Tag:Rajon Rondo
Posted on: April 14, 2011 9:44 am
Edited on: April 15, 2011 2:13 pm
 

Knicks-Celtics preview: tomorrow meets today

A preview of the first round playoff series between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics. Posted by Ben Golliver.

knicks-celtics

I. Intro: No. 6 seed New York Knicks (42-40) vs. No. 3 seed Boston Celtics (56-26)

This series is the undisputed darling of TV executives everywhere, featuring two storied franchises from major East Coast markets who will face each other when the favorite – Boston – appears to be at the peak of its vulnerability. There’s a past/present vs. future tension at play too, as the Celtics’ Big 3 looks to be approaching its final stand while the Knicks story is clearly still unfolding: Who will be the third star to team up with All-Star forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony?

This one boils down to: "Digging deep for one last push" versus "We did it! we're in the playoffs!" That puts the pressure and expectations squarely on Boston's shoulders. 

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Celtics swept the season series, 4-0, averaging 107.8 points per game while allowing the Knicks just 101.3, making for a dominant 6.5 point average margin of victory. However, two of the games came before the trade deadline and one came on Wednesday night, in a meaningless game in which both team sat many key players.

This season, the Celtics have had their way on both ends of the court, averaging nearly 51% from the field in four meetings with the Knicks while out-rebounding New York, on average, 45-37. In general, the numbers from the season series aren't going to be comforting to Knicks fans, although Stoudemire did average 24 points and eight rebounds against the Celtics.

III. The Easy Stuff: Rajon Rondo is the X-Factor

What is going on with Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo? Not since the Where’s Waldo? books have so many people spent so much time wondering about one man whose name ends in a vowel. 

It’s always been easier to talk about Rondo as a talented enigma, a brilliant loner who dances to his own beat. Lately, his numbers are off, Boston’s scoring is way down since the trade deadline and steady veterans like Ray Allen are left wondering why their touches have evaporated.  That combination has left Celtics fans queasy and concerned. No one ever really understood him and suddenly that feels like a huge problem.

In three appearances against New York this season, Rondo has been big: averaging 11.0 points, dishing 16.7 assists and grabbing 6.0 boards per game, while shooting 40.5% from the field.  If he manages 80% of that output, the Celtics should cruise.

IV. Secret of the Series: Will elite defense trump elite offense in the playoffs?

Clearly, this series is a match-up of opposing strengths and styles. Boston enters the series with the No. 2 defense in the league from an efficiency perspective, barely trailing the league-leading Chicago Bulls. The Knicks bring the No. 5 offense in the league to the table, and boast the second most efficient offense in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Miami Heat. The contrast in styles continues as Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni also has his team playing the fastest pace of any playoff team while the Celtics are the fourth slowest of the 16 teams to make the postseason.

One of the NBA’s long-held commandments – correct or not – is that defense almost always trumps offense in these situations. The problem for New York, a point that’s been pounded home relentlessly over the last few months, is that Knicks are extremely imbalanced because of their struggles on the defensive end of the court. The Knicks are the least efficient defensive team to make the playoffs and will struggle mightily to stop the Celtics, even though Boston has been a slightly below average offensive team on the season.

Sure, it’s possible that top-flight offense overcomes solid defense, but rarely does a team as indifferent to stops as New York make any noise in April or May.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: “Trading Kendrick Perkins was a death sentence for Boston’s title hopes”

At least for one series, we should get a respite from all the hand-wringing over Boston president Danny Ainge’s decision to ship his long-time center to Oklahoma City for reserve forward Jeff Green. Against the Knicks, Perkins would be helpful as an off-ball defender and rebounder but the Celtics should be able to match-up and clean the boards just fine if they go to a smaller ball lineup given New York’s general indifference to rebounding (the Knicks have the lowest rebound rate of any playoff team).

As has been often pointed out, the post-trade problem for the Celtics has been their offense, anyway, and not their defense or rebounding. Who better to get back on track against than the Knicks, who allow 105.7 points per game (third most in the league) and openly admitted as recently as March that they aren’t all on the same page schematically since trading for Anthony?

The Perkins trade – and what Green does or doesn’t give you – will be a huge factor down the road in potential later-round match-ups against the Miami Heat and/or Chicago Bulls. Against the Knicks, though, it really should be an afterthought.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: Struggling or not, zombie Rondo does far more, on both ends, than an aging Chauncey Billups.

SG: The overachieving, do-the-little-things-rookie making his first postseason appearance versus the NBA’s all-time leading three-point shooter and a tested, tough veteran with more than 100 career playoff appearances? Ray Allen all day over Landry Fields.

SF: To see just how close Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce is, check their career playoff numbers. Anthony: 24.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists. Pierce: 21.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists. Anthony gets the nod, but barely.

PF: Stoudemire – brash, confident, offensively overwhelmingly -- vs. Garnett – brash, confident, defensively overwhelming – might be the best individual match-up in any first round playoff series. In these situations, it’s best to expect a push.  

C: Boston expects to get perpetually injured senior citizen Shaquille O’Neal back in time for the start of the first round and will pair him with Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic; the undersized Knicks turn to Jared Jeffries and Ronny Turiaf. It’s impossible to call anyone in this group on either side a winner.

Bench: Glen Davis, Glen Davis’ hijinks and Jeff Green should have the advantage over the make-do scraps on New York’s bench that survived the trade for Anthony that sent half the roster to Denver.

Coach: Players like to play for (read: score for) Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni while the Celtics have shown over the year a devotion to and respect for Doc Rivers rarely seen in the NBA. That, plus the ring, gives Doc the edge.

VII. Conclusion

Given how much the midseason trade for Anthony compromised New York’s depth, there’s a sense that the not yet fully formed Knicks are just happy to be in the postseason for the first time since 2003-2004. The Celtics, meanwhile, aren’t playing their best basketball but they do enter the postseason with a greater urgency, given the age and mentality of their core players. The Garnett/ Pierce/ Allen/ Rondo core has defeated far better all-around teams than this year’s Knicks, and a B- or better performance from Boston should be enough to see the Celtics through to the second round and a likely dream match-up with the Miami Heat. Prediction: Celtics in 5.

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics are prepared to square off against Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Who will come out on top? Ian Eagle and Ken Berger preview this matchup.

Posted on: April 11, 2011 10:16 pm
Edited on: April 11, 2011 10:20 pm
 

Boston concedes second seed to Miami

The Celtics pulled their starters against Washington Monday night, then lost in overtime to clinch the second seed for the Heat, while they wind up in 3rd. They'll be on the road from the second round on. 
Posted by Matt Moore

The Celtics pulled their starters Monday night against Washington. Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen all sat out versus the Wizards. Not surprising with only two games before the start of the playoffs. But the Celtics were just a game back of the Heat, who played the Hawks Monday night (and won). 

Why would the Celtics have pulled starters when they still had a shot at getting homecourt advantage in the second round against Miami? The move represents a concession of homecourt to the Heat by not doing what is necessary to secure it. And in fact, the Celtics' second and third units lost to the Wizards in overtime, locking in the Heat as the second seed, and the Celtics into the third. 

It's curious that the Celtics would just surrender it, and it does represent a failure on their part this season. The Celtics made homecourt a priority for much of the season after losing Game 7 in Los Angeles in last year's Finals. Now they'll be on the road from the second round, on. The Celtics know they can win without homecourt advantage. They're a veteran team that's done it in series past. But it makes it that much harder, makes the hill that much steeper, makes it that much more difficult for a team that's still looking for its identity. 

There's no reason for Boston to panic.

There's just also very little reason for them not to panic. 
Posted on: April 10, 2011 8:04 pm
 

Celtics fall to Heat: 3 problem areas for Boston

The Boston Celtics got blown out by the Miami Heat on Sunday. What's the problem? Posted by Ben Golliver.

celtics-struggle

By virtue of their 100-77 stomping of the Celtics on Sunday, the Miami Heat put a game between themselves and the Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, settling in to the No. 2 seed. The Heat now control their own destiny: should they win out -- against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday and the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday – they will possess home court advantage in a potential second round series against the Celtics.

In addition to the prospect of needing to pull out a Game 7 on the road in American Airlines Arena, the Celtics, who are just 9-9 in their last 18 games, have all sorts of other problems to sort out. Here's a look at three of the biggest.

Point differential

Almost all of the talk about Boston’s recent struggles have centered around the trade that sent center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green. While it’s a vast over-simplification to separate Boston’s season into with/without Perkins because there have been tons of injuries to cloud the picture -- including crucial ones to Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Marquis Daniels -- the numbers argue that Boston has been a different team since the deadline.

On Sunday, Boston lost to Miami by 23 points on Sunday, by far their biggest margin of defeat on the year. That stat underscores a massive shift in point differential since the Perkins trade.

Prior to the deadline, the Celtics put up 97.7 points per game while allowing 91.1 points per game, a differential of +6.6. That’s excellent. After the deadline, Boston is scoring 93.0 points per game while allowing 90.5 points per game, a differential of +2.5.  

It may be surprising that Boston’s defensive numbers are much more similar than their offensive numbers, given Perkins’ reputation as a defensive stopper, but his absence for much of the season due to rehabilitation from knee surgery mostly explains that.

The issue since the deadline, then, is offense, just as it was during an ugly night against the Heat. Boston's bench combined for just 12 points on Sunday, and one player who will be needed in the playoffs is Green himself. He’s actually upped his per-minute scoring in Boston but was 0-1 from the field in 19 minutes on Sunday, scornig just four points and posting a whopping -16 in the +/- category.

Rajon Rondo

Ultimately any discussion of Boston’s offensive problems begins and ends with point guard Rajon Rondo. It’s no secret that he’s been struggling, as his March and April numbers -- especially shooting the ball -- aren’t pretty. On Sunday, he was 3-8 for seven points and just five assists. While his assist numbers have rebounded a bit in April (at 10.4 per game instead of a season montly low of 8.9 per game in March), the Celtics as a whole are still moving the ball less effectively as a team since the Perkins trade. 

Prior to the trade, Boston averaged 24.3 assists per game; after the trade, the number has slipped to 21.6. Some of that drop is explained by Boston playing more grinding games recently and some nagging injury issues for Rondo. Nevertheless, getting back to their elite level of ball movement is clearly the key to righting Boston’s offensive ship. Rondo has always been enigmatic. Is it as simple as him deciding to flip a switch to get things back to normal in the playoffs?

Season-low rebounds

A glaring problem on Sunday was Boston’s inability to hit the glass. The final boxscore reveals just 26 total team rebounds, a season-low. To make matters worse, Boston had just three offensive rebounds as a team, despite missing 35 shots. That speaks to a lack of energy and focus from both the first and second units as well as some excellent attention to detail on the defensive boards from the Heat. It’s difficult to imagine Boston repeating that type of performance once it’s win-or-go-home time. This team has lost in the playoffs before but they’ve generally gone down kicking and screaming. 

As difficult as it might be to do following such a massive loss to a major rival, it’s probably best for Celtics fans to let this one go. Miami played – by all accounts – its most intense, focused game of the season. Boston really failed to show up in numerous ways. 

The Paul Pierce / Ray Allen / Kevin Garnett trio has done more than enough to earn the benefit of the doubt. But, then again, they're not really the heart of the issue. It's everybody else, and the relationship between everyone else and the Big 3. 

So if you, Celtics fan, are feeling a bit nervous after this one, no one would blame you. 

Posted on: April 9, 2011 6:07 pm
Edited on: April 9, 2011 6:29 pm
 

Heat-Celtics IV: The curse of Rajon Rondo

Miami will have its hands full again with the Celtics on Sunday, but their biggest concern should be Rajon Rondo.
Posted by Matt Moore




Rajon Rondo created 53 assists against the Heat in three meetings this year. He dropped 17 dimes in the season opener, 16 in their first meeting in South Beach, and 10 the last time the two teams met. Of those 53, he created 3-point assists on seven of his 17 in the first game, six of his 16 in the second, and two of his 10 in the third meeting. Factor in the extra points created on 3-point attempts with the two-point field goals and his own 23 points in the three games, and you come up with 144. 

In three games against Miami, Rajon Rondo, by himself, has created 144 points against the Miami Heat, and that's before you factor in free throws created off his passes. 

Nearly 50 points of offense per game, attributable to one player. 

So yeah, the Heat may want to try and figure out some method of at least slowing him down when they face the Celtics on Sunday. 

The Heat entered the season knowing that they were going to be weak at the two positions not addressed in the formation of the Big 3, point guard and center. But while they haven't been exposed too heavily at the center position due to an absence in depth of elite players at the position, point guards have sliced and diced them, rendering what is on an average day a very good defense powerless as point guards create penetration and either finish at the rim or leave Heat defenders trying to sprint in two directions at once on the drive and kick. No one has hurt them more than Rondo. Not even Rose. 

Heat - Celtics IV
The problem is, a solution is not an easy thing to suss out. Sure, the Heat can try the Celtics' approach against elite wings, which is to shade both Rondo's man and the pick and roll defender towards Rondo, with a third defender helping from the weak side, to try and entice him to shoot. But the Celtics are so good at creating space thanks to veteran wisdom, it becomes too easy for Garnett to slip out for a pick and pop, Pierce to create room for a catch-and-shoot step-back, or Allen to pop a catch-and-shoot three. This is before you start to worry about the help defense eventually leaving Glen Davis or one of the O'Neals open underneath for a whip pass. 

Rondo's ability to see the floor, combined with his daring in regards to wanting to make that difficult pass most others would consider too difficult, makes him a nightmare for the Heat. At different times the Heat have elected to send LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to cover Rondo, only to find him exploit the switch to their man as Eddie House, James Jones, or Mike Miller try and cover someone much better than them. There's the problem of the Big 3. It was hard enough when it was just the three of them. With Rondo, the problem becomes nearly impossible to solve. 

But that's just the challenge they'll have to figure out. In reality, it's simply a matter of effort and intelligence. The Heat have to shade far enough to prevent Rondo from getting to the sensitive underbelly of the defense, while still keeping space to recover on jump-shooters, cutters, and bigs looking for the lob. Essentially, you have to cover the entire floor and cover it simultaneously.

The best way to approach it may be to force Rondo into transition. On the break he's prone to those same daring instincts, but without the sound structure that creates so many opportunities. An up and down game favors the Heat from an offensive standpoint, but more importantly, it goads Rondo into high-speed antics versus the controlled chaos he unleashes in the half-court. Neither is preferable. 

But after he's torched them for 144 points, it's certainly time to try something different. 
Posted on: April 8, 2011 10:10 am
 

Around the Web: Bulls-Celtics reaction

Posted by Matt Moore

A look at the reactions to the Bulls' win over the Celtics Thursday night...
But there is a reason the Celtics shot terribly. For one, Kurt Thomas, Joakim Noah, and even Omer "The Turkish Delight" Asik were beasts inside, and Luol Deng had a Pippen-esque defensive performance tonight. More than anything though it was just an unrelenting energy from Chicago. They played like we've come to expect the Celtics to play. They were active defensively, and unrelenting. They didn't take possessions off, and even when they screwed up a rotation or allowed penetration, they hustled like a man possessed to get back to rights. Even Kyle Korver..I'm not kidding.

That meant that the Celtics had no time for hand wringing on offense. That meant that if the Celtics had an open shot, they either took it without thinking, or it was taken away. That meant more often than not the Celtics put up a shot they didn't want to. It meant the Celtics got a taste of what its like to play a team that has gelled cohesively around the idea that they will win games with their defense and just bought into being the best they can on that end. Basically it meant the Celtics got a taste of what it has been like to play the Celtics for most of the past 4 seasons.
via CelticsBlog - For Boston Celtics Fans.

Energy is the most discussed element in regular season games between playoff contenders. The losing team will always cite a lack of energy, leading towards a "we play for the playoffs" angle in a "we just didn't have it tonight" manner, while the winning team will cite "being locked in." The start of this game very much looked like both teams were locked in. The Bulls were as relentless as described above, and that's their strongest defensive feature. They don't overreact to problems and they rarely let issues compound one another. Consistency has the value of gold in the NBA. And the Bulls have mountains of it. 
Listing other contributors starts with Luol Deng, overcoming early foul trouble to outscore his long-time rival Paul Pierce (seriously!) 23-15, Keith Bogans had two 3-pointers in his initial stint to help the hot start, Carlos Boozer had a brief spurt of dominance in the 2nd half against the C's backup bigs...but this offense was nearly all Derrick Rose tonight. He finished with 30 points on 16 shots, insanely efficient, and he still could (scarily) have been even better considering some of the 3-pointers he attempted. 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and the halftime highlight package from Mike Fratello focused on him setting a screen.

And yet, even considering all his brilliance (and placed alongside Rondo's opposite-of-brilliance, made to look even that much better), Rose still saw the Celtics hanging in close for much of the 3rd quarter. It was a game that felt better watching that the score indicated. But the Bulls have more than one star, and it was the defense that put the game out of reach. The Celtics couldn't run at all, matched their best playmakers (Pierce and the KG fadeaway) well, and looked completely stifled at points while they stared at a Davis 20 footer.
via Bulls take down Celtics with usual formula: Rose lights up, Defense shuts down - Blog a Bull.

Bulls-Celtics
Deng's contributions, not only Thursday night, but overall, lead you to understand how pivotal he is to the Bulls' success. The Bulls set the tone of this game early, going to Deng twice against Pierce while Rose remained off-ball. When the Celtics adjusted and started sending help, the Bulls switched gears and moved Rose into the focal point of the offense. But the start was enough to keep Deng involved which helped get his jumper wet later on. Deng's mid-range game is the equivalent of Lamar Odom's cuts to the basket. When he's making those types of plays, you throw up your hands and wonder what you can do against them. 

The reason the game felt better watching than the score indicated? Snail's pace. The game was plugged at an 85-possession pace. That's compared to the league-average 94-possessions pace.  Games at that pace make every make that much more effective and every miss that much more painful. And Glen Davis gave Celtics fans a lot of pain Thursday night. 
Can you imagine Rose behaving like Kobe or making statements like LeBron? Of course you can’t, because he hasn’t, and he wouldn’t (as far as we can tell three seasons into his career). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to single out those two guys to bash them. Superstars have little patience for failure and tend to blast their coaches and teammates from time to time. Michael Jordan did it. He used to complain bitterly about Phil Jackson’s use of the triangle offense. He punched out both Will Perdue and Steve Kerr at practice. He called guys out to the press.

No, my point isn’t to punish LeBron, Kobe or MJ for how they express their competitive urges. I’m just trying to point out that Rose isn’t like anything we’ve ever seen. People have likened him to Allen Iverson, of all people, a man who refused to play on anybody’s terms but his own. Which is why that comparison is flawed to the point of senseless irresponsibility. While people are constructing statistical arguments that show Rose is a sort of Iverson 2.0, they should probably spend a little time watching him play, and following how he conducts himself.
via Statement Made: Bulls 97, Celtics 81 » By The Horns

You'll want to remember this later. Every star NBA player has this day. When everything is going right, and everyone loves him, and why can't others try and be a little more like him? Then eventually, things change, the media machine evolves, circumstances change, and the narrative shifts. Rose will have his own time of criticism not just from the media but from the fans. Or he'll become Michael Jordan. One or the other. Bulls fans will all say "No, you don't understand, Rose is different."  Because that's what everyone says at this special moment in time. That doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy it. We should. Just keep it in your back pocket to look back on later. 
So Rondo requested a rare post-game meeting with Rivers likely to discuss matters. Rondo asked for the meeting and talked for a few minutes with Rivers in his office, perhaps to clear the air about play calling and Rondo's up-and-down performances.

After compiling 46 assists in the past four games, Rondo collected just six last night on 3-for-10 shooting. His counterpart, Derrick Rose, scorched the Celtics for 30 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.

Rondo was visibly disappointed after the game.

"Think we need to play with a better sense of urgency," he said before his meeting with Rivers. “It better be a wakeup call, if not, we won’t make it far. We’re a completely different team (than last year). It’s not the same team. We’re not going to be able to turn it on like we did year. I don’t know what we’re waiting on but these types of games we have to find a way to win. It’s a roller-caster and right now we went back down today."
via Rondo, Rivers meet after Celtics loss -Celtics blog - Boston Globe basketball news.

It was bizarre to see Rondo steering through the lanes, then unable to find anyone for the kickout or dump-off and missing layups. In the continuing "taste of their own medicine" theme, Rondo was probably the one who found out what it's like on the other sideline the most. Watching a brilliant young point guard school him time and time again. And there's no real way to spin it. Rondo just got beat. It was a team effort, the help defense should have been better, and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce could have kicked it up a notch trying to get free. But this one falls on Rondo, not for lack of effort, but because them's the breaks of the game. We haven't seen the Rondo of early season for months. We're assuming we'll see him in the playoffs. Assuming.
"This meant a lot because you're going against a team you could see in the playoffs," Rose said. "You don't want those teams to have confidence. We were aggressive. There were some plays guys were about to fight. That's the way it's going to be. We're a tough team. We grind wins out."

About the only downer came when Joakim Noah grabbed just six rebounds in just 23 minutes and iced his swollen right ankle afterward. He didn't play the final 15:19. That meant extended minutes for Thomas, who got yanked down by Glen Davis early in the fourth and hovered over the fallen Celtic in a WWE moment.
via Chicago Bulls: Chicago Bulls romp over Boston Celtics 97-81 in playoff atmosphere - chicagotribune.com.

Deng also got into KG's ear after a box-out. He was chirping in Garnett's face, and Garnett just walked away. Thomas stood over Davis and the Celtics didn't retaliate. They helped Davis up and separated the two, but didn't shove or become aggressive. 

Whoever these Celtics are, they're nothing like what we've seen. 


Posted on: April 7, 2011 2:19 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2011 4:20 pm
 

Road to the Finals: Boston Celtics

Posted by Royce Young



If I were writing this piece a month and half ago, things might be a bit more optimistic. If I were writing this piece a month and a half ago, I think I'd likely be skipping all talk about the first and second rounds and going straight to possible Eastern and even NBA Finals opponents.

But a lot happened over the past 45 days or so. A lot happened that drastically changed the outlook of the 2010-11 season for the Boston Celtics.

You know the story. Danny Ainge decided to trade ubuntu cornerstone and family member Kendrick Perkins away for Jeff Green and a balding 27-year-old. The team was now relying on Shaquille O'Neal's 39-year-old body to heal up and be ready for the grind of the playoffs. The team was banking on Green -- a notoriously inconsistent player -- to consistently provide a scoring punch off the bench and stabilize things on the wing. The team was trying to keep an eye toward the future while still focusing on the now.

Except the now might've been badly damaged.

Since the Perkins trade, the Celtics are 13-9. They're giving up more points per possession, scoring less and losing to teams they almost always handle. Now my personality is anti-panic, so I'm definitely not doing anything of the sort for Boston. But let's face the music here: The team is much different without Perkins. Differently in personality, different in personnel, different in ability. Boston is really missing not just that one-on-one post defender they had in Perk, but what his attitude and intensity brought as well. 

Road To The Finals
I really agree with Bill Simmons, who knows that team better than anyone. They really believed in their group. They believed in the fact nobody had ever beat them when they were at full strength. They walked with a serious swagger, they believed in each other. I'm not exactly sure what message was sent to the team when Ainge traded Perkins, but I don't think it was a positive one. You can spin that deal any way you want -- it was for the future, the Celtics needed a wing, it helps the bench -- the players didn't respond well to it. And the actual team is the most important factor in all of this.

As it stands going into tonight's matchup with the Bulls, Boston sits second in the East, tied with the Heat and three back of the Bulls. Gone is the possibility of the top seed and it'll be a tussle to place second too. The Celtics are headed for an opening round series with either Philadelphia or New York. Fifty days ago, Boston looks superior in every way against both those teams. Now, things look a bit more iffy.

But here's where we pump the brakes.

The Celtics are, in fact, still 54-23. (Know what they were last year when they stormed to The Finals? 50-32 and fourth in the East.) They Celtics are, in fact, still good. They still have Ray Allen. They still have Kevin Garnett, They still have Paul Pierce. They still have Rajon Rondo. Maybe they're missing a big, mean-looking piece in the middle, but it can be overcome.

They defend. They score in crunch time. They're playoff tested. These guys know how to win. They know what it takes. Nobody has quite the same motivation as the Celtics, because nobody else suffered a painful Game 7 defeat in The Finals last June. Doc Rivers talked about how the team has that same excitement for the game and each other that it had in training camp in 2007 when they went on to win it all. This team is still very, very good.

Keep in mind, Perkins had only played in 11 games with Boston this season. The Celtics have experienced most of their success this season without him. But again, that's just without him on the floor. People tend to underestimate things like chemistry. Though Perk might not have been playing, the rest of the team knew he was coming soon, and really just in time for when they really needed him.

Is this Boston group a true Finals contender? Of course. Absolutely they are. The Celtics could trade Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and they'd still have Miami's number just because they're in the Heat's head completely. But no longer can this group take things for granted. They aren't going to cruise past the 76ers or Knicks. And despite having the Heat by the tail, they aren't going to just skip past them either.

Then it's about the Bulls. Doc Rivers and Ainge can tell themselves that getting Shaq back will be an answer in matching up inside with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. That might be true. But things are different now for the Celtics. They've lost a little something. An edge, a mentality, a swagger -- whatever. And they may have lost their chance at it all this year too.
Posted on: April 5, 2011 4:00 pm
 

Philly's best approach versus Boston? Run

Posted by Royce Young



The Celtics have slipped quite a bit in the last couple weeks. They've gone from the top of the East to now the three-seed.

And come April 16 when the playoffs start, they may really regret that.

There are a number of things for them to be a bit anxious about, most notably the health of Shaquille O'Neal, but setting themselves up for a first-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers is surely worrying Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge.

They lock up again tonight, but so far this season, while the Celtics are 2-1 against the pesky Sixers, the three games have been decided by a total of just eight points.

Why do the Celtics have such issue with the young 76ers? To me, it's simple: The Sixers can play any game the Celtics want.

What makes the Sixers so dangerous is that they're absolutely capable of beating the Celtics at their own game. Philadelphia can slow it down and play 48 minutes of grind-it-out basketball. The Sixers can put the weight on their defense to get stops. They can beat the Celtics in a 85-83 game.

However, I can't see the Sixers beat the Celtics four times at their own game. Once, yeah. Twice? Maybe. Three times is pushing it.

Philadelphia will have to make a tactical adjustment against Boston to really press last season's Eastern champs. The 76ers have the ability to speed up the older Celtics. Much in the same way Oklahoma City really pushed the Lakers by using their athleticism, versatility and speed, the Sixers need to make the old men in green move.

The Sixers are much more athletic than the Celtics with players like Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala. And they've got to utilize that in order to push Boston. Like I said, Philadelphia is capable of playing the Celtics game, but the best approach for the Sixers if they truly want to challenge Boston it to make the Celtics adjust to them.

Philly doesn't play especially fast at a pace of 91.2, but that doesn't mean they can't go up tempo a bit. Finding easy baskets in the halfcourt against Boston isn't easy, so utilizing Young's versatility, Iguodala's freakish transition ability and a playmaker like Holiday is key.

What's really turned things around for the Sixers after an atrocious 3-13 start is a renewed committment to defense, but also coach Doug Collins trust of his younger guys. Collins knew Holiday had the ability to be a very good starting point guard, so he put the ball in his hands and let him go. He convinced Iguodala to settle into more of a role rather than playing the star. He started getting some production out of the awesome talents of Young. And Elton Brand has really rediscovered himself as a quality power forward.

(One thing that must be mentioned: The Sixers aren't going anywhere without Lou Williams. He provides such a punch off the bench and really gives Philly quite the second unit. He said he hopes to be ready for the playoffs and he better be if the 76ers have any dreams of actually pushing the Celtics.)

Across the board, the Sixers have the ability to match up with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. Where they have struggled and will continue in the future against Boston is finding points. That's why playing a bit quicker and looking to move the ball up the floor rather than setting up in the halfcourt could help. Playing small with Brand at center, Young at power forward, Iguodala at the 3 and with Holiday and marksman Jodie Meeks really gives the Celtics a difficult matchup, especially if they want to play Shaq.

The Sixers could eliminate Shaq (though he might be eliminated because of a bum heel already) just by using their versatility. The Sixers kind of hold the cards in the matchups. But they can't beat Boston in a series playing in the halfcourt.

I get the feeling the Sixers have Boston's full attention and it would probably be in the Celtics best interest to go ahead and move up to the two-seed and avoid the young 76ers altogether.
Posted on: March 28, 2011 11:30 pm
 

Celtics lose again, now tied with Miami for 2nd

Pacers out-execute Celtics down the stretch in key game for playoff positioning. No, you're not reading that wrong. 
Posted by Matt Moore

There can be no insinuation of a lack of effort here. This wasn't about boredom or age, or coasting. The Celtics genuinely gave a tough effort against the Pacers Monday night, but Indiana walked away with the win for one simple reason: execution. The Celtics played with energy but also played out of rhythm wildly, throwing away needless turnovers and missing key shots in a 107-100 loss to the Pacers. 

The result? The Celtics are now tied with the Miami Heat for the second overall seed in the East. They lost no ground to Chicago after the Bulls' loss to the Sixers, but Miami is now in surprisingly good position to close out the season and nab homecourt advantage in a possible 2-3 matchup. Oh, and the Lakers are now up on the Celtics by 2 games. Not that that's likely to come into play later. 

It was an up and down performance for the Celtics. In the opening minutes, they poured it on the Pacers, dropping 33 points in the opening frame. But the Pacers pushed back hard and wound up with a halftime lead after nearly getting doubled up in the second quarter. Then in the third, you know where this is going, right? The Celtics put on the effort, play great defense, land huge threes, and retake the lead. 

And then the fourth. Oh, goodness, the fourth. 

Most surprising in the 15-point quarter were the turnovers, created by and finished off of by Darren Collison. Collison was worked over for three quarters of this game, then all of a sudden Rajon Rondo got worked over by Collison. Collison flipped in-between screens, nailed pull-up Js, hit floaters, and generally dissected the Celtics. But the biggest factor in this game was what should concern the Celtics, and that was Roy Hibbert. Hibbert landed 26 points. This on a Celtics team that prides itself on the ability to shut down the opposing team's big men. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is not going to help the questions about how much this team misses Kendrick Perkins

The Celtics had their chances to win the game, but missed key shots from both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Just typing that felt weird. 

Meanwhile, the Pacers got a big win as they continue to cling to the eighth spot in the East over the surging Bobcats by a game. The Pacers have little room for error, but you have to feel like this is the kind of momentum swing game that can help a team push to the finish line. They simply out-executed the reigning Eastern Conference champs. Everyone in the picture is playing for something. Monday night the Pacers and Celtics both played like it, but for once, it was the Celtics coming up short. The good news for Boston? 

It looks increasingly unlikely they'll be seeing the Pacers again this year. 
 
 
 
 
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