|Kevin Garnett: ‘Fatigue’s not an option’||04.09.11 at 12:16 am ET|
On the second night of a back-to-back, following a letdown loss against the Bulls, in the 79th installment of an 82-game season, the Celtics had plenty of excuses to pack it in against the sub-.300 Wizards — a routine they’ve fallen prey to countless times in the past two seasons.
“At the end of the day, it’s competitive, and both sides are going to have competitive players who want to win,” said Garnett, who totaled 15 points and 11 rebounds against the Wizards. “It doesn’t matter who we play. You take the court, you suit up, and that’s what you’re expecting. Whether you’re playing lesser teams or below .500 teams or above .500 teams, you’ve got to anticipate that a team is trying to beat you.”
Thursday night, an above .500 team not only tried to beat the Celtics but succeeded with flying colors. And while Pierce quickly downplayed a question about the blowout loss to the Bulls — issuing a curt “We’re past that” response — the defeat has clearly stuck with Garnett.
“We want to keep that fresh in our mind,” said Garnett. “It’s motivating. We played like trash, and they played great. You want that to motivate you. We’ve got a really good Heat team coming up, and we’ll be tested again.”
The Celtics face the Heat on Sunday in a game that could decide the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, as a C’s win would put them one game up on the Heat with the tiebreaker in hand and two games left.
“We’re just trying to gather some momentum with these games that we have left and be aggressive,” added Garnett. “[Friday], after the performance of [Thursday], it was probably more of an emphasis on being aggressive and for the most part we did that. I think we’re looking for that consistency. We’ll see. If we decide as a team to come into that, then that’s what we’ll be. If not, we’ll have problems.”
The injuries have placed a greater burden on this year’s stars than Celtics coach Doc Rivers had anticipated, and the team’s three aging stars will all have played more minutes this season than they did during the 2009-10 regular season. Still, Garnett isn’t using that as an excuse to explain the team’s lackluster performance since the All-Star break.
“Fatigue’s not an option right now,” he said. “It’s not an option. But we are trying to get better, and we’re doing it with hard work and effort, as usual. … A lot of [fatigue] is mental.”
|Fast Break: Celtics rebound against Wizards||04.08.11 at 10:00 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo (20 points, 14 assists), Kevin Garnett (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (22 points, 12 rebounds) all recorded double-doubles, and Ray Allen (13 points) showed signs of coming out of his recent slump, making 5-of-10 shots (but only 1-of-6 3-pointers). The Celtics (55-24) did their part in the race against the Heat for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.
Andray Blatche led the Wizards (21-58) with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rajon Rondo’s fast start: One night after reportedly asking coach Doc Rivers for a 1-on-1 meeting, the Celtics point guard came out of the gates with a full head of steam, recording more assists in the first quarter against the Wizards (7) than he did all night against the Bulls (6). By the third quarter, he had already recorded a double-double. As a side note, Rondo continued to incite concerns about his aggressiveness around the basket, passing up easy shots to create more difficult ones.
Kevin Garnett came to play: It’s no surprise that a showdown with Blatche brought out the best in Garnett, as the two have a long history of back-and-forth bickering. Knocking down six of his first eight shots, the Celtics forward registered his 28th double-double of the season by the third quarter. Of course, Blatche wasn’t so bad himself, producing a double-double of his own.
Back to the basics: Of course, it helped that they were playing the Wizards. The Celtics totaled only 22 points in the paint and 14 assists (on 28 field goals) against the Bulls. Against Washington, they nearly doubled their output from the previous night in both areas (48 points in the paint and 25 assists), as all five starters reached double figures and each of the Big Four had at least three assists.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Just when you think they’re out of it … the Celtics let them back in. After building a lead as big as 12 points and appearing to be in total command during the first 6:39 of the game, the C’s predictably — as they have all season — let the Wizards close the gap to 59-56 at the half. As the season nears a close, Rivers would love to be able to rest his stars, but the bench hasn’t been productive enough and the starters haven’t been aggressive enough to put bad teams away.
Will Troy Murphy ever contribute consistently? The C’s waiver wire acquisition saw some rare early playing time against the Wizards. Offensively, he committed a turnover and seemed lost for many of his 14 minutes on the floor, although he made a couple layups. Defensively, he got burned by unstoppable force JaVale McGee and immovable object Andray Blatche. All in all, not a great showing by Murphy, who’s in desperate need of good showings if he wants to see playoff minutes.
Delonte West gets the heave ho: The team’s best point guard against the Bulls Thursday night, Delonte West didn’t even make it through the second quarter Friday. Playing tough defense but scoring just two points in less than six minutes of play, West picked up Washington point guard John Wall on full-court pressure, only to be whistled for a cheap foul. He didn’t complain. Instead, he picked up Wall again, defending all the way up the court until another, worse whistle 14 seconds later.
After two separate verbal exchanges between West and referee Josh Tiven, the Celtics backup point guard picked up two technical fouls and, as a result, the ejection. West quietly walked off the court, leaving the C’s with Carlos Arroyo and Avery Bradley as their options off the bench.
|Doc Rivers doesn’t want his team taking anyone for granted – not even Cleveland||01.24.11 at 2:31 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Saturday night’s loss to the lowly Washington Wizards was the latest bad loss in a season filled with plenty of wins, according to Doc Rivers. The Celtics coach was asked to explain how his team could lose to a team like the Wizards, which came in with just 13 wins.
“Obviously, if you look at the whole season, it’s been a terrific season so far,” Rivers said following Monday’s practice. “But in that terrific season, we’ve had some bad losses, too. And I tell our guys that. Some of the teams that have beaten us are under .500 and those are tough losses for a team that shouldn’t lose those games. Moral lessons learned and we’ve just got to keep teaching them.”
The Celtics have lost 10 games and one of those losses came to the Cavaliers, one night after the C’s beat Miami in the season-opener. Cleveland comes to TD Garden on Tuesday having lost 16 straight and Rivers said he’s not taking them lightly, and doesn’t expect his players to, either.
“Cleveland beat us once already this year,” Rivers said. “For us, I rarely worry about the opponent, I worry about ourselves. When we play right, I think it gives us an excellent chance to win games. And when we don’t anyone can beat us and that’s been proven this year.”
WALTHAM – Doc Rivers said it’s likely that Shaquille O’Neal will miss his second straight game on Tuesday night with a sore right hip. But the Celtics coach added, after O’Neal missed practice on Monday, that there’s a chance the 38-year-old center could miss part of the upcoming four-game West Coast trip to Portland, Phoenix, Los Angeles (Lakers) and Sacramento.
“[O’Neal] probably will not play [Tuesday] and maybe [return] on the West Coast trip but he may miss that trip,” Rivers said Monday. “We don’t know yet.”
The team doesn’t want O’Neal to play in back-to-back games and they would also rather not have him on the long flight to Portland. One scenario for O’Neal is to have him join the team in Phoenix for Friday’s game against the Suns.
O’Neal and Marquis Daniels (family issue) both missed practice on Monday. The Celtics host the Cavaliers on Tuesday at TD Garden. Cleveland has lost 16 straight while the Celtics are playing their last home game until Feb. 4 against Dallas.
|The strong and sensitive Delonte West||11.17.10 at 11:35 pm ET|
Shaquille O’Neal has a lot of faith in Delonte West, who made his long-awaited return to the court Wednesday night in the Celtics‘ rout of the Wizards at TD Garden. After all, he played last year with him in Cleveland.
“I learned that you guys think he’s crazy but he’s not,” O’Neal said. “Not at all. I could handle him. We always have conversations about the game. He’s very smart. He’s just misunderstood at times.”
West was a very grateful man Wednesday night. And he wore his emotion on his sleeve. He was eligible to play in an NBA game for the first time since serving a league-mandated 10-game suspension for off-court misconduct involving firearms and a motorcycle in the summer of 2009.
With that behind him – and with the faith and support of his teammates and Celtics management – he entered the game as a sub for Ray Allen with 3:12 left in the first quarter. He was nervous as if he were a rookie making his NBA debut.
“It brought a tear to my eye,” West said of the loud ovation he received from the crowd, many on their feet in support.
Then West was brought back to earth by Washington’s Nick Young.
“Then Nick Young hit three shots in my face, and that dried up my tears real quick.”
West had the ideal scenario to return to the court on Wednesday night and he took advantage, scoring 12 points, grabbing five rebounds and handing out four assists to lead the bench in Boston’s 114-83 win over the Washington Wizards at TD Garden.
“Any game is perfect for me,” West said. “I just want to be back helping out. I’m so excited to be back. Thankful to the lord for this second opportunity and I’ll make the best out of it.’
After playing in practice and in the preseason with the team, West was making his official debut back in a Celtics uniform after serving a 10-game NBA-imposed suspension for off-court misconduct. The Celtics gave the once-troubled guard one more chance, signing him shortly after Minnesota waived him in the summer.
‘It felt great,” West said. “For a minute there in the summertime I thought I wouldn’t see an NBA court again. I thank the Lord, ownership here, the coaching staff, and Danny Ainge. They know what I am about. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to do what I love to do. They knew the difference between a bad decision and a bad person. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to do what I love to do.”
West made his debut when he replaced Ray Allen with 3:12 left in the first quarter and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said it was only natural that he showed some initial rust but not for long as West found his rhythm, finding Paul Pierce for an open three on the right wing, a three Pierce drilled to give West his first stat in his first game back – an assist.
‘I didn’t want to do too much,” West admitted. “Sometimes not doing too much is what the team needs you to do. The second unit responded well in the second half. The first half, our timing was just off. Marquis [Daniels] missed a few practices, I’m getting back into the mix. We’re just trying to adjust to playing with one another. Biggest thing is we got the victory. Other kinks we’ll work out.’
He played 21 minutes in his first Celtics game since being dealt to Seattle following the 2006-07 season.
‘In the first half, I just wanted to get my feet wet,” West said. “I noticed that my timing was off a little bit. Guys that know me, I don’t really force much. I let the game come to me. With that second unit sometimes you got to force the flow. When you’re up 20 or 15, it’s hard to go out and want to be aggressive. You want to maintain the lead and give the starters some rest.’
|Fast Break: Celtics beat the Wiz||at 9:55 pm ET|
All five Celtics starters reached double figures as the Celtics built a 20-point lead early in the third quarter and coasted to a 114-83 victory over the John Wall-less Washington Wizards at the TD Garden on Tuesday night.
Paul Pierce scored a game-high 23 points while Kevin Garnett added 18 points and seven boards and Delonte West netted 12 points off the bench in his return to lead the Celtics (9-2) to a 65 percent shooting night.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT
1. Hot shooting: Despite looking sluggish defensively in the early going, the Celtics hit their first six shots and made 15-of19 on the offensive end in the first quarter. And they didn’t let up for the rest of the night.
In all, the Celtics starters shot 71 percent (35-of-49) from the field. Pierce’s 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting — including a trio of 3-pointers — led the effort, as the C’s grabbed a 33-25 lead in the first 12 minutes, stretched it to 16 at the half, 20 after three and as much as 37 in the fourth quarter.
2. Vintage Shaq: Showing signs of the player who made 14 straight All-Star Games, Shaquille O’Neal grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds in a swarm of three Wizards, gathered himself and nearly took down the rim with a dunk over all three of them.
Forced into more playing time than usual because of Semih Erden‘s four personal fouls in his first six minutes of action, O’Neal totaled 13 points and six rebounds in his first 16 minutes on the floor. By the time he cooled off, the Celtics had already built a 20-point lead and were coasting to victory.
3. Welcome back, Delonte: Within a minute of his re-debut, Delonte West worked his way under the basket, drew a defender and found an open Pierce for 3. It was skilled, smart basketball — exactly the type of play the C’s are hoping to get all season long from the backup guard.
West had a personal 5-0 run against the Wizards in the fourth quarter, giving him 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and a block on the night. Not bad for a guy coming off a 10-game suspension.
THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG
1. Boxing out: Sounds easy enough, but the Celtics apparently didn’t feel like doing it in the first half. On one play, the C’s ran up the court, leaving the ball behind for the Wizards to clean up and score an easy bucket.
The C’s actually out-rebounded the Wizards on the night, 40-36, but 18 of Washington’s 36 boards came on the offensive glass. Javale McGee led the effort, grabbing six offensive boards and 10 total.
2. Semih awkward: After showing flashes of brilliance in his first 10 games, Semih Erden fell back to earth a bit against the Wizards. Facing a tough interior defender in Javale McGee, Erden got into early foul trouble, picking up four personals in his first six minutes on the floor.
It may have been his nagging shoulder bothering him, but Erden (3 turnovers) didn’t seem to have the sure hands that made him so effective in his first 10 appearances.
With that being said, his ability to score inside and knock down free throws put nine points on the board for the Celtics.
3. All quiet on the West front: This one falls more on the Celtics crowd. After playing for some woeful teams in Boston and being traded as part of the deal that brought Ray Allen — and subsequently an NBA championship — to the city three years ago, Delonte West returned to the Garden in a Celtics uniform on Wednesday night.
Yet, when West entered the game, the crowd reacted as if Lester Hudson was returning to the building (which he did), giving a half-hearted ovation. They cheered louder when the Noise Meter popped up on the Jumbotron.
Generally, Boston crowds deliver in those moments — one reason they’re considered great fans — but they missed the boat on that one.
|The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (5 of 7)||10.26.10 at 12:13 pm ET|
NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.
ON THE HAWKS: The Hawks spent the summer, once again, reinvesting in the status quo (see Johnson, Joe), which has seen them improve on their record every season since their 13-win nadir in 2004-05.
The major changes were on the bench, where the team replaced Mike Woodson with longtime assistant Larry Drew. Gone are the constant switching defensively and the heavy reliance on iso-sets offensively in favor of a motion offense and playing it straight defensively.
Such change should result in a rise in turnovers, a stat that has always kept the Hawks’ offensive efficiency near the top of the NBA but also kept their best defenders, Josh Smith and Al Horford, in better positions to help the team defensively.
The Hawks were also very fortunate last year in terms of injuries, so their lack of depth didn’t harm them in terms of their regular-season record.
Between the adjustment to new schemes and a likely injury or two to the main core, the Hawks should see the end of their annual increase in win total, but the continued improvement in their younger players (Smith, Horford, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague) should help balance that somewhat, giving them another 50-win season, fourth in the conference — and getting bounced again in the second round of the playoffs.
The true test of whether your franchise is a contender is when the regular season predictions don’t mean jack squat, and the C’s have been in that neighborhood ever since acquiring KG and Ray. It’s a great place to be, and this season is no different.
With a plethora of big men (Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis) to supplement the core roster in case of any injury up front due to age (and there is considerable age there), Boston should be able to capture home-court again, which makes them a very tough out come postseason time, as they proved so well last season.
I believe they’re a lock for the Eastern Conference Finals.
Barring a trade, they’re looking to replace them with D.J. Augustin, a young player Larry Brown seems to despise, and Nazr Mohammed, a center whose sell-by date is long-since passed (last season’s career year notwithstanding).
Even if Gerald Wallace remains an All-Star, and Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas continue playing as well as they did last season for the Cats, they’re going to struggle to get to 40 wins — and could easily finish with near 30 wins.
ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics’ window could be closed this season, given the likely continued decline of Pierce, Garnett and Allen.
There’s also no telling, really, how much Tom Thibodeau meant to the Celtics’ defensive excellence the past few years, and any kind of decline on that end of the floor might be the death knell for them as true title contenders, since no one on the team is a killer offensive threat.
So, give them 50 wins again.
ON THE HEAT: After a much ballyhooed offseason, the Heat enter the 2010-11 season as legitimate title contenders.
The additions of Chris Bosh and LeBron James along with the re-signing of Dwyane Wade has caused a seismic wave throughout the league, which could signal the beginning of a new NBA dynasty on South Beach.
Miami will have to battle through glaring holes at the 1 and 5 spots, despite their newly assembled constellation of stars.
The Heat must find a way to become a cohesive unit, within an 82-game span, leading into the playoffs. Once the postseason gets underway, expect Miami to face difficult obstacles in Boston and Orlando. Both teams have been together longer and have big edges at the center and point guard positions.
Predicting Miami’s season is difficult, because so many factors come into play. Look for the Heat to make the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston and for the series to go seven games with the decisive contest being held in Miami.
The Heat will have a stellar regular season, earning the top seed in the East, but don’t expect them to match the record-setting 72 wins that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls managed to get.
ON THE CELTICS: While Vegas odds-makers have listed the flashy names on the Heat lineup as favorites to win the Eastern Conference, one has to love the Celtics’ chances.
Boston solidified their roster this offseason with several free-agent signings. The additions only help to strengthen a team that was a Kendrick Perkins injury or a few more key rebounds away from winning an NBA title.
Boston has All-Stars at every position on the floor. While Allen declined a bit last year, Rondo’s emergence as an elite NBA player compensated for the slip in Allen’s game. KG and Shaq must be held back a bit during the regular season, so they can be healthy and rested for the playoffs.
Expect to see Boston easily win the Atlantic Division but to finish with the third seed for the playoffs. The Celtics showed last year that they don’t need to overexert themselves for 82 games in order to have postseason success.
No matter their seeding, the Celtics should be considered the Eastern Conference favorites once the playoffs begin. In the end, it will be Boston and Miami squaring off for a chance to dethrone the Lakers.
I’ve pegged them for 62 wins, because although the East got stronger this offseason, the Magic certainly didn’t decline in talent level from the last two seasons, when they won 59 games apiece.
Carter worked hard on his body this offseason and appears to be much more comfortable on the floor. His jumper has rarely even caught the rim in preseason, as he’s getting his body square and legs into the shot before firing away.
Orlando brought Quentin Richardson aboard, largely due to his 3-point shooting, which will force the Celtics to think twice about leaving him open. The Celtics exposed Orlando in the conference finals last season by utterly ignoring Matt Barnes on the perimeter, due to his unreliable outside shot, which freed them to pack the paint, stymieing Howard inside and shutting down driving lanes for Carter and Nelson. Clearly, Richardson will be one key against Boston.
Orlando will likely win far more games than the Celtics do this season, but don’t let that disparity fool you: If these teams meet for the third consecutive postseason, it’ll be anyone’s series.
ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics proved last season that they’re a tough team to peg, at least until the playoffs roll around.
Given the continuity in Boston’s locker room, at least as far as leadership is concerned, I expect another season of Doc Rivers managing his players’ minutes closely, and the players conserving their energy.
This approach worked to great effect last year, as they took the defending champion Lakers to the brink in the Finals after most basketball observers counted them out, first against the Cavaliers and then against the Magic.
Overall, I’ve pegged the Celtics for a win total in the mid-40s, likely 46-36. If that seems low, or insulting, to the Boston faithful, I think it’s instructive to point out the regular season doesn’t mean a whole lot to this team.
While I’m dubious that the Celtics can flip the switch again, so to speak, Rivers will keep that possibility open so long as he’s able to keep the veteran core fresh. And regardless of their health or engagement level, they’ll always be a tough matchup for the Magic.
The cost-effective additions of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal — along with Perkins — give Boston three of the top five Dwight Howard defenders in the league.
ON THE WIZARDS: The Wizards enter the 2010-11 season with positive energy flowing out their ears.
John Wall has already proven to be a man-child not only as an ankle-breaking wunderkind, but as a steady-handed floor marshal — unafraid to put veterans in their place, literally, on the basketball court.
But however solid Wall may be this year, the squad as a whole is perforated with imperfections. Gilbert Arenas can’t guard anyone, only a couple players can hit 3s and the Wizards’ young posts have a history of weak rebounding and late help defense.
See, this is a team full of “you know, if…”s. Because, you know, if Gilbert stays healthy and embraces the off-ball responsibilities like he did in the preseason, if 30-year-old Josh Howard returns to his near All-Star levels of play, if JaVale McGee builds on his breakout summer, if Andray Blatche plays like he did down the stretch last year (21 points a game from January to March), and if Al Thornton eschews the mid-range game and focuses on becoming Count Dunkula, this could be a pretty good team.
That’s far too many ifs for the irresponsible optimism that pervades D.C. hoops fans — but an appropriate amount for a team heading into a 35-47 season.
ON THE CELTICS: Was the Celtics’ run to last year’s Finals the last violent spasm of a dying monster, or simply proof that the beast was slumbering throughout the regular season?
Rondo is superb (Hubie Brown voice) and the East’s best point guard, but the rest of the Celtics’ starting five is declining — that is, unless The Big Ticket really is bouncing back on that right knee.
Boston’s pride won 50 games last year and is replacing Perkins with the chalk outlines of the O’Neals, a significant downgrade defensively and offensively (KP is the best screener in the league). The frontcourt is deeper, but also less effective until Perk returns, and then at what level will he play?
The Celtics should also be concerned after losing Tony Allen, the East’s best perimeter defender and resident LeBron/Wade specialist. Who fills that void? Ray, Pierce, Nate Robinson, Delonte West all fall well short defensively.
On any other team, these concerns would lead one to declare, “They will be worse than last year.” But this is the Celtics, who, like the Spurs in the West, must be taken seriously until emphatically proven otherwise. Most of the East sucks yet again, so 50-plus should be in the cards once more — 55-plus if Garnett is truly “back.”
Stay tuned for Part 6 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.
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