Tag:2011 Playoffs
Posted on: May 11, 2011 1:27 pm
Edited on: May 11, 2011 1:53 pm
 

Big Hurt: End of the line for a legend

MIAMI – The end comes fast sometimes, and Shaquille O’Neal has reached it. Just like that, on a sunny Wednesday morning in South Florida, one of the giants of the game arrived at the finish line. Or rather, the finish line arrived at him.

Shaq didn’t retire Wednesday or suffer some unmistakably career-ending injury. There was no farewell news conference, no roast in a fancy banquet hall somewhere. But Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who’d hoped against hope that one of the best centers who ever lived might give him something – anything – in this playoff series against the Heat, said the words that needed to be said. They are the words that no legend wants to hear, words that no coach wants to have to muster the courage to say. But Rivers said it, right there in front of a black curtain in a staging area of American Airlines Arena, in the hours before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In so many words, Rivers said Shaq is done. Finished. Can’t play anymore. One of the last true post-up centers still roaming the Earth has reached the end. Through nobody’s fault but Father Time’s, Rivers had to admit Wednesday that the Celtics’ experiment with the Big Shamrock was a Big Failure.

“Yeah, there’s just nothing he can do,” Rivers said. “It’s not like he’s not trying. I told our team that yesterday. He’s done everything you possibly can do to get healthy. Unfortunately for him, he just hasn’t been able to do it. When he was originally injured, no one even thought it was that serious. … I think I remember saying it was no big deal, that he’d be back in four or five days. But it just never healed and it still hasn’t, and now every time he plays, it gets worse. There’s just nothing you can do about it, and we haven’t, really.”

And with that, an admission from Rivers that the Celtics have given up hope that any more treatment or hours on the exercise bike will make a difference. In all likelihood, O’Neal logged the last 12 minutes of his career in this series, scoring one basket, grabbing no rebounds, and committing four fouls. Like the last living member of a species facing extinction, O’Neal propelled himself forward until he literally could not move anymore.



It is not the first time Rivers, one of the great protectors of players and their egos in the coaching business, has had to deliver such grim news. 

“I had Patrick Ewing in his last year in Orlando, and I played with him,” Rivers said. “And I was the coach telling him, ‘We’re not going to play you anymore.’ That’s an awful position, because what makes them great is their pride. Even when they’re barely walking, in their minds they still think they can actually change the outcome of a game. And sometimes you have to be the one to tell them they can’t. And that’s very tough.”

After 19 seasons, O’Neal, 39, has one year left on a $1.4 million player option for next season. On a steady decline since his last productive season in 2008-09 with Phoenix, it is difficult to imagine O’Neal earning that money on the court. For an icon of his stature, pride and going out with dignity mean more than a seven-figure pay day – especially if you’ve already made close to $300 million in your career, not to mention hundreds of millions in endorsement money.

“You can never take away anything he’s done in this game as a champion, the way he set the blueprint for guys like Dwight Howard on and off the court,” said Dwyane Wade, who shared the 2006 NBA title with O’Neal. “He’s a living legend. It’s unfortunate you get to a point in your career where you have to be hawked by injuries.”

The guy sitting next to Wade at the interview table played one season with Shaq, and also had his differences with the big fella. When I asked Wade and LeBron James to weigh in on this being the end of the line for one of the NBA’s greats, James put his head in his hands offered silence. After Wade volunteered to go first – “Since I played with him first,” he said – James also took a crack at summing up one of the most dynamic figures the NBA has ever seen.

“Talk about someone who does it on both sides of the floor, and on and off the court, he did it as far as using his personality to get out to the world,” James said. “He made fans believe they were one with him. … If he was a complete stranger and you saw how big he was, you wouldn’t be afraid to go talk to him because you saw how likeable he was and how his personality was, how outgoing he was. Definitely like D-Wade said, he laid the blueprint for a lot of people, not only on the court, but off the court. Still to this day, he’s still a great person and it’s unfortunate, like D-Wade said, when you get to a point in your career where you have injuries.”

Whatever happens to the Celtics, Rivers said Shaq should “walk away for the summer and then decide what he wants to do.” But O’Neal has reached the point where the decision is out of his hands. Time stands still for no one, no matter how many championships (four), All-Star appearances (15), or nicknames (countless) he has.

“I just know that this has been emotionally draining to him, more than you guys would know,” Rivers said. “He feels awful about this because this is why he came here, to get to the playoffs and then play in the playoffs. And then not being able to do that has really hurt him.”

At training camp in Newport, R.I., many months and miles ago, O'Neal recalled his offseason phone calls to the Celtics' Big Three before signing with Boston.

"I basically was like, 'Help me help you,'" O'Neal said. "So I'm gonna help them get two and I'm gonna get five."

A few weeks later, in the locker room at Madison Square Garden, O'Neal declared the era of the dominant center a thing of the past.

"The days of Patrick Ewing and Rik Smits and Kevin Duckworth and Robert Parish, those days are over," O'Neal said. "Thanks to me.”

It turns out he was right, though a few months early. 
Posted on: May 10, 2011 7:06 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2011 8:04 pm
 

Another tough call for Rivers

MIAMI – In the opening minutes of overtime, in a game the Celtics had to have, Doc Rivers faced a decision he never imagined he’d have to confront.

Badly in need of a basket and unable to afford another turnover from the Heat’s relentless trapping of Rajon Rondo, Rivers had to sit his courageous point guard in the hopes that a healthier Delonte West would handle the ball better and Jeff Green would provide better floor-spacing in the most important minutes of the season.

This was barely a minute-and-a-half into overtime of Game 4 against Miami on Monday night, and it was a problem for which there was no good answer. Take Rondo out? With the inspiration he’d provided and desperation he’d infused into the Celtics after returning from what should’ve been a season-ending dislocated elbow in Game 3? Put the heart and soul of the Celtics on the bench?

“I don’t know what the right call was,” Rivers candidly admitted after the 98-90 overtime loss to Miami, which put the Celtics in a 3-1 hole in the best-of-7 series.

With the Celtics facing elimination Wednesday night in Miami, this was not the last difficult decision Rivers will have to make. However and whenever this series ends, Rivers’ next dilemma will be personal and will affect just what happens to the Big Three era Celtics from here.

Five players remain from the Celtics’ 2008 championship. Rondo’s emergence as one of the top point guards in the league and also a leader with incalculable toughness has since transformed the Big Three into the Big Four. But you can’t mention Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen without mentioning the coach who held them all together.

Rivers has stated that he soon plans to take a sabbatical from coaching to watch his son, Austin, play college ball at Duke. It is a father’s dream, to have the freedom and security to enjoy his children’s accomplishments – especially when those accomplishments intersect on the basketball court.

Rivers hasn’t officially proclaimed his intentions, not wanting to become a distraction for a team that he believed had one more championship run in it. Also, Rivers is a basketball coach, not a basketball spectator. It is a hard game to walk away from if it is ingrained in you as it is in Rivers.

But the reality is that the Celtics’ core isn’t getting any younger, and Rivers’ son figures to play one season at Duke before following in his father’s footsteps to the NBA. It’s a now-or-never moment for Rivers, who is needed away from the court in the same way he was needed in Boston to coax enough sacrifice out of his trio of stars to hang a 17th championship banner from the rafters at the new Garden. If Rivers’ legacy as Celtics coach is two Finals appearances and a championship, he can walk away with his head held high.

Pierce has three years left on his contract, while Garnett and Allen have one each. Rivers and the members of his coaching staff are up after this season, and with at least a truncated lockout looming, there could be no basketball work to do until September or so. If you’re Rivers, how do you view the impending labor crisis as it relates to you? Do you chalk up the potentially shortened season to your sabbatical, and get the best of both worlds – some games with your son and one more chance with the Celtics? Or do you walk away and not look back?

Whatever he decides, Rivers must now prepare for more than the diabolical talents of Heat stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who would like nothing better than to slam the window shut on the Celtics’ run of success. He must prepare for some serious soul searching, and for the accompanying speculation that goes with any accomplished coach who steps down with work still to be done.

The Lakers’ Phil Jackson hasn’t even gotten to Montana yet and already the rumor mill has him coaching the Knicks after next season. The hype machine will churn even more vigorously for Rivers, who will be able to name his team and price whenever he decides to come back.

His history with the Knicks makes him a logical fit in New York if Mike D’Antoni doesn’t last beyond next season. His championship pedigree and ability to manage stars and their egos makes him one of the few men breathing who are up to the task of coaching the Lakers. One high-level coaching source told me recently that the most fitting place for Rivers is Orlando, where he lives. In addition to sons Austin and Jeremiah, who played at Georgetown before transferring to Indiana, Rivers has a daughter, Callie, who played volleyball at the University of Florida.

There are plenty of decisions to be made, not the least of which have to do with trying to keep this season alive for the Celtics Wednesday night in an elimination game on the road. But the bigger dilemma is looming on the horizon for Rivers, and it might just have everything to do with whether the Celtics as we know them are finished.
Posted on: May 8, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2011 6:54 pm
 

Lakers' run ends in disgrace

What a disgrace. 

The career of the most decorated, accomplished coach in NBA history … the relentless pursuit of a sixth title by Kobe Bryant, the greatest champion in the sport since Michael Jordan … any shred of dignity the Lakers might’ve left Dallas with Sunday after an embarrassing sweep … all of it crumbled under the weight of a colossal humiliation and dishonor put forth by the two-time defending champions. 

Losing is one thing. Getting swept is another. Getting sent home in an utterly uncompetitive blowout is even worse. But nothing is more disgusting than champions acting like punks. Nothing is more embarrassing than a team that cannot lose with dignity. 

The revolting episode that was most likely Phil Jackson’s final game as a coach will have far-reaching implications. This 122-86 debacle, and the deplorable behavior that went along with it, is the kind of loss whose aftershocks last for months, if not years. 

We already knew this would be a very different Lakers team next season, even if they’d won a third straight title. We already knew there would be a new coach. And this is the NBA; there are usually some new players. 

But this sudden, thorough, and inexplicable descent into dysfunction and depravity will not go unpunished. 

Lamar Odom, and particularly Andrew Bynum, will never be able to repay Jackson for shaming him this way. Bynum, a positive force during much of the series, doesn’t deserve to wear a Lakers uniform again after his unconscionable cheap shot to a defenseless, airborne J.J. Barea in the fourth quarter of a 30-point humiliation. There’s no place for that regardless of the victim, but Bynum violated the No. 1 rule of the schoolyard (where he belongs) and the NBA: Pick on someone your own size. Only punks and losers take aim at those half their size. 

The fact that Bynum needed Ron Artest – involved in one of the most notorious behavioral incidents in NBA history – to escort him past the Mavericks’ bench and toward the locker room told you everything you needed to know. At least Artest’s gesture proved that that Lakers’ team bond hadn’t completely eroded. In a sick way, Artest sticking up for a teammate who’d done something so cowardly was the only evidence that there was anything at all left of these Lakers as currently constructed. 

Championship caliber teams sometimes win in the playoffs, and sometimes they lose. Sometimes they lose like the ’91 Pistons, who walked out before time expired in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Bulls. Sometimes, they lose like the Spurs, who have never sacrificed an ounce of their professionalism for some twisted, macho moment that lasts but a second but stains your reputation forever. 

The Lakers, at the end for Jackson and near the end for Bryant, have managed to put themselves in the company of disgraced champions – those who don’t engender or deserve the respect of the generations. Big changes for the Lakers are now not only likely and expected, but also necessary, even mandatory. Say good-bye to Hollywood, say good-bye to the babies who couldn’t lose like champions. Shame on them, and good luck to the professionals they will leave behind to try to resurrect the Lakers’ proud history. 

Whatever uniform he is wearing in October, or whenever the NBA resumes, Bynum will be watching from his hotel room at a Four Seasons somewhere because he’ll most certainly be suspended. His actions will be suspended in time, serving as a lesson for every one of his contemporaries who play this game. 

We can only hope the Celtics and Heat were watching this. One of them will lose that series, and whoever it is will have an obligation to lift basketball out of the gutter the Lakers abandoned it in on Sunday.
Posted on: May 6, 2011 2:38 pm
 

What ails Celtics? Don't jump to conclusions

The Celtics' defense has been a constant during the Big Three era, and their defense wasn't the main culprit that sent them home to Boston in a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinals. 

Their top players' birth certificates also have been far down the list of things occupying Doc Rivers and his coaching staff over the past 72 hours. Rather, it's the Celtics' offense -- in particular, their shot selection and location -- that put Boston in precarious circumstances against the younger, more athletic Heat

The rampaging work of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, of course, will continue to be of utmost concern when the series shifts to Boston for Game 3 on Saturday night. But in reality, the Celtics did as good a job as can be reasonably expected in forcing Wade and LeBron to rely on jump shots. According to HoopData.com, 20 of Wade's 41 field-goal attempts in the first two games came from beyond 15 feet. For James, it was 21 of 44. 

The kind of jump shots are important, not just the fact that they're jumpers. The Celtics would prefer Wade and James to take more spot-ups, where they're much less effective, as opposed to jumpers as the pick-and-roll ball-handler or coming off a screen. But all in all, the Celtics can't be too unhappy with Wade shooting 5-for-12 from the field between 16-23 feet in the series (including 0-for-5 in Game 2) and James shooting 4-for-14 from the same distance. If Boston's defense can force them to take more spot-ups in particular and more mid-range jumpers in general, it's logical to assume they'll shoot the same or worse on the road. 

The bigger problem for the Celtics has been the failure of their own mid-range game, especially when it comes to their biggest mid-range threats, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Using HoopData.com to extend the distance for Pierce and Garnett to the 10-23 foot range, they've both been abysmal in this series. 

Garnett got only four mid-range shots in Game 1 and missed all of them. He got more opportunities in Game 2, but was only 6-for-14 for a 6-for-18 total from 10-23 feet in the first two games. Pierce's problem isn't just ineffectiveness, it's the fact that somehow a player who has spent his entire career carving up opponents with an assortment of deadly mid-range jumpers has attempted only five shots between 10-23 feet in the first two games against Miami; he's 2-for-5. Some of that can be explained by his ejection with seven minutes left in Game 1 and his stretch in the locker room due to a strained left Achilles' tendon in Game 2. Some of the rest can be explained by Miami's defense, which has been superb -- and when it hasn't, has benefited from speed, length and strength that the Celtics can only dream about. But Pierce has still found room to attempt 11 3-pointers, making only four of them. That's too many 3's for a player who is accustomed to doing his best work inside the arc. Pierce attempting more 3-pointers (11) than Ray Allen (10) is no recipe for beating the Heat. 

If the Celtics are going to protect their home court, quell the talk about how they're too old and ready to be ushered out of the championship mix by Miami, and give themselves a chance to get back into the series if and when it shifts back to South Beach, it's all about the jumpers. Defensively, Boston has to force Miami's two stars to keep taking them -- and more of the spot-up variety as opposed to off pick-and-roll or screen action. On the other end, Garnett and Pierce simply have to regain their mid-range effectiveness. If they do, it'll open up dump-downs to Glen Davis or Jermaine O'Neal for easy baskets and also loosen up the double teams on Allen beyond the 3-point arc. 

If not, it'll only fuel more talk about how the Celtics are too old -- which may be true, but isn't the biggest reason they're in this predicament in the first place.
Posted on: May 3, 2011 2:58 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2011 3:04 pm
 

Do LeBron and Wade share a brain?

MIAMI – From the day LeBron James and Dwyane Wade became teammates, they were the focal point of a social and basketball experiment. How they would react – to the pressure, to the spotlight, to each other – would be the subject of daily curiosity. 

After 82 regular season games and six playoff games – a very public journey that was launched in the seclusion of training camp on a Florida Air Force base – the questions are still coming about the on-court aspects of their relationship. In the huddle before the final possession, they were asked Tuesday in the hours before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Celtics, who gets the last shot? Who demands the ball? Does one back off when the other has the hot hand? 

But those who have followed the first steps in the Heat’s playoff run may have noticed something else about this superstar duo that is even harder to explain. For months, LeBron and Wade have been conducting postgame interviews while seated side-by-side at a table in the interview room. There is no one-on-one time with either star, and the only opportunity to ask James a question without Wade hearing the answer came in LeBron’s customary availability on game nights, about an hour before tipoff in the locker room. 

Even that tradition, the last proof that James and Wade were, in fact, separate humans, was scratched off their itineraries recently. Of late, James has stopped going solo with the media before games and instead sits at the interview table next to Wade before shootaround, as he did Tuesday morning. 

A few weeks ago, the two actually began the somewhat bizarre and unprecedented habit of answering questions on practice days while standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the court. It has led to some awkward camera footage -- you may have noticed Wade answering questions on TV while LeBron stands in the background, using up valuable oxygen – and has produced some awkward moments. How do you ask Wade about a last-second shot James missed when the guy who missed it is standing right next to him? 



Instead of shooting from the hip, LeBron and Wade are attached there.

The Celtics’ Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen started the trend of group interviews, but LeBron and Wade have taken it to a level never before seen in professional sports as far as I can tell. Their calculated decision to function as one not only on the court, but also in the court of public opinion, says so much about the relationship they have forged and the pitfalls that have always been present for two stars and friends joining forces in the prime of their careers. 

“I think from Day 1, we kind of understood even from our teammates that we’re going to be the two guys that everyone looked at – to see how we reacted to things, to see how we could handle the change, to see how we could handle playing with each other,” Wade said Tuesday. “We realized that. And that’s something that we communicated and talked about, even from the beginning, that we had to be always on the same page. If we're not on the same page, always communicating with each other and just having each other's backs, no matter if it's bad times or it's good times. We're always going to stay even-keeled, so that helps the success of our team.” 

Their refusal to be divided and/or conquered isn’t unique. During media availability at All-Star weekend, James sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul on the scorer’s table and ran interference for his friends when difficult questions about trades or free agency came up. James even chided the media for harping on his fellow All-Stars’ futures, when it was James who had escalated the trend of stars teaming up and put so much pressure on Melo and CP3 to find better teammates in the first place. 



But more than camaraderie and protectiveness, the controlled way James and Wade present themselves publicly speaks to a certain level of paranoia about what outside forces would try to do to them if they were separated and forced to stray off message. It was interesting that James referred collectively to himself and Wade Tuesday as “the voice” of the team. Do they not have their own thoughts and voices? Would James’ head explode if Wade expressed an independent thought, or vice versa? 

This strategy is straight from the playbook of team president Pat Riley’s “one voice” approach to maintaining organizational control. Riley, who orchestrated this three-headed monster of LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh, has conducted a grand total of two media availabilities the entire season – brief Q&A’s at two charity events. As with the Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick model in football, the one and only voice belongs to the coach. As a corollary, the two stars share a voice – rarely, if ever, saying something the other isn’t thinking or wouldn’t say. 

“I’m louder than D-Wade, D-Wade is louder than CB,” James said. “You can hear my voice from here to, anywhere obviously. Here to Akron. And D-Wade, he voices his opinion. He does it sometimes, also. But we don’t step on each other’s toes or anything like that. But at the same time, it's not a bed of roses with me and D-Wade and CB. We get on each other if we feel like you’re not doing your job. It's constructive criticism that we need to have with one another to help our team win.” 

It is a fascinating sidebar to the Heat’s journey through the playoffs, perfectly encapsulating the mindset of two superstars as they try to put the Celtics in the first 0-2 playoff hole of the Big Three era Tuesday night. And it highlights the luxury that they have off the court – the ability to look to each other for guidance before answering a question, exchanging small talk under their breath before deciding which one will speak – is one that does not exist on the court. The island they share in the public eye can be more easily divided in the course of a game, when split-second decisions must be made and when credit or blame unavoidably must be be assigned. 

“I also think that people forget that me and 'Bron were the best of friends before we played together,” Wade said. “We got criticized for being friends and hanging out before games with each other, when I'd go to Cleveland and go to his house. We got criticized for that: ‘Back in the day, the Lakers didn’t do that. Boston didn’t do that.’ Well, today, obviously that worked, because we're here together.” 

Together? Inseparable is more like it.
Posted on: May 2, 2011 4:32 pm
Edited on: May 2, 2011 6:42 pm
 

Pierce OK for Game 2; will Celts respond?

MIAMI -- Paul Pierce will not face further disciplinary action for his altercation with James Jones in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a league source confirmed Monday to CBSSports.com. Whether the rest of the Celtics will show up with him for Game 2 against the Heat remains to be seen.

After reviewing the incident that resulted in the first of Pierce's two technical fouls in Miami's 99-90 victory in Game 1, league officials decided Pierce's actions did not warrant a fine or suspension. Before practicing Monday at the University of Miami, Pierce said he was "definitely worried" about how the league would view the incident, but the Celtics clearly have more problems to worry about as they try to avoid falling behind 0-2 in a playoff series for the first time in the Big Three era.

"I was surprised at getting kicked out, yeah," Pierce said. "I didn’t think what I did warranted an ejection. But sometimes, players get caught in the heat of the game and sometimes the refs do, too."

Pierce and Jones received technicals after Jones wrapped Pierce up as the Celtics star pump-faked him into the air with 7:59 left Sunday. Pierce and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Monday they believed that play, as well as a later altercation between Dwyane Wade and Pierce, should have resulted in flagrant fouls on the Heat. 

Instead, Pierce was assessed his second technical foul after Wade tried to run through him on a screen with 7:00 left. Referee Ed Malloy gave Pierce a technical, and crew chief Dan Crawford explained after the game that Pierce received it -- and the accompanying automatic ejection -- for a "verbal taunt." 

UPDATE: After reviewing the incidents Monday, NBA officials rescinded Jones' flagrant foul from the Pierce incident but charged him with a flagrant foul, penalty-one for striking Pierce around the neck. In addition, the league office downgraded Jermaine O'Neal's flagrant-one with 2:30 left in the third quarter to a personal foul. The call was devastating to the Celtics, resulting in a five-point swing when Jones made both free throws and Mike Bibby added a 3-pointer that gave the heata 72-58 lead.

While Rivers disagreed with the explanations given by Crawford after the game, he expertly turned the tables on his team Monday -- essentially taunting his players for allowing the Heat to dictate everything in Game 1, including the physical tone and an aggressive defensive posture that forced the Celtics into a timid, impatient offensive approach.

"Miami wants to show us they’re physical," Rivers said. "That’s cool with us. And we just want to play the way we play. I honestly don’t know if that’s physical or not. That’s for everyone else to say. But at the end of the day, they’re going to play their style, we’re going to play our style, and somebody’s style is going to win."

This is the fourth time the Celtics have trailed 1-0 in a playoff series during the Big Three era; they've yet to lose a Game 2. In 2009, Boston lost Game 1 of the conference semifinals to Orlando at home and lost the series in seven games. The other two instances came on the road during the 2010 playoffs: against the Cavaliers in the conference semis (Boston won the series in six games) and in the NBA Finals against the Lakers (Boston lost the series in seven).

"This is the first time we’ve been in the playoffs with this team," Rajon Rondo said. "It’s different. Obviously, the Big Three have been here. But it’s only five guys now -- myself and Baby (Glen Davis) -- and everyone else hasn’t been in a playoff series with them. So it’s a different team. But we’re confident that we can win Game 2."

How do the Celtics avoid falling behind 0-2 for the first time since Pierce teamed with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007? Five things:

1) Listen to Rivers and be the aggressor: Rivers has such a good feel for the personality of his team, and he knows how insulted his players will be when hearing him belabor the point about how Miami dictated the physical tone in Game 1. Look for the Celtics to come out much more assertively at the start. This means A) clean but hard screens and fouls from the get-go from the Celtics, and B) the officials will have their hands full even more than in Game 1. If you thought that was physical, chippy, cheap, or whatever, just wait until Tuesday night.

2) Channel the aggression into better execution: It's not enough to be aggressive. It has to come with a plan. Rivers has needled his players in recent days by publicly stating again and again how much more athletic the Heat are, saying at one point that if this were an Olympics, Miami would win. That may be true, but this is a basketball game. Rondo has to be in attack mode, but under control and with a purpose. He also has to limit his turnovers; he had five of Boston's 13 in Game 1. The Celtics have to get into their offensive sets early, and stay with them long enough to get to the second or third option instead of letting Miami's athleticism break them down into isolation or desperation -- or worse, turnovers, which activate Miami's unstoppable transition game.

3) Find James Jones: In the film session at the team hotel Monday morning, Rivers highlighted how Jones got free for seven 3-point attempts (he made five) without being forced to take a single dribble. "That's poor defense," Rivers said.

4) Win the matchups they should win: The Celtics actually got decent production from the bench (23 points), but they need more from Rondo and Garnett -- especially when both teams' starters are on the floor. Rondo vs. Mike Bibby and Garnett vs. Chris Bosh should be clear-cut advantages for the Celtics, but Rivers admitted they got away from going into the post to Garnett too early in Game 1.

5) Hope the Heat shoot too many jumpers ... again: The Celtics actually should have been pleased with Miami's shot selection in Game 1. Especially early in the game, Miami fell in love with the jumper. According to Synergy Sports Technology, 43 of Miami's 68 field-goal attempts were jump shots. That plays right into the Celtics' hand. Unless, of course, they go in.



Posted on: April 25, 2011 12:07 am
 

Knicks considering two-year extension for Walsh

NEW YORK -- The Knicks are considering a two-year extension for team president Donnie Walsh, with the matter expected to be resolved in the next two weeks, a person familiar with the organization's thinking told CBSSports.com Sunday night. 

Walsh, 69, has an option for the 2011-12 season to be exercised by April 30, but the more likely scenario is a two-year extension that would keep the architect of the Knicks' revival at the helm through the critical next phase of the rebuilding plan. If the option is not picked up, Walsh's contract expires June 30. 

"It's basically going to be Donnie's call whether he wants to come back," said the person with knowledge of the organization's intentions. 

No final decisions have been made on Walsh or coach Mike D'Antoni in the wake of a 4-0 first-round sweep completed Sunday with a 101-89 loss to the Celtics, and sources cautioned that several issues could complicate both situations. For one, neither Walsh nor D'Antoni has been given a clear indication as to their respective statuses, which explains why D'Antoni took some off-guard with his postgame comment Sunday, "I don't know what the future holds." 

D'Antoni's comment was not made with knowledge of his status one way or another, one of the sources said. The coach's fate is strongly tied to Walsh, whose future has been shrouded in secrecy and subject to the whims of Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan. Even those with ties to Walsh who've had dealings with Dolan have been unable to decipher in recent weeks how far Dolan will go to try to keep Walsh. 

Another complicating factor could be an attempt to force something on Walsh that he's not comfortable with, sources said. Such a circumstance could be another attempt by Dolan to bring former coach and president Isiah Thomas back into the organization in an official capacity -- an unequivocally destructive move that is believed to be no more than a remote possibility, one of the sources said. Dolan's attempt to hire Thomas, the coach at Florida International, as a consultant last summer was shot down by NBA rules forbidding team employees from having contact with college players who are not yet draft eligible. 

Walsh has consistently sidestepped questions about his future and has grown increasingly aggravated that his status has become a news item as the Knicks made their first trip to the playoffs in seven years. Before the Knicks' brief return to the postseason ended Sunday with a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Celtics, Walsh testily tried to deflect questions about D'Antoni's status and a looming decision on whether to guarantee point guard Chauncey Billups' $14.2 million contract for next season. 

Walsh appears to be leaning toward keeping D'Antoni -- "Overall, he's done a good job," he said Sunday -- given that the Knicks lost Billups for the final three games of the Boston series and were further compromised by Amar'e Stoudemire's back injury in Games 3 and 4. D'Antoni has one year left on his contract, had only two months to integrate Billups and Carmelo Anthony with Stoudemire, and hasn't coached a stable roster from start to finish for three seasons. 

The decision on Billups, 34, must come first due to a five-day clock that began ticking Sunday on a deadline to fully guarantee his contract for next season. But the most important call is on Walsh, who restored dignity to a lost franchise, cleared a mountain of cap space to attract stars, and now is expected to embark on the third phase of a massive reclamation project that began when he was hired to replace Thomas in April 2008. 

Walsh has endured several health problems during his tenure, including a successful bout with tongue cancer and hip-replacement surgery in November that has him still using a walker. But those close to Walsh have described him as being in good health and spirits as well as invigorated by the prospect of completing a rebuilding job that began with the signing of Stoudemire and escalated with the February trade that paired him with Anthony. 

After Sunday's loss, both Anthony and Stoudemire deflected questions about whether Walsh and D'Antoni would be back next season. 

"I'm pretty sure the front office will handle it to the best of their ability," Anthony said of the multitude of offseason decisions. "They have one of the best front offices in the NBA right now, so they will do their job. I'll let them handle that."
Posted on: April 21, 2011 8:55 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 9:00 pm
 

Stern envisions replay official, challenge flags

PHILADELPHIA – NBA commissioner David Stern defended the officiating through the first week of the playoffs Thursday night and said he envisions a time when the league will have a dedicated replay official and when coaches will be allowed to throw challenge flags in the final two minutes of games. 

“The officiating has been how officiating is,” Stern said during a stop on his playoff tour at Game 3 between the Heat and 76ers. “We have this issue. We have humans that officiate our games and they don’t catch everything. But they’re the best at what they do.” 

The opening week of the playoffs included several controversial calls, including one in which Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins was incorrectly credited with a basket in the Thunder’s 102-101 victory over the Nuggets in Game 1 of their series due to a missed basket interference call. The league office issued a statement acknowledging the mistake, but a blatant trip by the CelticsKevin Garnett against the KnicksToney Douglas – helping to free Ray Allen for a deciding 3-pointer in Game 1 of that series – did not result in a mea culpa from Stern’s officiating department. 

Stern stressed several times the need to strive for accuracy through replay enhancement without further slowing down the games. 

“Eventually, you may have someone sitting at a desk rather than having a Talmudic discussion of three referees every time there’s a disputed play,” Stern said. “We might have one person whose job it is to keep the headphones on and always watch. And you might let a coach throw the flag in the last two minutes. We’re striving for accuracy. … We have to find a way to speed the game up, and to get it right. That’s the most important thing.” 

With developments Thursday further enhancing Sacramento’s efforts to prevent the Kings from moving to Anaheim, Stern said Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett – chairman of the relocation committee – and several league officials are in Sacramento “verifying” Mayor Kevin Johnson’s assertions to the Board of Governors last week about Sacramento’s renewed financial commitment to the team. 

“Our preference was to understand that better, and the verification is under way,” Stern said. 

Asked if the recently agreed upon sale of the Pistons to Tom Gores and the expression of interest from Ron Burkle to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento was proof that the NBA’s financial state isn’t as dire as owners say, Stern said, “No. It just means they know we’re going to get a good (labor) deal and they’re already factoring it into their decisions to buy. And they know we’re not only going to get a good deal, but a deal that really makes it sustainable to buy a team.” 

Among the other topics addressed by Stern Thursday night: 

• Asked if the league needs provisions in a new collective bargaining agreement to prevent “player-made teams” like Miami’s, Stern said, “No, because I have grown up in this league with teams that had great players.” Referencing the Celtics and Lakers of the 1980s, Stern said, “To me, you may call me a players’ person, but the players made a deal that says they’re allowed to become free agents and decide where they want to go. And you’re making it into a federal offense to discuss where they might want to play with another player. It doesn’t warm my blood. In fact, if the team that can get those players is under the cap, that’s the way the system was designed to work. I don’t get too boiled for that.” 

• However, when asked about a Yahoo! Sports report from December that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert – a key member of the NBA’s labor relations committee – had retained counsel to investigate tampering allegations against the Heat for signing LeBron James, Stern said, “I’m aware of the issue, but there’s been no formal complaint of tampering or anything like that filed. … If there was tampering that someone could prove, that would make my blood boil.” 

• Reiterating comments he made earlier Thursday in New York to the Associated Press Sports Editors, Stern said he and players’ association chief Billy Hunter are in agreement that a court battle such as the one consuming the NFL in its labor dispute “should be avoided. … We’re going to do our best (to get a deal). And we’ve got more than two months.” 

• After maximum contract lengths were reduced by one year in each of the past two CBAs, Stern said he favored ratcheting them down again. “Shorter and less guaranteed,” he said. “I have no idea what they’ll agree to and I’m not going to negotiate with them here.” 

• On whether the Heat have met expectations, Stern said, “They met my expectations, but they didn’t meet everybody else’s. Before the season, everyone thought they were going to win 75 games and we should just mail the trophy. In fact, it takes a while for a team. This is a team game, and they’ve done pretty well. They’re pretty darn good and they’re playing awfully well, but it hasn’t been the walk in the park that they expected.”
 
 
 
 
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