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Celtics Blog

Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Bucks Stop Here

What an original title for a post regarding a game with the Milwaukee Bucks!

Anyway, the Celtics broke the 100-point barrier for the first time last night in a 106-96 home win against Milwaukee. (box score) I've been watching the FSNE postgame this season and after every game they read the same old copy about how one of the sponsors makes a donation to charity every time the Celtics score 100 points. Until last night, the sponsor hadn't had to make a single charity contribution all year, which was getting rather pathetic.

Fortunately, the team hasn't given up 100 points yet this season either--the Celtics hadn't gone this long without scoring 100 or yielding 100 since the 1950s. The ESPN game recap reports the following: "Boston's point total ended the longest season-opening streak of a team not being involved in a 100-point game in NBA history at 14. The longest overall streak is 18 by the Miami Heat during the 1988-89 season." I really hope we get to see offense like last night for the rest of the season because it was far more enjoyable to watch.

The other big statistical story is that Paul Pierce recorded his third career triple double with 26, 10 and 10. He picked up where he left off Wednesday night in Orlando, despite suffering a stinger early in the game and missing a few minutes of action. Pierce is definitely looking more comfortable on the floor ever since he went off on the team for being soft Monday night following the New York loss.

The C's shooting was a tremendous 52.6 percent compared to the Bucks 41.5 percent. Boston also outrebounded Milwaukee 48-40. Turnovers were high at 22, but Milwaukee couldn't take advantage, turning them into only 15 points; the Celtics got 18 points off Milwaukee's 16 turnovers.

Raef LaFrentz returned and gave the Celtics a lift with 14 points off the bench in spite of being a little out of game shape from missing a few weeks. The others in double figures, Marcus Banks (11, outplayed TJ Ford in the rookie point matchup) and Eric Williams (13) also came off the bench. O'Brien went with Williams and Jiri Welsch almost exclusively as his small forwards, handing Kedrick Brown and Jumaine Jones DNP-CDs as he may be setting the rotation. I would expect them to play tonight, though, on the second leg of a back-to-back. Vin Baker had a quiet 8 points and 3 rebounds last night.

Overall the game was very positive as the Celtics may be finding their bearings on offense finally. Tonight we get to play a game against an exciting opponent the... Milwaukee Bucks. Why is the schedule like this again? (Memphis follows Monday night at home) In any case, let's make this 100-point thing a habit, not a rare occurrence. After all, it's for charity, right?

Spurs-Lakers

Matt correctly points out in comments that the Spurs-Lakers game last night wasn't their first of the year. I actually watched their first meeting in San Antonio that went to OT even though Duncan and Parker were out, and somehow I forgot that game, which is probably the best of the season so far. Call it a turkey brain cramp.

Then last night in LA, now that the Spurs actually had Duncan and Parker available, San Antonio gets blown out by the Lakers. The game was pretty dull, with Shaq doing very little in his return and Karl Malone putting up a Pierce-like triple-double. I noticed that Kobe Bryant has also been attending the Jason Kidd school of public relations, with his wife and toddler courtside to greet daddy as he goes in for halftime. Soon Vanessa Bryant will have a job with Extra!

Friday, November 28, 2003

Chinese Basketball

I read Peter Hessler's article about Yao Ming (not online) in the New Yorker and came across this lovely passage about basketball fans in Chongqing, an interior province:

If a player shoots an air ball, the fans shout "yangwei"; in the Sichuan dialect, it means "impotent." To encourage the home team, they chant "xiongqi" ("erection").

Let's Be Thankful for Orlando

Nothing helps a team break a losing streak like playing a team on an even worse losing streak. The Orlando win was still far from perfect, and it did take Paul Pierce getting hot late and McGrady fouling out with three minutes left for the Celtics to win by just two points, but we'll take it. Here's Orlando Magic Fan on the game.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, the home-and-home with the Milwaukee Bucks these next two nights could be more difficult than anticipated. The Bucks are playing pretty well at 7-7, 6-2 against East teams. With the Big Three all gone, experts expected a losing year for Milwaukee, but rookie TJ Ford has been pretty good at the point and the young lineup seems to be holding its own under new coach Terry Porter.

Raef LaFrentz should make his return tonight from his knee tendinitis. NBA fans will also want to tune to ESPN at 10:30 for the Lakers-Spurs game, their first meeting since the playoffs last year.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Softies

The big news of the off day was that Paul Pierce called the Celtics "one of the more soft teams in the league" following the Knicks loss on Monday night. The frustration over the inability to maintain leads is coming out in player comments, and Jim O'Brien said at practice Tuesday he wasn't bothered by any of the harsh things Pierce had to say.

Thankfully (get it!), the Celtics have a chance to get back on track Wednesday night against a 1-13 Orlando team that hasn't won since opening night. McGrady missed Monday's Magic loss with the flu. He'll probably play Wednesday in O-Town, though he may not be 100%. The Celtics really need a win.

A back-to-back home-and-home with Milwaukee follows on Friday and Saturday nights. The Bucks are somehow 6-2 against the East following their home win over Philly Tuesday night.

The New Yorker has a long article on Yao Ming in this week's issue. The web site only has this interview with the author, but check out the article itself if you can get your hands on an issue. I may post a bit of it if I find time and energy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Ick

I fell asleep on the couch tonight during halftime, with the Celtics up 51-41, and I woke up late in the third quarter. What did I miss? The Celtics were outscored 34-12 in the third, turning a 10-point lead into a 12-point deficit while Paul Pierce sat on the bench with foul trouble. (New York won, 94-88)

This game was just sickening, so I'm not analyzing it. Bob Lobel's sports report did not show any video of the game, he just played an audio clip of "I've fallen and I can't get up." The FSNE postgame featured Greg Dickerson and Mike Gorman agreeing that their mothers told them not to say anything when they don't have anything nice to say--and that from the reliably over-optimistic local TV outlet.

Here's the box score if you insist on inspecting this disaster more closely. Did I mention both Allan Houston and Keith Van Horn were out for the Knicks? Oh, but I forgot, New York still had the immortal Shandon Anderson available to score his 28 points.

Did I mention that this is the second consecutive Monday night on which the Celtics have blown a double-digit halftime lead against the lowly Knicks? Or that this is Boston's fourth loss in a row? Or that we still haven't seen the Celtics or their opponent score 100 points in a game this season (please!)?

New York still didn't have Antonio McDyess, despite newspaper reports last week that he might be active by tonight. No matter, the ossifying Dikembe Mutombo came up with 13 and 12, including a dunk in the final minute to fend off the C's comeback attempt.

I never posted after the Philly loss from Friday night. That game was far better than this because the C's at least battled down the stretch and were an open McCarty three from winning. Pierce was hot, hitting a few ridiculous threes late, and the fourth quarter execution, while still lacking, was better. Tonight erased that progress, unfortunately. The only guy who really played well was Vin Baker (16 points, 12 boards, 5 blocks), though he struggled at the line (6-12).

In other random notes, Jiri Welsch got the start at small forward as O'Brien continues to pull lineups out of a hat. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was also spotted courtside with potential free-agent acqusition Keith Foulke, the Oakland A's relief pitcher. On a night like this, I almost wished it were baseball season again (almost--and I'm willing to bet the papers harp on the Epstein-Foulke presence in their game summaries tomorrow).

Monday, November 24, 2003

Mourning, Cartwright Depart

ESPN is reporting both that Alonzo Mourning is retiring because he needs a kidney transplant and that Bill Cartwright has been fired by the Chicago Bulls.

The Mourning story is unfortunate for him but also no surprise given his history of medical problems. The Nets seemed too optimistic when they signed him to a 4-year, $20-million deal in the offseason, and the critics on that count have now been proven correct. With a retirement, the team should get some financial relief from the league, but this was still a highly questionable move. Losing Mourning doesn't hurt the Nets too much on the floor since Alonzo wasn't playing many minutes (he average 8 points and 2 rebounds for them off the bench). New Jersey has Jason Collins and Aaron Williams, so they should be fine at center. This development also makes Kenyon Martin look extra classy with his comments at Nets practice last week about Mourning's kidney problems, which provoked an angry response from 'Zo, who had to be restrained by teammates (story).

The Cartwright firing isn't a shock either, given how much the media have been discussing the possibility he would get axed. The Bulls were talked about as a playoff contender in preseason but they're 4-10 thus far. They have had lots of injuries, certainly, while also having some turmoil and some observers questioning the team's effort. The last straw came on the current Chicago trip out west, which has included a loss Friday night at the Lakers when LA came back in the fourth quarter after losing Shaq to injury. The Bulls were blown out in Sacramento last night. Cartwright joins Doc Rivers as the second Eastern Conference coach within a week to lose his job while his team is losing games on a western swing--do the front offices expect these teams to actually win on these trips to save the coach's job?

Joe Nets Fan and Bulls Blog are likely to have more on these stories once the respective authors can get to their keyboards.

Friday, November 21, 2003

In Case You Haven't Seen It Yet

Bill Simmons describes his NBA fantasy draft.

Philly Preview

The Sixers, tonight's opponent in a 7:00 start, are leading the weak Atlantic Division right now with a 6-6 record. Todd Zolecki of the Philly Inquirer runs down the injuries, which seems to be the big theme with the team right now:

The Sixers, who somehow hold a half-game lead over Boston, New Jersey and Washington in the Atlantic Division despite a 6-6 record, certainly have been shorthanded lately. It looks as if they will be again tonight against the Boston Celtics at the Wachovia Center. Iverson (bruised right knee) and Coleman (bruised left knee) did not practice yesterday. Dalembert had an MRI on his strained left hamstring, which he injured Wednesday in a victory over Toronto. The test revealed no damage and Dalembert caught the end of practice. Greg Buckner, who is on the injured list, practiced with his strained left hamstring. Robinson practiced with his sprained left ankle, but he did not sound too optimistic about playing tonight.


How did the Sixers win in Toronto the other night, giving the Raptors their first home loss? Marc Jackson had 23 points, Aaron McKie 21, Eric Snow 18 to go with 8 assists and Kenny Thomas chipped in 12 points and 13 boards.

I remember going to watch warmups before a Celtics-Sixers first-round playoff game in April '02 and thinking, hey, that guy running drills with Raja Bell is the guy who used to coach at Ohio State. So that's what happened to him. Now, with the offseason departure of Larry Brown, the unassuming Randy Ayers is the head man in Philly. We'll see if he learned anything from Brown these past few seasons on how to win games even while the locker room resembles a MASH unit.

I saw part of their game a week ago when they beat San Antonio at home despite being undermanned. I don't think they can pull such wins off forever, which hopefully bodes well for the Celtics tonight, but I would never count out the gritty Sixers either. They are a team I respect a lot for how hard they play.

On another note, I was misled by the Boston Globe into thinking Paul Pierce would be on Wheel of Fortune last night. He'll actually be on tonight, according to today's Globe.

The Globe also keeps harping on the bad rebounding versus New Orleans and citing a 50-31 disadvantage on the glass Wednesday night. As you may recall, I reported the deficit as 66-41. The difference is that I counted the team rebounds, 16 for the Hornets and ten for the Celtics. The shooting that night was 26-64 by Boston and 30-82 by New Orleans. That totals 146 shots, 90 of which were missed. Hence there must be 90 rebounds total to be had, right? The Globe's numbers add to 81 and mine add to 107. Something is amiss here. Stat gurus, please fill me in on the counting of rebounds if you're so inclined.

However you add it up, the Celtics rebounding is a problem, and Peter May has a good discussion of the issue.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Day Off

No game tonight. Watch Spurs-Mavs at 7:30 on TNT to get last night's awful display of "basketball" out of your system.

Of course, I call for Jim O'Brien to put Eric Williams in the starting lineup, and what do I see in the Globe today? O'Brien is already touting Williams for the sixth man award. Considering how little offense we're getting from the first unit these days, I stand by putting Williams in a starting role, rather than discussing postseason awards. I know, I initially agreed with Kedrick Brown starting at the beginning of the season. Looks like I was wrong there--hasn't been the first time.

The Globe Notebook also reports that Paul Pierce will be on Wheel of Fortune tonight, which airs at 6:00 in Boston, so people probably won't read this until that's past. I still think Heinsohn may be on Best Damn Sports Show tonight too, but don't quote me.

Anyway, what you can do is vote for your NBA All-Stars here. I'll post something about the Philadelphia 76ers, tomorrow night's opponent, either late tonight or tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Nothing New Vs. New Orleans

The Celtics lost again, 81-73 to the Hornets in a home game tonight (box score). The stats really jump out in this one. Boston shot 26-64 to 30-82 for New Orleans. Shooting 18 fewer times than the opponent is a good way to hold them to 36.6 percent shooting and still lose. Boston had 23 turnovers and 41 rebounds to 66 for New Orleans, accounting for the disparity in shots.

The Hornets didn't look too good on the second night of a back-to-back and Baron Davis was limited to just 17 points, but they managed to defeat the Celtics anyway because of the edge in controlling the ball and Boston's continued offensive woes. A troubling trend I'm noticing is that the other team's big guys have good rebounding nights against us. Eddy Curry had 13 boards last week, Kurt Thomas had 17 Monday night, and tonight Jamaal Magloire has 12 (7 offensive) and PJ Brown 16 (9 offensive). Overall the Celtics have done a decent job in rebounding statistically in the games so far, but the overall numbers are somewhat deceiving because they are not as good on their own defensive board, often giving up second-chance hoops (New Orleans lived off put-backs tonight).

The other continuing storyline is Paul Pierce and his lack of comfort in the offense. Pierce did very little in the first half, totaling three points at the break. He shot pretty well in the second half to get to 23 points, but he still turned the ball over 5 times and struggled to get the ball against pressure and get rid of it crisply when doubled. No one else really had any sort of offense going tonight either, which didn't help.

"Running" is not a cure-all. It's obvious that the team should push the ball for easy hoops when the opportunity is there, as should any team, but that doesn't change the fact that they will have to have some effective half-court sets to rely on if they want to be a consistent winner.

While I'm giving the coaches advice, I'll ask: when is Jim O'Brien going to stop playing around with the rotation and give Eric Williams the starting small forward job? He certainly has done a lot more than Kedrick Brown, Jumaine Jones or Walter McCarty and he deserves the starting role. He played 27 minutes tonight anyway, which is basically a starter's amount.

In all, this was not an enjoyable game to watch--I was having flashbacks to games against Pat Riley's Miami Heat a few years ago. No one could get much offense, and now I see in the ESPN recap end notes the following: "Through the first 11 games, Boston has not been involved in a game when one team scored 100 points--the longest such streak for the Celtics since the start of the 1953-54 season." I'll have to start a running tab on how long it takes until we see a C's game when someone hits the century mark.

Here's hoping it comes in the next game at Philly Friday night, a game in which the Sixers may be without Allen Iverson, who sat out of the team's win tonight at Toronto.

Chrysler LeBaron

MVP candidate Baron Davis leads the New Orleans Hornets into the FleetCenter tonight to face the Celtics. Davis missed a triple-double by one rebound last night in the Hornets win at New Jersey, in which he scored 25.

The guy has just been on fire so far this year--you may remember him torching the Celtics for 37 on November 1. If he's hitting more circus shots tonight, winning will be difficult. At least New Orleans is on a back-to-back in Boston this time whereas the roles were reversed earlier this month.

The Hornets are 8-3, a half-game behind Indiana for the top record in the East despite not having Jamal Mashburn, who is out injured probably until January. I caught a few minutes on ESPN last night discussing who will be the leader of the team when Mash comes back, an issue the Hornets may have to deal with later.

For now, New Orleans has to be happy to have a healthy Baron Davis, unlike last year. They also have this final season as a chance to get to the NBA Finals before they move to the West and become a longshot again.

(On that note Bulls Blog has been amusing the last few days with its harping on the fact that Chicago hasn't won a game on a West coast trip the last four years, a combined 0-28 including last night's defeat in Phoenix.)

Realignment

I never got around to mentioning this when the realignment plans of the NBA were announced last week. The NBA will become a 30-team league next season with the entry of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. There will then be six divisions of five teams apiece, with New Orleans moving to the Western Conference.

The Celtics will still be in the Atlantic Division along with New York, New Jersey, Toronto and Philadelphia. I like the realignment because I find the current uneven number of teams per conference mildly distressing. Rather than getting medication for my condition, I'll just be able to wait until next season for a fix.

Remembering Len Bias

I don't have any memory of Len Bias personally because I was five years old in 1986. I have heard numerous stories, though, and I'm learning more as I read newspaper coverage relating to the fact that Tuesday would have been his 40th birthday.

Bias was drafted second overall by Boston in the 1986 NBA Draft. He died from a drug overdose soon thereafter, however, and never played a game for the Celtics. Who knows how long the Celtics' 1980s greatness could have been extended had they not suffered the untimely loss of this young star (not to mention Reggie Lewis in 1993).

Bob Ryan has a long article on the subject in the Tuesday Boston Globe and Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post, who covered Bias as a Maryland star, also reflects on the birthday in the Wednesday Washington Post. Bill Simmons wrote the column "Haunted by Len Bias" in 2001.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Doc Rivers Fired

The Magic have put an end to the rumors and fired Doc Rivers. Orlando won their first game of the season but the team has lost ten straight since then.

I'm not all that tuned in to what's happening down at Disney, but I don't think this really fixes much. Orlando has been McGrady and spare parts for a few years now, and when McGrady struggles and some of the better of those spare parts are out with injuries, the team will lose, period.

Rivers was until recently heralded as one of the top young coaches in the league, even winning coach of the year a few seasons back. Maybe the guy got stale in that locker room, who knows, but I think a much bigger part of the Magic's trouble stems from Grant Hill being on the payroll for big money while he remains out with his foot/ankle ailment. Until Hill is off the books (or miraculously healed), the Magic are a first-round loser at best. Rivers did pretty well to get them even that far these past few years.

Losing to the Knicks

Just my luck, I'm out of town for the LeBron game Friday night that the Celtics win, then I'm back home last night to see the debacle at Madison Square Garden. In case you were lucky enough to watch only the first half, which the Celtics dominated, then I should break to you the bad news that they blew a big lead and lost 89-86.

Boston had won eight in a row against New York. Prior to that, there was a long stretch when New York had a streak against Boston. It seems like this series goes in streaks, but hopefully the Celtics can reverse this thing next week when the Knicks come to town on Monday night.

The story, as it has been with several losses so far, was that the Celtics couldn't get good offense down the stretch. The Knicks doubled Pierce and he didn't do a good enough job of passing the ball out to set up other people. He still looks indecisive about when to shoot or pass.

The "up-tempo" game deserted them when it mattered. once again. Check out the score by quarters: 28, 26, 18, 14. You know my mantra by now: they need to work more on half-court offense.

Boston was outrebounded 53-44, despite having a big rebounding edge in the first half. The 11 turnovers were an improvement, at least (box score).

For some upbeat news, read the Herald notebook today about how Vin Baker handled the New York media scrutiny and went out to have a 20-point, 8-board night. The Globe notebook has info on Tony Battie's knee issues and reports that Antonio McDyess will probably be playing for the Knicks at the Fleet next week.

New York is a strange team. Sometimes they look old and slow and awful. Sometimes they look pretty good. Allan Houston seems to have benefited from the departure of Latrell Sprewell, now that he has a lock on that position. He is a damn good shooter. Van Horn, as usual, plays well in spurts. Mutombo, as has been the case the last few years, is done--Michael Doleac played the end of the game for the Knicks. Kurt Thomas had 17 rebounds and was more than the Celtics could handle on the glass. When McDyess comes back, the Knicks should sacrifice the size and send Mutombo to the bench, not Thomas.

Lest we worry to much about losing to this team, remember they played well against Indiana at the Garden on Saturday, pulling ahead with a 24-0 run in the third quarter (sound familiar?) and losing eventually by one. They also defeated Sacramento there earlier in the year.

Frank Williams was having some problems with his shorts nearly falling down, as Mike Gorman pointed out. Tom Heinsohn kept calling Othella Harrington "Othello" like the Shakespeare character. Gorman added during a promo that fans should watch Best Damn Sports Show on Thursday, though he wouldn't say why. I think Heinsohn will be a guest that night, and I expect he'll take some ribbing over "I love Waltah!" and his other energetic exclamations.

Marcus Banks looked good off the bench with six assists and some nice defensive plays, especially in the second quarter Boston run. Eric Williams also had a strong 17 points off the bench. Jumaine Jones, starting a second straight game as Jim O'Brien gives him a look, was scoreless in 15 minutes.

Other things I missed while away are that Jiri Welsch played backup point on Friday night. O'Brien says he'll do this from time to time. Raef LaFrentz is also on the injured list with knee tendinitis. He missed his second game of at least five last night.

New Orleans comes to town on Wednesday, then we're at Philadelphia Friday night.

Friday, November 14, 2003

LeBron Comes to Town

Get ready for the hype machine to kick into gear tomorrow. The Globe and Herald will have big articles on the kid and FSNE will focus on James too. Maybe Boston sports radio will stop talking about the Parcells-Belichick matchup tomorrow for a few minutes even.

There's lotsa LeBron coverage on the web, as you may already know. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer is running a LeBron Watch page on their site, for example, and ESPN also has a LeBron Line that allows instant statistical comparisons of LeBron with other rookies through the years. Celtics.com is pumping up "The Truth vs. King James" for good measure.

Sadly I'll be out of town for the game and the rest of the weekend. The next Celtics game is Monday night against the Knicks. Expect the next post from me on Monday also.

The Christies

Fascinating Sacramento Bee article detailing the married life of the whipped Doug Christie. (via End of the Bench)

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Bob Ryan and Me

We both use the word "stinkbomb" to describe last night's game. Freaky.

Letdown Time

Last night I wrote this at the end of my post about the win at Indiana:

The Celtics have a quick turnaround, facing the Bulls Wednesday night at the Fleet. Hopefully the fatigue and emotion of a big road win don't produce a letdown versus Chicago.


So I've made a few inaccurate predictions before, but this one, unfortunately, turned out to be spot on. The Celtics, who had given a strong effort in every game up to this point, submitted a stinkbomb for the home crowd against Chicago on Wednesday evening.

The obvious excuse is fatigue. Even so, the TV announcers said the team registered zero fast break points. What happened to that "up tempo" style we keep hearing about? I don't know how valid the fatigue issue is anyway, now that the team is playing ten guys.

To give the Bulls some credit, they took away the easy shots and made the Celtics beat them from the perimeter. Other than Mike James, the Celtics couldn't shoot well enough to win. James was 6-11 on threes, while the team as a whole went 8-27. That's 2-16 for everyone else, and that falls to 0-10 when we exclude Pierce's 2-6. The C's shot 33 percent overall. (box score)

Shooting that many threes is not the game plan any more this year, or so we've been told, but when the defense gets back and can set up a sagging zone, there's not really much of an alternative to hoisting up jumpers. The Celtics don't have anyone who is known as a good perimeter shooter either, with the possible exception of LaFrentz, who has been struggling with his shot thus far.

Bad as the offense was tonight, the team actually scored more points than it did against the Pacers. Obviously, the offense isn't clicking as of yet. Certainly, taking opportunities to push the ball is part of the answer. The other important part is the half-court, though, and I expect we may see other teams try to force the Celtics to shoot jumpers after Chicago's success tonight.

The other negative is Paul Pierce's continued struggle. He shot only 4-15 tonight in scoring 14 points, though to his credit he continued to contribute in other ways with 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Pierce also had 7 more turnovers to add to his league lead in that category. He seems to be really careless when he's handling the ball in traffic and loses the handle quite a bit. The indecision over how to get other people involved and when to go for his own shot probably has a lot to do with this. Again the solution is to work more on getting good shots in the half court and getting everyone comfortable (along with telling Pierce to be more careful with his dribble--not that the turnovers are killing my fantasy team or anything).

The silver lining of the game is that the team as a whole had only 12 turnovers, so people other than Pierce took good care of the ball.

The bottom line is that this was a game the Celtics should have had. You have to beat a Chicago team that's short-handed at home if you want to be a playoff contender. I know, the Bulls had plenty of preseason buzz, but they are in a bit of disarray now with Tyson Chandler out the last few games and Kirk Hinrich inexplicably starting ahead of Jamal Crawford. They lost to Denver at home in their previous game on Monday.

Just like in the last few seasons, the Celtics lost a game to a Chicago team they should've beaten.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Deja Vu

The 78-76 win in Indiana tonight reminded me a lot of the first-round playoff series the Celtics and Pacers played this past spring. The first half clearly demonstrated that Indiana has a lot of talent and that no one on Boston can stop Jermaine O'Neal. But then Indiana inexplicably fell apart while a gutty Celtics team pulled out a win.

I was fearful that with Larry Bird and Rick Carlisle now in town the Pacers would get their act together this season. I remember watching the playoff games and marveling at how Isiah Thomas had no fixed rotation of players. Some games guys would get big minutes, the next they would hardly play. Remember when Tim Hardaway came out of nowhere to hit big shots in Game 5 (also the last time the Celtics visited Conseco before tonight and somehow didn't score a point in overtime)? Or how Jonathan Bender and Ron Mercer made random appearances in a few games?

Well, I thought that would all get fixed now that people who ostensibly know what they're doing are running the team. As it turns out, the Pacers are still looking for the best way to use their people, and to be fair so are several teams at this early point in the year, including the Celtics. I think point guard remains a weakness for them. Kenny Anderson is serviceable but getting on in years, and Anthony Johnson is now the backup while Jamaal Tinsley sits in the doghouse. They didn't get shots for people, and Mike James outplayed them tonight. The Pacers also miss Brad Miller at center, another big guy who would take some attention away from O'Neal. Jeff Foster and Scot Pollard play hard but aren't the offensive talents Miller was. Indiana needs to find a way to get Al Harrington more minutes too, though moving him into the starting lineup as the power forward with O'Neal at center may make them a bit small.

The obvious turning point in the game was when O'Neal got his fourth foul and had to sit for most of the third quarter. We learned how much Indiana relies on O'Neal for scoring when their offense sputtered the rest of the way, registering only 14 points in both the third and fourth periods. Ron Artest (8 points) and Reggie Miller (7) did not pick up the slack.

As in the Sacramento game, the defense of the Celtics was the story. Boston scored in the teens three of four quarters and still managed to win because, while their offense is not yet clicking, the team seems to be putting it all together on the defensive end. Indiana committed 20 turnovers and Boston, despite facing a deep rebounding deficit in the first half, managed to outrebound the Pacers for the game, 44-42.

The other big encouraging sign was the team's ability to hold on for a close win down the stretch. Of course, defense was mostly responsible, but how big was Vin Baker coming up with the game-winning shot to put Boston ahead with 20 seconds remaining? I've been hammering the point that the C's need some half-court offense they can turn to in crunch time, and they may have a semblance of that now. This, along with the defensive improvement, is what they were missing in the losses to New Orleans, Detroit and New Jersey.

I'm liking the resilience of the team. It looked like they might get blown out in the first half but they fought back hard, a great sign of character. Also, kudos to Paul Pierce, who, despite a relatively quiet night scoring, dished out nine assists, including the beauty to Baker for the game winner. The contrast with Pierce trying to do everything himself in the fourth quarter Friday against New Jersey is clear, and for the better.

The Celtics have a quick turnaround, facing the Bulls Wednesday night at the Fleet. Hopefully the fatigue and emotion of a big road win don't produce a letdown versus Chicago. Word is that there are still some seats for Friday night's LeBron fest too, if you're in the area.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Joe Forte Update

He had his assault charges dropped. Why did we waste a pick on this guy again?

Larry Bird Interview

Larry Bird, who now calls the shots in the front office for tonight's opponent, the Indiana Pacers, has an interview in today's Globe. He likes Antoine Walker a lot, he says, but acknowledges Walker made too much money and that the trade may have been justified based on team chemistry. He also has good words for Paul Pierce and Vin Baker, and he has interesting thought on the Pacers' need to get a younger version of Reggie Miller who can consistently knock down threes.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Regicide

Sorry, I was trying to come up with a pun on Kings that wasn't totally overdone. Anyway...

The Celtics 91-82 win over Sacramento was a nice win over a playoff-caliber opponent. It was a very strange game, one that saw Sacramento start out absolutely on fire offensively and then completely lose it.

I don't mean to put a damper on everyone's excitement at beating a Western contender, but this isn't as good a Kings team as we've seen in the last few years, and I don't just mean Chris Webber being out. Their depth isn't what it used to be, with the losses of Jim Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu, Scot Pollard, Keon Clark, et al. Their second unit isn't that threatening any more, aside from Bobby Jackson. Tony Massenburg played 22 minutes, after all (box score). Plus the Kings are now just 3-3, including a loss to the Knicks on Friday before they came to town. They will be in the playoffs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are a lower seed than in previous years that perhaps loses in the first round--how strong Webber comes back will be critical.

Regardless of how far Sacramento has fallen, a win is always nice after three losses. The Celtics' rebounding was strong (52-42 Boston edge), indicative of the Celtics' appearing more physical than the Kings. The papers (Herald, Globe) both applaud the strong defensive effort, which resulted in six blocks.

Both Notebook columns (Globe, Herald) also note the return of Eric Williams who, despite knee soreness, gave the Celtics a boost with 12 points and six boards off the bench. Jim O'Brien (as the sage FSNE broadcasters discussed) shortened his rotation a bit for the game, giving Jumaine Jones and Walter McCarty DNPs as the team continues to search for the right combinations of players.

Vin Baker had a very strong night with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Brad Miller really couldn't handle Baker on the block. Paul Pierce, by contrast, had an off night with just 17 points on the heels of his disappointing performance in the fourth quarter against Jersey on Friday. It was a good sign that Pierce only played 35 minutes, though, as O'Brien has talked about the need to get Pierce more rest during the course of games and doing so didn't hurt the team at all. The fact that Paul Pierce can struggle in a game the team still wins is important for the confidence of everyone.

The thing I still want to see is how the Celtics handle a late-game situation when things are tighter. They were fortunate last night to be playing with a lead coming down the stretch. That won't always be the case, of course, and the real test will come when they're in a nip-and-tuck affair in the closing minutes and Pierce is being swarmed by defenders.

One additional footnote is that the Celtics 2002 second-round draft choice Darius Songaila made his FleetCenter debut last night as a Sacramento King. He had one point in six minutes. I was surprised that Songaila couldn't get a roster spot with the Celtics but could with the Kings, arguably the deepest team in the league the last few years, but now that I've seen the new Sacramento bench in action, it makes some more sense. (Could the Celtics actually be deeper than the Kings!?)

This week the Celtics have a rematch with their first-round playoff opponents in Indiana Tuesday night, followed by home games with Chicago Wednesday and the first Boston visit by LeBron's Cavs on Friday.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

New Jersey Wins... Again

The Globe and Herald have plentiful C's coverage today on account of the Nets visit last night, a 94-87 Jersey win. Paul Pierce taking too much on himself is pointed out both by Steve Bulpett's game summary and Peter May's column. See Joe Nets Fan for the perspective on the other side. He highlights the career night (19 points, 13 rebounds) for Jason Collins.

Not to beat a dead horse here, but the Celtics' focus on "running" has cost them down the stretch. We saw this for a fourth straight game last night. The coaching staff, while encouraging fast breaks when they are there, should also focus on how to get other players good shots in half-court sets. Otherwise Pierce will continue to be blanketed in fourth quarters. Boston scored just 17 points total in the final period last night, after they had put together a strong 17-2 run in the third to get back into it.

Peter Stringer of Boston Sports Blog saw the game in person and attributes the fourth-quarter demise to the Antoine Walker trade. I disagree, based on the fact that the same sort of problem existed last spring in the playoffs when Walker was on the team. The Celtics just need to have confidence in people other than Pierce. When he's surrounded, others must be open, right? Opponents will clamp down on Pierce until others step up late in games. No "up-tempo" scheme can solve this. (There are several other good reasons to have moved Walker, which I'll cover at length another time.)

Both papers' Notebook articles (Globe, Herald) report that Tony Battie was inserted in the starting lineup last night with Mark Blount coming off the bench. O'Brien downplayed the move, saying Blount was a good matchup for Alonzo Mourning off the Nets' bench and that the starting five remains open to changes.

A bright spot amid the loss was the solid play of Kedrick Brown (career-high 18 points, including even a few jumpers), Blount (12) and Marcus Banks (11). Banks played the entire fourth quarter and made some very nice offensive plays that have to make fans excited about his progress. The Herald notes O'Brien's confidence in the kid. New Jersey's Kidd--Jason--meanwhile had a strong game with 19 points, 10 boards and seven assists, so the PG defense couldn't do much to slow him down either. Banks' quickness did seem to give Kidd some trouble at least (leading Tom Heinsohn to make the ridiculous statement "Jason Kidd is not a good defensive player"), but let's not get too excited here. Remember the first New Jersey game at the Fleet last year? The Celtics won and afterward there was discussion that the strength and athleticism of Shammond Williams might be the C's answer to Kidd's dominance. We know how that turned out. One game does not make a career, and Banks will have some future setbacks at least.

Aside to Fox Sports New England: Your announcers spend half the game complaining about officiating and half the game complaining about passes that aren't made to players that aren't actually open anyway. How about getting viewers some actual analysis of the game, so that they aren't tempted to listen to Grandy and Max in their living rooms?

The flip side of Brown and Banks having strong games was that we saw very little of Jumaine Jones and Mike James.

Rebounding and turnover problems reared their ugly heads again, not to the degree of the Detroit game, but still at a level of concern. The C's actually outrebounded New Jersey 43-41 while yielding 16 offensive boards and a bunch of second-chance points. Clearly defensive rebounding needs to be more of a focus. The 16 Boston turnovers were magnified because of a few breakaway dunks in the closing minutes by Kerry Kittles. (box score)

Finally, I want to declare my whole-hearted agreement with Michael Holley's Globe column today about the ugly underpinnings of the Celtics-Nets "rivalry." The treatment that some Fleet patrons directed toward the Kidds in the '02 playoffs was a disgrace to Boston sports. Byron Scott's comments this past spring about race relations in Boston were similarly contemptible. I hope the future games between these teams can focus on what happens on the court.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Nets Preview

OK, it's less than two hours to go before the game, but I want to be on record prior to the tip. The pattern emerging in previous posts is that I'm somewhat skeptical of the much-discussed "running"/"up-tempo" style the Celtics are trying to implement. I blamed their lack of focus on half-court offense for their troubles in the fourth quarter of the last three road games.

Well, tonight the C's face a New Jersey team that is the two-time defending Eastern Conference champ largely because they are a very good running team. Are we sure we want to force a fast pace to the game? Aren't the Nets better at that style than we are?

Then we get the Kings for a rare Sunday 6pm start at the Fleet in the next game. I think the Patriots bye week has something to do with the scheduling, and if you get NBA TV (neither do I) you can watch their broadcast and see what out-of-town announcers have to say about the Celtics. But getting back to the style of play, do we want to run against Sacramento? This is another team that is devastating on the break. They have Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson at point guard, while we have Mike James and Marcus Banks. There's an article in today's Globe about the Celtics' guard envy, by the way.

I'm not predicting a pair of losses this weekend, I'm just saying that it's questionable whether the Celtics should be actively trying to force a tempo to the game that puts them at a disadvantage to the opponent. Fortunately, the Nets are playing badly, having lost two in a row at home without Kenyon Martin, who is also out tonight with a sprained ankle. Chris Webber, of course, is out until December for the Kings following knee surgery too. I'm pleased we have a better chance to win with these absences on the other teams, though I'm a bit disappointed too that we won't get a chance to see how Vin Baker performs against some top power forwards (especially Martin, a C's nemesis who ate Antoine Walker for lunch last spring in the playoffs).

On that front, just a few quick notes. Walker had 14 points, 17 boards and nine turnovers in the Dallas loss to Toronto last night. The Mavs seriously miss the injured Steve Nash as they put up only 71 points, their lowest output since '97. Scoring is down across the league, in fact, so much so that the Celtics were actually leading the East in scoring average before the Detroit game. Another former Celtic, Kenny Anderson, looked pretty good for Indiana last night in their win over the Nets (yes, NJ has a back-to-back, which also helps us tonight). Kenny is now the starting PG for the Pacers, having displaced Jamaal Tinsley. That's another guard the Celtics could really use (to go along with Chauncey Billups and David Wesley) yet got rid of in the past.

I'll start doing an "around the league" column next week to break up the monotony of my Celtics hyper-analysis a bit. And I'll try to limit my complaints about our point guards to a reasonable level. I realize these guys are young and learning. They also are likely to cost us some games, so that's what we'll have to live with.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Dee-Troit Basketball!

Man, the PA guy in Detroit is seriously obnoxious. His screaming every time the ball goes out of bounds is especially bothersome when the Celtics lose, as they did tonight, 96-88. (box score)

This one was a lot like the loss in New Orleans. The Celtics offense got bogged down in the second half--after scoring 54 in the first half, they put up 34 points after the break. Turnovers were a problem again (21 of them), though we did see some improvement against the press as they broke it successfully for a few baskets. Rebounding was more of a problem, however, as the Pistons came up with 21 offensive boards, a few of which led to important scores down the stretch. Point guard also continues to be a weak spot on the team defensively, as Chauncey Billups--another ghost of the Pitino era--became the second straight PG to torch Boston with his 27 points, most of which came in the second half. I'm a bit concerned about facing Jason Kidd on Friday.

On an individual front, Marcus Banks did look better than he has so far with 11 points and 6-7 at the line. He somehow managed zero assists, though, and he's still not looking so great running the offense. Jumaine Jones (4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) did make his Celtics debut off the bench, contrary to the Herald's report that he was unlikely to play. He got limited minutes (18) as O'Brien tries to ease him back from his injury, but Jones did get some big minutes in the fourth quarter. That was because Kedrick Brown had another weak game (4 points, 1 rebound in just 11 minutes). I see the bench in Brown's future once Jones gets his legs back. Also of note was that O'Brien used Jiri Welsch (5 points in 15 minutes) more off the bench, and he made a few plays. Baker had a strong night with 20 points, despite not having that many touches in the post. Pierce had 20 points and 10 assists, finishing three boards shy of a triple double.

Tom Heinsohn was complaining a lot about the officiating, but he does that every game so I just tune him out. It gets kind of embarrassing, I think. Still, Detroit had 32 free throws to Boston's 17--make of it what you will. Detroit also shot 8-18 from three compared with 2-13 for Boston.

The disturbing trend I'm starting to see emerge in these last three road games is that the Celtics have trouble finishing games. They nearly blew a 10-point lead in the last few minutes at Memphis, then they went on to lose close games late in New Orleans and Detroit. The up-tempo running style of play that everyone is talking about seems to work pretty well when the Celtics try it earlier on in the game, but what about late in a close game when each possession is critical and you have to grind out points? Then it doesn't really work so well. Even if they don't want to be a half-court offensive team, the Celtics need to have more of a semblance of a half-court offense that they can rely on down the stretch.

Then we could have more success putting obnoxious announcers in their place. The New Jersey Nets visit the Fleet Friday night, and we'll see if the Celtics can have a better performance in these areas when they face a good team at home.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Detroit Preview

Guess what? There's an actual game tonight! Jumaine Jones probably won't play as he has only had two days of practice since returning from his hamstring injury. This means Kedrick Brown will have to play big minutes tonight, and he's been struggling. Eric Williams will be out another 5-10 days with his knee problem.

Also struggling has been rookie point guard Marcus Banks, who is featured in today's Herald. The main Globe article focuses on the Celtics much-discussed running game and efforts to implement it effectively.

The Pistons will pose problems with their defensive pressure on the point guards. They saw what New Orleans did disrupting the Boston offense on Saturday and I expect them to try to copy it. O'Brien apparently had the team work on breaking the press in practice, so let's hope we see progress in this area.

The reason for optimism is that Detroit really has no one who can guard Paul Pierce. In the past they've always put Michael Curry on Pierce, and now even Curry is gone(to Toronto). Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are not going to stop Pierce, nor will Bob Sura, the Pistons' new man off the bench. If Detroit doubles Pierce, we'll need to see good ball rotation for open shots.

Don't expect to see Darko Milicic play much either unless it's a blowout. The #2 overall pick has played one minute in three games thus far for Detroit. Meanwhile, the #1 and #3 picks, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, square off for the first time as pros in the Cavs-Nuggets game at 8 on ESPN. Bill Simmons advanced the popular view that Carmelo is better than Darko in his NBA preview, predicting that Pistons fans will regret the move for a long time:

Here's a team that made the Eastern Finals last spring, then found itself with major cap space and the No. 2 pick this summer ... so they fired their coach, overpaid Hamilton, gave a washed-up Elden Campbell two years for $8 million, imported Bobby Sura from Golden State (huh?), then passed up Carmelo for Darko. Maybe they're still a contender in the East, but Joe Dumars could have locked this conference up for the next six to eight years. Now their long-term future hinges on Darko, the lefty teenager who will rack up DNPs and listen to everyone gripe about Carmelo for the foreseeable future. Not the best situation for a fledgling big man in a new country.


The firing of Rick Carlisle seemed pretty bizarre to me. The move said that the East Finals isn't good enough, basically putting tons of pressure on this year's team and new coach Larry Brown to make the Finals. Let's hope they start cracking tonight.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Ticket Auction

Here are the details on how to bid for the tickets GM Chris Wallace is auctioning for charity.

Bulls Booed off the Court

My counterparts from Chicago who run Bulls Blog claim, "There's plenty of room on the bandwagon." It's no wonder after this effort last night.

Small Forwards Update

Peter May has the injury news on both Jumaine Jones and Eric Williams in the Globe today. The Herald covers the same topic in separate articles on Jones and Williams. One thing I'm starting to realize is how similar the Globe and Herald are in their daily C's coverage.

Jones went through his first practice with the team yesterday and may play a few minutes in tomorrow night's game at Detroit. He missed all of training camp and the preseason as well as the first three games of the regular season, so expect to see some rust.

Meanwhile, Eric Williams got relatively good MRI news. His knee injury isn't serious. It's just a bruise and it should keep him out perhaps another week.

Both papers also mention that Bob Cousy is auctioning off a bunch of his memorabilia and Chris Wallace is auctioning his game tickets for charity. If you've got some extra cash sitting around, go for it.

The Celtics strong start has them moving up to number 11 in the ESPN power rankings and number 15 according to SI.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Beaten on the Bayou

Last night's 97-90 loss in New Orleans was the result of several things. (Globe summary, Herald summary, box score)

For one, Baron Davis hit some absolutely ridiculous shots on his way to 37 points. David Wesley--the ghost of Rick Pitino's bad personnel moves--made some good plays too.

The Celtics were also on the second night of back-to-back games on the road. The Hornets pressed to take advantage of the fatigue factor, and it worked, getting the Celtics out of rhythm. When the Celtics were moving the ball up the floor unimpeded during much of the first and third quarters, they got good shots and scored at a brisk pace. The second and fourth quarters were very different. The C's scoring by quarters--33, 15, 31, 11--is astonishing.

The pressure was too much for rookie point guard Marcus Banks to handle. Banks played only ten minutes, all in the first half, and hit his only shot of the night. Jiri Welsch looked decent in his ten minutes, and I think we may see him handling the ball more coming off the bench while Banks learns.

O'Brien went to the bench early, realizing fatigue would be an issue. Still, Pierce ended up playing 45 minutes and the absence of Eric Williams loomed large, as Shira Springer notes. He will have an MRI today following the hyperextension of his right knee he suffered in the first two games. In Williams' absence, Kedrick Brown continued to struggle, scoring just four points, both on transition hoops in the third (one was a cool alley-oop, at least). Brown seems unable to get anything in the half-court offense so far. Raef LaFrentz provided a lift off the bench with 17 points, but 13 of those came in a first quarter spurt. Vin Baker followed up his 24-point outing in Memphis with a quiet eight points.

The rotation is still being worked out by O'Brien and the Celtics have yet to come up with a solid way to defeat the obvious strategies teams will employ against them--namely denying Paul Pierce the ball aggressively and pressuring the C's inexperienced guards taking it up the floor. That simple plan worked for New Orleans last night, and others will be certain to copy it. The silver lining from last night is that despite all the flaws, the Celtics were a few big shots down the stretch away from winning the game. They managed to hang in, a good omen for the future once some of these things get straightened out.

This coming week we may see the return of Jumaine Jones from his hamstring injury. He's expected to begin practicing with the Celtics and, if that goes well he may get into a game. The next game is Wednesday night at Detroit, followed by a home game versus New Jersey on Friday. These games should be a good measuring stick for where the new-look Celtics stand with regard to the East's best.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Two more Memphis Tidbits

Both the Globe and Herald covered the same two sidelight to the Celtics' Memphis visit last night. The first was Jerry West's positive comments about Danny Ainge's bold trade of Antoine Walker. The second was BC alum Troy Bell's new home on the Memphis bench (he had a DNP and is behind Jason Williams and Earl Watson as a point guard on the roster, which makes me wonder why the Grizz wanted him). The Globe notes both in its Notebook while the Herald covers West and Bell separately.

Bruce Allen's Celtics Blog

Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch is writing a new blog at Fox Sports New England's site that compiles the links to lots of the Celtics stories that are appearing in the press.

Mike James Comes Up Big in Memphis

After Paul Pierce fouled out last night with ten seconds left and Pau Gasol tied the game at 91 with two free throws, I was concerned. Who was going to take the shot for the Celtics, and what would they do for offense if the game went to overtime? This was the first time I found myself wishing we still had Antoine on the team because, say what you will about Walker, he had the confidence in himself to take and make big shots with the game on the line.

Now we know that Mike James has the same thing. James made a beautiful dribble move on Jason Williams and stuck a jumper with a hand in his face to give the C's a 93-91 win (box score). A close victory in Memphis is the kind of win the Celtics need to be a playoff team and it should boost morale and confidence for everyone. Considering they were up 90-80 with four minutes to go, this could've been a disastrous collapse. Instead, it's a boost.

Pierce had 23 before fouling out on a ticky-tack call that was nothing compared with the beatings he took from Memphis players all night. Vin Baker also looked strong, coming up with 24 points and 8 boards in passing his first road test with flying colors. James finished with 16 points after being held scoreless in the first half.

The bad news was plentiful too. The Grizzlies' aggressive defense stunned the C's in the first half. The Celtics got things together in the second but then nearly collapsed down the stretch. Kedrick Brown had four early points but then didn't score the rest of the way. Eric Williams hyperextended his knee and is day-to-day. Walter McCarty ended up playing the 3 on the big final possession because of the Williams/Brown circumstance, plus he's a veteran who wouldn't be psyched out by the moment. Marcus Banks continues to look confused with what he's doing at the point, which only does more to solidify James' hold on the starting job. Raef LaFrentz mysteriously didn't play the last few minutes when the team could've used his offense (Tony Battie finished the game at center after Mark Blount fouled out). And the free throw shooting (22-33) was poor, with Baker (4-7) and Banks (1-4) the prime culprits. This is a reason the team may have been wary to go to Baker in key spots late.

In the end, a win's a win. The Celtics remain a work in progress, but if they can fix some of these things they should be a contending team in the East. The game with the Grizzlies was much like the C's trips to Memphis both of the last two years, which were also tight victories, so they are on similar ground to what those teams have done.