Halftime Thoughts

June 12, 2008

There’s no time for prissy prose, so it’s block thoughts time:

 

  • I can’t possibly stress the importance of changing the pick-and-roll defense.  The Celtics continue to trap high and allow Kobe to pass the ball off to the his versatile big men, who aren’t missing.  Let’s make Kobe be the ball hog he truly wants to be, and see if it can get us back in the game, or at the very least give us something to work off of for game 5.
  • Sam Cassell need not play ever again.  Unfortunately, I fear that Doc left Eddie House sitting on the bench so long his shot has gone lame.  Hopefully I’m wrong.
  • Leave KG in the rest of the game.  Who cares if he picks up another foul?  Seriously, just as Van Gundy said, you needed to leave Garnett in the game during that last minute of the first half in order to not lose momentum and blow the comeback–as Jordan Farmar’s running bank three just accomplished.
  • KG must get the ball where he wants it and go to the basket.  Hard.  At least 5 times in the first 6 minutes of the third quarter.  At least establish some attitude.
  • The game is probably over, but just as L.A. did in the fourth quarter of game 2, it’s time for the Celtics to wake up.   
  • Oh, and stop turning the damn ball over every two possessions.
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From Euphoria to Phew

June 9, 2008

There might be fewer than five games left in the season for the Lakers after this man (apparently/hopefully) has learned to harness his team’s tremendous potential.

For the first three quarters of game 2 on Sunday night, basketball perfection had been acheived. The commitment to team defense, fearsome rebounding, crisp ball movement, and intelligent play that the Celtics exhibited throughout the first three quarters of the season, had returned to the Garden. Thoughts of winning it all well before game 6 or 7 in Boston sometime next week had crept into the minds of fans and players alike–and then the Lakers, themselves a snoozing giant, delivered the best team in the NBA a wake-up call.

Better yet, a slap to the face.

The Lakers put up an incredible 41 fourth-quarter points on the league’s best defense. And Kobe Bryant, who can’t even comprehend the meaning of the word “no,” led the way. The petulant posterboy displayed everything he brings to the table. Streaky shooting, a dominant personality (as seen in showing up teammates and referees–although the officials deserved it), and an impact on the game felt even when up 22 points with 12 measly minutes remaining.

But before we get to the awakening of KB24 and what it means for the (hopefully) now wide-awake Parquet Posse, let’s address the initial 3600 seconds of game 2.

Doc Rivers was nearly spotless. He’s learned how to coach a team with no legitimate weakness, to the point where watching his substitutions and timeouts no longer leads to potential aneurysms. Sam Cassell needs not step on the court, as a perfectly acceptable replacement for the alien warrior waits not sitting on the bench but leading the reserve Celtics a la Cedric Maxwell: Eddie House, the very man Cassell has replaced in the rotation. Otherwise, Doc outcoached Phil Jackson. Think about that.

Leon Powe played meaningful minutes. And dominated. The national media demonstrated its disbelief via the words of Mike Breen, ABC announcer, who called The Show’s performance the game of his life. Not so.

Leon is a talented, but undersized power forward. Given a couple more inches he would have found himself selected in the lottery two years ago. Instead, fortune fell upon the Celtics, who managed to acquire the rebounding, scoring, and charge-taking inspiration for meager portions.

Paul Pierce carried the offense in the first half and late when necessary. Kevin Garnett made up for a slow shooting start by picking up the slack that a less-than-stellar night from Kendrick Perkins on the boards required. Ray Allen gave Kobe fits early on and fired away from deep, demonstrating his deft touch from the corner three. Put simply, the Boston Three Party did what it should do.

Rajon Rondo lived up to expectations. Lofty expectations, the kind the Green Giant, Tommy Heinsohn, placed upon him as a rookie. Maybe Rajon hasn’t reached Cousy comparisons just yet, but an 8:1 assist to turnover ratio ain’t bad. Add 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block to his 16 assists and 4 points and you’ve got yourself the true point guard this year’s version of Gang Green requires.

P.J. Brown once again stepped up off the bench for Perk, and James Posey continued his solid season of defense, rebounding, and lethal long-range daggers.

In short, the Celtics were 75% perfect.

Now, on to the other 25%.

The Celtics doubtlessly lost their focus after 36 minutes of beautiful Boston basketball. The Lakers, on the other hand, finally decided to show up. L.A. appeared listless for most of the game, with only an efficient first half from Pau Gasol and a late burst from Kobe and friends in the fourth to contradict the rest of their night’s work. The Lake Show looked like a collection of talent, rather than a team, and a collection that hadn’t yet learned to mesh against a squadron willing to take a charge or play chest-to-chest defense.

But, after a phenomenal fourth quarter from the Lakers, each city can take solace in what it saw from the two best teams in basketball.

The Lakers are not done. It’s always nice to know you’re not D.O.A. when heading home for your season’s final three games in front of season ticket holders.

Conversely, remembering that your opponent is worthy never hurts before flying coast to coast for three games at the Staples Center.

So, it’s now up to each team to prove which part of Sunday night’s game was the anomaly. The majority of the game, or the freak final period?

Down two games to none against the best team the NBA has to offer, Phil Jackson better convince his team that the 7 mediocre quarters his squad put forth in Boston were the outliers, otherwise Red Auerbach will remain alone above the man who made Michael MJ.


The Arrival of Captain Clutch

June 6, 2008

After last night Celtic faithful have something to proud of, regardless of the ultimate result of the NBA Finals.

As Tony Allen carried Celtics captain Paul Pierce off the court, with help from the Human Victory Cigar, Brian Scalabrine, the season was over.  There would be no Green 17.  The NBA Finals would be over within five games.  The ratings bonanza that the NBA had hoped for would pop off like Pierce’s knee had just done after a collision with teammate Kendrick Perkins, and just as bottles would do for the Los Angeles Lakers within a 10 days. 

It was certain.  Until Pierce pulled out his best Willis Reed impression, the one every athlete dreams about in the dark, in time to lead his team to an essential game one victory

Pierce’s performance made his Reed-like comeback even more impressive.  And unlike the Knick legend, who scored only 4 points in his famous game 7 effort, Pierce led the offense in the second half with 11 points after hurting his knee, including back-to-back triples that propelled the Green ahead for good.  Pierce’s return was more than a mere morale boost.

The media have focused on Kevin Garnett primarily as the fuel that fires the Celtic engine, but they have missed with their analysis.  Garnett is the MVP, the man who posts the best numbers and leads the defense, but without Paul Pierce, this team has no shot. 

In an attempt to understand Pierce’s place on his 79-win (and counting) squad you must look first at Boston’s roster.  No other player packs the offensive versatility of Pierce.  Tommy Heinsohn has called Pierce the best offensive player in the history of the franchise–and he’s very nearly seen them all. 

The Truth’s diverse attack and complete game are irreplaceable.  There is literally no other player in the entire world of basketball quite like him.  There are better players, many of them, but none with the ability to play both the 2 and the 3 for full seasons at a time (Pierce was a gunslinging shooting guard during the days of Antoine Walker and Jim O’Brien, but seamlessly shifted to the small forward position with the arrival of Ray Allen), and the rebounding skill to effectively play the 4 at times.

If you look at the PER leaders for each position, Pierce’s talents become more obvious.  He finished with the league’s fourth best Player Efficiency Rating from the small forward spot, a great metric, but one that even fails to accurately measure the Inglewood native’s best defensive season yet.  Essentially, other than LeBron James, Paul Pierce is the best swingman in the entire league.  The problem is there are many more talented scoring and combo guards and big men than most realize, which means that Pierce remains outside the top 15 active players, but is the most irreplaceable player on the Celtic roster.

When Kevin Garnett went down with an abdominal strain earlier this season, the team managed a 7-2 record with the insertion of Leon Powe and Brian Scalabrine into The Big Ticket’s slot.  With Paul Pierce out, James Posey and the still-hobbled Tony Allen will not be able to carry the distinct offensive load that Pierce brings to the table, and the Celtics will wither against their formidable opponents, the Los Angeles Lakers.

He was nearly stabbed to death once, he played through mediocrity and carried his team the way Kobe chose to do prior to the emergence of Andrew Bynum and the fleecing of Chris Wallace begat Pau Gasol, and he’s battled imaturity, sometimes frustratingly so under the spotlight of the playoffs. 

But as last night proved, the time has come to recognize the evolution of Boston’s captain, and give him a new name.

The Truth is now Captain Clutch.


Could Melo Finally Land in Detroit?

June 3, 2008

Could it be time for these two to switch unis?

With the announcement that the Detroit Pistons have cut ties with head coach Flip Saunders, despite an impressive season that included the league’s second best record and a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the team that finished first, it appears change is in the air at Auburn Hills.

According to Pistons president Joe Dumars, “Everybody is in play.”–a strange proclamation considering any smart exec knows that “Everybody is in play” every single day of the year.  If you can get better, do it.  So, a statement like the one Dumars made Tuesday about imminent change calls out for a major move or two.

Rasheed Wallace has one year remaining on his deal with Detroit, and fans appear to have tired of his act.  Poor performance, wandering from the basket, postgame tirades, and myriad technical fouls have soured the lovefest between ‘Sheed and some of the toughest fans in sports.

At the same time, the one who got away in favor of Darko Milicic (who, by the by, eventually begat Rodney Stuckey), Carmelo Anthony, finds himself embroiled amongst controversy out in Denver. 

After a speedy first-round exit despite a talented bunch and solid numbers from the Anti-Snitch Campaign Manager, the Nuggets may also be ready to hit the red button.

Anthony hurt his cause by apparently driving drunk rather than using some of his spare wads of century notes lying around to hire a driver for a night of liver abuse in April.  With the Nuggets winning 50 games this past season but somehow only finishing with the 8th seed in the ultra-competitive West, Denver could be ready to send its 24-year-old franchise pillar on his way.

Now here comes the interesting part: could these two teams find a way to solve their problems and build a deal around the two aforementioned stars?

Given that Denver already sports an on-the-ball scorer in Allen Iverson, is Carmelo Anthony redundant?  Since Detroit features a backcourt that has no equal in the entire Association, can it move its best frontcourt scorer for another wing type?

Should both front offices feel comfortable enough to answer the previous two questions affirmatively, we might have a match made in purgatory.

The deal is rather simple at the moment, but could be enlarged to include draft picks or other future considerations.

The crux of the trade: Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince take their services to the Mile High City and Carmelo Anthony and Nene Hilario head to The Palace (along with Steven Hunter for cap purposes).

This would leave each team with a different, but perhaps better, roster.

First, Detroit.  The Pistons would boast a fantastic nine-man rotation that would include Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Maxiell, Antonio McDyess, Rodney Stuckey, Nene Hilario, Amir Johnson, and Arron Afflalo.

It’s hard to foresee a scenario in which a team comprised of such a perfect blend of scoring, defense, veterans, youth, leadership, and experience doesn’t make it back to the deeper rounds of the Eastern Conference Playoffs in each of the next several years.  Furthermore, with the growth of Rodney Stuckey, the team could trade either Rip Hamilton or Chauncey Billups in the right move over the next couple seasons should a frontcourt superstar become available.  Detroit would both get younger and potentially better at the same time.  At the very least, the Pistons would guarantee themselves a shot in the Least Coast by pairing Stuckey with Melo.

Out in the Rockies, there are benefits as well.

While it may never be a good idea to trade a player for the simple purpose of getting rid of the guy, especially when he’s a building block at a tender age, this trade might make such a dish more palatable.

Rasheed Wallace would complement Marcus Camby nicely, providing a dominant defensive front court, and adding a big man with extensive shooting range to play off of A.I.  Also, Tayshaun Prince would fit well with the rest of the roster, given his ball handling strengths and shooting ability from the corners, as well as phenomenal defense.  The trade would also provide better cap flexibility for Denver, one of the most “capped-out” teams in the NBA. 

While Wallace’s deal could expire at season’s end, Prince also will be around for three more years at a reasonable $8.7 million per year.  Given that Allen Iverson might bolt at season’s end (or not), the Nuggets could use this as one last run at a championship before rebuilding.  In the West if you’re not dominant, you’re nothing.  This would be one last shot at a title before blowing things up.

The Nuggets’ 2008-2009 rotation could feature Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Allen Iverson, J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza, Kenyon Martin, Tuarean Green, and their first-round pick this summer (#20, projected to be Robin Lopez by ESPN’s Chad Ford).  Per usual, a catch-and-shoot point guard would remain a vital summer addition.

So, while this post is pure prophecy right now, it’s reasonable conjecture, and with comments about anyone being in play from Joe Dumars, Melo could finally land in Michigan, five years later than we might have thought.


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.”