Friday, February 26, 2010

Celtics: better since the all star break?

So far the Boston Celtics are 4 - 2 since the break, beating the New York Knicks 110 - 106 but then losing to the Cavaliers 108 - 88. This is significant because Cleveland has not won at the TD Garden in 3 years. 

To look at the conditions of the match makes this loss sting all the more for C's fans. We had a 15 point lead and had a blistering first half. All of this without the services of Paul Peirce. Boston was shooting 60% from the field in that half and Rondo was entering the lane at will. Lebron James was contained well by Marquis Daniels who was slowing down 'the king' with great D. From our form in the first half, Boston looked strong. 

The Cavs crept back into the game with good D and slowing Boston's frenetic pace. The Cleveland supporting cast came into play and before you know it it was a blow out. To their credit, they did it with out Shaq, who suffered a thumb injury in the first half.

As a fan, this game is very worrying. Boston has a habbit of folding against future playoff adversaries like the Hawks, Magic and Cleveland losing to all of them at home. For a team trying to contend for the title, a  16 - 10 record is not something to be proud of. At this time Bostons worst enemies are it's own ability to respond to teams dictating the pace of the game and not being able to claw back leads from quality teams. Something which they are perfectly capable of.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Props to: Boston's mid season trade.

Boston made some significant moves today,  acquiring guard Nate Robinson and forward Marcus Landry in a trade with the New York Knicks. The Celtics sent guards Eddie House, J.R. Giddens and forward Bill Walker to the big apple in return.

The simplest way to dissect this trade is in point form. So here we go;

 What Boston has lost in this trade - 
  •  The Celtics have lost a stone cold 3 point assassin in House and the franchise record holder for three-point field goal percentage in a single season, when he hit 44.5 percent from the 3 point line during the 2008-09 season. As a Celtic Eddie posted good numbers 7.8 points, 1.4 assists and shot 41.2 from deep. House came up big on occasion riding hot streaks for 20 plus games when the Celtics needed them. 
  • A capable ball handler and point guard, House was never a true fit as the Back up for Rondo. As Boston needed a great back up PG for their now all star starting guard, house remained a decent fit but was always more of an offensive threat, sharp shooter and three point specialist. An asset to be sure, but not as valuable an asset as a true back up point guard.

  • The loss of Bill Walker and JR Giddens to the Knicks may seem incidental. These are two young guys who got glimpses of playing time but were always destined to earn their spot on a team stacked with veteran and experienced players. I believe Walker especially could have come to form a great young nucleus with Rondo as the next generation front court for the Celtics - although it is hard to gauge from his small amount of minutes. It is Walker's unrealised potential that is the most maligned loss of this team transaction.
What Boston has gained in this trade -  
  •   Eddie House and Nate Robinson are similar in several respects. Both have played the point. Both can hit the 3. Both are able to distribute the ball. That is where the similarity ends. At 5' 9 Robinson is a player not to be taken lightly because of his small stature. Aside from being a 3 time slam dunk champion, Nate can back up his title as a devastating attacking player with frightening speed and very solid 3 point shot. His ability to place pressure on the ball can lead to significant gains when it translates to offense.
  • Now here is a scary thought. Doc Rivers goes with a small front court with Robinson and Rondo. Both have devastating speed and the hops to finish strong. Nate is  better from deep but Rondo's 3 has shown significant improvement. You are the other team with both these guys running at you on the break. Who do you guard? Do you double team one when they can pass to the other? Or any of the Back court who all know how to finish. Nate creates an instant match up nightmare for teams vulnerable to a smaller lightening quick guard tandem. This is just one possibility that Robinson creates, as a injection of instant offense who can draw defenders and dish to the open man with the best of them.

  • Boston now has great options at both guard positions. Rondo is the starting point guard and will remain so. Robinson will begin his time in Boston's buck up PG with  Marquis Daniels the combo guard / third point guard option. Ray Allen is the 2, backed up by Daniels. 
  •  Coach Doc Rivers has great standard guard configurations, but the potential for creating new match ups (read the second point) that will certainly make teams redress their strategies for playing the green and white.
  •  Marcus Landry is an important acquisition for the fact he gives Boston a back up for Paul Peirce at the 3 spot. He is young and his energy will be much needed in team stacked with veterans. In backing up the small forward position he will get minutes, because that is where this Celtics team is weakest. Given time and opportunity, Coach rivers would be smart to give this young player the opportunities he needs. 

The Verdict - As good as 'E- House' was and as important as his role was in the 07' - 08' championship, his never gave the Celtics the dynamic back point guard they so desperately needed. Nate Robinson is a high impact / high energy player who throws a spanner in the works for the opposition, in drawing attention he will free up the other players around him to some degree. But to put up the numbers the Celtics would love to see, Robinson needs to buy into what the C's are doing and taking on a role that helps the team as a whole. That said, Boston now has the danger player it needs. When their shoot falters they have a genuine offensive threat who has a record dropping big numbers (41 this season in Atlanta with the Knicks) on other teams. Coach Rivers will, at one time or another, come to utilise Robinson in this way. Landry is an unknown but offers some relief for Boston at the 3 spot mainstay Peirce. If Landry pays off, they have a potential young player to play a role for this team in the long term.

The Boston Celtics have gained more than they have lost, and due to recent team issues a change of some kind was inevitable. This kind of team alteration may be exactly what is needed to return to the Celtics swagger that has had taken a serious battering since christmas day '09 against the magic. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Props to: Memphis.

February 1st saw a milestone in NBA history. Kobe Bryant - One of the most prolific, talented and inherently selfish players past Jerry West to claim the number 1 position of most points scored by a Los Angles Lakers player. I will give Kobe Bryant his due and he is in some very lofty company. It is an incredible achievement.

But what interests me is the 95 - 93 Memphis Victory. 

This victory by the emerging Grizzlies over the reigning NBA champs is significant for the Memphis franchise - in their transition from being talented under achievers to creating a culture of consistency, victory and pride.

The Memphis Grizzlies, formerly the Vancouver Grizzles, have either struggled or flirted with their potential up to the start of this 09 - 10 NBA season. Little looked to change this season, then troubled double-double machine Zach Randolph arrived. In a trade that was being forecasts as one with disaster written all over it , Memphis found an offensive weapon waiting to be unleashed. 

Adding to an already vibrant roster featuring Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Mike Conley, Jamal Tinsley, Rookie Hasheem Thabeat, Spanish stand out Marc Gasol and others - Randolph adds seasoning and major offense to a generally young roster. To this point Zach Randolph has eclipsed the 30 point mark around 7 times and achieved double figures in rebounds over 30 times. He has well and truly earned himself his all star spot and further cemented a home in Memphis.

Any game against this champion Lakers team is an absolute test for an emerging team like the Grizzlies. LA are a team with weapons on both ends of the court. You have to match the baskets they make, contend with Bryants uncanny knack of hitting low percentage shot at a high percentage and play clamp down team defense. Never mind Phil Jackson's coaching ability or their spark plug players like Odum, Gasol, Bynum and Brown.

You are in for one hell of a hard game.    

Possibly the most crucial thing was there defense late in the forth. Memphis shut Kobe out late in the game, as he is at his most dangerous attempting to close out a win. Three defenders stifled Bryant, who had to defer the three pointer to Ron Artest, who missed the clutch shot. Also the Grizzlies had four players in double digits in points, with a surprise 13 point game (a career high) from former Celtic rookie bench warmer Lester Hudson.
The Grizzlies led by as many as 11 but had that whittled down 2 by the half. No matter the score, it is the team that outlasts the other that achieves the victory. 

For a team that began the season at 1 victory and 8 losses they are currently 26 wins and 23 losses. It is impressive enough to recover from a losing record but to remain a head is a down right great achievement. Unfortunately in a tight western division race they are currently placed 10th - 2 places out of play off contention. The season is only half way through, and the misfortunes of other teams plus the consistent play of the Memphis Grizzlies could lead to play off spot. The 09 - 10 season may just be the first major step toward Memphis finding the path to one day becoming a contender.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Celtics - state of affairs.

Any C's fan would know right now at 30W's - 16L's, this Boston team is not playing as well as it could. And to rub salt in the wound, they lost to the Lakers by a basketAt home. 

That stings. 

Also Paul Peirce is day to day with a foot injury sustained in a win against the hapless but still dangerous Washington Wizards.

The Celtics are now playing for 3rd or 4th place in the east against an Atlanta team with nearly the same record - and who have swept the regular game series against the Celtics. So C's lose home court against a team that kind of has our number, and whom they will most likely face them in the 2nd round of the eastern conference play offs. Plus, as always occurs at times of team dilemma, there is some talk of 'Ray-Ray' (Ray Allen) being traded in an attempt to revitalise a vetran team to make a run for the title.

But as any fan will know, this is a team you can't knock down. Even to it's own detriment and the health of their own players, they choose to get up off the floor and fight. 

This team right now as the roster stands (injuries withstanding), is as good or better than last years wounded  play off team who lost in 7 games to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not a bad shot at the ring for a team with nothing left in the tank and at least five players with some degree of injury.

Now to address the glaring problem; Boston have had their worst month since the big three came together, going 7W's - 11L's since a christmas day victory over the Orlando Magic. More than any fan would like to admit, those losses have come from the Celtics losing leads (some times in double digits) in the 4th quater.

Since Boston won the title in 07 - 08, they have had the ability and motivation to deal effectively with the regular season turbulence, finding a way to right themselves and win. A key to winning again will be the return of Daniels, who can play 3 positions and put up decent numbers if given the plays and most importantly the time. A Rondo / R.Allen / T.Allen or Daniels / Garnett and Perkins starting 5 with Rasheed Wallace and Eddie House among others on the bench is a team that can win and achieve what is potentially forecast to be 60 win season. To address the issues surrounding Ray Allen and trade talk, Coach Doc Rivers can always start Daniels and bring Ray off the bench - splitting the minutes between the two players. This is a scenario with Peirce out for the year, which I feel is highly unlikely. I suspect Paul Peirce will probably return after the all star break, if not just before.

History and the evidence of hard fought games has demonstrated that this Boston Celtics team has a heart strong enough to push them way further than their bodies alone can go. Along with the league leaders there are emerging younger talented teams like Atlanta, Orlando, Oklahoma City, the LA Clippers, Sacramento and Houston as potential regular season opponents. The Celtics will need considerable reserves of physical and mental fortitude to place themselves in a position to reclaim the title.

It should also be noted that after having a series of losses, historically the Celtics come back and over compensate with a 10 game or so win streak or so. If something gets this team mad enough, every team they face will pay for it.

Did I mention they just had a bad month?