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Celtics-Spurs: Finally Some Clarity

 

I hope nobody missed this one.

It was another spectacular game against San Antonio. Because it’s 5:00 a.m. EST as I type this, let’s go directly to the lead story, which is:

You can write off the last month of poor games. They portend nothing.

Did the C’s mail in games throughout March? Without a doubt.

But with a couple of days rest (similar to what they’ll get between playoff games) and the big stage of a nationally-televised game (also similar to the playoffs), against one of the best teams in the league (playoffs), Boston came out with focus and maintained it to the final buzzer.

If anything’s been missing in this March maddeningness, it’s been that kind of intensity.

Ultimately, shots will fall, or they won’t. Matchups will be favorable, or they won’t. Players will be hurt, or they won’t. But on a team with such a high basketball IQ, applying the kind of effort we saw last night will keep the Celtics in games against any team in the league.

***

So, let’s get the touch of grey out of the way and then move onto a whole batch of happy. Nenad Krstic may have played his last game as a Celtic. Or maybe he hasn’t. He’s due for an MRI in Boston on Saturday and we’ll know more then. Let’s play worst case scenario. I’ve seen a few comments floating around suggesting Boston wouldn’t miss Krstic because his game was subpar in one way or another but imperfect though Krstic may be, without him Boston is doubling down on the health of Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, who have played one total game in the last two months.

We’re at the point where it’s entirely possible for Boston to enter a June game where Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett and Troy Murphy are the only healthy bigs. No way is that beating the Lakers.

***

Rajon Rondo was spectacular tonight, finishing with 22 points, 14 assists, 0 turnovers, 6 made jumpers from 14 feet and out, and complete control of the game-changing third quarter where Boston outscored the Spurs by 7.

Plus, did you see the way he went at Tony Parker, who he appears to despise? It was almost feral. (Remember, Parker’s the one who made past comments about how Rondo’s reputation is built not on his skills, but by standing on the shoulders of his Hall Of Fame teammates. Pot, kettle, black?)

There’s always the danger RR can take himself out of a game when he gets too jacked against the other elite PGs in the league, but I’ll take that risk every night if he’s going to be this engaged. And if he’s going to finish at the basket like this:

***

The flow of the game was beautiful. It reminded me of a couple of high-powered 1980s offenses in the way both teams moved the ball in the halfcourt and pushed it in transition. It was high scoring early, sure. But it wasn’t because the defenses were poor. And even with the D tightening up in the second half, the two teams combined for 50 assists. That’s a pretty solid indication you saw an entertaining basketball game.

***

As Hayes noted earlier, Parker got into the paint any time he wanted. Rondo was working hard on him but Boston’s help defenders were initially reluctant to leave their men, which gave Parker a seam to the basket. Layups and open jumpers ensued. It took Boston’s bigs showing harder and cutting off the paint in the second half before Parker was finally neutralized.

***

Paul Pierce is on a roll the last couple games. He was all over the court, pushing up against a triple-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists, including a a key offensive rebound and put-back, and a great balance between perimeter jumpers and forays into the paint.

***

Still struggling: Ray Allen. He just can’t get going. Boston ran a bunch of sets designed to get him open but San Antonio did a great job of either denying him the ball off a screen or curl or getting on top of him the moment he caught it. The result? Another 8 misses in 11 tries. He was working hard though. A breakout seems imminent if he can get some open looks.

***

Davis can’t guard Duncan. Without that mismatch, Boston might have blown San Antonio out in the fourth quarter. But Duncan either backed Davis down and scored or caught the ball in motion and shot over top of him. It’s kind of pick your poison on that one: either double Duncan and leave guys open on the perimeter or stay home on them and let him go one-on-one with Baby. A little Krstic would have been nice down the stretch.

***

The Spurs took 29 threes (league average: 18, Spurs average: 21) and only hit 9 of them. You may have heard Gregg Popovich griping about that during the TNT broadcast. All those misses helped the C’s get out in transition.

***

J.O. is back. His return was less eventful for what happened on the court (11 minutes, 5 points, 1 rebound) and more for the fact that he looks svelte and is moving well, and may actually resemble the player Boston thought they were getting last fall. It’s actually a good situation for him. If Boston goes onto win the title this spring, it’ll almost certainly require his contributions. So nobody would be able to deny that he earned the ring.

That’s it for now. More later today, and the Hawks await a SEGABABA-ing C’s team later tonight.

  • http://twitter.com/michaeljavid @michaeljavid

    There was one particular tip-out from J.O. where I actually breathed a sigh of relief. Someone on OUR side making big plays for offensive rebounds. More of that please!

    • kricky

      AMEN!

  • jpbl1976

    My head is still spinning from the speed of the about-face that Bill Simmons did after this game… his podcast with Sean Grande the other day was downright depressing. I will never again listen to Simmons' podcasts when the Celtics are struggling… I very nearly stepped-off a ledge myself after that.

    I, for one, didn't think Kristic was a bad player for the C's at all; he replaced between 70% to 80% of Perk's production and showed flashes of toughness. If the C's go on to win the title, everyone will forget everything they said about the Perkins trade and will instead claim that the Celtics were a veteran team mailing it in during the doldrums of March.

    Incidentally, I can't believe no one has mentioned this yet: Jeff Green had the highest +/- of any Celtic tonight (+12). I did a double-take when I saw the box score on that one. The thing with Green that bothers me is his expression is that of a guy who's at once confused and lacking in intensity.

    With Kristic now certain to miss time (if not the remainder of the season), will we see Green as the starter at the 4 on some occasions or will Doc go with J.O.? Speaking of the slimmer O'Neal, he looked good tonight, which makes me think he should have had his surgery in November.

    Let's hope the C's win the SEGABABA against the Hawks.

    • Chris O

      Yes Green is the J.D. Drew of the Celtics now, he took over for Marquis remember? None of those guys 'wear their emotions on their sleeves'. I don't think its confused and lacking intensity its a personality trait where that is all on the inside. Personally I am the opposite, and love the opposite (like a KG or Pierce or Rondo where their eyes emit FIRE). We just gotta remember that J.D. Drew and Jeff Green and even somewhat Ray Allen (he's not as 'in a shell' but compared to KG) may care just as much even though we can't see it.

    • the other Alex

      Same here – Simmons overreaction is just as bad to listen to as watching the C's lose to the powerhouses that are the mighty Bobcats or the Brooklyn New Yorkers (seriously, Prokhorov, that's all you come up with?).

      Green was key in the 3rd quarter run, before he came in Bonner went hot. As Green came in he not only defended Bonner better but went right by him a couple of times, made him work on the defensive end. Exactly what we got him for.

      I just hope Krstic doesn't go down for a long time. First of all he's still seven feet tall or so. And he did a waaaay better job on Duncan than Baby did. Then he's the only threat on the offensive boards that we had. As a backup to either O'Neal (which we of course all hope be healthy at some point this season) he may be great against a bench-heavy lineup. And his midrange shot is not bad either. The only way we don't need him is with both O'Neals healthy.

  • Renato Afonso

    I think that this game said a lot more about the Spurs than the Celtics. Even though this is a Celtics blog, everyone around the league knows that the Celtics' will flip the "switch" (intensity) when required. The Spurs, on the other hand, are a team that is now based on the offensive side of the game and not defense, as it once was. If you live by the three, you die by the three and that's why the Lakers and the Mavs only care about their seeding with each other and against the Eastern conference.

    Now, regarding the game on the Celtics side… Pierce was the one carrying the Celtics when they most needed, the first half, and kept them in the game. Since a potential playoff matchup with the Heat is looming, do you think he'll be able to hold down Lebron for 35 minutes a game and still produce on the offensive end? If Ray Allen continues on this slump and Pierce is slowed down, getting points on the board will be a problem since: KG won't make them and Rondo will be dared to shoot that midrange jumper.

    Anyway, great game to watch and made everything out West a little more interesting…

    • Chris O

      Issue I have with your analysis Renato: Rondo will abuse any PG the Heat have, forcing a switch of Wade onto Rondo and Boston still has the bigs (even depleted) to abuse the Heat. Jeff Green, Pavlovic (yes him) and Von Waf could be needed more to spell players in that series. But it is what it is

  • aaron

    bbd did pretty well, but it was funny when i think it was former celtic #32 who said he did everything right except grow.

  • urbeltic

    I thought the game was good, but the game after sent shivers down my back. I love my Cs, but the big men on the Lakes are going to pulverize the Cs Roy Hibbert style in a couple weeks.

    • Chris O

      If we meet them in the Finals again, Garnett and Pau will play close to equal (KG dominated '08, Pau won the '10 battle, now a healthier KG split). Mark it on your calendar. That means Shaq, JO and Troy Murphy have to play Bynum to as close to even as possible. BBD and Green can match Odom. That officially neutralizes the bigs aspects. Then you have Pierce vs Artest (Celtics), Kobe vs. Ray (Lakers) and Rondo/Delonte vs the Lakers PG scrubs-is Derek Fisher still alive? (Celtics). As far as I'm concerned semi-healthy Oneal's are truly the Key to winning it, especially depending on what happens with Krstic

      • talesofJP

        Assuming Bynum has no set backs either, he hasn't been healthy over the course of his career, so a setback is always possible. Also if the Lakers and Celtics meet in the finals again, Shaq will be more driven than ever to beat Kobe, that would be good.

  • Chris O

    Great post Ryan, loved it in so many ways. Pierce has been beast. We will need and miss Krstic, hopefully its just an MCL sprain (maybe a come back 2nd round of the playoffs?). Haha yes our boi Rondo holds a grudge like I told you last week I love it. He will attempt to annihilate Parker everytime they play….just awesome. Ray will get outta this funk, shooters just need to keep shooting. Hope JO is here to stay, his size alone was a help. We need a healthy Shaq Daddy to help Big Baby

  • CG12

    There were a lot of things to like about last night's game. Pierce and Rondo were awesome on offense. KG and Baby iced it by hitting J after J. Baby had a good mix of Js and taking it to the hoop, which is important for him. He needs both. JO's return heralds a future in which the Cs do not routinely get pummeled in the paint and on their defensive glass. The offense was really humming, all the way around.

    Krstic's loss is obviously a bummer, but if the master plan works out, he was going to be a peripheral piece, in any event. Rondo needs to do a better job of controlling opposing point guards. He is always barking at his big man helping on the P&R, but that helping big man never seems to know where Rondo is actually going. Delonte is a far better P&R defender. The Cs were getting pushed around under their defensive glass. Literally. The Spurs guys were just muscling them out of the way for all those offensive boards. Leaving aside being undersized, they need to play more physically down there. Ray looked genuinely out of whack last night, which was unsettling. Even when he isn't hitting his shots, he usually looks exactly the same as always. Last night he was fumbling the ball, not catching and going up to shoot with a good rhythm, and looked generally out of sorts. Hopefully it was just a bad night.

    I didn't get to hear the local post-game, but Tommy must have been peeing himself with excitement. The Cs pushed the ball hard up the floor. Not necessarily trying to fast break off everything, but getting up the floor and into the offense quickly, so as to take advantage of anything the D is giving them by not getting organized quickly enough. When Rondo does this it makes a huge difference. Nothing bugs me more than seeing him walk it over the half court line and pound it at the top of the key for 10 seconds before doing anything.

    Nice win. This is what we can expect to see from a playoff Cs squad. And the Diesel!

    • CG12

      Oh, yeah. I hope this game puts a rest to the "the Celtics are sulking and their chemistry is destroyed because of the Perkins trade" media-manufactured plot line. I never bought it and last game showed that it really isn't a factor. The TNT guys before the game were saying how much the Perkins trade affected the team and how Perkins absence really messed up what they had going in the early season.

      Hey, guys? This team was whooping some ass while Perkins was out rehabbing his knee. The biggest issues have always been the injuries to Shaq and JO, and the ongoing efforts to get the bench to gel by fostering some consistent lineups and minutes. The Perkins story was and is a canard, a prevarication. This is big-boy basketball.

      • kricky

        Yes the media has turned and twisted this story. But the Perk trade is still a harbinger of doom. The way the Lakers just manhandled the Mavs was very troubling. I'd feel so much better going into that series with Perk. I don't think Green really brings that much to the table in that series either,

        We will need both JO and Shaq to turn back the clock for stretches to beat the Lakers as long as Bynum is in there. If they can play at the same level ad they did at the beginning of the season we could really take it to them and repeat '08. Shaq is back next week so let's see!

  • jucie

    why didnt they just put garnett on duncan idgi

    • talesofJP

      I didn;t understand that either, seems like it would have made sense, Duncan is still probably strong enough to back down KG but at least he would have a tougher time shooting over him.

      • kricky

        I think they were worried about the 3 ball with Bonner in there. KG is great in closing out PFs that are long distance (e.g. Rashard Lewis)

    • Chris O

      Garnett plays really a pure PF position, while Duncan for years now has played mostly a C role. Duncan would probably eat Garnett alive in the post because of how they have developed over the years. I am sick of hearing Duncan is the best PF ever when for half his career he has played Center.

  • ElRoz

    Anytime you can win without Ray Allen having to have a big offensive game, it's a good sign – using othr options they still scored 107 points.

    However, why is it that a numbr of times this season, an injured player came back and immediately a healthy ne went down? This is like the 3-4 time this happened! If Shaq can come back soon and stay in the games with JO, it won't be so bad with missing Kristc – though I still would like him on the playoff roster for his shooting and offense. Hope he just had a sprain, that's all.

  • kricky

    No doubt it was a great win. But it would be disappointing if the team went back to giving a mediocre effort like they have the last few weeks.

    Best to file this as a "promising beginning" before proclaiming that the team is 100% back.

    A win tonight would be huge though…..

    • Chris O

      I semi agree with you Kricky my friend, however I think as long as we beat SA, MIA and CHI (one down) I don't care about the other games. We have in some ways dominated the other 'elite teams' (especially if we go beat MIA and CHI), and we have a better record against playoff teams than nonplayoff teams which although nerve racking is very indicative that when we come to play we win!!! Banner 18 here we come!

      • kricky

        You are the eternal optimist, my friend. April 7 will be a huge test. I can't wait.

        • Chris O

          Yessir, I am the eternal optimist and I can't wait either. April 7th will be a huge test, hopefully we will still be close to the #1 seed by then. I am so happy we have tiie breakers over MIA and CHI right now. Playoffs should be awesome.

  • john schaffer

    hope for sure kristic has a light sprain, he has showed times where he is very good , just needs celtics toughness instilled in him , he makes perk look foolish when he has the ball , and he can score and he can shoot outside, i hoe he will be out just friday and sunday we do need him

  • kricky

    Just read this on WEEI:

    Doc on Rondo's outside shooting last night:

    That was terrific,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters. “Hell, I’m going to say it. I probably shouldn’t, but I call it coach’s porn. We kept moving the ball, and Rondo kept taking shots and I was yelling that jokingly to them. We were laughing, because we had a joke about it that I won’t get into. It was terrific.”

    Doc is such a cool dude. I'll take him as a coach, dad, boss, buddy any day.

    • Mike

      Ahaha coache's porn. best.line.ever.

  • john schaffer

    this writer for celtics blog sure sounds like a lakers crybaby , talking about kristic like hes already gone , really a nice outlook for supposely a cetics writer ,,he sucks

    • Renato Afonso

      Dude… even Danny Ainge is concerned with the severity of his injury and all that Ryan said was that if Krstic went down for the year, all of Boston's hopes would rely on the O'neal's being healthy throughout the playoffs. And if you knew anything about basketball you would realise how important it is to have, you know, a real Center actually playing.

      Really, what have you brought to this discussion?

  • diehardceltic

    All I wanted to do last night as I watched the game was smack all those bandwagonners who were busy bluffing how Rondo is overated! Where are they now?????

    Slept in peace after such a long time :D

    LETS GO C's

    • Chris O

      Seriously. I mean he may be overrated, he may be underrated but he is definitely O.G. Bobby Gangsta spinning the ones and twos and dropping dimes like its into a 1990s pay phone. I love Rondo…most unique player skil-wise that the league has seen since….Rodman

  • Chris O

    Hear hear Kricky! You tell him

  • Dan

    We could still sign Sheed right? Since he hasn't played on another team he'd be playoff eligible. That's my pick of what to do if Kristic is out for the stretch.

    • Chris O

      No we can't our 15 man is full unless someone can be let go because they are not on a guaranteed contract. You think Rasheed would b ready by the playoffs?!?!?

  • ozcelts

    Sad news about nads. C's must lead the league in games missed due to injury- and it's not just the old warhorses

    Given the continued injuries surprised there's been no discussion on how the C's strength and conditioning staff compare to those of other teams. I'm sure they're hardworking and committed but just like some coaches are better than others (shout out to Mr Rambis) assume some strength and conditioning staff are better than others

    Just asking the question is all

    • Chris O

      From what I know our strength and conditioning coaches are top notch. It happens to every team at some point. It is just random statistical occurrence. I didn't hear you saying this in 2007-2008 when like almost no one got injured.

      • ozcelts

        Your probably right- jusy asking the question is all

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