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Celtics Blog

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

B Diddy!

Sorry, Kevin Frazier seized the keyboard and wrote that headline. I prefer calling him "Chrysler LeBaron." By any name, Baron Davis is very good and the prime reason New Orleans beat Boston in this afternoon's New Year's Eve matinee at the Fleet, 96-94. He scored 29, including some sick moves and jumpers with Welsch in his face, to go with 10 assists.

Pierce (4-16) and our Davis (3-12) shot terribly for Boston, which was also key. Mike James had the stroke going early (or so I hear, since I didn't see the first half) but then he got in foul trouble, which turned out to be big. McCarty had a hot stretch in the third quarter but then missed some big shots late in the fourth. When we're relying on Walter to hit a bunch of threes, though, we're bound to lose more than we win. Don't get too caught up in the fool's gold of his recent shooting.

I'll give some credit to the C's big guys, who held their own down low with the Hornets' strong front-line players. Mihm and Blount especially showed good toughness, and Boston outrebounded New Orleans 42-40. Baker didn't play in the fourth quarter, oddly enough, even though he had eight boards prior to that. Having McCarty defend bigger guys didn't hurt us too much, at least, and the Baker playing time issue is one to watch.

Here's the box score. The Hornets will need to shoot free throws better than 20-32 if they want to be a real playoff contender. I'll be very interested to see how the team fares with Jamal Mashburn slated to return some time early in the new year.

Ever since the five-game win streak and the trade, the Celtics have been back and forth with a win followed by a loss. They missed another shot to go over .500 today, and they're now 15-16, 8-9 at home. There's a chance to make some hay with a schedule upcoming featuring lots of East opponents and home games. Indiana comes Friday night, they're at Chicago Saturday night, then Detroit comes in Monday. It's time for things to start coming together with the substitution pattern and players' comfort levels with one another. They better get more offense than just Walter for three.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Golden on the West Coast

The Celtics won two of three on the trip, and they're now 4-1 out West on the season. Throw out the Lakers game--if they're going to get blown out one time, it may as well come at LA. I think they pressed against the Lakers because they felt they had to play the perfect game to win, and that led to them missing some shots and opportunities to stay close. Tonight at Golden State the shots were falling again and the C's got back to winning.

The game began with a torrid offensive pace that trailed off in the second half. Boston built a nice lead late in the third quarter which allowed them to go into a big offensive drought in the fourth and still hold on to win. The Warriors cut the lead down to two with a few minutes left, but Boston managed some hoops and Golden State missed on late possessions to help seal the win.

The key shot was clearly McCarty's three that put them up by five with 3:10 to go. They never looked back after that. Walter got the start tonight to try to match up better, and he ended up scoring 16, one of six C's in double figures.

Here's a box score for you stat hounds. Once again the Celtics were outrebounded, 53-43, a continuing problem.

We're back to .500 at 16-16 now, an even 8-8 both at home and away. The next chance to get back to a winning record comes Wednesday afternoon in a New Year's Eve matinee at the Fleet against New Orleans. This week is seemingly designed to make life difficult for diehard fans who work for a living, featuring back-to-back late West coast games and a weekday afternoon contest. Hopefully I'll get off and see the Hornets game.

A final note from Sunday night in LA is that for a dispiriting game, FSNE made watching enjoyable nonetheless with the quirky Donnie Wahlberg joining Mike and Tommy for a good stretch at the microphones. Speaking of microphones, Fox must have had them turned up behind the baskets because we could hear a good bit of the C's and Lakers talking with the refs on the telecast. Peter Stringer notes some of the Ricky Davis trash talking. For instance, Davis asked "Are they gonna cry all night?" as he stepped up for free throws one time. "Go back to Cleveland," retorted a Laker. Also in the second quarter, Pierce was pleading to a ref that he was in the act of shooting when fouled near the hoop: "What else was I gonna do?" he asked. Gary Payton squealed his case, "No he wasn't [shooting]!" Payton won the argument.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Revenge in the Valley of the Sun, Lakers Preview

Remember this? The Celtics took revenge for their shocking home loss to Phoenix earlier this month with a 104-102 road victory Friday night. Three weeks ago at the Fleet Center, Boston built a 29-point lead in the third quarter only to see Phoenix come all the way back to win. Tonight, the Suns built a 17-point advantage in the third, which Boston cut with the help of a 16-0 run late in the period. The Celtics then managed to grab a lead in the fourth and hang on for the win.

In a frenetic final minute, Paul Pierce was called for a phantom loose-ball foul, allowing Stephon Marbury to tie the game at 99. Mike James then hit a three, only to see Penny Hardaway hit a three himself to tie the contest again. Boston didn't take a timeout, instead advancing the ball to Pierce, who threw a sharp cross-court pass to Ricky Davis for a jumper that gave the C's their margin of victory with two seconds remaining. Pierce recorded his eleventh assist of the night on the play, to go along with his 27 points and 7 rebounds. (box score)

The Celtics looked like they were still suffering a hangover from their dreadful Tuesday loss in Atlanta when they played a poor first half, trailing 56-45 at the break. The team was having trouble with their spacing on offense, their passes weren't crisp, and they had to settle for too many jumpers. When Walter McCarty three-point shots are the staple of the offense, you know things aren't going right.

O'Brien was also shuffling the lineup tonight as he again seeks the right rotation of players following the recent trade. We'll have to have patience as this all shakes out once again, just as it did during the first month of the season, but O'Brien may have hit on something in the second half.

Walter McCarty started at center to match up with the small lineup Phoenix has adopted with the absence of Amare Stoudemire (who suffered an ankle sprain in Boston). McCarty finished with 20 points, mostly in the first half, shooting 5-7 on threes and logging 42 minutes--amazing considering the DNPs he was racking up earlier this year. Chris Mihm hardly played in the first half, as O'Brien went to Jumaine Jones off the bench instead.

In the second half, however, O'Brien did not play Vin Baker at all, citing defensive concerns in his postgame press remarks (Baker finished with zero points in 13 minutes). Mark Blount started the half and ended up scoring 16 on the night. Mihm also saw more extended action when he was on the floor for the big 16-0 run. Marcus Banks was the point guard for most of the second half, which O'Brien attributed to Mike James being hobbled by a sore ankle. Banks contributed 10 points and pushed the pace to get the run going before fouling out late. Ricky Davis, still finding his way defensively, came up with 14 points in 22 minutes, including the game-winner and a sweet fast-break alley-oop from Pierce.

This is still going to be the way things go for a while yet, as O'Brien tries out different lineups and substitution patterns. Baker and Jiri Welsch both struggled tonight while some others flourished, and things definitely remain in flux. Turnovers were relatively high at 19, and the Suns had a 42-33 rebounding edge even with Stoudemire not playing. Fortunately Boston was able to shoot 51.5 percent, 50 percent (10-20) on threes.

Next up is the Lakers Sunday night at 9:30 Eastern time. LA is struggling, having lost four of six, most recently Christmas night to Houston. I didn't see much of the game so I can't comment on Al Michaels' ABC debut, though I did see that the network has some cool new animation and a new theme song done by friggin' Justin Timberlake (were no rappers available?). At least ABC appears to have demoted Bill Walton, who called the Cavs-Magic Christmas afternoon game on ESPN.

The other Christmas TV highlight was the Kobe interview at halftime, in which he admitted being distracted from games at times by his legal problems. I couldn't help but notice that Vanessa Bryant was seated courtside wearing a rather revealing top that exposed her shoulders. Think she might be on the market for another guy if Kobe's convicted? Such concerns may be another reason for Kobe being distracted.

So anyway, we're going to LA where we'll get the Boston press take on all of the Laker storylines. Karl Malone isn't going to play due to a knee sprain, which means LA only will have one big guy we'll have trouble with. Unfortunately, that guy is Shaq, who can go for 40 and 20 on Boston any time he pleases--I'm fearful we may see Kendrick Perkins playing hack-a-Shaq. Hopefully that won't play out and we'll get a good reading on where the Celtics are at from the challenge on Sunday night.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Classy, Latrell

Latrell Sprewell returned to face his former team, the New York Knicks, Tuesday night and he decided to spread some holiday cheer:

It started as relatively harmless jabbering with James L. Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman, who defamed and traded him, but by the end of a long night of drama and good basketball, Latrell Sprewell turned his angst against the Knicks' bench.

After sinking a critical 3-pointer with 1 minute 14 seconds remaining that keyed the Minnesota Timberwolves' 98-92 victory last night, Sprewell walked aggressively in front of Dolan, who was seated courtside about 10 feet away, and began flexing and yelling expletives.

Then he turned toward the Knicks' bench and directed his venom at the assistant coach Lon Kruger, cursing him and screaming vile phrases while staring at him. Kruger had apparently said something to Sprewell.

One fan, sitting behind the Knicks' bench, screamed, "Hey, Sprewell, there are kids here." But that did not stop the former Knick.

Sprewell also yelled, "Get a win," to Kruger.

With 30 seconds left, Sprewell received a technical foul, but his rude behavior that did nothing to calm the fans' love for him. When Sprewell, who also cursed at Kruger as the teams were leaving the floor, made his final exit, hundreds of fans stayed and cheered him.

Dolan, who criticized Sprewell's character earlier this season, simply smiled and laughed while Sprewell released.

"Somebody said to me that he proved me right; he doesn't belong on our team," Dolan said after the game.

By the way, I'm just going to pretend that the Atlanta game didn't happen for now. Maybe I'll come to grips with it over the holiday.

Atlanta Preview, Homestand Review

Tonight the Celtics are in Atlanta to face the Hawks and good seats are still available. What do you know?

Atlanta is terrible, so this game qualifies as a must-win. I also would put Sunday's 87-84 victory over Philly in that category. The Celtics really needed to beat the Sixers at home with Allen Iverson out, and they did just barely.

The Sixers game showed yet again that the Celtics struggle against the press, a reminder that the problem that showed up in previous games with Phoenix and Seattle hasn't entirely been solved. Boston really had trouble with Philly's pressing defense in the second quarter and had an awful period offensively. I still don't understand why we don't see more teams press the C's.

On the whole this was a heart-stopping homestand worthy of the town that has the Red Sox and Patriots too. The Dallas, Utah and Philadelphia games all came down to last possessions, with Boston pulling out two of the three, not bad for a team that has been shaken up by a trade in the past week.

One notable thing from the Mavs and Jazz games is that Vin Baker was not on the floor late in the game, partly because Nowitzki and Kirilenko are two of the quicker 4's in the league. But both yesterday's Globe Notebook and today's Herald Notebook mention that Baker is still battling to get himself back in top physical condition and playing tough defense. Baker was in for the late-game situation against the slower, smaller Sixers Sunday evening, recording a double-double.

After the Hawks, it's off to Phoenix for a game the night after Christmas, also known as Friday. Tip is 9:00. On the holiday itself ESPN has a LeBron-TMac matchup in the afternoon followed by the ABC evening doubleheader of Mavs-Kings and Lakers-Rockets. The last game will be the debut of the Al Michaels-Doc Rivers broadcast team on ABC, which should be a nice upgrade from Bill Walton (who I'm afraid may have the Sacramento game).

After Phoenix, Boston has a back-to-back at the Lakers and Warriors Sunday and Monday nights. Karl Malone may be out of the LA game since he has a sprained knee.

Blogging may be light as I am not working this week and hence not tetered to my computer but rather to family. Chappy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Bountiful Kwanzaa, etc. and enjoy the games.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Bryant's Revenge

Kobe hit the game-winner over the Nuggets last night after arriving back in LA late from his pre-trial hearing in Colorado. Considering how much agony Colorado's legal system is putting him through, it must have felt nice to beat that state's pro hoops team.

Friday, December 19, 2003


Sorry for the lack of reaction to the Mavs win on Wednesday. It was a thrilling comeback win for Boston over Antoine Walker's Dallas squad, as you probably know, 105-103. Walker had an awful night in his return to town, shooting only 3-of-14 for 7 points (0-for-6 on threes, including a miss of the potential game-winner at the buzzer). It was nice to see him get a standing ovation, though, which was well-deserved.

Jiri Welsch stuck it to his former (briefly) team with a career-high 21 points. Walter McCarty came through with 18 points, including a few huge threes late, in a starting role to match up defensively with Dirk Nowitzki (30 points). Pierce had a 25-11-7 and hit the game-winner over 'Toine with 20 seconds left.

Not to put a damper on the excitement of the win, but there were plenty of flaws in the Celtics game Wednesday night too. They relied heavily on the three-point shot, which, as we have learned the past few years, can be a risky strategy. They also were awful on the defensive glass, allowing Danny Fortson to morph into Dennis Rodman in the third quarter. Tom Heinsohn was complaining about the free-throw disparity, which I feel was caused by the Celtics shooting too many jumpers on offense and committing too many fouls on defense. Dallas played badly and was ready to be taken--they are now 3-9 on the road following another loss last night at Minnesota. The C's barely pulled it off.

It's impossible to gauge anything important about the trade from one game. Davis showed his incredible athletic ability by flushing home a tipped alley-oop pass from Pierce late in the first quarter. I wonder how much longer he'll be coming off the bench. Mihm got in for limited minutes only because others had foul trouble, and he looked really aggressive fighting for rebounds. I look forward to seeing him get more playing time. Stewart didn't play, and I doubt he will much in the future.

In short, I say this was a nice win, but not worth overreacting about. We'll know much more about how the trade has affected the team in a few weeks.

Tonight Andrei Kirilenko and his hideous hairdo visit the Fleet. Tip is 7:30. Boston beat the Jazz in Salt Lake City earlier this month and Utah, while 13-12 overall, is only 2-9 on the road. The Celtics haven't swept a season series from the Jazz since 1987-88. Let's hope the milestones keep occurring in the wake of Jim O'Brien's first coaching win against a team from Texas on Wednesday.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Dissing the Atlantic Division

Friday's Washington Post has an article about how no one respects the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile the Celtics are 6-3 against the vaunted Western Conference this season.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Walton on 'Toine

Bill Walton defends Danny Ainge in the war of words with Antoine Walker. At least he reminds people he and Ainge were teammates, which could make him a little biased.

Walton is calling the game for ESPN with Mike Breen. Normally I would listen to the national broadcasters when given the alternative in order to hear what the rest of the country thinks of the Celtics, but both Walton and Breen are awful, so I'll be sticking with Mike and Tommy on FSNE. Maybe the ESPN studio people will have interesting comments during pregame and halftime.

The Dallas game is at 8, in case you somehow forgot. It's only the most anticipated game of the season.

More Davis + Thoughts on 'Toine

First, a few more trade-related links. Baltimaher of Sports Frog mocks Danny Ainge for putting stock in "brain type" testing to evaluate players, as apparently was the case with Ricky Davis. Also via Sports Frog, I found the Marty Burns breakdown of the deal on SI.com:

This deal is very similar to the recent Chicago-Toronto trade. The Celtics, like the Raptors, wanted to find some help for their Lone Ranger superstar so they can make a playoff run in the wide-open East. The Cavs, like the Bulls, wanted to improve their defense and get rid of a guy who was clashing with the coach. In that sense, both teams got what they wanted. Boston GM Danny Ainge clearly was feeling the heat for his earlier trade of Antoine Walker. With this move, he essentially has made it Davis and LaFrentz for Walker, Williams and Battie. On paper, it now looks a whole lot more even. However, Williams and Battie were a big part of Dick Harter's team defense in Boston. Also, it remains to be seen how well Davis and Pierce coexist on the perimeter. The Celtics definitely will score more points, but will they lose their defensive identity?

Right, defense--I knew we were forgetting about something when we made this trade.

OK, I'm through analyzing the deal until we actually get to see the new guys play a game.

Tomorrow morning's papers should have a ton on Antoine Walker's return to Boston with the Mavs. My position on the move was that it was reasonable given the fact that the team had gone as far as it could with Antoine as a major piece and that there wasn't going to be an agreement on a new contract after this year anyway. In light of those things, I thought getting something for Walker and shaking up the roster a bit was a good idea.

I like Welsch from what we've seen so far. Getting LaFrentz can be second-guessed now that he's out the year, but it wasn't a terrible downgrade, even though he'll never put up Walker's numbers. The first-round pick is useless since it's Dallas, and the team also gained some cap room, which they've now largely used up in the Ricky Davis deal, so they may not be a player in free agency next summer after all. Plus I've written before that I think Mike James is giving the team just as much as Tony Delk did.

At the same time, I will always have fond memories of Antoine Walker's career with the Celtics. He really gave everything he had all the time, and his emotion (which Ainge contends was stifling the team) was an important catalyst to the team's success--see Game 4, 2002 Eastern Conference Finals for exhibit A. Yes, he could be childish at times, taunting opponents and making the refs hate him with his constant complaining, but at root the guy was passionate and desperately wanted to win. You don't see that in every NBA player. I was even a fan of the wiggle.

One of my favorite sports memories will remain a game I attended in spring 1999 against the Miami Heat. Walker hit an off-balance, running three-pointer at the buzzer (or with 0.2 seconds left, I think) to win the game. The Fleet Center went crazy, and Walker got up on a scorer's table and pumped his fist to the crowd. Where I was sitting there was pandemonium--I was slapping fives with people in my section who I didn't even know.

There were other big shots too, including a crazy banked three to beat the Lakers in LA and another triple to send a game in New York to OT, that stick out in my memory. These were baskets that were crucially important to the team's psyche because they helped the Celtics get over the hump and start believing again that they could be a winning franchise after a long playoff drought.

It's often the case that the guys who bring a franchise back to respectability don't get to be around when that franchise finally wins a championship. I think that's true in the Walker case, and if Boston manages to hoist banner 17 in the next few years, Antoine will have been a major part of it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Big News Day, Ainge-O'Brien Rift?

Too much stuff to cover, go read Bruce Allen on FSNE for everything. Celtics.com has video of the Maxwell ceremony from last night along with the news that Pierce won NBA player of the week last week. And no one really noticed that Raef LaFrentz had his season-ending surgery yesterday with so much else filling the news.

The important story is that Danny Ainge is continuing his wheeling and dealing and that Jim O'Brien doesn't seem happy. Michael Gee is pretty negative on the trade:

Previous "championship driven'' Celts management only succeeded in driving the team into ruin because they couldn't wait to blow it up and start over. Why has Ainge chosen to follow their example so quickly? When he became boss last May, weren't there speeches about patience, the long haul and a slow but steady process of improvement?

Look, if Ainge thinks the Celts must take quite a few steps back to go forward, it's his duty to act on that perception. But his first two big deals bear a real scent of desperate improvisation. OK, the Antoine trade didn't work! Move to Plan B, stat!

If the 2003-04 Celtics season is an ongoing lab experiment, it's OK by me. But I don't pay to watch Professor Ainge's thesis in action. Those who do may have a different opinion.

A ticket-holder who's told the Celts still need to step back may well say, "Fine, Danny. You just call me when you think they're ready to step forward. Until then, I'll spend this $75 a night on a more practical entertainment buy like Glenlivet.''

The people in Iraq need a government that can deliver them some peace and quiet for a change. So do the Celtics.

I don't think I would go quite that far in denouncing Ainge since Davis is undoubtedly a talent, but I agree he's seeming kinda hasty with the moves. There are now only four Celtics left over from the time Ainge took over as Director of Basketball Operations earlier this year (Pierce, Blount, McCarty, Baker).

Peter May also makes clear today that the coaching staff is upset (Jim O'Brien sounded non-plussed in the pregame press conference announcing the deal last night and then abruptly left hsi postgame remarks without taking questions). May:

The long-term view Ainge holds sees no Williams here next year anyway, because Williams was in the final year of his contract. But why automatically count Williams out? He has been one of O'Brien's favorites. Battie, like Williams, played hurt and was a big factor in turning the Celtics from laughingstock to playoff team. But Battie also has been on the block for a while.

O'Brien diplomatically deferred to Ainge--"he has the final authority"--but he sounded like a losing politician congratulating the winner on election night. O'Brien may have been torn about the Walker deal. There was no such feeling on this one. "We're losing three guys, two veterans in Eric Williams and Tony Battie, and it's very painful."

May notes that the Celtics, despite flaws, looked like they had a decent shot at winning the Atlantic Division before the trade. Ainge clearly doesn't care about what happens this season. He OKed the LaFrentz surgery too, against the wishes of the coaches who thought he could play limited minutes and help the C's win some games.

The potential rift between Ainge and O'Brien is definitely something to look for the rest of the year. Considering O'Brien took Boston to the playoffs the last two years and got the most out of those teams, I will be siding with the coach until further notice.

Blowout, Max and More Trade Talk

No discussion of tonight's game, a 116-95 loss at home to Minnesota. The C's were shorthanded because of the trade and Pierce played with a bad left leg in a sleeve (he suffered a calf bruise Saturday in Cleveland and may not have played if the team had had a full complement of other guys). Still, Pierce nearly pulled off a triple-double (one board shy) despite a bad shooting night. The team was flat from the start. Congrats to rookie Kendrick Perkins on scoring his first 7 NBA points in garbage time.

The Cedric Maxwell number retirement ceremony was held at halftime. Max took a bit of ribbing from emcee Tom Heinsohn and Red Auerbach, who made a short speech on the occasion. Maxwell made sure everyone knew he felt he had waited an unjust amount of time before receiveing the honor from the franchise. Danny Ainge, when introduced as a member of the '84 championship team attending the ceremony, was booed by the Fleet fans, a sign of how unpopular his trades have been.

On the Davis front, Marc Stein offers up the "good for both sides" analysis of the deal. He says Pierce needs scoring help, and the other two Cavs were included as big man help now that LaFrentz is done for the year--a Boston demand that led Cleveland to extract Kedrick Brown instead of Walter McCarty. This strikes me as silly, considering we gave up Battie in the deal, who is a more proven big guy than Mihm and Stewart (who, I guess, has the nickname "Yogi" after all).

Stein believes Davis can handle being second fiddle to Pierce better than he handled that role with LeBron. I also learned during the game that Pierce and Davis have played together in an LA summer league and know each other pretty well, so I guess the front office determined the chemistry wasn't a concern.

I remain curious about Jiri Welsch and Mike James, one of whom will have to go to the bench now (Davis may come off the bench Wednesday as he gets acclimated?).

Doc Holliday of Obey the Truth is sad to see Kedrick leave town. Tim Kraus of End of the Bench thinks the Cavs gave Davis away. That may be the national perspective, though how would you like such a volatile, potentially cancerous guy coming to your team?

Other fun fact: on the night Maxwell's #31 goes to the rafters, the Celtics trade for Davis, who wears #31. He'll now have to change.

I remain a skeptic on the deal. The Antoine Circus comes to the Fleet Wednesday at 8, along with the new players from Cleveland, all on national TV--should be quite a show.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Ricky Davis!?!?

ESPN reports the Celtics are dealing Eric Williams, Tony Battie and Kedrick Brown to Cleveland for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm and Michael Stewart.

I don't like the deal because Davis is a bad apple who wasn't getting along with Paul Silas. He's a selfish player, as evidenced by his idiotic intentional miss on his own basket last year when he was close to getting a triple double.

Mihm has been hurt the last few years and has been coming on this season. I view him and Battie as relatively even, given their injury histories. Battie may be the better defender and Mihm the better scorer, though I'm not entirely sure.

I know nothing about Stewart.

Kedrick wasn't going to get a chance in Boston with Jiri Welsch having assumed the starting job and become the golden boy in Jim O'Brien's eyes--but what happens to Jiri now, with Pierce and Davis the presumptive starters at the 2 and 3? Does he get moved to the starting point guard slot?

Eric Williams has been having a very good year, but he's 31 and probably was in his final year as a Celtic anyway. His strong play so far this season may have increased his trade value enough so that he could bring in a Ricky Davis (Davis's acting up made it hard for the Cavs to get equal value too, I'm sure).

No word yet on who will be available for tonight's game, when the trade becomes official or gets announced, etc. This really just happened.

Boston.com calls Stewart "Yogi" right now. Oops.

What's up with always trading with the Cavs? Recall that the Jumaine Jones swap for Bruno Sundov and JR Bremer happened over the summer with Cleveland too.

On paper the players switching teams don't look all that different in talent level, with the exception that Davis is clearly the most talented. How he will mesh with Pierce is the obvious key to the whole thing.

Don't forget it's Cedric Maxwell night as the Celtics take on Minnesota at 7. Max's number gets retired in an extended 19-minute halftime ceremony and I'm sure the game broadcast will have much more on the trade. We're tied for first in the Atlantic Division now as we aim for a sixth win in a row, which also begs the question: why make another big move when everything seems to be coming together?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Not So Cavalier: A Serious Challenge from the Cavs

The Celtics pulled out a 105-98 win in Cleveland tonight behind Paul Pierce's season-high 41 points. The Celtics captain added 9 boards, 6 assists and 4 steals in outdueling LeBron James, who led the Cavs with a career-high 37 (box score).

Cleveland dropped to an unimpressive 6-17 on the year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them start winning a bit more. They certainly are good on the glass, as they outrebounded Boston 50-32 and they lead the league in team rebounding. If LeBron can consistently hit outside jumpers like he did tonight, the league had better watch out.

This is the Celtics fifth straight win and they kept rolling on offense, breaking the 100-point mark for a sixth straight game. Problem spots, though, besides rebounding, are that the offense slowed down in the second half a bit after the C's put up 59 in the opening two quarters, plus the scoring balance wasn't really there, with Pierce dominating. But hey, they won the back end of a back-to-back on the road, so the W is all that matters.

Kendrick Perkins, just activated now that LaFrentz is gone for the year, saw his first minute of NBA action at the end of the first half, tipping an offensive rebound that Vin Baker converted for a three-point play. Walter McCarty, who I thought might be the recipient of the LaFrentz minutes, had a DNP. Again Marcus Banks was limited, logging four minutes only because of Jiri Welsch's foul trouble. Jumaine Jones made a 6-minute cameo in the first half and didn't score.

Pierce and James were the story (Darius Miles and Carlos Boozer also were strong for the Cavs), as they dueled, trading baskets at one point in the late third quarter, during which both reached 30 points. Paul banged his leg on the floor diving for a loose ball with a few minutes to go and had to gut out the final few minutes. After a bogus call when Pierce was knocked over by Boozer within the final minute, giving the ball to the Cavs out of bounds, Pierce came back with a big steal on another late Cleveland possession, robbing James for a breakaway and converting a free throw to put the game out of reach.

Funny bit from the ESPN game summary about Cleveland:

Silas has banned rap music in the Cavs' locker room right before games. "I can't stand that stuff," Silas said. "Those guys need to concentrate on the game."

Way to connect with the kids, coach.

The Celtics have a big week coming up. Not only do they face major Western conference tests at home when they host Minnesota Monday night at 7 and Dallas Wednesday night at 8 (late start for ESPN national TV) but also the returns of former Celtics stars.

Monday night, the Celtics will retire #31 Cedric Maxwell's jersey in a halftime ceremony. Maxwell was the 1981 NBA Finals MVP and left Boston when I was still a toddler, so my only first-hand knowledge of Max comes from his time the last few seasons as an irreverent color commentator on the radio. I've seen the footage of Maxwell's Celtics days, though, and watched a bit on ESPN Classic, but that's not the same. Anyway, he seems like a good guy and what the team accomplished while he was a major cog speaks for itself.

One interesting parallel I see between Maxwell and Antoine Walker, who comes back to Boston for the national TV stage Wednesday, is that both left town under rather acrimonious circumstances. Here's a bit from Peter May's book "The Last Banner" on Max's departure:

"Max gave so much to the team," [M.L.] Carr said. "He was the MVP of the playoffs. He led us to the promised land in Game 7 of '84. To see him go out the way he did, it really wasn't that good. But I understand why. Max, to a certain degree, brought a lot of it on himself, because he would say nonchalantly, 'That's it, boys, let's close the books.' I think it got under Larry's skin that he wasn't serious. And Red felt he lay down on him. I just wish that all that could be forgiven and forgotten because there are two banners up there that he was a big part of. He took the best offensive player night in and night out. He was a pretty good 'other' player. I know Red isn't going to go back on that [not retiring Maxwell's number]. But in a real sense, I wish he would. Red has been bitter about a lot of situations a lot of the time. Even though Max did some things wrong at the end, you don't just say, 'He was a bad boy, a bad kid.' We should really respond to the fact that he is a big reason why two banners are up there."

Well, M.L. will get his wish Monday night. It should be interesting to see if Red Auerbach plays any role in the ceremony or if the circumstances of Maxwell leaving town even come up in what is said. I'm expecting plentiful Sunday paper coverage of this all in the morning.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Toronto, Tendinitis, 'Toine

Wow, those Toronto Raptors sure can hit the three, huh? The Celtics won anyway, 114-111, despite another outside shooting display from the Canadians. International waters, indeed. (box score)

I did not see the game, so I'll be spare in my words. As expected it was an excellent contest between possibly the two hottest teams in the East, so far as I can tell (of all the games to have to miss...). Pierce's 33 bested Carter's 35 in what must have been a great duel. An encouraging sign is the Celtics' ability to hold off an opponent's late charge, something they have had trouble doing several times as recently as the Phoenix catastrophe last Friday night.

Boston now has a four-game winning streak going since that debacle, which may turn out to be the turning point in the season. They have scored 100+ points in five straight, amazing considering how they struggled to score in the early part of the year (only now the defense has deteriorated a bit too). The team is 11-12, a game behind division-leading Philly (12-11) and a half-game back of Jersey (11-11). The Celtics can get to .500 with a win in Cleveland tonight against LeBron and crew.

The bad news of the day is that Raef LaFrentz will have knee surgery Monday due to his persistent tendinitis and be lost for the year. This costs the team size and versatility on offense since the other big guys can't go outside as effectively for the pick-and-pop plays. It also opens the door for other people like Walter McCarty to get more playing time in the frontcourt. I don't think it hurts the Celtics that much now, especially since this winning streak has come with LaFrentz only playing very limited minutes anyway. It could hurt at points during the season, however, if the C's lose another big guy for a few games (say, if Battie's knee acts up again). There also are likely to be a few games where LaFrentz could be a good option to kickstart the offense once the scoring comes back down to earth from this streak.

I noted last week that criticism of the Antoine trade could reach a crescendo if Raef is lost for the year, and now that's come to pass. (Here's the full Walker-Ainge story from Friday, part of which I posted from an ESPN excerpt late Thursday night.) Obviously the Celtics did not get equal value in the trade for this season, but there was an understanding of the LaFrentz knee situation before the deal was completed too.

And to restate this again, Antoine was not going to sign an extension with the Celtics after the season, so the team decided to get something for him while they could, rather than just let him leave. Welsch looks like he could be a good player, and LaFrentz will be serviceable too for the next several years he's under contract. The late first-round pick will not be much, though the team also assures us there will be a free-agent signing in the offseason too made possible by the Walker deal. Mike James looks like he's just as good as Delk was, and he makes less money. In short, it will take a while to evaluate the full impact this trade makes on the Celtics, who weren't going anywhere this season with Walker anyway.

The criticism being made of Ainge beyond the wisdom of the deal itself was that he made inappropriate comments about not liking aspects of Walker's game and character. This is the Ainge criticism I agree with. It doesn't excuse Antoine's childish response either, but a GM shouldn't be slamming his players on their way out the door. The fact that Ainge said some critical things about Walker as a TV analyst doesn't excuse him making similar criticisms from his post as Celtics personnel man a year or two later. It was unprofessional of Danny to say Walker's vocal style was stifling the team and to rip on the way he played.

Meanwhile, the rest of the league definitely sees Walker as a boon to Dallas, if last night's Mavs-Lakers game is any indication (I saw the second half). Don Nelson had some taped remarks saying Walker has been the best player Dallas has had all season, and the announcers went on and on about Antoine's versatility and passing skill. Jim Gray's postgame interview with Walker surprisingly didn't broach the topic of Ainge at all. Knowing Jim Gray's affinity for controversy, I was shocked he didn't bring it up--maybe ESPN covered the story earlier on. I know it's tough to watch 'Toine go for a 27-10-7 in LA on national TV, but we need to keep proper perspective too on the overall rationale for the deal.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Antoine on Ainge

Tell us how you really feel, Antoine:

"Danny wanted to get rid of me," Walker told The Globe. "If you look at the trade, I think he really felt like I wouldn't mesh with these guys in Dallas. Me, personally, I think he was really trying to set my career back a little bit. If you really look at what I got traded for, it's got to be the biggest difference [in talent] in history. Usually, an All-Star gets traded for an All-Star. And you gave away Tony Delk, a proven scorer in this league...

"I can't understand it, unless he was trying to put me in a situation where he didn't want me to succeed," Walker told the paper. "Obviously, he's going to ship me West. That's obvious. He didn't think individually I'd shine in Dallas, maybe team-wise. But if I'm putting up minimum numbers and I'm just an average player with this team, he can live with that because he knows that's what he's going to get in return anyways, with Raef [LaFrentz]."

The timing is interesting, given how Antoine has been putting up good numbers for the Mavs and LaFrentz isn't producing much as he struggles with a knee injury. Seems like an opportune moment to kick Ainge while he's down, and when the Globe gave 'Toine the opportunity, he didn't hesitate. We'll see the full context of the remarks in tomorrow's Globe I guess.

Due to family obligations I'll be missing the Raptors-Celtics showdown tomorrow night unfortunately. It should be a good one considering both teams are on rolls, so go tune in those of you lucky enough to be able to do so.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

All-Star Voting

NBA.com says Vince Carter, Ben Wallace and Kobe Bryant lead the pack so far.

Phoenix Redo

The Seattle game Wednesday was eerily similar to the Phoenix game from Friday night, only this time there was a happy ending. The Celtics had a blowout going, leading by as many as 33 during the middle of the third period, but Seattle roared back to cut the lead to 10 points with 6 minutes remaining. Fortunately, the C's righted the ship and were able to win with reasonable comfort in the final minutes. Still, the press Seattle went to confused the hell out of the Celtics just as the Suns used a press successfully Friday. We'll be in trouble if we face a team that goes to a press before falling behind by thirty points in one of these games (hint to opposition).

Paul Pierce was a monster with 36 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. He started slow and then hit eight consecutive shots in the second quarter. Mike James had a career-high 24, and Jiri Welsch added 17 before spraining his ankle in the third quarter. Welsch is really coming on, having apparently supplanted Marcus Banks in the backup point guard role as well as starting at the 3 (Banks only got in 4 minutes in a blowout--he's definitely been dropped down in the rotation). Indications after the game were that the injury to Welsch wasn't serious, fortunately. Baker played though he was slowed by continuing effects of flu and LaFrentz (9 minutes) got some rest for his painful knee in the blowout. Tony Battie picked up the slack with 13.

The stat of the game has to be the Celtics shooting 57.7% (box score).

Since the game was so crazy with the ebb and flow, I can't really judge Seattle. They really lack any sort of interior presence on either end, with no center to speak of and Radmanovic and Lewis jacking up lots of threes. The Celtics could take the ball right to the hoop without much trouble and the missed jumpers by Seattle set up good fast break opportunities. Maybe getting back Ray Allen (projected for around New Year's) will stabilize the team.

The next game will come Friday night at home against the hot Toronto Raptors who are riding a five-game win streak. With the Celtics now on a three-game uptick of their own, the game should be a good one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Seattle and Baker

Mark Murphy shares Nate McMillan's recollections of not being able to get through to Vin Baker back when Baker was a Sonic. Some guys just need a change of scenery, he claims, adding he never realized Vin's troubles were from drinking.

Last year when Seattle visited Boston, Baker missed the game with a mysterious illness--fainting spells and dizziness were cited officially. Can we now retroactively go back and declare that Baker missed the game due to drunkenness? I mean, the teammates and coaching staff that saw him follow that downward spiral were coming to town, he felt humiliated, and so he hit the bottle--certainly sounds plausible, right? I'm happy Vin has been able to get his life back together and return to playing well, and so far he's been vaery frank about acknowledging his problems. So why not come clean on this specific incident?

Peter May writes that the Celtics say Baker will definitely play tonight, despite missing time recently with the flu. And it was "heart palpitations" cited last season, my bad.

Anyway, other than the Baker storyline, I'll be watching tonight to see what's up with this Ronald Murray guy everyone has been talking about and to see if the Celtics can crack 100 points for a fourth straight game. The long wait for a first 100+ outing seems distant these days.

Sports Filter Two-Fer

This post not only has a good Kirilenko hairdo picture in comments but also links to Karl Malone Is a Menace, a web site with added relevance after last week's Malone elbow to Steve Nash's face.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Raef LaFrentz may be sidelined for season

The worries are coming closer to reality on this front.

Another follow up is that I was in the doctor's waiting room this afternoon reading Sports Illustrated and I saw an article on none other than the Utah Jazz. I learned that Andrei Kirilenko has a Russian pop diva wife and that he dances ridiculously in the background of her music video. The "AK-47" nickname is campy fun too. Kirilenko reminds me of the time I was watching the three-point contest in 2000 at a college common room and the people there were making fun of Dirk Nowitzki's appearance because no one knew who the hell he was back then. Andrei will have to become one of my new favorite players.

Sweet Music

Against the Jazz, that is, a 102-80 blowout win last night. (box score) The Celtics built a big lead and for once held on to it in coasting to a victory. It's nice to finally win both ends of a back-to-back, after winning the first and dropping the second three times before last night. It's also nice to have the defense looking sturdy after giving up 100+ points in four of five previous games.

The Jazz looked pretty bad, which makes me wonder how they managed to win 10 of 11 home games prior to last night. To be fair, they had played the previous night in LA, but so had the C's in Denver. In any case, count me as a skeptic on Utah who says they will miss the playoffs.

Mike James had 18 points and 9 assists while Eric Williams had another strong night with 19 off the bench. Pierce only had 14 points and got some rest late, playing only 30 minutes total. It's good to rest him when there's a chance to do so.

The change in the tone of newspaper coverage is remarkable from just a few days ago. Shira Springer's notebook, for example, notes that the Celtics now have five guys averaging double figures and that Jim O'Brien seems to be settling on his rotation.

It's interesting that Marcus Banks got a DNP-CD last night as Jiri Welsch ran the point when Mike James was out of the lineup. I would've thought Banks would have at least played in garbage time. Banks didn't play during the second half in Denver either after getting schooled by Earl Boykins in the first. Ainge apparently wants Banks to be the PG of the future and it'll be interesting to see if tension between Ainge and O'Brien develops over this. There have already been some signs of tension in the relationship during the losing (such as Ainge's Baker remarks).

Ainge made the trip last night, by the way, probably to hang out with his Mormon pals. Vin Baker missed the game with the flu and Raef LaFrentz started for him, playing 18 minutes due to his continuing knee pain (he played just 13 in Denver). He was wincing as he ran and jumped last night--something to keep your eye on.

Congratulations to the Orlando Magic on avoiding the disgrace of losing 20 games in a row. They are only 9 games out in the Atlantic (the Celtics are 2).

Next game is Wednesday night at home against Seattle before Friday night's home date with Toronto and a game at Cleveland Saturday.


Not enough time to write a good post on the Utah game now. I did find Andrei Kirilenko's web site, however, while searching for a good photo of his crazy hairdo. On the site's bulletin board I saw an insightful comment with the subject line "Boston Celtics" and thought I would share:

Bezvolie i nasmeshka nad bolelchikom v matche s Boston Celtics! A mezdu prochim stavka na vashy professionalism i samootdachu dlya nekotorikh lyudei byla, k sozaleniyu, otchen visoka. Vas by ponialy, esli by daze pri porazenii byl obnaruzen khotya by namyok na staranie ily sportivnuyu zlost'. No ne bylo i etogo... Bud' proklyaty i Vy i Vasha kOMANDA!

Zivyte, urodi.

Ah, that crazy global NBA! David Stern just loves it. I actually would be interested to know what Russian fans thought of the game, etc. Can anyone translate?

Monday, December 08, 2003


Exciting 116-111 win last night in Denver thanks to all the offense. The Celtics built a 16-point lead in the second quarter and, of course, blew the lead when Denver tied the game in the fourth quarter. But after Carmelo Anthony tied it a second time at 96, the C's ran off nine points in a row. The best thing they did all night was respond strong when they were pushed in the final period.

Lots of good scoring numbers for individuals, of course, since the team got 116. (box score) Pierce had 33 with 10 assists, Eric Williams 21 and Jiri Welsch a high with the Celtics of 19 points. Baker left the game at halftime because he was getting sick with flu. Walter McCarty got the extra minutes in the second half and responded pretty well.

This all came after a bit of a travel ordeal getting to Denver because of the snow. The team originally planned to go on Saturday but couldn't leave until yesterday, arriving a few hours before the tip.

This also came on the heels of a rather sobering Sunday Globe section in which Danny Ainge preached patience with this team and Red Auerbach took a few moments away from playing canasta (as Bill Simmons would say) to demonstrate that even senile people can see the Celtics have been having big problems.

Today we learn that LaFrentz is going to keep trying to play despite the knee pain. If he ends up missing time, expect the growing criticism of the Walker deal to reach a crescendo.

We visit the Jazz tonight for another 9:00 tip. Utah is somehow 10-1 at home despite losing Malone and Stockton. Hopefully they'll be tired too since they played at the Lakers last night.

Celts #23 on ESPN

Marc Stein drops the Celtics to 23rd in teh latest ESPN.com power rankings, right behind the Bulls and Clippers. They deserve to drop after the Phoenix loss, though last night's Denver win was big.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Good God, What a Horror Show

Boston 62, Phoenix 36 -- Halftime.
Phoenix 110, Boston 106 -- Final.

The Celtics blew out the Phoenix Suns last night, and then they went on to lose the game anyway, putting an exclamation point on their tendency to lose second-half leads. Boston has dropped a few games in which they played very strong first halves and built advantages, particularly the two Knicks games, but this is a whole different level.

Phoenix went to a press in the second half that totally threw off the Celtics game. The Suns outscored Boston 74-44 in the second half, more than doubling their offensive output from the first two quarters. They did it all without Amare Stoudemire, who sprained his ankle in the second quarter. Ironically, Stoudemire hurt himself landing on Paul Pierce's foot, which is funny since Stoudemire knocked Pierce out of the game when the teams met in Boston last year (this was maybe the first intelligent thing I've heard Willie Maye say from the sidelines all year). Yes, all Paul Pierce wanted for Christmas 2002 was his two front teeth, remember?

Anyway, the stud for the Suns was Stephon Marbury, who exploded for 27 points in the second half, including back-to-back cold-blooded threes late in the fourth quarter that put the Suns ahead for good. At least that helped my fantasy team.

The bottom line is that this is just a devastating loss for the Celtics. Shira Springer's game summary notes that Paul Pierce left quickly before reporters could ask him questions last night, perhaps because he was concerned about making harsh criticisms of teammates while he was upset. Peter May, meanwhile, offers up a "this could get ugly" column in which he calls on Jim O'Brien to inspire his players before this becomes an unredeemable losing campaign.

As if that weren't enough, both papers serve up side stories about how Joe Johnson has become a pretty good NBA player and the Celtics may have made a mistake trading him away. Here's the Herald version in the interest of balancing my citations of the two papers.

As I search for a silver lining here, this is all I can come up with: no Celtic player was seriously injured last night. That's about the best I can do.

The team supposedly changed up the travel plan to leave for Denver this morning in advance of the real heavy snow Boston is getting as I type this. They should be OK getting there for tomorrow night's contest with the Nuggets. That game now becomes especially important because we'll learn a lot about how resilient this team is from how they come out in that game. Will they be sulking and demoralized? Or will they have more determination than before?

The character test comes at 9pm Eastern time tomorrow.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Phoenix Preview

A few quick notes on the Suns. They seem to be in just as much disarray as the Celtics, with rumors circulating that coach Frank Johnson may be the next guy to get fired. The Suns have disappointed so far this year with a 7-10 mark putting them at the bottom of the Pacific Division. Stephon Marbury hasn't been the problem at least--he's doing very nicely for my fantasy team.

After the Phoenix game, the Celts hit the road for a quick Western trip to visit a pair of overachieving clubs, Denver (Sunday, 9pm) and Utah (Monday, 9pm). Shira Springer writes in the Globe today that the schedule is about to get much harder, which is very bad news, considering how we've struggled versus some subpar teams.

I also blipped over Jim O'Brien's statement the other day that Battie and LaFrentz, both of whom I noted are battling knee problems, won't be able to practice all season--they'll just play in games he says. This is really bad news for a team trying to get comfortable playing together in a new system.

Finally, the Suns' visit reminds me of last year when Phoenix came to the Fleet and Amare Stoudemire made a hard foul on Pierce, causing Paul to chip his teeth falling to the floor. A similar dental problem came about last night when Karl "Elbows" Malone threw one into the face of Steve Nash, who was playing tight defense after Malone had grabbed a defensive board. Nash, who had been single-handedly preventing a Lakers' blowout for the depleted Nowitzki-less Mavs, suffered a cut lip and loosened tooth as he hit the deck.

Malone got a technical but wasn't thrown out of the game, which was ridiculous. He's done this multiple times before too, including one time I recall that he broke the nose of a guy defending him in the post. The fact is that Karl Malone is a cheap-shot artist that I don't respect (John Stockton, despite the short-shorts and choir-boy appearance, was a dirty player too). That's why I hope he never gets his championship or the all-time scoring title. (Mark Cuban says Malone should be suspended.)

Ironically, the Suns come to town just as the Boston area is about to be buried by a big snow storm. It may be a challenge for the team to get to Denver by Sunday night.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Lots of threes add up to 7-11

The Celtics played reasonably well Wednesday night in Toronto. Unfortunately, the Raptors shot 17-24 on threes, which basically makes it impossible to beat them or any team.

On the positive end, though, the loss puts the Celtics record at 7-11, which reminds me of my favorite convenience store. Seriously though, the C's outrebounded Toronto and shot over 50 percent. You can't ask for much more than that. (box score)

This was a Raptors team that was last in the league in scoring before the trade that brought them Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall and Lonny Baxter in exchange for Antonio Davis and Chris Jeffries. Now they score 95 and 105 in back-to-back wins against Philly and Boston--Raptor fans must be rather pumped. They are tough to defend with a lot of guys who can score the ball in their starting lineup. Their only weakness is going to be how thin they are along the front line with Marshall and Chris Bosh playing the 4 and 5 slots. Bosh was impressive with 16 and 8, especially considering he is a stick figure physically. Once he fills out, he should be awesome.

A Celtics sidelight to the game was Paul Pierce narrowly missing a triple-double, finishing with 23, 9 and 9. He could have gotten there had he not been pulled for the last few minutes of garbage time. Tony Battie did not make the trip due to the flu.

Lest you despair, we are only 1.5 games out in the pathetic Atlantic Division (the Sixers lead at 9-10). New Jersey matched Boston by losing at home to Memphis tonight, dropping the Nets to an identical 7-11 mark.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to write that the Raptors sent Jerome Williams to the Bulls too. You knew that anyway, as did I.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

As the Shamrock Turns

First Pierce speaks out, now Danny Ainge is leveling some criticism at the team:

"I feel Vin Baker is being neglected in our offense, and right now we're also getting nothing out of the small forward position," Ainge said yesterday, after learning the captain of his team spoke out for the second time in a week.

"All of these small forwards we have are capable of producing something, and they haven't. There's a lot more to be heard of from them than what we're getting, and it's a matter of the whole team stepping up. But we should be getting the ball more to Vin."

I was listening to WEEI for a bit this morning and this topic came up. Dale and Neumy pointed out that this is really the first criticism of Jim O'Brien anyone has made, unnamed as the coach may have been in Ainge's comments.

I don't like the way things are headed with the team. Of course they're losing games, but also I don't like the atmosphere that is growing, with everyone criticizing everyone else in the press so much. It's no secret things aren't going well, guys, I just don't feel airing dirty laundry in public is such a great idea all the time. It all becomes a soap opera.

Meanwhile, Ainge's remarks on Baker not being used enough come at the same time that we get reports that Baker is battling a sore knee, which might be another explanation for Vin's lessened production these last few games. Shira Springer also notes that Battie (bad knee and flu) and LaFrentz (knee) did not practice yesterday and Raef will be a game-time decision in Toronto tonight, so we may be thin in the post. The good news is that Toronto may be tired from playing in Philly last night.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

A Blazers Rite of Passage

Zach Randolph was arrested for DUI early Tuesday.

Pierce Calls Out Teammates--Again

Another bad Monday night loss at home (96-89 to Memphis), another Paul Pierce tongue-lashing:

"Too many times we get stagnant on offense," he said. "A lot of times guys depend on me to make a play. They shouldn't depend on me so much. I know I carry a heavy load, but there's more they can do.

"A lot of stuff has to come from each individual. Everyone knows what has to be done--rebounding, hustle plays--and we're not doing it. It's not that we're not playing hard. Everyone has to play tough mentally. We're too inconsistent right now."

I understand Pierce being upset but I also wonder how helpful this is. He made his comments about the team being soft just a week ago, and the Celtics went on to win two straight games after that, though they have now dropped another two. I don't know if another kick in the butt is going to do anything to improve play in the short term. Everyone is frustrated, and I fear that Pierce may upset some of his teammates by repeatedly taking them to task with his comments in the media.

It's important to remember that Pierce in the past has been criticized for being tough on teammates who weren't playing as well as he'd like. He has a reputation for getting on the role players, and such divisiveness probably could do more damage to the club's cohesion right now.

If Pierce keeps throwing down the gauntlet every week, he risks not just alienating others in the locker room but also being ignored. It's the kind of thing that should be done only occasionally, not on a weekly basis.

I find it rather ironic that Gus Martins opens his Herald article today, "Careful that his salvos might become redundant, Celtics captain Paul Pierce last night said he planned to limit the severity with which he confronts his teammates." If he's so concerned about redundancy, he should refrain from making such remarks as frequently as he has thus far.

Then there's the fact that Pierce fouled out with 3:58 remaining and didn't record an assist all night. Pierce deserves some of the blame too, even though he did score 26. The game was decided by a Memphis run in the fourth quarter, helped along by a six-minute field-goal drought for the Celtics.

Kedrick Brown and Juamine Jones got DNP-CDs again, and Walter McCarty had a 10-minute cameo. Jiri Welsh logged 31 minutes and is pretty clearly the small forward Jim O'Brien has decided to go with now. This raises questions about exactly why the Celtics picked up Brown's contract for next year during training camp and made a point of trading for Jones (supposedly he was coveted by Ainge) in the offseason. We knew coming into the year that there would be a logjam at small forward, it just wasn't expected that Welsch would emerge so soon as a starter.

Toronto is the next stop for the Celtics express, so go check out Raptor Blog for insight on the upcoming foes. The Raptors completed a trade for Jalen Rose over the weekend, and there is analysis here and from the other end on Bulls Blog.

I also want to put in a plug for RickBrunson.com, a satirical fan site devoted to Raptors bench warmer Rick Brunson. It's very well done--almost too well done, one might say.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Celtics Beat

Celtics.com sent me an email today introducing the new team newsletter, Celtics Beat. You can sign up for it at the web site by submitting your email address in the form on the left side of the page.

The first edition included a "weekly preview" including a scouting report on the Grizzlies, a "weekly rewind" covering stats and roster news from recent games and links to buy tickets to upcoming home games and to vote for the Celtics on the All-Star ballot. The content is solid and the graphics are pretty good. As a marketing tool, Celtics Beat makes sense--they sent one to me because I have bought tickets online in the past, after all, and their hope is that I'll keep coming to games.

We're #22

Both SI and ESPN rank the Celtics the 22nd best team in the NBA in their latest power rankings. I can't really argue with the teams listed ahead of us, especially since New York has beaten the Celtics the last two weeks. Still, we're one game out of first in the Atlantic behind 9-9 Philadelphia and tied at 7-9 with the Nets.

Tonight we face a 7-8 Memphis team that the Celtics beat on a late Mike James basket Halloween night. The Grizz are coming off a 2OT win at Cleveland Saturday night, which featured a 37-point effort from Pau Gasol. That same evening the C's dropped the back end of a home-and-home with Milwaukee, 100-94, the first time Boston has given up 100 points in a game this year (and Jiri Welsch committed a pointless foul with a few seconds left to give the Bucks two more free throws and kill the streak--why, Jiri?).

I wasn't too upset with the Bucks loss, perhaps because both Milwaukee games were so much more entertaining than the Celtics games that came before them. In the fourth quarter Milwaukee was really rotating the ball perfectly, which makes me wonder whether their familiarity with the Celtics from seven quarters of playing them gave the Bucks an edge in being able to figure out how the Celtics would be rotating on defense. That said, the Bucks still had to knock down shots, which they did. The Celtics shot well too for the second straight night, they just couldn't get enough stops.

I found a few interesting NBA nuggets in the New York Times Sunday sports section, of all places. The first is that only four Eastern Conference coaches remain that were with their teams last year--Jim O'Brien, Byron Scott, Don Chaney and Terry Stotts (who was Atlanta's interim for only part of last season, after all). That means 11 teams have now changed their head coach during the offseason or early this season. Randy Ayers, Eddie Jordan, Stan Van Gundy, Johnny Davis, Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown, Tim Floyd, Kevin O'Neill, Terry Porter, Scott Skiles and Paul Silas are all new to their positions. Skiles makes his debut on the Bulls bench tonight, and O'Brien and Scott are the longest-tenured guys in the conference, both now in their fourth seasons.

Another thing that jumped out at me in the Times is how American rookies are outperforming the foreigners this year. Nine of the top ten rookies in points, rebounding and assists are from the US, and perhaps the best foreign rook, Zarko Cabarkapa of Phoenix, is now out 6-8 weeks with a broken wrist sustained from a hard foul last week by Danny Fortson.

Finally, a glaring trend many people have noticed is that there are three East teams above .500 and three Western teams below .500. At this pace, the eigth slot in the East will sport a 38-44 record, and the eight-hole out West will have to get to 46-36 (the print edition I read said 47-35 and 35-47--strange). Anyway here's the link.

The West's dominance continued last night with the Lakers pounding the Pacers and the Kings handling the Nets.

After Memphis tonight, the C's go to Toronto Wednesday night for a 7:00 contest, followed by a return home to face Phoenix Friday at 7:30. Then we have an abbreviated trip west to Denver and Utah next Sunday and Monday nights.