Posts tagged: Utah Jazz
The Celtics have gotten rid of their morning walkthrough, but that doesn’t mean we have to. Here are a few Celtics links, and maybe even an NBA link or two, to help wake you up and get you focused for the day.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com – “Then there was the scene that played out moments before the second half began, as Pierce and Cavaliers center Shaquille O’Neal positioned themselves for the initial possession. There was small talk. Smiles. Pleasantries at a thoroughly unpleasant time — Boston was down 65-43 — for the home team and its fans. That got a lot of green boxers in a bunch, too, the sight of the Celtics’ captain chit-chatting with a hated foe when the task at hand was so grim. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them. Fans want players to die a little with each loss, same as them. Fans pay big money to see their teams at their best or at least laboring hard and grimacing as they fall short. Fans might like it, knowing that their favorites are grounded and stable and centered as human beings away from the court, but that really is not a priority for them in the 2-3 hours it takes to watch a game or the two weeks that a playoff series runs. Michael Jordan’s obsession with winning, every time, every place? Kevin Garnett’s woofing and chest-thumping, even at All-Star Games? Kobe Bryant’s facial contortions and megalomania? That might make them lousy neighbors — imagine putting your fence three inches beyond your property line — but it is fire, it is fuel, it is focus. Bottom line, the Celtics and their fans want Pierce to play better. Failing that, they want to see the struggle, the sweat, the strain, the anger, the frustration that somehow they just know they would be feeling in his shoes.”
Jessica Camerato, WEEI – “‘I think right now, he’s the best player on our team,’ Perkins told WEEI.com following practice on Saturday. ‘Without Rondo, nothing goes. Pretty much we’ve got to play him the whole game because he just runs the whole team. Without him, we’d be dead.’”
Chris Forsberg, ESPNBoston – “After Friday’s loss, Pierce suggested it doesn’t matter what he does offensively, given his defensive responsibilities with James. Rivers said he’s half right as Boston needs Pierce to be a factor at both ends of the court, just like James has been. ‘Obviously, we want him to be more efficient,’ said Rivers. ‘He’s right. We were fine in Game 2, but I think we lost Game 1. We do want to get him involved more, get his rhythm better. He has a big job; guarding LeBron is very difficult. It takes a lot out of him. LeBron gets the ball 101 times per game. He handles the ball, pushes the ball up the floor and posts. Absolutely, that’s going to take something out of [Pierce]. You still gotta do it on both ends.’ Echoed Kevin Garnett: ‘We need Paul to be aggressive at both ends.’ But Pierce’s teammates seem confident the offense will come before it’s too late. ‘I’m not worried about P’s,’ Perkins said. ‘I’ve been around with P’s a long time. I’ve seen P’s have a few bad nights and I’ve seen him come back and have a 35-point night. You just never know with P’s. I know he’s capable of having big games. He always steps up in big games. We gotta do a great job of getting Paul open and getting him good shots. And we need to help him on defense.’”
Julian Benbow, Boston Globe – “After averaging nearly 20 points a night in the opening-round series against Miami, Pierce has been a ghost against the Cavs. His scoring average has dived to 12.7, he’s shooting 31 percent from the floor, and in the Game 3 loss Friday, he missed his first six shots, going 4 for 15 on the night. ‘We do want to get him involved more,’ said coach Doc Rivers yesterday. ‘He has to get his rhythm better. But he has a big job. Guarding LeBron is difficult and it takes a lot out of you. LeBron gets the ball 101 times a game. He handles the ball. He pushes the ball up the floor. He posts. So it will absolutely take something out of you. But you still have to do it on both ends.’”
Julian Benbow, Boston Globe – “‘Last night you could pretty much point at anything as the problem,’ said Kevin Garnett. ‘So today was more of a fix-it day.’ But where to start. The Cavs shot nearly 60 percent, holding the Celtics to 42.7 percent. LeBron James showed off with Jay-Z and Beyonce sitting courtside. And it added up to the Celtics’ worst home loss in playoff history. The easiest way to deal with it is to completely erase it from the memory banks. ‘You kind of let that game go away,’ Kendrick Perkins said. ‘You kind of move on. You can’t live in the past. The good thing about it is we’ve got a chance to tie it up 2-2 going back to Cleveland. So I fee like it’s a must win for us tomorrow.’”
Jodie Valade, Cleveland Plain Dealer – “The Celtics have been unhappy with the amount of fouls assessed this series, as Boston has had 78 fouls, compared to 57 on the Cavaliers. ‘[Friday], I felt like we were playing on the road, to be honest,’ Kevin Garnett said. ‘And that’s a rare feeling. You tend to think that the team that’s aggressive, the team that’s at home is the team that gets calls. But that’s not always the case and it’s out of your hands. So you’ve got to continue to be aggressive and put yourself into positions and situations to get fouls called.’”
Julian Benbow, Boston Globe – “Halfway into the second quarter, Rondo was the only Celtic with multiple field goals, and at that point Cleveland was up, 46-27, its lead still growing. He took nine shots in the first quarter, but Cleveland almost welcomed the idea of Rondo as a score-first player rather than pass-first point guard. For a player who holds the keys to the series, it’s a delicate tightrope walk. ‘He does it at times where he becomes a scorer instead of a playmaker,’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said yesterday. ‘You want him to be both all the time, but playmaking is key. I thought early on he really went at [Anthony] Parker and got everything he wanted, but no one else was involved. So you’ve got to be careful. That’s a fine line for a point guard.’ [...] ‘He had a matchup where he was attacking,’ said Ray Allen. ‘We’ve got to make sure that we keep moving the ball around. We can’t allow them to lull us into that idea that we have a great matchup because Kevin [Garnett] had a great matchup, I had a great matchup, Paul [Pierce] had a great matchup and we’ve got to move it around. We find the matchups that we like, get the ball moving around and become unpredictable. That’s when we get easy looks.’”
Dan Duggan, Boston Herald - “‘He has a cape, there’s no doubt about that,’ Rivers said of LeBron James. ‘A lot of guys play through his cape. That’s with every great player. You can’t name a great player, especially the Kobes (Bryant) and the LeBrons of the world – when they get it going, they make you feel pretty much like Hercules as well.’ James’ supporting cast flexed its muscles Friday with five players reaching double figures, thanks largely to the MVP’s 21-point first quarter. ‘Their whole team feeds off LeBron,’ Kendrick Perkins said. ‘He came out and he had 21 in the first quarter. He was setting the tone, he was knocking his jumper down, his confidence was high, his swagger was high and all the rest of those guys feed off of him. If LeBron doesn’t do that then the game pretty much could go either way. He came in and he set the tone early.’”
Brian Windhorst, Cleveland Plain Dealer – “Ten months later, [Anthony] Parker is sacrificing some dignity to help the Cavs stay ahead of the Celtics. It has not and will not be obvious or beautiful, but Parker’s willingness to be a cog has been vital to the efforts so far. He’s drawn the task of defending Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo and it hasn’t been fun. Rondo’s had an amazing three games, averaging 19.3 points and 13 assists. But despite being at a disadvantage, Parker’s battled Rondo to enough to help the Cavs in both their wins in the series. ‘I’d never claim to be as quick as him and I think everybody knows that,’ said the 6-7 Parker, who has six inches on Rondo but much less foot speed. ‘If I can make him work a little harder then I’ve done my job.’”
Terry Pluto, Cleveland Plain Dealer – “It’s tempting to dwell on the Xs and Os, the nuances of forcing Rondo to take jump shots rather than drive to the basket — along with playing smothering chest-to-chest defense on shooters Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Or we can talk about how the Cavs have more athletes and can run Boston ragged. Or how James needs Mo Williams (yet to make a 3-pointer in the series), Delonte West and Anthony Parker to be reliable outside shooters. We can dissect the matchup of Kevin Garnett vs. Antawn Jamison. But it comes down to this comment from Jamison: ‘We can ill afford to let the things we did in the first two games happen again as far as not coming out being aggressive on both ends of the floor.’ It doesn’t have to be like that, the momentum shifting from game to game, team to team. After 82 regular-season games and eight more in the playoffs, the Cavs are the superior team. They are more talented, deeper, healthier and nearly as experienced as the Celtics. This game is opportunity to also prove they are hungrier.”
Bud Shaw, Cleveland Plain Dealer – “Rivers may think it’s a single nagging injury. But you know better. Through forces unrecognized outside of “Hot Tub Time Machine,” James’ elbow bone is somehow connected to Jim Chones’ ankle bone and every near miss since. The fact that it seemed to crop up as unexpectedly as, say, a late-game fumble or a last-gasp jumper by the other team might seem like a coincidence in Boston. But what do those people know about not winning championships? They got the gout when it comes to titles from living too well. The fuss over The Elbow speaks to the delicate balance of hope and masochism still at work in the Cleveland sports scene even in the face of the uncapped promise of the James Era. Maybe expressly because of the uncapped promise.”
Ross Siler, Salt Lake Tribune – “As amazing a finish as Saturday night’s game offered, the ending couldn’t have proven more agonizing for the Jazz, now facing a historically insurmountable 3-0 deficit to the Lakers after three losses decided by all of 14 points in this Western Conference semifinal series. The Jazz’s season was left on life support after a 111-110 loss at EnergySolutions Arena, with Deron Williams missing a potential winning jumper over Ron Artest with 1.8 seconds left and Wesley Matthews’ Cinderella tip-in at the buzzer bouncing away. As much of a stand as they’ve tried to make against the defending champions — falling 104-99 in Game 1 and 111-103 in Game 2 — the Jazz are left with a 3-0 deficit from which no team in NBA history has. ‘It’s a tough loss, period,’ Williams said. ‘We again were in the game, we had a chance to win the game. Just things keep going the other way.’ ‘I thought we played well enough to win the game,’ Carlos Boozer added. ‘A couple of bounces here, a couple of bounces there and we do. We just didn’t get the bounce we needed tonight.’ The Jazz will host Game 4 on Monday night with their season in danger of coming to an end with the first four-game playoff sweep in franchise history. The Jazz were swept 3-0 by Golden State in the 1989 first round.”
Mike Bresnahan, LA Times – “The Lakers, who have won five games in a row, were stuck in a fight with a Utah team that had beaten them here in Game 3s the last two playoff seasons, and the game ended in a flurry, Deron Williams missing a long two-point attempt from the top, Wesley Matthews missing a tip-in at the buzzer. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak congratulated each Lakers player as they went to the locker room. This was a big one, in many ways, a revelation that the defending champions didn’t want to be pulled back into another tight series (think Oklahoma City, first round). The Lakers now seem to be on a collision course with the Phoenix Suns, who have a 3-0 lead in their West semifinal against San Antonio.”
Jeff Schultz, Atlanta Journal Constitution – “Let’s start with the obvious: The Orlando Magic are better. They have a center. They have a point guard. They have a roster of players with complete sets of working organs, and isn’t that a novelty? But sometimes things happen in sports that make you declare, ‘Push the button and blow the whole damn thing up.’ This was one of them. In a home playoff game, in an obvious desperation game, in a game where the Hawks had an opportunity to show us what substance they were made of, they collectively screamed, ‘Goo.’ They didn’t score. They didn’t defend. They didn’t rebound. They didn’t compete. We saw better performances when bodies were being jettisoned and the roster was all about 10-day contracts and cap space. Down 2-0 in their second-round playoff series against Orlando, the Hawks tossed on a little seasoning, propelled themselves onto a rotisserie and told the Magic, ‘Flip the switch.’ They trailed by 10 points after one quarter, 19 after two and 24 after three. A small gathering of fans at Philips Arena stuck it out until the end of Saturday’s 105-75 loss, perhaps hoping it would earn them some sort of refund. Sorry. Payback will have to come in the afterlife. If you need to know what that’s like, just ask the Hawks. They’ve flat-lined. They’re down 3-0. Their backs aren’t against the wall. They’re on the floor. Wait. It gets worse. Al Horford, the best hope this franchise has for a leader, openly questioned his teammates’ heart.”
The Celtics have gotten rid of their morning walkthrough, but that doesn’t mean we have to. Here are a few Celtics links, and maybe even an NBA link or two, to help wake you up and get you focused for the day.
Julian Benbow, Boston Globe – “His path to success, however, couldn’t be more different from James’s. Since he made the leap to the NBA from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in 2003, James has been on the fast track, and living up to the hype. Pierce’s road has been winding. The hype and stardom evaded him to the point where he persistently calls himself the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA. Forgoing star status, self-confidence — and sarcasm — are Pierce’s coping mechanisms. He tells the world he’s one of the best shooters in NBA history, then wins a 3-point contest to validate it. He says he’s the classic case of a great player on a bad team, then outduels Kobe Bryant — the league’s gold standard for individual greatness — in the NBA Finals. Why does success come faster for some than others? Why do some people immediately command respect while others have to earn it over time? Why is it that when some players say they’re chosen, they’re taken at their word but others have to spend years proving it? ‘I know at the end of the day, when my career’s said and done, everything I achieved, I worked for,’ Pierce said. ‘Nothing was ever given to me. That’s one thing I can honestly say. I think when you come along the ranks, whether it’s from high school or college to the pros when you’re automatically given stuff, you know . . . ’’ He left the thought unfinished. ‘But at the end of the day, everything I’ve gotten in my career, and I continue to get, I worked for it and I earned it.’”
Mark Murphy, Boston Herald – “‘Just going against the best, regardless of whether it’s LeBron, brings it out in me,’ said Pierce. ‘Just going against the best teams. Over the years whenever I’ve played against a top team, I want to make sure I show up for that game. I want to play my best, and on the big stage playing against the MVP, the best player in the league, it brings the best out of you. I’m comfortable doing anything,’ he said. ‘I don’t limit myself to just being a shooter or driving. I’m a natural-born scorer, and if the shot is there I’m going to take it all over the court. I feel good, my shot feels good and my body feels good, and that’s the most important thing. Just being healthy helps me to do the things I know I can do on the court.’”
Brian Windhorst, Cleveland Plain Dealer – “Because of it, the rivalry between the two teams is now complex. It dates back to Pierce spitting at the Cavs bench and nearly getting into a fight with James in a preseason game in 2004. It was fueled recently when Boston reserve Glen Davis was seen perhaps trying to purposely slap at Shaquille O’Neal’s injured thumb. Then, in the last meeting on Easter Sunday, James got into a heated exchange with Garnett after James missed what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer. But there is no missing the respect level the Cavs have for their now underdog opponent. It shows on the roster, where they responded to the Celtics’ moves by making three cash-absorbing trades to land All-Stars to play with James and then signing pieces to support the core. Even the close-knit relationship the Cavs have in the locker room and the interaction and antics on the bench are, in a way, nods to the Celtics. It was the team-building exercises the Celtics had to start the 2007-08 season that helped them forge chemistry. It was the Celtics’ active bench — it often bent the rules by basically becoming an extra defender at the end of close games with players straying from their seats — that was the basis for how the Cavs behave now. Deep down, beyond all the on-court talk, there is a respect. And the Cavs see beating the Celtics, which is what they intend to do, as a rite of passage into what they hope will be the same finish Boston had two seasons ago when they last met.”
Gary Washburn, Boston Globe – “And what Jordan brought to the game in flare, athleticism, and dominance, James equals with strength, all-around skill, and speed. There is only one Jordan, but James is making a loud enough impression on today’s NBA to create his own mystique for a new generation of children to emulate. ‘If you turn around, he has 35 [points], 8 boards, and 9 assists and that means he’s all-around, not to mention the steals and the blocks,’ Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. ‘He affects the game is so many different dimensions. Dominance is dominance,’ Garnett said when comparing James and Jordan. ‘New era. New rules. Different tales of the tape. Apples and oranges. Both of them sweet. You love both of them. They are both good for you.’”
Paul Flannery, WEEI – “It’s not just that James can score, which is a big enough worry. It’s not even that he can, and does, pass. It’s that when he passes it’s to a bevy of 3-point shooters. Or it’s to a collection of jump shooting big men. Or it’s to a rolling big flying down the lane toward the rim. The Celtics have already dealt with one superstar in the playoffs, but unlike Dwyane Wade, LeBron won’t be dishing off to the likes of Quentin Richardson and an aging Jermaine O’Neal. The Cavs may not have superstars around James, at least not superstars in their prime, but they do have a vast assortment of capable role players that compliment his skills. ‘The 10 [rebounds] and 10 [assists] we can’t have,’ Doc Rivers said after a two hour practice Thursday. ‘The 30 and the 40 [points] we don’t want, and if he has it we want him to have it our way, not his way. That upset with us with Wade in a couple of games.’”
Chris Forsberg, ESPNBoston – Forget LeBron vs. Pierce. Don’t even worry about KG vs. Jamison. Look past Rondo vs. Mo. This series will be decided by “Big Baby” vs. “Wild Thing.” The two players are more similar than immediately meets the eye. Both are capable of providing a spark off the bench, both can be overly dramatic and flamboyant, and, most importantly, both do all the little things that hardly show up in the box score, such as keeping rebounds alive, chasing loose balls, and taking charges. ‘He’s the biggest threat on the floor,’ Davis said of Varejao. ‘At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to win the series is the energy guys. He’s everywhere. He’s a pest. He’s showing off screens, he’s getting his hand on balls. He’s getting rebounds. He’s getting easy putbacks, getting free-throw rebounds. His energy is a big key for that team. What he brings is hard to find. He’s the type of player that can determine a game.’”
Jodie Valade, Cleveland Plain Dealer – “Anderson Varejao pointed to a darkened patch of skin on the inside of his right knee after Friday’s practice. ‘You can still see it,’ he said. It’s the spot where Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose’s knee knocked into the Cavaliers forward’s knee during Game 2 of the first-round series. The injury seemed to knock Varejao off his game for the remainder of series. Varejao swears the bruise didn’t hamper him. He said the foul trouble he found in each of the next four games had a bigger impact. He managed just 25.2 minutes per game, and hit only 37.5 percent of his field-goal attempts in the series. He was unable to find a rhythm against the Bulls, and as a high-energy player who feeds off emotion, he needs rhythm more than anything else. ‘It’s special for me,’ Varejao said. ‘I need rhythm to play really active.’”
Kirk Minihane, WEEI – “I think the Celtics and Cavaliers each own one huge edge when you break down the two teams as we head into what I think will be a seven-game playoff series. The advantage for Cleveland? Sebastian Telfair and his inside knowledge on how to stop Rajon Rondo. Well, that and the very best basketball player in the world at the absolute peak of his powers. Would anyone be shocked if LeBron James averaged a triple-double in this series? As great as Dwyane Wade was in the last two games of the first-round series, LeBron will be better. Bank on it. And how about the Celtics? When I looked over the matchups and handed out the check marks, I was surprised at how easy it was to give Doc Rivers the nod.”
Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post – “But with 6:00 left in the fourth, and Utah up 98-95, Kenyon Martin pushed Deron Williams as he drove toward the basket, and Martin earned a technical foul. From then on, the unraveling began. Chauncey Billups earned a technical a minute later, and Utah went on a 14-9 run to close out the game. And with 51.1 seconds left, the fans began chanting, ‘Beat L.A.!’ ‘These kind of things, I’m sure it will take awhile to sink in. It’s been awhile since I’ve had this feeling this early (in the playoffs),’ said Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups, who has been to the conference finals in each of the past seven seasons. ‘You just got to give credit to the Jazz. They stole homecourt advantage from us, and they won all their home games.’ ‘Anything short of a championship is disappointing, especially for the team we have in place,’ Martin said. ‘But last year is last year — a lot of teams were gunning for us. They want to be where we were. That’s the way teams are playing. We just didn’t get it done, bottom line.’ With the loss comes questions. Has the window closed on the Chauncey-Melo Nuggets, or do they have one more season in them to win a title? Will the Nuggets endure another season with mercurial head case J.R. Smith (a good bargain who can get hot), or will they try to deal him? Will Rex Chapman and Mark Warkentien, front-office execs with expiring contracts, both be back? Are Martin’s knees sturdy enough to give it another go, or will he miss chunks of time next season too? And, of course, will coach George Karl be able to return from throat and neck cancer and lead his troops once again?”
Mike Bresnahan, LA Times – “Better make room for another historic tenth of a second. Six years after Derek Fisher’s unforgettable “0.4″ shot came Pau Gasol’s “0.5″ clincher, another last-second theme on a different Lakers team that pushed itself past the Oklahoma City Thunder. Gasol’s follow of Kobe Bryant’s miss provided the final points Friday at Ford Center, an apparent loss turned into a 95-94 victory with the flick of two hands and half a second showing on the scoreboard. The Lakers will have barely 36 hours, if that, to celebrate another memorable playoff moment for a franchise filled with them. They eliminated the Thunder, four games to two, and begin the Western Conference semifinals at home Sunday against Utah at 12:30 p.m.”
Bill Plaschke, LA Times – “‘Tough,’ Ron Artest said, confirming it with his tired voice and his wrecked body, sitting in front of his locker with two ice packs on his knee and one on his shoulder. ‘Tough.’ Man alive. Enough already. The Lakers didn’t win this series, they escaped it. They didn’t beat an eighth-seeded opponent, they beat a heavyweight contender. They spent more than a week mostly stumbling around against the league’s youngest and fastest team, allowing themselves to be pushed to a Game 6, then show their championship mettle and grab a seven-point lead with five minutes left, and what happens? Tough got tougher. The noise grew louder, rattling your courtside keyboard, making it impossible to hear anything but Thunder. The giant white balloons — Thundersticks, of course — incessantly flapped, pounding the head, again and again. And the Lakers began to fold. Gasol charged. Kobe Bryant bricked. Gasol fumbled. The Thunder drained and dunked and finger rolled and, suddenly, the Lakers were trailing by a point in the final seconds. It is over yet? Fittingly, it was over only after one star rescued another, Gasol charging the lane as Bryant’s jump shot bounced off, Gasol grabbing the ball with two hands and putting it back in the basket with 0.5 seconds remaining.”
The Celtics have gotten rid of their morning walkthrough, but that doesn’t mean we have to. Here are a few Celtics links, and maybe even an NBA link or two, to help wake you up and get you focused for the day.
Chris Gasper, Boston Globe – “Essentially, what the Celtics have been presented is a do-over of the 2009 playoffs, but with Garnett a go and Cleveland standing in for Orlando. The team is virtually identical because the additions of Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, and Nate Robinson have had no impact. Last year, the Celtics were ousted in the second round by Orlando in seven games. If that happens at the hands of Cleveland this year, then their run has run its course, and they’re the 1991 Detroit Pistons, who coincidentally went 50-32, to LeBron’s Michael Jordan. We were hard on the Celtics because we expected so much of them, but now they’re in a position to finally fulfill those expectations. Bring on LeBron.”
Bill Livingston, Cleveland Plain Dealer – “Hopes will have to wait that the Big Shillelagh will immediately break out the whuppin’ stick on the Boston Celtics, who begin their second-round series with the Cavs Saturday night at The Q. It was Celtic reserve Glen “Big Baby” Davis whose perfectly legal play on the ball led to Shaq’s torn thumb ligament — and whose tugging on the thumb afterward was both repulsive and typical of the Celtics. After the Bulls had been sent to their rooms, O’Neal fielded questions about Davis’ play with blandness. The two do share a background of playing for LSU, but old college ties mean nothing now. ‘Nothing bothers me,’ said the Big Serenity. ‘I don’t think [that the play was dirty]. I’m just glad I got my thumbs back. You need your thumbs. Your thumbs are very, very important.’”
Julian Benbow, Boston Globe – “Jamison averaged 19.3 points in Cleveland’s five-game first-round series against the Bulls, and he took nearly a third of his shots from 3-point range (7 of 23). He was spelled by Varejao, the sixth-year power forward who plays as if he’s never heard of inertia, making a living off hustle plays and feasting on the Celtics during the regular season by being quicker to get to open spots on the floor. It’s a matchup problem for the Celtics’ big men, who will have to flip the switch from guarding the post to jumping out to the perimeter, chasing Cleveland’s pseudo-bigs. Glen Davis put it this way: ‘Imagine if you had to bump Shaq [coming off a pick-and-roll] and then close out on Antawn Jamison when he just hit two in a row. Or with Rashard Lewis, you’ve got to bump Dwight [Howard] and get out to Rashard and force him left instead of right. You’re closing out to him and he can make you do anything he wants to, really. You’ve just got to have a feel for the game and just got to have a will to do a lot of things out there on guys like that.’”
Mark Murphy, Boston Herald – “There is the Davis who made all of the hustle plays Tuesday night, from drawing two huge second-half charges on Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem to grabbing most of the big rebounds down the stretch. And then there’s the young player who is still a little too intoxicated by the memory of his game-winning 20-footer in last May’s Game 4 in Orlando. That’s the player who doesn’t always make the extra pass. But he seems to be coming around. ‘He’s just got to stay there,’ coach Doc Rivers said. ‘We tell all of our players this: ‘You don’t need a parade out there every game. You’ve just got to continue to play. And then your body will work when it’s all said and done. Then you can have the festivities.’ And that’s Baby in a nutshell. He is so talented, and his IQ is ridiculous. It really is. But he lets up at times. He starts thinking about what he’s done well, instead of just keep playing. And he’s a young kid still. That’s the maturity part that is growing. And I think it’s getting better and better. He has proven over the long haul, though, that in big games he tends to play well. He did it in college and he’s done it here.’”
Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald – “‘I’ve maintained that I like this team,’ Rivers said. ‘You know, when we were struggling, no one wanted to hear that. I got that. I understood that, but I knew what I had, and I knew that my goal was to get them healthy. And if that meant . . . you know, I didn’t want to lose games, but you had to take that risk during the regular season. We had to choose health over anything, and I understood that. The first thing Erik (Spoelstra, the Miami coach) said was, ‘Boy, you had a hell of a fight trying to keep these guys healthy.’ And I said, ‘It was brutal.’ But it was the right move. It was. I mean, you had to. That’s our only chance. So now we’re healthy, we’re rested and we’re ready.’”
A. Sherrod Blakely, CSNNE – “”You definitely had your doubts at times because of the inconsistent play, injuries just seem to be mounting and mounting,” said Pierce, who was sidelined for 11 games this season. But he’s not griping. In fact, he embraces those times as moments that showcased this team’s character and resiliency. ‘The losing teams tend to point the finger, go to the media, says this guy need to do this better or do that better,’ Pierce said. ‘And we never held grudges with one another.’ Kevin Garnett also addressed some of the struggles Boston has endured this season, and it’s impact on the team moving forward. ‘If you want something to happen, you have to gather everybody and it’s a group effort,’ Garnett said. ‘But if you want something to work, you have to actually grab everybody, get everybody on the same page and work towards that goal.’”
Paul Flannery, WEEI – “The Cleveland Cavaliers have the best record in the NBA and the best player in the world on their roster. Of course this was the exact same scenario for the Cavs last season, and they ultimately lost to Orlando conference finals. General manager Danny Ferry bolstered his team with additions big (Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison) and small (Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon) and found improvement from within in young forward J.J. Hickson. Noted Celtic killer Anderson Varejao had the best season of his career, Mo Williams continued to shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range, effectively ending the necessity for Daniel Gibson to get playing time, and Delonte West re-emerged as a key third guard. Then, there is LeBron James, who has shattered the best player in the league argument and seems poised to truly rule the world if he can deliver a championship to his hometown team before engaging in the most frenzied free-agent courtship the league has ever known. Ah, but the Celtics have other ideas.”
Jessica Camerato, WEEI – “‘My role since I’ve been here really hasn’t changed. I can just be a little bit more vocal now that I’ve been here for a while,’ Finley explained. ‘I just didn’t want to come here right away and be the loud mouth of the locker room. But now the guys feel a little more comfortable with me. I’m able to pull guys to the side, tell them different situations, especially in these playoff series that are important, not only to them, but to our team. And they’re listening and they’re being receptive, and that’s been good.’ The 37-year-old is happy to share the veteran wisdom he has accumulated over the last 15 years, and the C’s are just as happy to receive it. ‘Mike is big,’ said Ray Allen. ‘Most people don’t realize the things that he’s saying, just his advice, just some of the things that he says coming out of timeouts, coming to the bench. You can always tell he wants to win. Even though he came here later on in the season, he’s invested now in what we’re doing. So he’s always making sure, ‘Look for this, this is what’s going to go down,’ or, ‘Ray, you need to do this,’ or ‘Paul you need to make sure …’ So that’s great coming from the bench and you know that he’s fielding us more information so when we go out there, we’re prepared.’”
Charles F. Gardner, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – “Keep counting ‘em out, all you National Basketball Association experts. These Milwaukee Bucks will just keep fighting to the end. The Atlanta Hawks found that out the hard way on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the teams’ Eastern Conference series, as the Bucks got off the mat to grab a stunning 91-87 victory at Philips Arena. The Bucks have won three straight games against the third-seeded Hawks while taking a 3-2 lead in the first-round series, and Milwaukee can eliminate Atlanta in Game 6, scheduled for Friday night at the Bradley Center. Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova showed his trademark hustle while grabbing offensive rebounds, and Milwaukee went on a dazzling 14-0 run in the final 4 minutes to erase an 82-73 deficit and end the Hawks’ 14-game home winning streak. ‘This is by far the biggest win of the season,’ said Bucks guard John Salmons. ‘We’ve still got business to take care of, so we’ve got to stay with it.’”
Mark Bradley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution – “This was the Falcons blowing the lead against Danny White and Dallas in January 1981. This was Mark Wohlers hanging the slider to Jim Leyritz in October 1996. Only it wasn’t. It was worse. Those opponents were top-class. The Hawks just blew a 13-point lead and probably a playoff series to Milwaukee, which is a No. 6 seed missing its All-Star center. They trail 3-2 in a series they led 2-0. They face elimination on the road, a place they’ve won once in 11 tries over the past three postseasons. Yeah, theoretically they could still pull this out, but how can you win in the Bradley Center when you can’t hold a nine-point lead inside the final four minutes with the series lead on the line? How can you put this colossal choke — I hate that word, but it applies here — behind you? Up nine, and here’s what happened: Josh Smith missed a dunk by hitting the ball on the underside of the backboard; Jamal Crawford short-armed a layup, the first of his five misses down the stretch; the Hawks watched as Ersan Ilyasova grabbed every loose ball and Joe Johnson fouled out on a charge. Nine points up with 3:55 left, the Hawks saw the lead disappear in 116 seconds. I say again: One hundred sixteen seconds. There are no excuses for this game, this series. The team with the better players is the one with one foot out the exit door. The Bucks have two chances to win once. The Hawks are down to their final shot.”
Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post – “Help? Melo got it. Selfish? Not the Nuggets, at least not this night. Game 6? A reality. For one night, all was right with the Nuggets, who played poised and possessed Wednesday during a 116-102 victory over Utah at the Pepsi Center. Overcoming the loss of Nene because of a knee injury, Denver forced Game 6 to be played Friday in Salt Lake City, with the Jazz leading the first-round playoff series 3-2. A source familiar with the situation said the Nuggets are fearful Nene tore the ACL in his left knee. He is scheduled to have an MRI on Thursday.”
J.A. Adande, ESPN – “Not only did Anthony receive the assistance from his teammates he all but Bat-signaled for from the dais last Sunday, he delivered 25 points and 11 rebounds. He managed to involve his teammates without too much dropoff of his own from his 39-point, 11-rebound Game 4. Sure the point total declined, but the number of turnovers also went from nine to one. A team official told Anthony he was as proud of him as he’d ever been after this game. If the Nuggets are going to exit the playoffs, apparently their disappearance won’t be traced back to Anthony. He already double his double-double total from all of last playoffs (anyone else craving In-N-Out Burger after that sentence?). And he’s put up a better resistance to elimination. In Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers last season, in what turned out to be the finale of his breakthrough playoffs, Anthony scored 25 points but shot only 35 percent and grabbed two rebounds.”
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann had a very interesting piece today about quarter-by-quarter differentials. In it, he called the Celtics the most inconsistent team in the NBA from quarter to quarter.
In fact, only two teams, the Nets and Sixers, have more losses than the Celtics do when leading at halftime. Boston has led 52 of their 71 games at the half, but 16 of their 25 losses have come in that situation.
Is it an age thing? Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace all shoot worse in the second half than they do in the first. Wallace’s dropoff, from 47.8 percent in the first half to 33 percent in the second half, is by far the largest of any player in the league who has attempted at least 200 shots in each half this season. Yet, for some reason, he’s attempted more shots in the second half (294) than he has in the first (278). Pierce suffers the next worst dropoff of the four Celtics vets, from 49.9 percent to 44.2 percent.
He then gave the table below to illustrate the inconsistencies. Boston, as you can see below, is the best second quarter team in the league, but very average — or even below average — after halftime. (For the table, offensive rating is how many points scored per 100 possessions, while defensive rating is how many points allowed per 100 possessions.)
Boston Celtics by Quarter
|Quarter||Off. Rat.||Rank||Def. Rat.||Rank||Diff.||Rank|
Those stats are alarming, but I’m not too worried about them. For most of the season, Boston hasn’t been itself. The team these stats are mostly based on is a version of the Celtics that no longer exists. The C’s rode a strong fourth-quarter against Dallas to victory, fended off a fierce Nuggets run with a fourth-quarter run of their own, and now seem to be making plays down the stretch of games to pull out W’s.
Barring a second-half disaster against Utah, the Celtics are starting to put together complete performances unlike they have all year long. So, in my eyes, take those stats and throw them out the window. If the Celtics continue to show second-half problems the rest of the way, they’ve got issues. But I don’t think they will. As Doc Rivers said, this is now a completely different team.
Once upon a time (read: ten days ago), a second-half collapse by the Boston Celtics would have brought an avalanche of despair. I can hear what exactly what the reaction would have been: “The Celtics are dead.” “They’re washed up.” “A bunch of has-beens.” “Noooooooooooooooo. Nooootttt agggaaaaaainnnnn.”
But there is an aspect of stringing together a few worthy performances that has already benefited the Celtics:
Impressive wins go a long way towards earning a team a little leeway when a bad loss comes around.
As recently as March 14, in the wake of a humbling loss to King James and his Merry Men, Boston fans were ready to leap off the Boston Garden’s roof after every defeat. But that was then, and this is now. A second-half spanking in Salt Lake City was very similar to the crumbling in Cleveland that had people planning the Celtics’ epithet, but there was a big difference.
What was it? The Cleveland loss seemed like the rule, while Monday night’s debacle took the form of the exception. A second-half meltdown. though certainly nothing new for these Celtics, no longer occurs nightly. Monday, it even seemed like a fluke. Just a bad half, amid a bunch of good ones. A speed bump, and nothing more. It didn’t strike anyone that Utah was a better team, or had younger legs, or even that Boston mailed in another game. The Celtics just seemed like your normal contender playing its third road game in four nights and simply running out of steam.
When asked if his team had taken a step back in Utah, Doc Rivers replied, “No, we just lost the game. We’re not going to overdo this.” Just like the fans, Doc was willing to give his boys some slack after a 2-1 road trip that rekindled talk of a potential championship run. The Celtics aren’t the team to beat, but they aren’t a bunch of walking zombies, either.
Maybe the Celtics don’t deserve the amount of slack they’re being given. Maybe they should be vilified for another lackadaisical effort in a season full of them. How can a smile-filled four-game stetch erase everything the previous 40 games taught us? — Don’t trust this team. Don’t expect 48 minutes of cohesion. Don’t expect wins against good teams. Don’t expect anything short of patchy performances and persistent disappointment.
But, as Doc Rivers points out, the Celtics are “just trying to get back to where [they] were at.” For four and a half games, before Utah sped away in a dominant second half, the C’s managed to look like they had done nothing short of accomplishing their goal. The second half against Utah was proof that Boston still has work left to round into peak form, but not even being dominated by Mehmet Okur could delete the progress Boston has made since the Cleveland loss. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it wasn’t burned down in 24 minutes.
Tonight, the Celtics embark on a six-game home stand, mostly against playoff-bound teams. The Denver Nuggets come to Beantown this evening for a 7:00 p.m. tipoff, hungry for a win after losing last night to the peon New York Knicks. That game saw Danilo Gallinari matching Carmelo Anthony shot-for-shot — and “English slang” for English slang — down the stretch, and should provide the Nuggets with motivation to have energy on the second night of a back-to-back.
Another day, another stiff test for the Celtics. Let’s hope they pass this one.
Both halves of it.
- The Nuggets will be missing Coach George Karl tonight — and maybe for the rest of the season — after he was diagnosed during cancer treatment with bloodclots in his lungs and one leg. (Our thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Karl and his family, friends, and team.)