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Sunday Notebook: Vintage Looks, Tanking, the Cooz Speaks, On Outliers

 

Did the C’s, in beating Milwaukee, effectively ensure they’ll face the Heat and not the Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs? 

If the Heat win at New York today, they will be tied with the Bucks for 5th in the East at 45-35. The Bucks own the tie-breaker but have remaining games at home against the Hawks on Monday and at Boston on Tuesday. 

The Heat have cupcakes at Philly and at home against the Nets.

So if the Hawks—who must win out to assure themselves the 3rd seed—beat Milwaukee tomorrow night, the Heat could move into sole possession of 5th. 

Which raises the question: If the C’s prefer to face Milwaukee in the first round, should they kinda sorta tank the season finale against the Bucks, even if it might be too little, too late?

• The Herald’s Steve Bulpett raises that possibility today in discussing last night’s win:

Considering the circumstances, the C’s might have been wiser to drop this one to better assure a rematch in the first round of the playoffs.

• As for the Bucks, at least one key member of the C’s thought last night’s game had some meaning. Here’s the captain, via ESPNBoston.com:

“When you have a chance to play a team that you could possibly see in the playoffs, you don’t want to give them confidence or swagger,” said Pierce. “If you let them beat you consistently, then when you play that matchup, they think they have the advantage — it gives them confidence. Those type of things can win a series, I’ve seen that happen.”

• Speaking of Pierce, last night’s game marked the return of his missing mid-range game. As Brian Robb pointed out in a must-read post Friday, Pierce’s mid-range shooting—one of things that makes him The Truth—has been ineffective this season. Perhaps the Bucks noticed, because it seemed to Pierce they were conceding the mid-range shot in order to prevent him from getting to the rim. (Via ESPNBoston):

“Once I figured out in the first half that each time I drove, the defense would collapse on me. I started to stop short for my little pull-up jumper and I was able to knock it down.”

• We got a vintage Paul Pierce performance and a vintage defensive performance last night. After allowing more than 100 points in six straight games, the C’s finally looked something like the defensive powerhouse we saw in late 2009. Here’s a nice one-sentence summary of the game, via Paul Flannery at WEEI.com:

The Celtics held Milwaukee under 100 points, something they haven’t done against anyone in the last six games and under 40 percent field goal shooting, while only turning it over nine times.

Great Defense + Lack of Turnovers = Celtics have a great chance to beat anyone, anytime, in any arena. Of course, the former (the D) is far more likely to happen than the latter. 

• Flannery also points out (via Hoopdata) that more of KG’s baskets come off of teammate assists, a development that is probably the result of both KG’s athletic decline and the fact that KG now plays with an elite point guard. It’s a trend we noticed in December, and Flannery’s work shows it has become even more pronounced as the season has gone on:

According to the invaluable website HoopData, 82 percent of Garnett’s makes have come off assists. That’s up from 74 percent last season, 67 percent in his first season with the Celtics and 59 percent in his last season with Minnesota

• Age is the great equalizer, and no less an authority that Bob Cousy tells the Herald today that having three key players in their 30s is never ideal. The Cooz sounds as if he’s had the same sort of up-and-down reaction to the C’s play as we all have this season:

“I turned them off one game, and then I’m up out of my chair when they overachieve,” he said. “This is just part of the process. When you’ve got four guys in their 30s that you’re depending on, there are going to be problems. They play wonderfully in spurts, but they’ve got to sustain it longer than the other guy – and that’s when it becomes difficult to do.”

• The Cooz also sounds just fine with Rondo breaking his single-season assists record:

As far as I’m concerned, he’s their most valuable player this year.”

And he also enjoys a certain flare Rajon brings to the game:

The “little something” to which Cousy refers are Rondo’s sleight-of-hoop moves that are both entertaining and effective.

“I saw him do that a couple of times, and I jumped out of my chair,” said Cooz with a smile.

Rondo certainly does some amazing things on the court, but over the last 10 games or so, his on-court tricks have at times crossed over to reckless showboating. I’m talking about the combo behind-the-back/through-the-legs lefty dribble he took twice in separate games against the Knicks as he dribbled the ball back out along the baseline. Even Walt Frazier got on him for that.

Or the time (also against New York) when he zipped a one-handed lefty pass to Marquis Daniels, who was out of bounds when Rajon tossed him the ball. Or a recent alley-oop try to Kendrick Perkins (not exactly a leaper) that was intercepted.

The Celtics have a turnover problem, and they do not need their otherwise wonderful point guard to compound it with wannabe highlight reel plays that have very little chance of succeeding. I trust Rajon enough to believe these will disappear during the post-season.

• Speaking of which, let’s get back to the Bucks for a second. Brandon Jennings continues to throw down some high-quality trash talk, even as Rajon Rondo runs circles around him every time the Bucks and C’s play. Via ESPNBoston.com:

“Boston is like big bullies from school,” barked Brandon Jennings. “A lot of teams don’t like that.” 

I find it amusing that Jennings said this on the same night his coach, Scott Skiles, said this (via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel):

“Rondo has owned us in these games so far. He just goes wherever we wants to go. We have to do a much better job of getting him out of the paint.”

And people wonder why I wrote in my preview to Saturday’s game that Jennings doesn’t make me worry. 

• The notion of playing small doesn’t quite make me worry, but it does make me think. And if the C’s do face the Bucks in the playoffs, it’s something we’ll all have to think about a lot. Without Andrew Bogut, the Bucks are going to play small (with Ersan Ilyasova at center) for long stretches. That will likely take Kendrick Perkins out of the game (as it did last night) and force the C’s to use KG or even Big Baby at center. 

Doc doesn’t seem too concerned (via the Globe):

“They do play small a lot and we don’t,” Rivers said after the game. “That’s something we’re going to have to get used to.” 

• Finally (via the same Globe piece), Ray Allen became the latest Celtic to bring up another of the NBA’s past champions who emerged from a mediocre off-season to win the title. We’ve seen many, many references to the ’69 Celtics, who finished 48-34 to earn the last seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs before getting hot in the post-season and winning the title in a seven-game thriller against the hated Lakers. 

This time, Ray is channeling the ’95 Rockets:

“Believe me, I’ve thought about that. If you go back into the annals of NBA history, you will find so many different oddities and formulas for championships,’’ Allen said before the Celtics beat Milwaukee, 105-90. “Teams that won that shouldn’t have won. Teams that just dominated that should have won but didn’t win.”

I don’t want to put a damper on this line of thinking, but there’s a reason the ’95 Rockets and ’69 C’s get so much attention in this way: They are outliers, huge, huge outliers, examples of very rare seasons in the NBA in which mediocre regular-season teams won the title. In most years, the regular season has a pretty solid track record of telling you who the best teams are. There are exceptions, and the C’s have some superficial similarities to those exceptions—aging veterans, a past championship pedigree, a season-long focus on the playoffs. 

But we shouldn’t ignore the differences or  the other idiosyncrasies from those seasons. Things like:

• The fact that the ’95 Rockets made a huge in-season trade (Otis Thorpe for Clyde Drexler) that shook up their regular-season roster but made them more dangerous in the playoffs;

• The ’95 Rockets had the best player in the league in his prime;

• The ’69 Celtics had to go through three rounds of playoffs, not four;

• Jerry West suffered an injury in the middle of the  ’69 Finals;

• It took not one, but two insanely lucky shots for the C’s to win the ’69 Finals (one by Sam Jones, one by Don Nelson);

• The ’69 Lakers were quietly dysfunctional, with Wilt Chamberlain and coach Butch Van Breda Kolff nearly coming to blows at least twice during the season. The dysfunction bubbled up in Game 7 of the Finals, when Chamberlain banged his shin hard on the floor in the 4th quarter and infuriated Van Breda Kolff by taking himself out of the game as LA staged a monster comeback. When Wilt asked back in, Van Breda Kolff refused. The Lakers lost. 

I’m not saying the outliers are irrelevant or that they don’t apply at all to this Boston season. But it’s dangerous to simplify the narrative of how those teams won the title.

  • jason

    why not play small and fast when the 3rd/4th quarter breakdowns happen? go Rondo, Ray, TA, Nate & Sheldon. I feel like they did something like this against the Nuggets last time and looked great.

  • DRJ1

    I just finished asking that exact same tanking question elsewhere :)

  • Perry

    I have to laugh at Brandon Jennings. The Celtics bullies? If that were only true. Toughness has been missing from this team all season long. They’re at the bottom of the league in rebounding, which tells the whole story. In fact I think if the Bucks are to have any chance in the playoffs they’ll have to scrap like bullies and play like street fighters — like their coach when he played.

    - I’m really getting tried of this insane talk about throwing games for seeding. The whole point of procuring the 3 seed is avoid Cleveland in the 2nd round.

    - That 82 percent of made baskets off assists for Kevin would be higher if he hadn’t blown so many chances at the rim.

    - Flannery is spot on. When the final score ends in the high 80′s/low 90′s it bodes well for the Celtics coming out on top.

    - Maybe Pierce is about to embark on that spurt Cooz talked about. If the Celts can get 2 of the Big 3 to perform at a high level it should be an interesting post season.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @Perry: What if Boston is out of the running for the 3rd seed in the season finale?

  • Dan

    I really don’t understand the tanking argument. As far as I’m concerned, the C’s either with it all or don’t. If they have what it takes to win it, the Heat will be no more of a problem than the Bucks. And conversely, if the Heat are going to be a problem for the C’s, then they weren’t going to win it anyways.

  • Dan

    In fact, I’d MUCH rather they get knocked out by the Heat in round 1 than by the Cavs/Magic in round 2. A first round upset might be the kick in the ass the franchise needs to take action on rebuilding the team.

  • DeVelaine

    We’re going to need a perfect storm in the playoffs to ensure that getting the 3rd or 4th seed doesn’t matter. We’re avoiding the Hawks, so that gives us a little more chances, but seriously… Unless these guys start channeling the ’69 C’s or ’95 Rockets next weekend, getting out of the second round isn’t likely to happen.

  • Perry

    @Zach

    Interesting because if the Heat win tonight the 5 spot is deadlocked record wise, but the Bucks still hold the tie breaker.

    Tomorrow night I could give you a better answer.

    If the Bucks, on their home floor, beat Atlanta and the Heat beat Philly it’s the equivalent of a playoff game to the Bucks on Wednesday night since Miami will host NJ. Conversely, if the Heat were to drop two on the road, and the Bucks win tomorrow night then they would have the 5 seed locked up going into Boston.

    But let’s say the Heat take care of business, and the Bucks win tomorrow. That leaves us with a real dilemma because a Buck win means we’re back in the 3 spot heading into Chic-town. Doc would have no choice but to approach the last two games as a playoff games. I don’t want to hear that rest, not seeding is the prime directive. That’s a cop out. Atlanta would no doubt beat Cleveland who will have nothing to play for.

    So to answer you’re question. If the Bucks are playing for the 5 seed, and we are locked into the 4 spot it’s essentially a glorified scrimmage. You rest the starters, dress Scal, and keep your fingers crossed that no injuries occur.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    if any team could ever be an outlier….its this one.

    i’d prefer the 4 seed regardless of opponent. i think the Cs match up better with the the cavs than the magic.

  • junebaby

    the celtics are very lucky(and grateful) that they won’t face atlanta unless both advance to the ecf’s. maybe n. robinson would make a difference, but i don’t think so! the celtics has almost no chance of making it that far, and it’s a stretch for atlanta also. i believe the hawks will make the finals in 2011, and the celtics will blow up their roster after this season is over.

  • Perry

    Opps!

    D. Wade headed to the lockeroom after falling on his wrist.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    I just want to see the tough, gritty, physical, all up in your space, insane pressure on the ball, momma said to knock you out Cs. I want to see games in the 80s, better yet 70s, better yet 60s. I want to see guys jacking up jumpers because they have enough bruises & are afraid to come in the lane. I want to see grumpy, messy, hard nosed DEFENSE. I want to see the refs patting the tops of their heads & the other team getting T’d up frustrated from all the pounding & pummeling they are taking with each possession. I totally agree with Doc on 1 thing. It’s all about the DEFENSE.

  • http://politicaldeathmatch.org Harrison Bergeron

    No. No tanking. You wanna rest the starters, OK fine, but whoever DOES play better be playing their butts off.

    And, considering the state of the team right now, I’d value trying to win games and be playing well going into the playoffs over resting people up. They’re as healthy as they’re gonna get at this point, basically.

  • Jay P

    I agree with Harrison.

    Honestly, seeding is not that important, they need to play hard and get some momentum going into the play off. A few confidence building wins can go a long way.

    Whether it’s Miami or Milwaukee in the first round, I don’t really care. Bottom line, if they play the way their capable, it just doesn’t matter who their playing.

    That goes to Orlando, Cleveland, anyone. They can beat anyone, seeding doesn’t matter.

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