Faith Renewed: Game 5 Features Deliverance of Prodigal Son

May 29, 2008

On Wednesday night the Jumbotron wasn’t necessary.

In a throwback to an age when the crowd knew how to spur its hometown team on to victory without graphic instructions, Wednesday night’s game five victory over the Pistons demonstrated what it truly means to enter the Garden.

A frantic energy pulsed in 360 degrees, from the parquet to the rafters, through 16 World Championship banners and into and out of the mass of green and white that furiously beat its vocal chords for the right to guarantee at least one more home game.

And the prodigal son, he who had derailed this seemingly invincible cruise ship like an Atlantic glacier, turned back the clock. 

There is no sound quite like the collective anticipatory half-breath that comes a short second before the sound of leather stroking nylon.  When the crowd at TD Banknorth Garden places itself in the game, officially as part of the rhythm of the contest, giving the Green an unfair advantage, nothing raises decibals quite like a profound dagger from Ray Allen. 

And after a postseason of futility, he once again failed, this time to play like the scared, ineffective legend on his last legs that we have grown accustomed to, choosing instead to rise to the occassion and nail down Detroit’s coffin with precision accuracy.

Allen’s 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting from the field, including 5-6 from the ABA line and 6-6 from the philanthroper’s half-circle, led the way for Boston.  While he was neither the leading scorer for the Celtics (that was Kevin Garnett with 33 points) or the best all-around player (that was Kendrick Perkins, the creator of a stat sheet filled to the brim with 18 points, 16 boards, 2 blocks and 2 steals), he was the engine that fueled the return of Celtic Basketball. 

Quick passes and deadly shooting mixed with a defensive unit moving as one for the better part of 48 minutes allowed the casual fan to see what all the hoopla was about after 66 regular season wins: Team.

While Jesus set the Garden on fire, Mr. Shuttlesworth did not do so alone.

Allen received aid from another typically strong performance by Paul Pierce, who continues to feel out each game and his teammates’s psyche’s on a given night in order to provide whatever spark proves necessary to burn his opponents.  Pierce’s strong defense shut down Tayshaun Prince, and he added an efficient 16, 5, and 6 in 44 minutes.  Rajon Rondo also joined in, shooting poorly but dominating every other phase of the game with 6 rebounds, 13 assists, 4 steals, and a blocked shot.

Yeah, that happened.

In an atypical moment, Doc Rivers also lived up to the billing that once earned him NBA Coach of the Year honors with an undermanned Orlando Magic squad.

Eschewing his penchant for playing anyone with a Celtic jersey covering his back, be it six big men for 30 seconds each or perhaps the 47-year-old wearing a Robert Parish jersey in the fifth row, Rivers rode his stallions hard, exactly at the right times.  No starter played less than 39 minutes, and Rajon Rondo, whom Doc has jerked around throughout the playoffs, remained on the court for all but two brief 60-second sessions.

Recognizing that the artist formerly known as Sam Cassell and the handleless Eddie House can’t handle the intense pressure supplied by Lindsey Hunter at the point, Doc allowed his energetic youngster to steer the ship nearly the entire game, minimizing a Piston strength and converting it into a Boston opporunity. 

While Leon Powe proved during the regular season that he deserves to play postseason minutes, shrinking the rotation and choosing PJ Brown was an understandable choice by Rivers, one that gave the Celtics rhythm.  The bench combined to play less than 32 minutes, a number that will surely need to climb in Detroit on Friday night, but a correct sum given game five’s working mathematics.

Finally, choosing to foul in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter when the Pistons were down by only three points and had possession was genius.  Demonstrating faith in your own shooters over the opponents’ can be risky, but when you have three potential Hall-of-Famers ready to avoid rim shots like a seasoned drummer and a cast of characters with shooting percentages that would make any shooting coach jealous, you’re on the right track.

Game five elated.  It scared.  It highlighted flaws and featured the game of his life from one young beast

But above all, it renewed the Garden’s faith in the strength of a fading star.


I’m Back…

May 28, 2008

I’ve been in New York City for the long weekend, so I haven’t been able to keep things fresh here over at The Sports Beat.  Well, I’m back now, so let’s quickly get some words out there on the interweb machine.

  • Brent Barry was fouled.  He also travelled after the fact.  So, NBA refs (hey, Joey Crawford, you wanna fight?), you’re job is not to morally decide who deserves a call, it’s to enforce the rules.  Please start doing that.  That also involves noticing if balls touch the rim or not.
  • Memo to Terry Francona: Mike Timlin is a shell of his former self.  With the bullpen questionable, Justin Masterson will play a pivotal role down the stretch and (hopefully) in the playoffs.
  • The Rays are still doing it big.
  • Hopefully Daisuke Matsuzaka isn’t hurt too badly, but if he’s out for a couple weeks the Sox are in fine position to cope with Bartolo Colon on the scene and Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson biding their time in the minors.
  • Ray Allen is killing the Celtics.  His defense is porous and his offense has been abysmal.  More to come on this later.

The Party’s Over

May 19, 2008

 

 

It’s a simple name, really.  But just to be sure, I pronounced it for her, the go-between.  It seemed sort of silly to have someone relay pronunciation to the pronouncer, but at least it had worked well thus far.  I suppose a few wrong names in 900 or so isn’t so bad.

 

But it was bad.  S-I-M-E-S.  Following the rules of English, as shown in the word “times,” one should have no problem with my name.  However, to be fair, the rules of English are rather esoteric.

 

No matter, I’ve never been much of a fan of ornate displays, so it would be fitting that the dissenter misses out on his 1.5 seconds of fame.

 

But the shocking part comes later.

 

“The girls never came”—that’s nothing new, but the guys not showing was.  Many had already left, and others went to better options (a reasonable choice for those still hoping to hound one last night before “hooking up” becomes “dating” becomes a “relationship” becomes “marriage” becomes “divorce”).  A lame party’s one thing, but saying good-bye to people who truly mean something to you is different.  A $5 bottle of champagne doesn’t quite wash down the lump in your throat that comes with the finality of one last hug.  Or even two.

 

The next day, literally less than 24 hours after the entrance into this MTV show that “adults” like to threaten us young apathetics with, they cut us off.  My student ID no longer works, and the $10 I had left on my card now rests wedged in like a large man in Japan’s public transportation system, amidst millions of other thieved dollars.

 

Thanks, BU.  You can count that as my part of the “class gift.”


Fire Doc Now!

May 16, 2008

Has a coach ever been fired during the postseason?  I’m going to guess no, so the Celtics should probably make history before game 7.

In a classic example of Doc Rivers’ in-game maneuvering, the Celtics, down by 3 points with a foul to give in the last 20+ seconds of game 6 in Cleveland, allowed the Cavs to waste almost 10 seconds before they finally sent Joe Smith to the line. 

On the initial inbounds pass, LeBron James caught the basketball on the baseline corner, and was NOT fouled.  In fact, he passed the ball to Wally Sczcerbiak, who was then fouled after some delay on the Boston side of the court.  On the ensuing inbounds play (after great Celtic defense forced the Cavs to utilize their final timeout) Joe Smith was sent to the line with about 14 seconds left to play. 

After watching both Smith’s free throws reach nylon, the Celtics set up what should have been a quick three from Eddie House or Ray Allen (who inbounded the ball).  Instead, Doc Rivers set up a “play” that involved misdirection, miscommunication, and mishap.  Errant attempts at “offense” led to the game quickly ending in favor of the undermanned, severely less talented Cavaliers.

Rivers also displayed his tremendous coaching acumen throughout the rest of the night.

First, he left in Glen “Big Baby” Davis despite several misses due to the length of the Cleveland big men occupying air space above the big Boston Cream.  The infinitely longer P.J. Brown sat.  Leon Powe also sat; Powe is undersized, but has shown a knack for finishing around the basket and drawing contact.  Oh, and he’s better than Big Baby. 

Next, Rivers finally relented and played Eddie House over the rapidly decaying Sam Cassell, and the gunner responded with 8 points in 18 minutes–which is about 8 more points than Cassell would have produced. 

Finally, once again, Rivers left Ray Allen in to log a whopping 42 minutes of burn despite ageing ankles, poor production (9 points on 3 of 8 shooting) and pathetic defense on athletic marvels such as Sasha Pavlovic and Wally Sczcerbiak.

Doc has done a poor job in the postseason, plain and simple.  Winning 66 games in the regular season might be the only way his team escapes the second round, merely because posting the league’s best record means 4 home games in a 7 game series rather than 3.  Regardless of how game 7 plays out, it appears that this team doesn’t have what it takes to win it all; or rather, Doc Rivers doesn’t have what it takes.  The roster is perfectly capable of maintaining much more than a basic quorum of wins against any team history can offer, but with a lack of direction from the bench, even a powerhouse can fail to live up to expectations (hello, President Bush). 

Harping on Rivers’ negatives may be beating a dead horse at this point, but leading Doc out to pasture might be the only way the Celtics hang Green 17 before its current crop withers in the summer heat.


Big Second Half Saves Season

May 14, 2008

You never thought this would be a pretty picture, did you?

In rapid fire, here are my observations from game 5 at the Garden:

  • Doc continues to run Sam Cassell out there despite his failure to mesh or contribute on either end of the court.  Eddie House inexplicably sits when the offense falters due to poor spacing and slow ball movement; Eddie’s handle is mediocre, thus he shoots quickly or passes quicker–he’s a walking antidote to Boston’s problems.
  • Doc’s substitutions in the second half were better than they have been since the regular season.  While it’s strange that he went to Big Baby Davis in the second half after not playing him at all in the first two quarters, the portly pivot played the role of sparkplug and Rivers kept his vertically challenged big man in the game until just the right moment.
  • The Celtics executed poorly inbounding the ball and getting the ball over half during the waning moments of the fourth quarter; should they continue to falter in key situations at such remedial tasks they will not advance past the Pistons or whatever beast comes out of the Western Conference, should they be lucky enough to escape with a win either Friday or Sunday against LeBrontorage.
  • Paul Pierce finally showed up offensively, pacing his squad with 29 points.  Pierce played great most of the night, using his strength and length to shoot over Delonte West in several different matchups, consistently getting good looks from inside the painted rectangle.
  • Ray Allen was mostly outplayed by Wally Sczcerbiak, ironically the very many he was traded for along with Delonte West, this summer.
  • Rajon Rondo was a revelation, dominating the game.  Doc recognized his youthful point man’s play and left him in the entire third and fourth quarters, thankfully.  Rondo, along with Kevin Garnett, carried the Celtics with clutch shooting, preventing the long droughts that have plagued the Green.
  • KG owned the glass with 16 boards and did his typical efficiency thing on the offensive end with 26 points and 4 assists.
  • The passing that made Boston so overwhelming in the regular season returned in the final 24 minutes, powering the Parquet Posse to a 21 point swing from down 14 in the first half to a 96-89 victory.
  • Rajon Rondo made a nice play after the opposing big man buzzed on a pick-and-roll with KG.  Instead of dribbling around the buzzing defender, as the Celtics have done 95% of the time this series, Rondo reversed his pivot foot and broke through the teeth of the defense to create space, which in turn helped open up future moves for the Kentucky product. 
  • Rondo also hit two clutch threes that energized the Garden and started the Celtic comback.  When he consistently becomes a threat to make open shots and pull up off the dribble he’ll become an All Star.  Rondo’s ETA at the halfway fame game is 2011.

An Innings Jump Update

May 8, 2008

 

For those of you who conspire to the Pitch and Innings Counts Are Hogwash Theory, here’s a quick update on Cleveland Indians aces Fausto Carmona and C.C. Sabathia.

Last season, in the process of finishing with the best record in baseball and nearly reaching the World Series, LeBron’s second favorite team rode its two best starters hard.  And I mean hard.

Sabathia, on his way to winning the Cy Young over stiff competition, threw 48.1 more innings than the previous year, and 31 innings more than his career high, set five seasons prior.  In fact, Sabathia hadn’t topped 200 since his career-high 210 innings in 2002.  And we’re talking pre-postseason numbers here.  Forget the 15.1 gassed innings he threw to the tune of an 8.80 ERA against the best the AL East had to offer in the playoffs.

His co-ace and failed closer turned dominant starter, Fausto Carmona, made Sabathia’s incredible 48.1 inch vertical leap seem routine, even for a man with a listed weight of 290 pounds.

Carmona unleashed enough darting sinkers and killer off-speed deliveries in 2007 to post a sexy 3.06 ERA in 215 Major League innings at a mere 23 years of age.  Factor in additional postseason pitches and the young Dominican becomes a prime candidate for regression and injury in 2008 and beyond.  Before his initial callup last season Carmona’s career had followed a sound progression.  From 2003-2005, Fausto’s innings climbed by an average of slightly under 10 per year, up to 173.2 the season before he was summoned to help the big club.  Unfortunately, here’s where the planned faltered.  Had Carmona entered the starting rotation and thrown 185-190 innings in 2006, he could have reasonably thrown the 215 he unfurled at unfortunate hitters in 2007.  But, when the bullpen self-destructed two years ago, Carmona was thrust into the roll of closer, which set back his eventual rise to acedom and helped David Ortiz add to his ever-growing mystique.

The result was a tally of only 102.1 innings in 2006, meaning last year Carmona leapt an astounding 112.2 frames from his previous season, and 41.1 over his career high.  Again, none of this even takes into consideration the tremendous stress of pitching in October–when he pitched allowed 13 hits, 12 walks, and 12 earned runs in notching only 45 outs.

Consequently, both cornerstones of the Indians’ title chances are struggling. 

Sabathia’s issues can’t be ignored, and might cost him heaps of millions of dollars in free agency this winter.  The lefty of lofty largesse has a 7.51 ERA, a 1.77 WHIP, and 37 strikeouts versus 18 bases on balls in 38.1 innings.  Not quite the guy with a 5.65 K/BB ratio the year before.

Carmona’s struggles are less easily picked up by the untrained eye.  In 39.2 innings he’s permitted 40 hits and 31 walks, compared with only 15 punchouts.  Last year he notched a 2.25 K/BB ratio to go with his dominant 3.28 ground ball to fly ball ratio.  This year he’s still forcing hitters to pound the ball into the ground, with an exceptional 3.71 rating, but his solid 2.95 ERA hinders more on luck than his performance.  Carmona has given up only one homerun in 2008, an absurdly low total given an opponents batting average of .276.  When lady luck leaves Carmona, his low ERA will do the same.  An opponents on-base percentage of .408 does not bode well.

 

 

Likely comeback player of the year Cliff Lee could be the next to feel the wrath of an overwhelming innings leap on the shores of Lake Eerie.

There’s always a chance that Carmona convinces his lady to stay with him for the remainder of the year, or that Sabathia “makes adjustments” and regains his 2007 form, but most likely we’re looking at a lost season for the Indians’ two best starters, and probably the team, which sits at two games under .500 in early May.  All this after World Series prognostications from many during Spring Training.  Fortunately for Cleveland, Cliff Lee has returned to Lake-side, and with him brought his rotationmates some relief, but after throwing only 145.1 three-out-sessions of his own last season, the cycle in Cleveland might just be turning itself over.


Halting Global Warming: A Task for The Next Greatest Generation

May 7, 2008

Please stick with this article till the end on the farce that is ethanol production as a green energy form; skim if you must, but make sure you get the gist of it.  There’s a whole lot more important things going on these days than the playoffs.

Once you’ve read the first article, check out a possible solution to the greatest issue to face the world since WWII.