From a game watchability standpoint, this sucks. From a game winnability standpoint, this is good.
From a game watchability standpoint, this sucks. From a game winnability standpoint, this is good.
Before the Oklahoma City Thunder’s game Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, coach Scott Brooks — who looks like he should be a prep school math teacher — made an offer to his players. If they accumulated at least 20 assists, he would cancel practice on Thursday morning before traveling to Boston. If they didn’t have 20 assists, practice would be held.
The Thunder plastered the Rockets 116-99, compiling a season-high 26 assists in the process. Said Kevin Durant, “Scotty should be saying that a lot.” Added Eric Maynor, “Maybe he should tell us that every game.”
Yeah, maybe he should. The Thunder are last in the NBA with 17.3 assists per game. They could use a little motivation when it comes to throwing dimes.
Brooks should figure out another way to motivate his troops tonight. The powerhouse Celtics won’t be as easy to defeat as the Rockets. Especially if Kevin Durant (sprained ankle) can’t play.
Here are three things to watch tonight:
1. Russell Westbrook vs. Rajon Rondo
Westbrook is another point guard who played for Team USA this summer, while Rondo got cut (or whatever the hell happened). If my theory is right and Rondo is using Coach K’s slight as motivation, playing Westbrook only fuels the fire. The two point guards couldn’t be more different as players. Rondo’s a pass-first point guard, while Westbrook would rather look to score (see: the Thunder are last in the NBA in assists). Really, the two players only have two similarities: they rebound well for guards, and their jumpers are as crooked as scoliosis. Okay, Westbrook’s jumper isn’t THAT bad. I just heard the “crooked as scoliosis” line while watching Prison Break and figured I would use it.
2. Delonte West, game two
Everything was gravy for West in game one. He filled the stat sheet, made some nice plays, and even shared the court with Von Wafer without punching him upside the head. I expect West will continue to play well. He and Glen Davis should provide consistent bench production.
3. Pound it inside
Jeff Green won’t play tonight, which means Serge Ibaka should start. That makes the Thunder bigger, but let’s be honest: not big enough to bang with the C’s. Look for the C’s to pound it inside early and often. By the end of the game, if the Celtics stick to my gameplan, Nenad Krstic should want to throw another chair.
Two thoughts about this dunk, neither of which mentions Serge Ibaka’s role (mostly because that was pretty self-explanatory).
First, Eric Maynor. I’m in love with his game. He’s not a great point guard, or even a starter. His stats don’t scream “star,” nor do they even scream “average.” But Maynor plays with a certain pace to his game that makes him the envy of my adolescent fantasies. And no, not like that you sickos. I wanted to learn to play like him. I wanted to somehow learn to lull my defender to sleep, then burst by. I wanted to dribble one way, slowly, and then cross over and — BAM! — be gone on my way to the hoop.
Will Maynor ever develop into a star? Or even a starter? Probably not. But his style still pleases me. Aesthetically, there aren’t too many other players I’d rather watch.
Second, the Thunder have been a disappointing 5-4 to start the season. But is that really disappointing? Kelly Dwyer examined the problems today for Ball Don’t Lie, terming the Thunder’s start a “self-induced holding pattern.” In other words, they made no additions this offseason. They shouldn’t have really been expected to take the proverbial leap.
I wrote the following words in an email to a few of my buddies, before the Celtics played the Thunder the first time.
“In regards to the Thunder being underrated or overrated, they’re the classic ‘underrated until overrated’ team. They were the 8th seed last year, people! They signed nobody of importance this summer! That does not mean they will be title contenders!
“I suspect they will be a little better than last year, mostly due to their youth improving. But people jumped on the bandwagon too early. This isn’t a contending team, yet.”
I stand by my statement. The Thunder shouldn’t be expected to contend this year. While most of the NBA contenders reloaded this offseason, the Thunder stayed pat. And maybe that’s the right move for the long haul (in Sam Presti We Trust), but for this year alone it doesn’t bode well. This is a young team, still, even if it’s also a very talented one. They will suffer speed bumps along the way to greatness, especially since the roster as presently constructed is inherently flawed.
I didn’t want to make this the Highlight Reel of the Day. I actually hate when lucky shots like this are in ESPN’s Top 10 plays. I’d rather see something that took skill, or at least a dunk that requires obscene amounts of athleticism. But you know what? Nate was being defended by Cole Aldrich on this play. That deserves an explanation.
Here’s what Doc Rivers had to say. (ESPN Boston)
“We always do that if it’s the last shot, we try to throw all guards on the floor and try to get them in before the other team can’t sub and get the bigs out. It’s like snapping the ball [in football] before the [other team can institute a] replay [challenge], before they throw the red flag out. With two seconds left, it was nice to get the shot, because we had matchups. I think it was Krstic or whoever guarding Nate. It was still only two seconds, but we’ll take the luck though.”
Note to Aldrich: Next time you find yourself defending Nate Robinson, do yourself a favor and call for a switch.
The box score kept some secrets from us last night. It tried to hide Marquis Daniels’s impact.
Daniels registered seven points, one rebound, one assist, and one steal. Not exactly a masterpiece, by the numbers. Not exactly a game-changing 19 minutes, if you didn’t see the game. But Daniels entered last night’s game for the first time with 4:09 left in the first quarter. After immediately watching Nenad Krstic make a free throw to give Oklahoma City a 17-14 lead, Daniels showed why box scores can’t reveal everything.
His first play was the easiest of the night. Kevin Garnett lost the ball, picked it back up and then found Daniels wide open underneath the basket. Two points. Coming back on defense, Daniels saw himself matched up with Kevin Durant. Always who you want to defend when you first come off the bench and your legs are still a little tight, right? In most cases, hell no. In Daniels’s case, at least last night, he seemed to relish the opportunity. Durant’s first touch resulted in a turnover. With Daniels’s chest stuck directly in Durant’s path, the NBA’s leading scorer dribbled it off his leg out of bounds. Score one for Daniels’s pressure defense.
The next time Durant touched the ball turned into a dunk, but Daniels can’t be faulted for that. A lazy Rajon Rondo pass led to a fast break slam. Daniels had no chance. Durant’s third touch wasn’t such an easy look, and this one ended in advantage, Daniels. Durant caught the ball on the wing. He tried to sweep the basketball through, but Daniels wasn’t having it. No, no, no, no, no! He poked the ball away and it flew to Rondo. The steal was Rondo’s, but the play was made by Daniels. Six seconds later Daniels pump-faked Sir Goofy, Cole Aldrich, and finished a layup. If you’re scoring at home, that was four possessions out of six that ended in Daniels glory. But he wasn’t done.
The very next time down the court, Russell Westbrook tried to feed Durant. Didn’t Westbrook know yet that Durant had no chance against Daniels? Okay, that’s quite a damn bit of hyperbole. But this time, Daniels wouldn’t even let Durant receive the pass. He intercepted it and outletted the ball ahead to Rondo. Rondo shoveled it back to Daniels at the other end, and Daniels had himself another hoop. It was an and-one, too. That made eight possessions that Daniels had played. It also made six possessions that ended in either a Daniels bucket or a Daniels forced turnover. Cue my buddy Jimmy’s favorite reaction to good play: “That’s what the f*ck I’m talking about!”
These are the dangers of looking at the box score. A player like Daniels isn’t supposed to light up the scoreboard every night. He’s not supposed to drop 20 points, or snag 10 rebounds, or dish 10 assists. Hell, he’s not even supposed to get 10, five or five. His role is simply to affect a game in a positive manner every time he steps on the floor, to provide what my high school coach used to call “good minutes.” Good minutes don’t have to consist of eye-popping stats. They can be achieved by boxing out, diving on the floor, taking charges, forcing turnovers or simply being opportunistic. If a player does his job on every play, positive things tend to happen. Even if the player doesn’t accumulate the stats all on his own.
And yes, I understand that I chose the span where Daniels DID accumulate stats to try to prove that stats don’t always matter. I’m clearly insane. But Marquis Daniels has been giving the Celtics good minutes all season. He’s not a star, and he never will be in a Boston uniform, but he’s impacting games. He’s doing what we complained he never did last year.
Stats don’t lie. But they don’t tell the whole story, either.
The Morning Walkthrough is a set of links to Boston Celtics articles throughout the internet, designed to get your day started the right way.
A. Sherrod Blakely, CSNNE – “Jermaine O’Neal said he plans to play against the Mavericks, but his bothersome left knee may keep him out of the lineup. He told CSNNE.com following Boston’s 92-83 win over Oklahoma City that he recently had a ‘minor procedure’ performed on the knee. ‘It’s just one of those situations, you’re going to be banged up,’ O’Neal said. Even after the procedure, O’Neal said the knee is still in a lot of pain. ‘That’s why I’m looking forward to just making it through this next game,’ O’Neal told CSNNE.com. ‘After Dallas, we got a few days in between before we play Miami [on Thursday]. That’ll do my knee a lot of good.’”
John Rohde, The Oklahoman – “‘They’re a title-contending team,’ Brooks said of the Celtics. ‘In order for us to play against elite teams, we really have to play good basketball for 48 minutes.’ Brooks considered it another lesson learned, and it was not due to a lack of trying. ‘Playing against the Celtics, they make you look at yourself in different ways because they challenge you in so many ways,’ Brooks said. ‘They’re a physical team, they’re smart, they’re aggressive. They know how to play, but they’ve played a lot of basketball. We want to get there one day.’”
Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald – “Oh, Ray Allen had 19 points, Paul Pierce threw in 17, and Rajon Rondo [stats] had 10 points and 10 assists. But when the game was on the line, it was Glen Davis, Semih Erden and Nate Robinson that most helped secure a 92-83 Celtic victory. ‘They saved us,’ said Doc Rivers. ‘Semih, Nate and Baby – that whole group – they were absolutely terrific. They won the game for us. They went from a six- to, what, 15-point lead with our bench on the floor. We got stops and we executed. And Nate was terrific.’ Throw in Marquis Daniels, too. He had all seven of his points late in the first quarter, and he played perhaps the best defense on Kevin Durant, who got most of his 34 points elsewhere. … ‘We came out in the first half and played as well as a team can play,’ said Rivers. ‘We were defending. We kept them off the glass. We played with great energy. We were running the ball up the floor. We were getting into our offense early. And then we did the exact reverse in the third quarter. We relaxed. We just kind of let them play. They’re too good to let your guard down, and we did that – and a veteran team should never do that. We got away with it. Even though we won by a big margin, you can’t do that.’”
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston – “‘That’s our whole thing: the bench mob,’ said Daniels, who had a pair of layups late in the first quarter to spark a 12-4 burst that rallied Boston out of a three-point hole — the Thunder’s largest lead of the night — that ultimately became a 21-point halftime advantage. ‘We want to be the best bench, regardless of whether the starters are playing great or not. We want to pick them up. Like Nate was saying earlier [this year], we’re a tag team. He helps [Rajon] Rondo; I help Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen], and so on. We’ve got each other’s backs.’ Boston’s bench had been outscored 159-126 through the first five games of the season, forcing the Celtics to lean heavily on their starters to pull out wins. But that production has spiked the past two games. Boston’s reserves outscored their Chicago counterparts 37-19 in Friday’s overtime win, while Oklahoma City’s bench mustered a mere 12 points Sunday. What’s more, it was the Celtics’ second unit (playing alongside Allen) that was on the floor at the start of the fourth quarter and stretched a tenuous six-point lead to a 17-point cushion in a mere four-minute span.”
Paul Flannery, WEEI – “Glen Davis is good enough to start for most NBA teams. In his four years in the league he has figured out how to score in the post and on the perimeter. He’s a willing defender, if a little undersized, and what he lacks in height he makes up for in terms of hustle and an underrated ability to get off the floor more quickly than his opponents. There’s no reason Davis couldn’t average 15-18 points and eight rebounds a night, but that wouldn’t make him a better player than he is right now, with his 13 points and five rebounds. Right now, Davis is a fantastic role player playing a very important role. He’s shooting over 57 percent and playing more frontcourt minutes than anyone on the Celtics after Kevin Garnett. Rivers loves to pair his shooting ability with Garnett and the rest of the starters at the end of games because it forces the defense to cover everyone on the court and he is one of the few frontcourt players who can run with Rajon Rondo. In a contract season, he came into this year wanting to know what his role was and after seven games it is very clear. He is the Sixth Man, the most important reserve the Celtics have, especially with injuries to Shaquille O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins, and by the end of the year he may be the best one in the league.”
Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald – “Shaquille O’Neal is looking to get back into the fray soon. He went through yesterday morning’s shootaround, saying afterward he hopes to play before the team returns to Boston. He was kept out last night, but he’s a possibility tonight in Dallas. If not then, Shaq says he wants to play the last two games of the trip, in Miami on Thursday and Memphis on Saturday. O’Neal hasn’t played since being run into by Amare Stoudemire in the Celts’ Oct. 30 win over the Knicks. The right knee soreness has decreased to just an area near the top of his calf. ‘I feel a lot better,’ he said. ‘All the pain is gone except one little spot, so hopefully that clears up.’”
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston – “‘We’re winning the games, and that’s one thing I will say, in this league, everyone loses leads,’ said Rivers. ‘Not the way we did today. The other games, it was more our execution, I thought we had good focus. Today, it was just us. We got up on a great team, then you have to keep playing that way to win the game and stay up, and we kinda let up. You can get away with that against a lot of teams, not with a team with [Russell] Westbrook and [Kevin] Durant on it. You definitely can’t do that.’ Kevin Garnett realized the starters spoiled a chance to put a great effort together, but took the positives out of the start. ‘I thought the third quarter, we had a little lapse there,” said Garnett. “But they’re at home, we knew they were going to make a run. We could have opened the game up in the third quarter, but for the most part we started the game off solid.’ Added Ray Allen: ‘It does seem like we’ve been holding on, like we’ve been doing what we need to do for the long haul for 48 minutes. That’s the important thing: Just [doing] whatever we’ve been doing to win games. Sometimes it’s not pretty, sometimes it’s not executed the way we want, but that’s the objective.’ Like Rivers said, there’s 75 more games to work out the kinks. The Celtics can win ugly now, then win pretty later.”
A. Sherrod Blakely, CSNNE – “The Boston Celtics have seen their share of hurdles this season. And yet here they are, sporting the best record in the Eastern Conference (both the C’s and the Atlanta Hawks are 6-1). ‘If you would have told me having had all the lineup issues we’ve had, and not having Delonte for 10 games, that we would get off to this good a start, I’d take it and not ask any questions,’ coach Doc Rivers told CSNNE.com prior to the Celtics’ 92-83 win over Oklahoma City. What really has him feeling good is despite the impressive start, he sees plenty of room for improvement across the board. ‘We’re far from where we can be, and where we want to be,’ Rivers said. ‘But we’re finding ways to keep winning, which is a good thing.’”
Julian Benbow, Boston Globe – “With four games left in his 10-game suspension, guard Delonte West stayed behind to do individual work, but he could join the team in Miami. ‘At the end of the day, I think he decided that he could get more work done at home,’ Rivers said. ‘He may join us at some point. My thing was we’re not going to practice until Miami. I told him if he thought he could get more work done at home then he could fly to Miami and meet us.’”
Got a tip? An article you think should be included? Send an email to email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @CelticsTown.