and former Boston College star, Jared Dudley. Each of them shoot a high percentage, and as a team the Suns are shooting over 42 percent from 3-point range. Not coincidentally, Phoenix owns the best offensive efficiency rating in basketball. The Celtics are the top rated defense in terms of efficiency, so something has to give.
In their first meeting, Phoenix was able to spread the floor with high pick and rolls and with Nash running it there are no good options for defending it. The pressure will be on Rondo to fight through screens and provide pressure on the ball and the Celtics bigs to not leave Frye open for pick and pop jumpers.
|Fast break: Celtics-Suns||11.06.09 at 10:04 pm ET|
The popular notion coming into Friday night’s game with Phoenix was that the super-fast Suns would run into a brick Celtics wall, but anyone expecting the Celtics to roll over the Suns was in for a surprise. In a hard-fought entertaining game, the Suns prevailed, 110-103, handing the Celtics their first loss of the season.
The Suns were blown out on Wednesday against Orlando (their first loss of the season) and came into this one with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and a feisty attitude. Channing Frye and Kendrick Perkins picked up double technicals at the end of the first half and there were more than a few wayward elbows getting tossed around.
The Celtics had a couple of chances to steal the game late, but Rajon Rondo had his layup blocked by Amare Stoudemire and a 3-pointer by Rasheed Wallace rattled in and out. Wallace was 0-for-6 on 3-point attempts and many of those shots met a similar fate.
Player of the game: Steve Nash. The veteran All-Star may have lost a step here or there, but he is still one of the league’s top orchestrators and he drained a huge 3-pointer in the final minute that put the final nail in the Celtics coffin.
Turning point: After the Celtics had closed to within two points at the end of the third quarter, Doc Rivers stuck with his regular rotation which included the four reserves and Paul Pierce. Phoenix’s Jason Richardson proceeded to go off scoring eight quick points. Phoenix steadily built the lead to 11 points and still Rivers resisted the urge to sub his starters back in until the eight-minute mark.
In a long season that is certainly the right decision by Rivers, but it may have cost them against Phoenix.
* Rivers said before the game that the Celtics wanted to run, and run they did in a breakneck paced first quarter. The C’s got up 23 first quarter shots and made 12 of them. The only problem was that the Suns shot 61 percent on the other end. Things slowed down in the second quarter when Phoenix went to its bench, but this was easily the fastest-paced game the Celtics have played this season.
* Ray Allen picked up his fourth foul less than three minutes into the third quarter. The Suns increased their lead from four to nine with Allen off the floor, but the Celtics closed to within two, 85-83 by the end of the quarter.
* Allen had a vicious baseline dunk in the fourth quarter. It’s worth noting that both he and Pierce have been attacking the basket better than they were at the end of last season.
* Former Boston College star Jared Dudley played 30 very effective minutes for the Suns. He scored 10 points, but his primary responsibility was hounding Pierce, who shot just 5-for-15 from the floor.
* There was a funny moment midway through the third quarter. After Richardson tumbled into a photographer on a drive to the basket, Stoudemire helped him up and then went over to Bill Russell who was sitting in the front row to shake his hand. Funnier moment came after the quarter when David Ortiz came out of the crowd to help the new Lucky during his dunk routine.
|Doc on Shaq: ‘I was obviously wrong’||at 8:05 pm ET|
He, like many others around the NBA, thought the Phoenix Suns hit a home run two seasons ago when they traded for Shaquille O’Neal, putting him alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash. Rivers just assumed the Suns would take off, challenge the Lakers and Nuggets for Western Conference supremacy.
Not so much. After a half-season in 2007-08, when they were eliminated in the first round, the Suns fell to 46-36 last season, not even good enough to qualify for the Western playoffs.
“I was obviously wrong,” Rivers said. “I didn’t that was a bad match with Shaq and Stoudamire.”
But the Suns could never optimize O’Neal’s presence with Nash and Stoudamire and the Suns let O’Neal go to Cleveland this past off season. The more nimble, athletic 6-11 Channing Frye has taken O’Neal’s spot and is averaging 14.6 points in Phoenix’s 4-1 start to this season.
“I thought you had one post guy and Stoudamire is more off the post than on the post so I thought it was a good combination but it just didn’t work out for whatever reason,” Rivers added. “It’s good to see Channing Frye play well. I’ve always been pretty high on him as a player. I think he’s another great example, a litle like Shelden [Williams], guys who take a little time to find their way and I guess he’s found his way.”