Tips ? Suggestions? Praise? Death Threats?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wally Still Sucks

After two weeks away (the All-Star break and a five-game road trip), the Boston Celtics returned home last night and convincingly beat the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, 92-87 (the score is misleading, it wasn't that close).

While it wasn't an offensive masterpiece, the C's (44-12) played some lockdown defense, the key element to their great season thus far. They were also helped out by the Cavs (32-26), who were content with that old NBA standby-the no ball movement, one shot possession.

Ray Allen led Boston with 22 points and four rebounds while Kevin Garnett (18 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals) had an outstanding all-around game that was the norm for him in the first half of the season. Paul Pierce (12 points on 4 of 14 shooting, 5 assists, 6 turnovers) was not on his game but super subs Leon Powe (13 points) and Glen Davis (9 points) continued to shine as their playing time steadily increases.

The Celts took the first quarter, 25-16. LeBron had a Allen Iverson/Kobe Bryant-esque 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists. He was 7 of 24 from the floor but was bailed out big time by the refs, making 11 of 15 free throws. Apparently, you can't play defense on LeBron anymore, as decreed by chief toad David Stern, or you'll get whistled for a foul.

Cleveland picked up four new players last week before the trading deadline and they had mixed results last night. Old Celtics Delonte West (20 points, 5 rebounds) and Wally Szczerbiak (12 points on 3 of 13 shooting, 5 rebounds) returned and Ben Wallace (6 points, 6 rebounds) and Joe Smith (9 points, 4 rebounds) also contributed. West showed all the good parts of his game: the fearless slashing to the hoop and plucky shot-making ability. Wally couldn't do the one thing he's supposed to: shoot. Big Ben looked like the disinterested and overpaid bum he's been the last few years in Chicago while Smith was nice in limited minutes.

The Cavs took the second quarter 24-22 but Boston carried a 47-40 lead into the half. Rajon Rondo (8 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) had some great drives and Kendrick Perkins added eight points.

The NBA held its collective breath when LeBron went down with an ankle injury (he came down on Pierce's foot after making a layup) and hobbled over to the sideline late in the second quarter. No less than six guys followed him into the locker room so you knew he's kinda important. Nothing to fear though as the King came out to start the second half and drained a jumper 14 seconds in. He laughs at us mortals.

Sadly for him, Boston outplayed Cleveland in the third, 28-22 and although the Cavs took the final quarter 25-17 it didn't matter since guys were just padding their stats.

Boston shot 52.3% and held Cleveland to 38.3%. The monstrous Cavs owned the boards(44-37) but the Celtics worked it around much better (27-16 assists). The Celts also survived 20 turnovers.

While this certainly wasn't Cleveland's best effort (without Daniel Gibson, the second most dangerous player on the team), it's not like the Celtics were flawless either. It was a nice win, their third in a row. The Bobcats come to Boston on Friday and the C's will be looking for revenge after Charlotte pulled off the big upset in January.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Clippers are God-Awful Again

Shaun Livingston and Elton Brand haven't played a game this year. Now, Chris Kaman and everybody's favorite space alien Sam Cassell are on the shelf with injuries. These are not the best of times for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Boston Celtics took advantage of the pitiful Clippers and rolled to a 104-76 win at the Staples Center last night.

The Celts ended the West Coast trip at 2-3 and thankfully only have one more killer road trip: Texas and New Orleans in late March.

Paul Pierce (17 points) and James Posey (17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) led the way as Boston's (43-12) bench got plenty of action in the second half. Even former USC guard Gabe Pruitt came out of the witness protection program and scored six points in ten minutes.

As detailed the last time the Celts played the Clippers (19-35), LA has a bunch of scrubs that could be lining up at your local soup kitchen any day now looking for a hot meal. With the latest injuries, Aaron Williams and Brevin Knight (10 points) were forced to start.

Boston won every quarter in the game. The C's led 23-17 after the first and 45-36 at the half. Ray Allen (15 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds) and Kevin Garnett (11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 assists) played well then got a well-deserved rest in the fourth. Leon Powe scored 12 and Rajon Rondo added nine.

The Clippers didn't put up much of a fight in the second half, losing the third 32-21 and the fourth 27-19. Tim Thomas had 15 points and nine rebounds, Corey Maggette had 11 points and promising rookie Al Thornton put up 11 points and eight boards.

Boston's defense really responded over the last seven quarters of this road trip which started out as a nightmare. They held the Clippers to 40.0% shooting while shooting 55.1% themselves. Boston had way more 3-pointers (8 to 2) and blocks (also 8 to 2).

The Celts come home today and face the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night at the Garden. The Cavs picked up Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, old friend Delonte West and stiff Wally Szcerbiak last week before the trade deadline. Cleveland is currently in fourth-place in the East but will most likely jump Orlando before the playoffs start.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Truth Bounces Back

Well at least we know the Celtics won't go winless on this West Coast trip. The Celts broke their three-game losing streak by beating Portland, 112-102 yesterday.

After both having their worst games of the year against Phoenix on Friday, Ray Allen (19 points, 4 assists) and especially Paul Pierce (30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) had outstanding shooting performances. Allen was 7 of 8 from the floor and a surprising 1 of 3 from the line while Pierce was 12 of 14 from the field and 2 of 2 on free throws.

Things didn't look good in the first quarter though as Portland (29-27) came out on fire and led 32-16 after one. The Blazers dominated on the boards and couldn't miss while the Celtics (42-12) repeatedly had shots rim out.

Boston made its move in the second quarter, outscoring Portland, 31-22. Rajon Rondo (15 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals) kept getting to the basket, James Posey (15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) reappeared after being M.I.A the first three games, Eddie House (11 points) hit some shots and KG (10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) continued to work his way back.

Travis Outlaw (24 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) was unstoppable in the first half, going for 19 while Jarrett Jack (17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), LaMarcus Aldridge (14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists), Steve Blake (12 points, 8 assists) and Martell Webster (12 points) all hit double figures.

The Trailblazers are the youngest team in the league (without Greg Oden) and after an incredible first half of the season, they're coming back to earth as injuries and youth start to show. Plus, they're in the Western Conference.

The unquestioned leader of Portland is second-year guard Brandon Roy (9 points, 3 steals), who was an All-Star. He left in the third quarter with an ankle injury and never returned. And with that, went the Blazers chance of winning the game. Boston put them away with a dominant third quarter (32-17). The onslaught continued into the fourth as the Celts, who trailed by as much as 17, pushed the lead to as high as 19 (a swing of 36 points). Boston couldn't miss from 3-point land (14 of 21).

The Blazers made a slight run in the fourth but they were down too much. A win was just what Boston needed to get some of its confidence back. Other than the first quarter, it was by far their best game of the four on the trip. The defense was getting stops and turnovers while the offense was scoring consistently. It looked like one of their games from early in the season when they just overpowered opponents.

As a team, Boston shot 57.9 % to Portland's 45.3%. The Blazers were 12 of 21 for three and 22 of 26 from the line. Boston was 10 of 15 from the line which didn't matter since they were lights out for three.

The West Coast trip wraps up tonight in LA, thankfully against the Clippers (one of the NBA's worst) and not the Lakers (who are now probably the top team in the NBA). A win against the Clippers would get Boston in the right direction before coming home to the Garden to face the Cavs on Wednesday.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

House of the Rising Sun

The Celtics lost their season-high third in a row last night to the Phoenix Suns, 85-77. After giving up a ton of points in their last two games, Boston's defense stepped up against the highest scoring team in the NBA. The problem was that the C's offense was nowhere to be found, making it their ugliest performance of the season.

You knew something was up when the Suns (38-17) took a 15-point lead just five minutes into the game. The first quarter finished with Phoenix up 24-13 and honestly, they could have been up by 25 if they didn't keep turning the ball over. Kevin Garnett (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block) is starting to look like himself but Ray Allen (11 points on 3 of 12 shooting) and Paul Pierce (8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 of 13 shooting) picked a bad time to both have their worst games of the season.

Amare Stoudemire (game-high 28 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) put up some nice numbers but he shot only 10 of 23. Stoudemire and KG evidently are not the best of friends and it showed as they repeatedly pushed, jawed at and fouled each other. It was fun to watch but ultimately hurt the C's as KG picked up a couple stupid fouls that way. The Celtics (41-12) also did a decent job defensively on Steve Nash (18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) but Grant Hill put up a double-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and three steals. Boris Diaw was the only other Sun in double figures with 10 points and five boards.

It has been harder than usual the last few nights rooting against the Warriors and Suns because outside of Boston, these are by far my favorite teams to watch in the NBA. Who wouldn't want to watch run and gun, up and down basketball every night? It is truly the way the game is meant to be played, not the San Antonio Spurs inspired half-court snoozefest.

With that said, if you heard the Suns scored 85 points then there's no way they could have won, right? As good as Phoenix is on offense, they're just as bad on defense. Thus the decision to acquire Shaq last week for Shawn Marion. Who knows if the Big Cactus (his new nickname) will bring a much deserved championship to the desert but at least the Suns are going for it.

Shaq wasn't anything special last night, turning in a Ben Wallace type, 14 rebounds, 4 points, 2 blocks kind of night.

The C's played a little better in the second quarter but still found themselves down 43-30 going into the half. The third quarter was more of the same as the Suns were just a little bit better (20-19). Boston made a last gasp run in the fourth (28-22) but it was too late. Rajon Rondo (12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), Tony Allen (9 points) and Kendrick Perkins (6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) were all OK but the rest of the bench was non-existent.

Phoenix outshot Boston for the game (42.3%-38.5%). Neither team could hit threes, Boston was 4 of 17 to Phoenix's 5 of 11. The Suns got to the free-throw line more, 18 of 28 to the C's 13 of 16. The biggest number that jumps out from the loss is that Phoenix destroyed Boston on the glass, 50-32. Boston had so many shots that you knew weren't going in and then they couldn't gather the rebounds either, making for lots of one and out possessions.

With only two games (Portland, Clippers) left on this trip, the Celts need to get back to the win column tomorrow night against the Blazers. It won't be easy since Boston beat Portland earlier in the season and the Blazers are battling for a playoff spot in the West (who isn't)? So far in the three games this week, Boston hasn't put together a complete game. In Denver and Golden State the offense was great and in Phoenix the defense was great. If the C's can put both sides together, they will start winning again.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

King of this Castle

Thank God the Celtics are not in the Western Conference. That much is abundantly clear just two games into this five-game West Coast trip. Golden State topped Boston, 119-117 last night on a buzzer-beater by Baron Davis.

Let this sink in: the Warriors (33-21) came into last night in ninth place in the West. With the same record, they'd be fourth in the East, thus earning home-court advantage for the playoffs. Only 5.5 games separated the top team in the West (the Hornets) from the Warriors. Dang.

Despite the loss, the C's (41-11) had a few great signs: Kevin Garnett played 31 minutes and scored 17 points, hauled in 15 rebounds, plus three steals, three blocks and two assists. After looking totally out of place on Tuesday vs. the Nuggets, KG took a big step forward 24 hours later, dominating on the glass. The other real positive for Boston was that Ray Allen (game-high 32 points, 6 assists) had one of his best games as a Celtic. He was 11 of 17 from the floor, including 6 of 8 from 3-point land. It was as efficient as he's been all season. Paul Pierce had 23 points, five boards and five assists.

As a converted Warriors fan (circa playoffs 2007), I watch them any chance I can and love their crazy brand of basketball. Davis (29 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) is rightfully the leader but his sidekick Monta Ellis (26 points, 9 assists) is quickly becoming one of the NBA's most unknown stars. Outside of Kobe and LeBron, Ellis might be the best driver in the league. He's unstoppable when he wants to get to the basket.

For the second night in a row, as predicted, defense was nowhere to be seen. The Warriors led 32-29 after the first quarter but the C's played a great second (28-18) to take a 57-50 halftime advantage.

Playing without Stephen Jackson, who all obvious and played out jokes aside is having a career year, Golden State had fine showings by Al Harrington (22 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists), Andris Biedrins (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Mickael Pietrus (12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals).

I think Oracle Arena has the most vocal fans in the league this season so not surprisingly, the Warriors came back in the second half. Golden State outscored Boston, 32-27 in the third and 37-33 in the fourth.

Since the Warriors are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, I had faith that the Celts had a good chance to win if they could just stop a few Warriors possessions, no dice.

It seemed like Golden State made a costly mistake when they were up two with 28 seconds left and had Matt Barnes drive to the hoop with 10 seconds left, throwing up a prayer that didn't even hit the rim. Boston got the rebound and called timeout. On the ensuing possession, Pierce drove to the basket and got the foul called. I almost couldn't watch since he can be a shaky free-throw shooter but he calmly made both (12 of 13 on the night). The game looked destined for overtime but Baron had something to say about that. He dribbled down the court and was isolated on Tony Allen (18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), who had one of his best games I can ever remember. With shades of the first Pistons game in my head (where Allen fouled Chauncey Billups with under a second left), Davis avoided Allen and drained a 20-foot jumper. Game over.

Boston shot 48.1% to Golden State's 47.2%. The C's made 11 threes (seven more than the Warriors) but the free-throw line is what killed them. Unlike in Denver, both teams got to the line a ton but the Celtics were a little worse (32 of 46) than the Warriors (31 of 43). The other surprising stat was that Golden State owned rebounds (49-37).

At the beginning of this trip, I was guessing the C's would finish 3-2. Now, I'm not even sure about that. They have to go to Phoenix tomorrow night and play a Suns team, who lost to the Lakers last night in Shaq's debut. Then they go to Portland, who is also dangerous although out of the playoffs at the moment before finally finishing with the garbage Clippers.

Boston can't come home soon enough, this year's Western Conference is absurd. It's going to go down as one of the most stacked conferences in NBA history.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Rocky Mountain High

The Celtics returned from the All-Star break last night in Denver and began their toughest road trip of the season-five games in seven nights against five Western Conference teams. Despite the return of Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis, the Nuggets (33-20) had too much firepower for the Celtics (41-10), winning 124-118. It was Boston's first loss of the season (16-1) against the West.

Let me preface this by saying that I love Allen Iverson, or maybe loved is the proper tense these days. Watching last night's game was a quick refresher course on many of the problems that plague the NBA product (too many fouls called, especially for stars, choppy play and no team basketball). I have noted these elements the last few years but since the Celts are finally good again, they've been put on the backburner for now.

Iverson (28 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds) played well but he also was 14 of 20 from the free throw line. If that wasn't bad enough, Carmelo Anthony (game-high 29 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) was 12 of 13 from the line. Those two guys shot more free throws than the whole Celtics team (19 of 28). Denver was 34 of 49. It was an absolute joke. I'll admit that Paul Pierce gets a ton of calls in his favor but AI and Melo are unbelievable actors. Any time they drive to the basket, they yell, scream and whine about getting fouled and usually reap the rewards.

Garnett (4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 4 turnovers) started but only played 21 minutes. He was 2 of 7 from the floor and it was clear that his stamina is not there yet after missing the past nine games. Pierce (team-high 24 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds), Ray Allen (20 points, 5 assists) and Rajon Rondo (22 points, 4 rebounds, 6 turnovers) provided enough offense, the C's defense just couldn't get anything done. And the few times they would seemingly get a stop, a late whistle would bail the home team out.

Leon Powe had a double-double off the bench with 13 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, James Posey was great (13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals) while Tony Allen and Eddie House each had nine points.

Denver outscored Boston, 36-31 in the first as Iverson and Anthony were unstoppable but Ray Allen kept Boston close with 14 first quarter points. The C's evened it at 62 going into the half by taking the second quarter (31-26). Rondo hit a ridiculous floater from the free throw line, over Marcus Camby (11 points, 13 rebounds, 9 blocks, 3 assists, 3 steals) right before the buzzer. He got fouled too but missed the And-1.

The Nuggets won the third, 26-22 as their role players like Kenyon Martin (19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals), Anthony Carter (14 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds) and Linas Kleiza (11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) all made key plays.

The fourth quarter had the intensity of a playoff game as the sold-out Pepsi Center crowd finally woke up and was rewarded with some amazing basketball. Kleiza hit back-to-back threes to put Denver up 10 before Boston clawed its way back. Both Rondo and KG had putback dunks for the Celtics. Camby hit a shot-clock beating step back three, Iverson hit a jumper and K-Mart got a basket. Boston had a chance to get it down to three with under a minute but Ray Allen missed a 3-pointer. Denver missed a few foul shots while Boston kept making baskets but it was too late. Denver edged Boston in the fourth, 36-34 to take the game.

All the numbers not surprisingly were absurd from such a high-scoring game. Denver shot 51.3% to Boston's 44.4%. The Celts had three more 3's (11-8) but Denver had 10 more assists (29-19) and six more blocks (12-6). How the Celtics kept it close despite all the free-throws is a mystery. The Nuggets had the early-season blowout to the Celtics in mind as they wanted to pay them back and knock off the top team in the NBA in the process.

No rest for Boston as they flew to Golden State last night and will take on the Warriors tonight. The defensive numbers of the C's (the top defensive team in the league) should continue to get worse as they play three run and gun teams in a row (Denver, Golden State, Phoenix). Boston dominated Golden State earlier in the season and the Warriors also lost last night (to the Jazz) so it should be a good game.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cupid's Got Nothing On Isiah Thomas

With Isiah Thomas and his train-wreck team-the New York Knicks-in town, what better way to get Valentine's Day started for all the lovers out there? Zeke didn't stay around for the whole thing (I'm guessing he had some last-minute shopping to do), but his Knicks stubbornly came back from down 27 but ultimately couldn't take the lead as Boston won its fifth in a row, 111-103, in the last game before the All-Star break.

The Celts (41-9) continue to pile up wins but unfortunately they've been accumulating the injuries lately at almost the same clip. Last night, Glen Davis left with a quad injury that looked serious and Brian Scalabrine hurt his groin (no joke needed, too easy). Boston was led by its two healthy all-stars, Paul Pierce (24 points, 7 assists, 6 turnovers, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) and Ray Allen (21 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 turnovers). Yes, Caron Butler is sitting out the All-Star game and therefore Ray got the call (instead of the more deserving Hedo Turkoglu, who also plays the same position). Whatever, hopefully Ray enjoys his time in the Crescent City and doesn't drink too many Hurricanes before the game.

Jamal Crawford (game-high 26 points, 7 assists, 6 steals) shined despite still sporting that big bandage on his shoulder. I bet Eddy Curry tried to take a bite out of Crawford, just one man's take. Zach Randolph had his typical useless double-double, 20 points and 13 rebounds. David Lee had 18 points and eight boards while Nate Robinson (11 points, 5 assists) and Fred Jones (10 points, 6 assists) made their three fantasy owners happy.

New York took the first quarter, 24-21 but Boston effectively clinched it in the second (you don't say that everyday) by outscoring the Knicks, 32-16. The aforementioned lead became 27 in the third quarter before New York decided to earn a fraction of their paychecks. The funny part about Thomas getting two technicals in the third quarter was that it was in the middle of his team coming back (it was 11 at the time of the second). What a bozo.

Leon Powe (18 points, 8 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (18 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks) continued to piss excellence as the Celtics started with only nine guys and ended it with seven. Yikes. Tony Allen (14 points) and James Posey (5 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) were other standouts. Powe (38 minutes) and Posey (40 minutes) both had season-high minutes on the court so they had to be gassed by the end.

Boston shot 50.7% for the game and New York shot 44.3%. The Celts led in assists (29-20) and blocks (6-0). It wasn't pretty but it was a win and that's all you can ask from such a depleted team. Now, most of the C's (other than Doc, Pierce, Ray and Rondo) get to enjoy the short break before going to Denver on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

40 Oz. to Freedom

I don't like John Mellancamp (particularly that insufferable "Our Country" jingle) and I hate the Colts, so I don't think I'll be making any trips to the heartland of America (Indiana) anytime soon. Thankfully, the Celtics are stronger than I am as they came away with a 104-97 win over the Pacers last night in Hoosiers country and also notched their 40th win in the process.

40 wins through 49 games is pretty remarkable. Boston looks like it could win anywhere from 60-66 games this season. Of course, it doesn't mean anything (are you listening Patriots?) if they don't make some noise in the playoffs.

It was the eighth straight game that Kevin Garnett missed while Kendrick Perkins missed his second in a row. Back when the Pacers were relevant (late 90's, early millenium), Paul Pierce had some memorable battles with everyone's favorite loose cannon Ron Artest. Ron Ron is long gone but Pierce (game-high 28 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists) still owns Indiana. Ray Allen added 23 points and starter Leon Powe posted 16 points and nine rebounds.

The Pacers (21-31) had five guys score in double figures but none had more than Danny Granger (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks). Shawne Williams (14 points), Troy Murphy (13 points, 9 rebounds), Mike Dunleavy (13 points), Kareem Rush (13 points) and Marquis Daniels (10) were all present. Most noteworthy about the Pacers as that 4/5 of their starting lineup were of the can't jump variety: Dunleavy, Murphy, Jeff Foster, Granger and Travis Diener. I don't want to get a rumor started but if they want to trade Granger for Scal straight up, I think the Celts would be interested.

A 25-21 Pacer lead after one changed into a 51-50 Celts advantage at the half. Rajon Rondo (12 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals) played well. Tony Allen (8 points) and James Posey (6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) provided the lift off the bench.

The Celtics took the third, 31-27 and their defense clamped down in the fourth (a theme of the first half of the season), outscoring Indiana 22-20.

Boston made 10 3-pointers and was 24-29 from the line. They also recorded 10 steals and only turned the ball over 10 times.

The first half of the season ends tonight as those lovable New York Knicks come to Boston for a beating. Most of the Celtics (outside of Doc Rivers and Pierce) will get a few days off as the NBA holds its All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Caron Butler of the Wizards has been out lately with an injury so there's talk of either Hedo Turkoglu or Ray Allen filling in if Butler can't make it. Hopefully, Allen doesn't have to go since he could use the rest. Boston has a killer five-game West Coast trip starting next Tuesday in Denver.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Now are they for real?

Going into yesterday's game with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, the Boston Celtics had piled up a gaudy 15-0 record against the vastly superior Western Conference. They also hadn't played Phoenix, New Orleans or the Spurs, the top three teams in the West. The C's biggest wins of the season had been a road win at the Lakers and beating the Mavs at the Garden a few weeks back.

Therefore, without a doubt, yesterday afternoon at the Garden was the top win of the season thus far for the Celts (39-9) as they held off San Antonio (32-17), 98-90. Both teams were missing stars as Boston continued to play without KG (for the seventh consecutive game) and San Antonio was minus point guard Tony Parker. The Celts also ended the Spurs nine-game win streak in Boston that spanned Tim Duncan's entire career.

The stars of the game were Paul Pierce (predictable), Rajon Rondo (somewhat surprising) and Glen Davis (mouth wide-open in shock). Not only was Garnett out but both Kendrick Perkins and Scot Pollard couldn't play, meaning Boston's only legitimate big men were Leon Powe and Big Baby. Somehow, someway, the two (mostly Davis) were able to keep the future Hall of Famer Duncan (22 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks) at bay.

The first quarter was a one-on-one showdown of Pierce (game-high 35 points, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers) vs. Manu Ginobili (21 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 6 turnovers). Pierce scored 14 points in the quarter and Ginobili had the Spurs first 11 points. San Antonio took the frame, 23-20.

Powe (5 points, 3 rebounds) started but quickly picked up two fouls so Davis (9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) was forced to play a season-high 33 minutes. All things considered, he more than held his own as he made Duncan work for everything he got while also providing the C's with a little scoring around the hoop. Davis showed a ton of emotion as he was yelling after a couple big plays, it was great to see.

Boston outscored San Antonio, 23-18 in the second and took a 43-41 lead into the break. Ray Allen (19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) and Rajon Rondo (5 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, 1 turnover) each had their moments. Truth be told, Allen's shot is still not right as it seems like he's hitting the front rim on almost every attempt. It's probably best for everyone that for now he's not scheduled to go to All-Star weekend.

The Celts got solid contributions from the bench as Eddie House (10 points) and Tony Allen (8 points) scored and James Posey (5 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals) did a little bit of everything.

The Spurs really missed Parker's scoring ability as newly-acquired Damon Stoudamire and Jacque Vaughn both scored eight but were a combined 5 for 17. Michael Finley (19 points) who has disappeared for a few years, hit some big shots down the stretch to keep San Antonio close.

The second half was won by the Celts, 55-49. They outscored the Spurs, 25-20 in the third and 30-29 in the fourth. It wasn't pretty but the C's did just enough in crunch time to hold on for the win. They got some stops, made their free throws and didn't commit any costly turnovers or mental errors.

With two games remaining until the All-Star break (at the Pacers tomorrow and home to the Knicks on Wednesday), Boston is just trying to make it through. It was announced yesterday that Garnett will skip the All-Star game which is good news considering the extremely tough West coast trip the Celts have right after the break.

Yesterday's win will go a long way confidence-wise for young guys like Davis and Rondo and the team in general as they saw that they can beat the best. The teams play once more (in San Antonio on St. Patrick's Day) and who knows, maybe they'll meet up in June.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Mo' Powe Please

The kind people of Minnesota came in droves last night and sold out the Target Center in anticipation of Kevin Garnett's return to his home of 12 years. Sadly, for everyone involved, KG was still in street clothes as he missed his sixth straight game. Without that star power, the game suffered for the first three quarters but the fourth quarter was pretty wild as a severely undermanned Celtics stunned the T-Wolves, 88-86.

Already missing Scot Pollard and KG, the Celts (38-9) lost another big man as Kendrick Perkins (1 point, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks) went down in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. This meant that Leon Powe (16 points, 8 rebounds) got a large share of minutes as Boston scrambled to find healthy big men.

Minnesota (10-38) led 18-16 after a gross first quarter and 45-40 at the break. Al Jefferson (18 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 2 assists, 6 turnovers) once again was mostly held in check by the Celtics. Ex-BC Eagle Craig Smith (16 points, 7 rebounds) was effective down low since he looks like he's gotten even bigger. Or maybe he's just getting training tips from Oliver Miller. Ryan Gomes (13 points, 6 rebounds) and Corey Brewer (11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) were the other standouts for the T-Wolves. Sebastian Telfair (2 points on 1 of 8 shooting, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) looked like the fraud that played for the C's last year.

The Celts got within four after the third quarter, 66-62, setting up the final frame. Paul Pierce (18 points, 6 assists) and Ray Allen (17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) did just enough to let the C's hang around. Rajon Rondo (12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) continued to improve and Eddie House (14 points, 4 assists) had his best game in recent memory.

Late in the fourth, Jefferson hit back-to-back jumpers to tie it up for the T-Wolves. They had a chance to go ahead but they missed a shot and then Smith saved it from going out of bounds, except it went right to Ray Allen. Allen drove to the hoop and got hacked but there was no call. Powe followed up the shot (and was wide open) and laid it in just before the horn sounded. The C's had stolen another win from the poor Timberwolves.

Thus far, the biggest game of the regular season (which is an oxymoron) is Sunday as the defending champion San Antonio Spurs come to the Garden. Tony Parker is out for the Spurs but the Celts desperately need Perk to guard Tim Duncan. It's an ABC game at 1 p.m. that should be real interesting. Right now, Boston just wants to survive until the All-Star break which is next weekend.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Give Him a Tommy Point: Rondo Can Play

Once in a while, the insane ramblings of Celtics uber-homer announcer Tommy Heinsohn shine some light on an otherwise overlooked fact. Keep in mind, the guy has thought ever scrub, bum and hobo that has suited up for the C's the past few years were sure-fire Hall of Famers but I have to say that he is right about at least one current player: Rajon Rondo is a stud.

In his rookie season (last year), Rondo showed flashes of brilliance as he could seemingly do everything on the court (save for making a non-layup shot). That has all quickly changed as the kid can hit a jumper now and seemingly get to the basket at will. Entering this season, he was the biggest question mark after Boston acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. We still need a veteran backup point guard but that's beside the point, Rondo is really coming into his own.

Without Garnett for the fifth straight game, Boston took care of the Los Angeles Clippers at the Garden, 111-100. The C's are now 3-2 in KG's absence and as long as there's any question mark with his status, he should sit. He's by far the most valuable player on the team (many would say the NBA too) so if he has to miss the All-Star game, who cares? It's all about the playoffs.

Anyways, back to last night. It wasn't the game of the year as Boston (37-9) was playing for the second night in a row and the Clippers (15-31) are barely treading water in the stacked Western Conference.

Paul Pierce (15 points) wasn't puking into a trash can on the sidelines like the other night in Cleveland but he still wasn't 100 percent. Rondo picked up the slack with a team-high 24 points, eight assists, five rebounds and four steals. Ray Allen added 19 points and five boards while the bench played some serious minutes, including almost all of the fourth quarter. Tony Allen had 17 points and two blocks, Leon Powe had a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards, Eddie House scored seven points and James Posey had six assists.

The Clippers took the first quarter, 29-25 but Boston stepped on their throats in the second quarter: 34-15. Clippers point guard Sam Cassell (10 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds), who would look great in Celtics green and white, had enough and was assessed a flagrant foul on Rondo in the second, meaning he was kicked out of the game.

LA outscored Boston, 33-25 in the third quarter but it didn't really matter. The C's put it away with a 27-19 final frame.

Corey Maggette (33 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists) put up huge numbers in the loss while caveman Chris Kaman (12 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 assists, 2 steals) was a little less scary with his new haircut. Cuttino Mobley added a deceiving 16 points (on 3 of 15 shooting) while Quinton Ross put up 10.

Without Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston and the season already down the tube, the Clippers have one of the shakiest rosters in the NBA. Guys just hanging onto jobs (Dan Dickau, Brevin Knight, Aaron Williams and Josh Powell) actually get playing time.

Boston shot 53.2% as a team and held Los Angeles to 41.1%. The only reason the Clippers hung around at all and made it somewhat respectable is because they made 34 of 39 free throws while the Celts turned it over 20 times, leading to 23 points.

The Celts travel to Minnesota on Friday in a game that will lose a lot of its luster if KG doesn't play (as expected). Boston has to be weary of the Timberwolves, who have actually been playing good basketball lately and should have beat the C's two weeks ago at the Garden. Al Jefferson was held in check the first time around but he can easily post 30 points and 15+ rebounds on any given night.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Votes are In: LeBron wins Super Tuesday

When the topic of best player in the NBA comes up, for the last few seasons, I've maintained it's LeBron James. Certainly Kobe Bryant is right up there-I'd say he's the most explosive scorer-but nobody does more with less talent around him currently than James. If I'm starting a team from scratch today, LeBron is my no-brainer first choice.

Last night, the Cavs hosted the Celtics and came away with a 114-113 win. No surprise, James led the way with a game-high 33 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds, five steals, two blocks (and seven turnovers). Playing without Kevin Garnett for the fourth straight game, the C's (36-9) had plenty on offense but couldn't get enough stops at any point in the game. After a slow start to the season, the Cavs (27-20) are starting to heat up as they've won nine of their last 11 games, resembling the team that somehow, someway made the NBA Finals last June.

Ray Allen was the star for the Celtics, recording a team-high 24 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. Paul Pierce, who was battling the flu, managed 19 points. Rajon Rondo put up 20 points and seven rebounds but he also turned it over five times. Tony Allen had 14 points off the bench and Kendrick Perkins scored 12 points with five boards and four assists. Glen Davis had nine points.

Cleveland led 36-35 after one quarter, a sign that Boston's NBA-best defense was nowhere near Ohio last night. Boston outscored the Cavs by three in the second, taking a two-point lead (66-64) at the break.

LeBron's hit or miss supporting cast had a good showing as Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a double-double, 21 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Larry Hughes had 18 points and six assists and Ira Newble scored 15 (which should never happen, ever). Sharp-shooter Daniel Gibson had 11 off the bench and Damon Jones notched eight.

The Cavs used a hint of defense in the third quarter, holding Boston to 21 while scoring 28 of its own. Boston took the final quarter, 26-22 which is a little misleading as James Posey hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the final buzzer to make the four-point game a one-point win.

It's pretty hard to lose when you shoot 56.8% as a team but the Celtics did that. The Cavs are the top rebounding team in the league and it showed as they took that category (39-29) even though Drew Gooden left in the third with a groin injury.

There's no rest for the Celts as they host the Clippers tonight back at the Garden. After a couple good years, the Clippers started to revert back to bumbling form last season and this year they've been awful. Shaun Livingston and Elton Brand have missed every game. Sam Cassell will be in town (someone whose name keeps popping up in trade rumors) so the Celtics front office will have a chance to see if the alien still has anything left in the tank.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Hurtin' for Certain: 18-1

We had become too overconfident. There I said it. Amidst all the plans of a victory parade, the championship books and DVD's accompanying the perfect season (19-0), the Patriots didn't come through with a win in the most important game of the season. The New York Giants beat the New England Patriots, 17-14 in Super Bowl 42, held in Glendale, Arizona. It's too soon (and the wounds are too fresh) to fully comprehend how big an upset this was but let's just say it was one of the great upsets in NFL history and one of the most exciting (albeit not exactly well-played) Super Bowls ever.

Eli Manning (19 of 34, 255 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT) earned the MVP honors, making it two years in a row that a Manning has knocked the Pats out of the playoffs. Ugh. Aside from the fourth quarter touchdown drive, Tom Brady (29 of 48, 266 yards, 1 TD) never seemed to get into a rhythm as the Giants defensive line (5 sacks) was relentless. That was the story of the game as Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and co. dominated New England's hyped offensive line which included three Pro-Bowlers (Matt Light, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen). The older I get, the more I realize that for all it's X and O's and endless highlights from the skill positions, football games usually come down to the line play. This is rarely as obvious as last night.

The Giants opened the game with the ball and marched 63 yards in 16 plays before stalling in the red zone. Lawrence Tynes started the scoring with a 32-yard kick. Laurence Maroney took the ensuing kickoff 43 yards and eventually finished off the drive with a 1-yard burst on the opening play of the second quarter.

The fact that Las Vegas had New England as 12-point favorites coming into the game was a joke and everyone predicting a high-scoring game already looked stupid by the second quarter.

Manning's one big mistake (that cost him) was an interception by Ellis Hobbs. In truth, it was a decent pass that Giants receiver Steve Smith (5 catches, 50 yards) had go off his hands into Hobbs'. Taking over at their own 33-yard line, the Patriots went three-and-out.

Another disaster was averted by the G-Men as Ahmed Bradshaw fumbled and Patriots backup linebacker Pierre Woods fell on it. Give Bradshaw credit though as he wrestled it away from Woods and the Pats had another missed opportunity.

The Giants had another fumble that didn't hurt them. Adalius Thomas (2 sacks) hit Manning, causing him to fumble. Bradshaw hit it forward and it was recovered by Smith but you can't hit it forward. New York still retained possession.

New England was driving at the end of the half but Umenyiora crushed Brady, forcing the fumble near midfield. The game was 7-3 New England going into halftime and surprisingly it stayed that way into the fourth quarter. One of the key moments came in the third quarter when New England stalled at the Giants 31-yard line. Facing fourth-and-13, Belichick elected to go for it as Brady threw a duck out of bounds in the end zone. That missed three points came back to haunt them big time. It was an impossible call: try a long field goal with a shaky kicker (Gostowski); punt it and risk getting a touchback; or go for the fourth down against a Giants secondary that was keeping the Pats in check? New England obviously has no faith in Stevie which is reason enough to start looking for his replacement this summer.

The Giants put together a six play, 80-yard scoring drive in the fourth, the biggest play being a 45-yard catch and run by rookie tight end Kevin Boss. Receiver David Tyree (3 catches, 43 yards) caught a five-yard touchdown catch to put the Giants up 14-10.

Brady and his receivers finally woke up in the fourth quarter, capping off a 12 play, 80-yard drive with a 6-yard pass to Randy Moss (5 catches, 62 yards). Wes Welker (11 catches, 103 yards) had been unstoppable that possession, repeatedly beating the Giants underneath with beautiful catches and runs. Kevin Faulk (7 catches, 52 yards) made his requisite big plays and all looked in place for a Pats win as they were up 14-10 with 2:43 left.

The stakes couldn't have been any higher and Eli delivered in a drive that will be immortalized forever. The G-Men covered 83 yards in 12 plays in 2:07. It all would have been over if Asante Samuel had held onto a sure-fire pick but he dropped it on the sideline. Without a doubt, the play of the game was delivered by Manning and Tyree right after Samuel's drop. Eli escaped Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green and threw up a prayer that Tyree came down with while Rodney Harrison (12 tackles) did everything he could do to knock it away. It was a 32-yard gain. After Smith converted a third-and-11 by gaining 12 yards, Eli found a wide-open Plaxico Burress with the go-ahead 13-yard touchdown pass. Burress was isolated on Hobbs and with one move completely burned the overmatched cornerback.

New England got it back one more time with 36 seconds left but they didn't have a chance. Jay Alford sacked Brady and after two deep heaves to Moss went incomplete, the game was over.

There were many people to blame for the loss, the Pats O-Line, Maroney (14 carries, 36 yards), Hobbs but eventually you have to admit the Giants deserved it. Between great plays, fortuitous bounces and lack of execution on the Patriots part, New York was the better team.

Will Moss be back next year? Is there any chance the Patriots resign Samuel who will get big bucks somewhere? Will Junior Seau and possibly Tedy Bruschi retire? What will they do with the No. 7 pick in the draft? There are many questions to ponder but for now, it is crazy to think how close New England (19-0) was to something that is next to impossible. This one will sting for awhile folks.

Thank You, E-Li (clap, clap, clap clap clap)

I've been saying this for awhile, but people have been looking at me like I've got three heads when I say it.

Eli Manning, at the end of games, is as clutch as they come.

And it comes down to Eli, little Eli, with a shot to shut everybody up forever, to continue forward, unaware of how everyone else felt about him, with a chance to go down the field and be like Elway, or Aikman, or those guys.

And he does it.

And the defense, the brolic, the diesel, the studly, the massive, the nasty defense.

People are saying this is the biggest upset ever in the NFL?

I'm still watching the highlights, three hours later.

2:40-something to go, Eli needs a TD.

And he fucking does it.

And Plax catches it.

And the 4th down.

And The Throw to Tyree on 3rd and 5 to save the game.

Golly, Eli played a heckuva game, didn't he?


Keyshawn's calling Eli "The DreamKiller." That's good. I can get down with that.

How satisfying, to see Brady laid out like that, beaten and bruised?

"We knew we could do good things to this defense. We weren't intimidated at all...we've played against more physical teams."
-Amani Toomer

"We got a new trademark. 18-1 New York Giants Super Bowl Champions. Write that book."
-Antonio Pierce

(photo from Getty)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Celts beat Mavs without KG

Last night marked the first time that Boston faced one of the top teams in the West (Pheonix, San Antonio, Dallas) as the Mavericks came to the Garden for a TNT nationally-televised contest. Playing once again without Kevin Garnett, the Celts (36-8) got just enough from Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Co. to hold off the Mavs, 96-90 in a game that had the feel of a playoff game in May, especially in the second half.

The All Star reserves were named yesterday and while Pierce deservedly made it, Ray Allen did not (just like I said he shouldn't). Who knows if that was a big motivating factor but Allen came out on fire, scoring 15 in the first quarter and 22 in the first half, on the way to a team-high 26 points. Pierce also had 26 points and six rebounds.

Dirk Nowitzki (game-high 31 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks) made the stacked West all star team but teammate Josh Howard (19 points, 6 rebounds) failed to do so. Dallas (31-14) was starting a tough three game stretch in the East against Boston, Detroit and Orlando, without point guard Devin Harris, who is out for the next few weeks with an ankle injury. The always overrated Jason Terry (13 points, 6 assists) didn't impress.

Boston was up 27-20 after the first quarter but Dallas won the second quarter, 24-17 to send it to halftime tied at 44.

Rajon Rondo (14 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists) had a great all-around game, showing off his crazy athletic ability. James Posey (13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals) and Leon Powe (10 points, 4 rebounds) were big sparks off the bench.

The Celts were up one going into the fourth and it stayed tight the rest of the way. The outcome came down to a couple huge plays by some unlikely Boston heroes. First, when it was tied at 90, Rondo ripped away a offensive rebound under the basket from the 7-foot Dirk and put it off the glass for two. Then Posey had steals on back-to-back Mavericks possessions and hit all four of his free throws to ice it.

The Mavs were terrible from 3 (4 of 22) while the Celts were 5 of 11. Both teams were automatic from the line, Boston was 25 of 29, Dallas was 24 of 28. Dallas had more assists (20-13) but they also had more turnovers (13-8). It was a very well-played game between two solid NBA teams.

It was easily one of the best wins of the season for the C's as they proved that they can beat an elite team without KG. It's something that they surely don't want to make a habit of but at least they know they're pretty good by themselves. They have the next few days off and don't play again until Tuesday night in Cleveland against LeBron and the Cavs.