Monday, December 31, 2007

La-La La La

So we are about to commence a new year and things couldn't taste much sweeter than they do right now. 26 and 3 with last night's rousing win over the Lakers, and if anything the road trip showed that the Celtics are perhaps better than we thought. This game had all three of the Triumvirate playing like All-Stars, and when that happens you have to like your chances. I can laud the Big Three through the roof, but lets focus on Mr. Tony Allen for a second. Tony was Good TA last night, and what a glorious sight it was to behold. Without Rondo to hold down the fort Tony stepped up in the manner all of us were eagerly hoping he would this season. I harken back to Jack's early positive predictions concerning TA, and now we get to see what it means. TA in attacking mode is a beautiful arrow to have in your belt. Now the fact that he is playing "point guard" is kind of funny, and he still is a turnover waiting to happen, but if his strong attributes are used like last night you better look out, because the C's all of a sudden have a hell of a bench. TA's productiveness coupled by Ray Allen's savviness make the backup point guard spot no longer my main area of concern. For those of you who haven't noticed, Ray is the only other player on the roster who can remotely resemble a true point guard. His play last night exemplified that.

If I am to have my druthers (and somehow I always find them), I would say they would have to do with the center position. In the same way that Jack is right about TA, it is very possible that Fox is right about Perk. Many of us are quite annoyed with Perk's less than beastly moves around the box of late. I'm not saying he is a huge problem, but the fact that he is the only real center on the roster is a reason for concern. Pollard isn't doing enough presently to be considered a legitimate part of the equation. So bring in a big before you bring in a point. Let's get some beef up front. Happy New Year's, hopefully more of the same for the start of '08.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

C'mon that was a foul!!

LIVE from Hollywood, CA - a matchup of two of the league's best actors/off-balance shooters:

What - ref you didn't see that?!

C'mon man - that's a reach-in!!

Jazzed Up

Last night was one of the great regular season New England sports nights of all time. While the Pats deservedly get all the headlines, what the C's did out in Utah should serve notice to all those who think this team is not very, very good. The Celtics, in short, should not have won last night. The Jazz are superb at home, and they shot the lights out for much of the evening. But playing their third game in four nights the C's clamped down again when it mattered most, and managed to pull out a victory. I don't know if it was the most impressive win of the season, but if not it was something close. Tommy proved clairvoyant (he's getting good at this) when he said that Pierce would pull the the team through in the second half after being invisible in the first. Sure enough, he did. PP's second half stat line: 24 points and 6 boards. Ah, the beauty of having three stars.

This Jazz victory might not be against an "elite" team, but given the setting and the circumstances I think you would be very foolish to discredit anything the C's did last night. That was a gutsy win, and there have been quite a few of those this season. 25 and 3. Unbelievable. It will be icing on the cake if they can beat L.A. tonight, but even if they lose by 20 this has to be considered an excellent road trip. Expect to hear about the 72 win Bulls for a while longer.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Hollinger Talks Draft

Some of you may remember how amazing I thought Hollinger's draft ratings were last June. So I was pumped when he released his current ratings for sophomores, juniors and seniors today. Of course the list does not include the fab freshman or the internationals, but we can still gauge a lot from what he presented. The top ten in the ratings, with their score:

Chase Budinger (688)
Ty Lawson (627)
Roy Hibbert (615)
Ryan Anderson (608)
Darrell Arthur (588)
Lawrence Hill (578)
Chris Lofton (567)
Patrick Beverley (547)
Darren Collison (545)
K.C. Rivers (541)

Whew. First of all, I've never heard of Anderson, Hill, Beverly or Rivers (although I assume he's not Glenn's son). But they all got excellent scores, so they definitely have merit in my book, and all should be drafted, although that is unlikely to happen. Let me talk about the guys I do know. Budinger, Lawson and Hibbert (as well as Anderson) all have scores above 600, which is damn good. Since 2002 the biggest busts with scores over 600 have been Mike Sweetney (good but ate himself out of the league), Delonte (still good, but hurt frequently), Tar Heelers May and McCants (injuries, jury still out), and Ty Thomas (definitely too early to call a bust). The other players with scores over 600 since 2002 are all very solid: Booozer, Gooden, Wilcox, Carmelo, Bosh, Wade, Deng, Devin Harris, Chris Paul and Marvin Williams.

So Budinger is no Adam Morrison just cause he's white. With a score like 688 he's almost guaranteed to be at least a valuable starter for the next ten years if healthy. That's what makes Hollinger's ratings so awesome - I felt not nearly so confident in Budinger's ability before reading this, and now my worries are put to rest. Lawson is not actually six feet tall, and that makes his very high rating dubious, as Hollinger implies. I like Lawson but prefer Collison, who seems to just get it, and will probably lead UCLA to the Final Four come spring. Mr. Roy Hibbert is the most intriguing "over 600" member. People are all over the place on Hibbert, and I have been one of them - I watch the first half of some of his games convinced he's a top 3 pick, and by the final buzzer I'm not even certain he should be in the top 20. But as long as his score stays above 600 I would have a hard time not picking him in the top 5. Hibbert is huge, a totally legit center, and that is the most attractive commodity in the league. If he falls out of the lottery something is wrong.

Darrell Arthur and Chris Lofton will both probably be good; I was happy to see the Height's own Tyrese Rice with a healthy score of 516, I always knew that kid could ball. I was surprised Brandon Rush scored so poorly, Hansbrough's score did not surprise me, etc...there is so much we can work with from these ratings; I just dipped my toe in the pond, I'm sure later I will be poring over this list. Hopefully Hollinger releases freshman statistics sooner than later, his ratings are more valuable to me than any scout's take.

The Late Late Show

Two games in and this West Coast swing is already killing me. The Celtics? Not so much. Last night the Green ran their record to 24-3 with an unspectacular-yet-effective 104-96 victory over the Sonics, who really just aren't very good... we have no idea how they've even scraped together eight wins, to tell the truth. If you went to bed at halftime (and who can blame you, as this one didn't end until well after 1am) you missed a vintage Paul Pierce offensive explosion, as the captain dropped 26 in the second act and finished with a season-high 37 for the night. KG looked unstoppable at the beginning but cooled off a bit as the game went on (though he still finished with 23 and 14), and Ray Allen was never really able to get on track, finishing with only 10 points on 4-13 shooting. A big deal was made over Allen's return to Seattle but really, who gives a shit. I'm guessing TNT was looking for any angle to pump this one up since Durant is well behind his expected 35ppg. KD looked pretty good--and make no mistake, he will be great sooner rather than later--although Pierce completely abused him and he missed more shots than he hit, a persistent problem. Still, Seattle's got a good young nucleus and Carlesimo's a good coach: if they get a high lottery pick this June (and I see no reason they won't), watch out. Derek Rose would be amazing for this team.

Anyways, the C's have tonight off and then play Utah on Saturday 'round 9ish. A far more civilized tipoff time than last night's 10:30, though still a far cry from my preferred jump of 7pm sharp. No matter. Utah's a real team, which will be a nice change of pace, and Garnett vs. Boozer should be fun to watch.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Real Monarchy

Back from our Headband Holiday, and it seems as if not much has changed. The C's stifled the Kings last night, as is their forte, and the drubbings continue to pile up. The consistent thrashings that the Celtics are imposing are not normal for even the best teams in the NBA. They've now won nine games by twenty points or more - and we aren't even a third through the season. The recipe of valiant defense has been unconquerable. Tonight we have Seattle on slate, and we all know how the C's usually treat such opponents. Again last night we saw Pollard getting Baby's minutes; I 'm still surprised by this - I think Baby deserves to be out there unless the opposing center can cause real damage, and we know there are few of those in the league. Yet it seems a silly caveat given the recent results. Durantula tonight...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Semiotic Victory Against Dwight And His Magic

103-91, Celtics. Take that Dwight Howard, you pussy. You must be a center to shoot free throws that badly. Seriously, though, I can relate with Tommy at the end there - I too was getting nervous when the lead was shrinking with a couple minutes to go, I mean we were up by like 11 and my heart was a-thumpin'. Maybe there is a need for some more close games, you lose all context of what close games are like after a while. Or maybe we don't need any close ones; twelve point victories are good too. Just keep on winning, boys.

From here on out "the road gets tougher", which could mean almost anything, and surely this West Coast swing will show something about the C's that we don't know presently. But I have a feeling that in the end the trip will deepen our current beliefs, as opposed to revealing crazy and potentially frightening issues, like Rondo choking under pressure or Perk being unable to rebound in locations west of Tulsa. So to Sactown we go...

As a final note on this eve of eves, let me praise Glenn Rivers. Glenn, I don't know what the hell came over you, but your completely rational usage of rotations and substitutions is blowing my mind, buddy. Like tonight I was a little disappointed when you put Pollard in instead of Big Baby, because Howard was out and Big Baby could give us some offense. And then I realized - if all I'm worried about is you playing Pollard a couple of minutes instead of Baby in the second quarter, how can I complain? You're so rational this season - did you stop taking uppers before the games or something? Where is Scal in key moments of the fourth quarter? Where is Posey at center? Why, oh why are you not playing Pruitt twenty minutes a night? Honestly, Glenn, I feel like you are not even you anymore. When people scoffed at you for having Tony Allen in against Detroit the other night I wanted to laugh - didn't they know that was nothing compared to what you would have done in the past? If people had actually watched the Celtics the last few years there's no way we'd be talking now. But here we are. 22-3. Good job, Glenn.

WTF Moment Of The Day

From May's notes today in the Globe:

The Celtics soon plan to send assistant GM Dave Wohl out to the D-League's Anaheim Arsenal to scout a familiar name: Kedrick Brown.

Yup, the same Kedrick Brown the Celtics took with the 11th pick in the 2001 draft out of Okaloosa-Walton College and who basically turned out to be little more than a human pogo stick. He hasn't played in the NBA since 2005.

But after spending a couple of years of "getting his life in order and his career back on track," according to Arsenal coach Reggie Geary, Brown is back on the radar screen. He's averaging 14.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game for Anaheim.

That's fucking retarded, in every sense of the word, good and bad.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Too Crazy To Make Up

Because we have been lucky enough to just bask in the glow of this wonderful Celtics season, there has been less talk of the Timberwolves than expected. For those of you living in a cave, though, let me refresh you - the Wolves have been a train wreck, easily the worst team in the league, and no one stands surprised. That said, we have to point out last night's game between Minnesota and Indiana, because so many former Celtics were involved. The Timberwolves beat the Pacers 131-118. Here's the incomparable Britt Robson's take on the game, you basically have to read it to believe it. Yes, Bassy, Toine and Gerald are all involved - in a positive way. Nuts. It is also amazing that a Jim O'Brien coached team allowed these Timberwolves 131 points. Unbelievably, they allowed even more to the Lakers earlier this year (134). Jimmy O is knee deep in the transition game. Anyway, last night was far too crazy not to point out.

And... We're Back

The C's wrecked the team formerly known as the Chicago Bulls last night, 107-82. I'm not sure exactly how the Bulls got so bad so quickly (it can't all be Ben Wallace, can it?), but they seem intent on keeping it that way, and last night was no exception. The C's rebound from that icky Detroit loss with another rout, making them 13-1 at the Garden. Paul Pierce verily blew up in the 3rd quarter, going for 15 and shooting 4-4 from long range. I dunno, all in all it was a satisfying win... not much more to say than that. Dwight Howard and Co. come to town on Sunday, which should be a great one, and we're all looking forward to Tim and Dwight's series of debates on the cultural semiotics and social construction of the NBA center position. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday weekend.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Smelling The Glove?

Marc J. Spears has a semi-scoop in the Globe this morning, writing that old friend (seriously old) Gary Payton is angling to return to the Celtics. This isn't that surprising, since Payton's always had a bit of the Rickey Henderson in him, and the Celtics are both very good and frankly in need of depth. Of course, Payton's a bit of a wild card; he's an outsized personality who could either do wonders for team chemistry or destroy it, depending on how much he's willing to defer to Garnett and Pierce. In the offseason I was advocating bringing him in to help out with Rondo, but now at 20-3 I'm not so sure I want to mess with a good thing. However, I do think that Gary Payton could potentially be the best thing that's ever happened to Rondo (aside from KG, or course), and honestly if there's any former player that Rajon should be modeling his game after, GP seems like an obvious candidate. Also, for all of Payton's baggage and his thirty-nine years, there's no question that he's got a better understanding of the notion of "NBA point guard" than anyone else on this team. I mean, as it stands right now, we still don't have a backup point guard-- no matter how you slice it, House still looks infinitely more comfortable in a catch-and-shoot role-- and Gary Payton would certainly take care of that.

I don't know, I guess I'd give this move a cautious endorsement. The $1.2m kind of seems like a lot, but it is the veteran minimum and it'd just be a one-shot thing. The C's are already clearly going all-in on this season, and I see Payton's potential rewards outweighing his risks. He's also a great interview subject and a generally entertaining dude to have around.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A quick phone call from The Brick last night was all it took to unravel my complicated reaction to last night’s 87-85 loss to Detroit. I had been experiencing a feeling of layered disappointment after finding that the Celtics are who we thought they were – and they let the Pistons off the hook. While I do think this game (and the Orlando game) serves as a microcosm for what ails the Celtics in competition against top teams, I have to remember that this is just a December NBA game.

With that said, two legitimate questions emerged from our conversation:

Will the Celtics clinch the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference?
Can the Celtics beat a team like the Pistons in a 7-game series?

To the former: my season preview had the top 4 teams in the East as the Celtics, Pistons, Bulls, and Heat. I still believe all four teams will find a way to make the playoffs – but Chicago and Miami are so far back that they have no shot at the top. The C’s have opened up a 3 game lead on the Pistons to this point, but it’s still only 3 games after a historic start to the season. This is a situation that should be monitored.

To the latter: the fact that this question even gets asked gives me goose bumps. A Pistons-Celtics series would be a battle straight out of the 80’s – with the Pistons as the Nasty Boys and the Celtics as the Hart Foundation - and gives me more opportunity to write about how much I hate Dee-troit Basketball. If a 7-game playoff set does happen, however, the Celtics are going to need to figure some things out.

1. Who’s the go-to man in crunch time? I would ask Pierce to consider deferring to KG. Sure, he’s an All-Star, team captain, and Shaq called him “The Truth” 6 years ago. But getting the ball to KG in the clutch is smart because a) he’s an amazing shooter anywhere inside the 3-point line and b) he can draw a double-team and dish to an open man. How many times have we seen Pierce drive on a final possession and get doubled or tripled and still try and force the issue?

2. The bench is two deep. House and Posey. Tony Allen, for all the stupid, dumb things he does, could be a solid 8th man on this team, but he’s not there yet. Last night was also another example of The Big Linus still needing his blanket – as much as I like the guy, he ain't there yet either.

3. Perkins is useless against a smaller, quicker post combo. You would think that by his 5th NBA season, he’d know better than to bring the ball down below his waist. Or that he'd have more post moves than the two-handed dunk. He frustrates the hell out of me, and he should be frustrated as hell at himself.

4. If Doc Rivers is better than just an average coach, he will equip his lineup with offensive sets against better defensive squads that don’t make it look like the Celtics are playing pickup at the Malden Y.

5. Everyone has been saying it, but it still holds true: the Celts need a backup point guard. It will be very interesting to see who they go out and get.

What Dwight Howard Has To Do With KG Winning A Ring

While many fans are sulking today after losing to Detroit, I'm still thinking vigorously about the future and getting to the Finals. Good teams lose to good teams, and that's all that happened to the Celtics against the Pistons; sorry to burst your bubble Chris Sheridan. I guess I should be worried about the Celtics point differential being lowered all the way down to 13.5. Let's step out of the searing present moment and start thinking freely again. My Dwight Howard post the other day seems to have been met with laughter by many, and I can understand why. It appeared like I was bent on being solely categorical when it came to positions, to the point of being absurd. And those of you who think Duncan really is a power forward, just because that's what they call him on TV - well, I will never be able to convince you otherwise. Nonetheless, I stand firm that there is a stricter positional structure to the NBA than often appears during the regular season, and NBA Finals trophies attest to that.

To recap from the other day, since 1977 one team (the '78 Bullets) have won a title with a power forward (Elvin Hayes) as their best player. Meanwhile we have seen centers Walton, Kareem, Moses, Olajuwon, Shaq and Duncan all lead their teams to titles. Great power forwards leading their team have always fallen short (Barkley, Kemp, Malone, Webber, Nowitzki etc.) Of course it's not like the power forward-led teams always lost to the center-led teams; it's just that all these great power forwards always fell short. Since 1980 every title team has been led by a different position except power forward:

PG: Magic, Isiah, Billups
SG: Jordan, Wade
SF: Bird
PF: none
C: Kareem, Moses, Olajuwon, Duncan, Shaq

I don't believe in conspiracies, nor am I obsessed with categories, but this information means something. Centers are the pillar that everything is built around, traditionally they are the most important position on the floor. Point guards run the entire operation, therefore despite their usual small stature great ones are still able to "control things". Great shooting guards are so offensively dominant and athletic that they force the action to their favor. Small forwards are similar except they are bigger (and maybe a little less athletic, sorry Larry). I know this sounds like b.s., and it can easily be argued that the players on the above chart were just plain better than Barkley, Malone, Webber et al. But maybe not. Is power forward actually the most impotent of all five positions? It's not as crazy as it sounds - you're not large enough so that everything focuses around you, and you're not athletic enough to move all over the floor at will.

Barkley was great, and so was his team in '93, but it didn't matter. Rasheed Wallace was the best player on a Blazers team that historically choked in the Conference Finals against the Lakers. Webber and his Kings got jobbed by the refs against the Lakers a few years later. Similar events happened to Nowitzki against the Heat. Malone and Kemp also came painfully close. Power forwards have a tremendous history of coming up just short. And I think part of it is they play the position least able to bounce back when calls and incidents start turning against you - it is the hardest position from which to control the game. Ironically, power forward is the most naturally timid position of all.

Which brings us all the way back to KG. Take a gulp. Even if you disagree with everything I just wrote, doesn't it disturb you slightly that Kevin Garnett, power forward, is the Celtics best player? It freaks me out, because as much as I love KG, history is not on the Celtics' side. The great thing about KG, the old theory goes, is that he's athletic enough to play small forward or center. And that's true - but that makes him even more of a true power forward in my eyes. KG's versality strangely pigeonholes him as a power forward even more. KG thoroughly falls into this Barkley/Malone/Sheed/Webber/Nowitzki timeline. His perfection as a modern power forward is also his tragedy. But let us not lose all faith, let me utter sweet nothings in the hope they somehow become true. First and foremost, this is the Modern NBA, where everything is small and fast, and you can be a center apparently if you are over 6'7. In such a fallacious environment, who better or more qualified to fake playing center than KG? He has the length and size, the tenacity, and the tremendous veteran knowledge. This is most obvious on the defensive end, where KG has been the backbone of the best defensive squad in the league. KG is a singular presence defensively this year, indeed he almost is the center of all activity on that end of the court. If he's faking playing center, he's doing a hell of a job.

Unfortunately KG's remarkable focus on D has made it so placing the burden on his shoulders offensively might break the horse's back. I have more faith in KG playing center defensively than offensively (once again, this has nothing to do with whether Perk is out there, we're talking spatially and controlling the flow). KG will have to venture into the paint much more than he has been to pull off this stunt offensively. If he can be a center defensively, in this day and age, perhaps that is enough - as long as the defense stays historically good.

So while I still think the Celtics will be the best regular season team, cold hard reality usually hits come the postseason. That's when we get to see if KG (and Dwight Howard) really can play center. The regular season can be glamorous and flaky at the same time; getting to the Finals is the opposite - a hard, tough and uncompromising road that gets to the core of NBA basketball. The better the basketball, the more fundamental it becomes. It is greatness versus greatness. The cream rises to the top - and fantastic players like Nowitzki and Amare are often rendered insufficient, something we never see in a regular setting. So as well as the C's perform, and whether KG can break the great power forward titleless trend, will take us to the essence of KG and the meaning of the modern NBA.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hate to Say I Told You So

“Dee-troit Basketball” is undoubtedly the ugliest recipe for roundball in the NBA:

1. Start with a gallon of defensive tenacity.
2. A cup of attitude.
3. Add several cups – players that excel in a half-court set.
4. A tablespoon of toughness.
5. For extra flavor, add flopping and complaining at your discretion to produce desired result.

And there you go. Give Joe Dumars credit. This team of guys who couldn’t play anywhere else has eclipsed 50 wins the past six seasons. With little care for cultivating the beauty of fundamental basketball, the Pistons plow their way to victory.

Sporting a record of 17-8, they came into the TD Banknorth Garden tonight to impose their ugliness on a Celtics team that had previously faced little resistance. The Celtics’ mission: to outgun the plodding Pistons and keep their perfect home record intact.

And guess what? The Pistons beat the Celtics senseless. The score was 87-85 – I understand that. But they literally beat the C’s senseless. The team was unable to gather their wits on the offensive end all night and the Pistons baited them into playing bad basketball. A Boston team that had previously been unflappable looked panicked and was reduced to complaining to referees, angrily trash talking, and going to the basket half-looking for contact and blowing layups. Even the two possessions at the end of the game, where the C’s hit two miracle threes, were terribly organized, with lots of dribbling and standing around until House and Shuttlesworth were able to spring for huge swishes.

Hey, the Celts are 20-3. And let’s be thankful for the gift of a good Eastern Conference rivalry – born tonight on December 19th and hopefully seeing future installments in the 2008 playoffs. But the Pistons, along with the oodles of other great teams that the Celtics haven’t seen yet, will undoubtedly have plenty to say about who is the most dominant squad in the NBA. And until the Celtics can learn composure, run an effective offense against a top defensive club, and figure out how to impose their will on a worthy challenger, there are going to be lots of potholes this winter. Better put it in four-wheel drive.

Ray Will Play

Ray Allen will play against Detroit, according to the team website and a zillion other sources. This is great news: even if he's not at full strength, Ray still commands a level of honesty from the defense that, let's face it, Tony Allen et al just don't. This isn't to bash the C's supporting cast, obviously, who've played great in #20's absence, just stating the fact that in the battle of Allens, Ray > Tony.

Speaking of Tonys, Mr. Massarotti of the Herald has a surprisingly long fluff piece on the inimitable Glenn Rivers today (and when I say "fluff" I fully intend its pornier connotations). It's generally a pretty dull article but contains an amusing anecdote about several Celtics bench players laughing last season when the Garden crowd started one of its "Fire Doc" chants. I'm guessing none of those guys are on the team anymore--seriously, who the hell is from last year's squad--but I'm guessing one of them was Telfair... he always seemed like a dick.

This is a pretty boring post but what can I say, I'm just really excited for the game tonight. Go C's!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why We Have To Figure Out If Dwight Howard Is Really A Center

Even if I wasn't a crazed Celtics fan, I think that their improbable ascension would be the number one storyline of the season so far. But I think that Dwight Howard easily takes the silver. It is impossible to follow the NBA and not read a glowing piece about Howard at least twice a week. And with good reason - he'd be MVP if the season ended today, and he just turned 22. That's impressive. But like with LeBron, it is often not the present that captivates us about Howard as much as the future - which seems so bright that it might blind the rest of the league. If James and Howard are so good now, it is absolutely horrifying to think about how superior they will be in their primes. I personally have used a measure of restraint in my praise of Howard - while using no restraint at all in praising James. LeBron, in my eyes, will win at least five titles unless he has a devastating injury. Dwight I'm hardly so sure about. And my reasoning for that is coldly traditional and perhaps antiquated.

Great centers are the easiest way to the title; it is why Dream or Oden will always be drafted ahead of MJ or Durant. This said, the art of low post basketball has all but evaporated from the NBA, as we lamented last week. Out of this desert arrives Howard. The Magic, even more than the Spurs with Duncan, seem to understand that the key to their success is to just get him the ball down low. As has been well documented recently, Dwight Howard has more dunks than most teams. You watch Orlando and have a sense of actual low post basketball. All this is super, and I commend Orlando and Howard for it, but I can't help but wonder if people are slightly miscasting Howard as a dominant center. Only a fool would say he is not dominant, but we so quickly assume Howard is a center just because he is usually the biggest guy out there. And this is where it gets tricky.

The true dominant NBA center controls the game around him, as everything is forced to revolve around his presence. From Russell to Duncan that is the case (Duncan is clearly a center, just because he can play power forward does not mask what he truly is.) The position not only requires size, but a particular knowledge of how to use it. That is why Duncan is called The Big Fundamental, because of his sublime understanding of how to use his body as a center. Conversely this gift was never given to KG, so he is a seven foot tall power forward, and has never been considered a legitimate center. I don't like to pigeonhole players, but in this case it is of major importance. For I view true centers the way Justice Stewart viewed obscenity - I know it when I see it.

And in Howard, at this stage, I'm not so sure I see it, which puts me in the minority. Just about everybody is referring to Dwight as the Modern Great Center, best articulated by Shoals in a must-read piece last week. The main gist of all the praise is that Howard is the perfect new age center; a beast that simply cannot be handled down low, but at the same time is agile and quick enough to outrun swingmen. The problem for me is that Howard still reminds me more of pre-surgery Amare than a true center, in other words a hellish power forward that is an impossible matchup problem, but nonetheless is really a power forward. What is wrong with that? Much more than you expect.

In the last 30 years there has been one team that has won the championship with a power forward as their best player. The '77-'78 Washington Bullets finished 44-38, but led by Elvin Hayes they won the Finals. Hayes happened to be flanked by Wes Unseld, which clearly helped matters. But besides from that fluky Bullets team, no squad has gone all the way with a power forward leading them. Meanwhile since 1977 we have seen Bill Walton, Kareem, Moses Malone, Olajuwon, Shaq and Duncan lead their respective teams to the Championship. This is hardly coincidental.

While great power forwards are unbelievable specimens of strength, power and athleticism, they lack the base quality of dominance that a true center possesses. Try as they might, power forwards still have to work around players; they aren't naturally the core of the sphere. Historically this has meant less overall dominance, and there is no reason to expect that to change. Karl Malone, Barkley, Shawn Kemp and Webber never won titles. Nowitzki, Amare and KG have yet to (we'll talk what all this means to the Celtics in a forthcoming post). McHale won several championships, but was the second star; and Rodman cannot even be considered a number two on those Pistons and Bulls teams.

So Howard best be a center. Otherwise with Otis Smith calling the shots down there I wouldn't be getting ready to win any titles, because it's unlikely he brings in anybody better than Howard. When Dwight came into the league he was considered a power forward; a monstrous power forward, but a four nonetheless. His scouting report has come to beautiful fruition, and I now wonder if we are asking him to do too much more. Howard has never had a polished inside game, but with his size there is question as to whether he needs one. It's a very good question. Still, Howard does not make me recall Shaq, but the old Amare and Kemp. Both of those guys were beasts; they simply would overpower you. Against the best competition they could still make the opponent look silly; Amare against San Antonio in '05 the most glaring example. But like with most power forwards, neither were ever able to get their team over the hump. Howard is bigger and taller than both Kemp and Amare, but their images do not leave my mind.

Howard should yearn more to be compared to Moses Malone, which indeed he often has. Moses came to the pros at 19 playing forward, where he was immediately dominate. As he filled out he became a center, despite being on the short side. Moses' post game was extremely crafty and refined, more so than we could ever hope Howard's to be. But like Howard, Moses was voracious on the boards and could indomitably carve out space to make opponents helpless on the offensive and defensive end. Their wild proclivity for offensive rebounding is strikingly similar, as is their precocious talent. Moses won MVP at the age of 23 while averaging 25 and 18 a game; Howard is doing similar things this season. Moses was just plain great, as his three MVP awards would attest. All that said, the forward turned center won only one Finals, and that was with Dr. J and friends along for the ride.

What Dwight has over Moses and almost all these other past dominate centers is his size; he is (much) bigger than almost all of them. The irony of Howard not being considered a center is he has a better body than his desired predecessors. This well might mean that it is only time before he develops into a true center. I wasn't around to see Moses do this in the seventies, however, so I have little idea how the evolution works. I guess that's why I'm so confused right now. I'm not sure becoming a center is developmental - perhaps either you are or are not. Yao came into the league a true center - he's improved leaps and bounds, but from his pro indoctrination we knew what he was. Howard is different.

But how different? Am I being foolish? Eric Neel certainly thinks so, and the reasons seem abundantly valid. When you are as big as Howard is, and as strong, how can you not be like Shaq? Especially in this day and age, where the post is so scantily guarded, and where seemingly no one is able to even remotely contain Howard. Twenty years ago you had to bang in the box, it was a minor war in there, a positioning minefield. Today Howard just waltzes into the paint, and jumps ridiculously high to receive and then score the ball. With the NBA clamping down on contact, there is no answer for Dwight. It is very easy to see why he reminds people of Shaq, perhaps the center that all others should be judged by.

So is this the new age center - has Mike D'Antoni's pipe dream come to its ultimate realization? I'm a progressive, I like thinking of revolution in the NBA, but there is a certain dogmatic formality to basketball that is impossible to dismiss. Therein actually lies its tranquil beauty - the space between things is perhaps what basketball is all about, and why center is the most important position on the court. Is Howard, with all his athletic brio, capable of falling into this unshakable paradigm? I don't have an answer, all I know is that I'm too leery to just accept it without seeing more first.

In closing it is worth remembering the basic truth that centers develop more slowly than other positional players. What you see at 22 is not at all what you will see at 29. If Howard is a center, that means we are just witnessing the beginning of the sunrise, and noon is not even conceivable yet. This point is far less radical if he is a power forward. It is safe to say that Howard's true position is one of the more important long term questions for fans of the NBA; along with whether LeBron will flee Cleveland, and whether Dwyane Wade will be able to stay healthy. A few years ago we touted Amare the way Howard is now being touted. They were both around the same age, and if anything Amare was more viscerally devastating. But Dwight is bigger, much bigger. And because of this size we are for the first time really having to consider the reality of the "modern" center, and whether it truly can exist. I will hold my doubts a while longer; certainly till the playoffs, when the lanes suddenly become tighter. But what is indisputable is that Dwight Howard is one of the more fascinating players in the game. And while there has never been a player like him, clarifying his lineage is of utmost importance.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Where Self-Indulgent Anticipation Happens

Is it too early to start geeking out with excitement over Wednesday night's Celts-Pistons matchup? It is, you say? Well then, find another Celtics blog. I, for one, am nearly beside myself with anticipatory glee. I've seriously been looking forward to this game since the season began, or at least since the C's started humiliating every Eastern Conference minor league franchise in sight. This is a huge game for Celtics fans, and arguably the biggest game of the young NBA season, period. Think about it: not even Danny Ainge and all the Latter-Day Saints combined could have predicted that the Celtics would start off the season this well, winning over 90% of their games with a downright disturbing point differential of +14.2. The Pistons, meanwhile, are decidedly unimpressed, going 17-8 (3rd best W-L in the League behind the C's and San Antone) while cranking out their own none-too-shabby point differential of +8.5, runner-up to the C's. The knock on the Celts is that they've played lousy competition--I've tried to convince myself this isn't the case, by the way, but it's impossible; if anything our opening schedule has been even more laughably easy than it looked at the beginning of the year--and now the 19th of December is nearly upon us, the day the Pistons stroll into the Garden and, well, that's why we watch sports.

I'm no prognosticator, although I direct your attention to the Orlando Magic's 17-8 record if you're looking for evidence to the contrary. But I've got a good feeling about this one. Make no mistake, the Pistons are good, damn good, possibly better than any of us realize, and what's more, they WILL show up to play. They're consummate professionals and they want this win badly. But I can't help but think the C's might want it even more. Knowing what we know about Kevin Garnett, don't you think he's been circling this game in his mind every single time he hears some talking head prattling on about how his team hasn't faced elite competition? Particularly since that tough loss in Orlando? And, knowing what we know about KG, don't you think he's been making sure that nobody on the goddamn team forgets any of this, even for a second? It's almost humbling just to think about it.

Maybe I'm wrong; maybe the emperor has no clothes, or at least way shittier ones than we all think. But I don't think so. If Ray Allen plays and is effective, the C's win by 12. Even if he's not, they win by 5. And whatever happens, one thing is for sure: the rest of the season starts Wednesday.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Killing Dinosaurs

Being the esoteric loafer that I am, my love for ruminating on the concept of *team* has been pretty well expressed in these postings. With the Celtics this season we've all been talking about how the sum of the parts is obviously more than just the individual pieces. That was clear again this afternoon. Everybody is just so together on the team. This is most beautifully revealed on the defensive end, which we could all wax poetic about. Gorman said during the broadcast that the current group is the best Celtics' defensive team he's seen in twenty seven years, and who can argue with him? Team defense like this will just fuck up other teams. Sedition, baby. Tom Thibodeau is gonna get a medal before this is all through.

In contests like today's, individual stats glean little. No player really stood out offensively - and it mattered none at all. Again the absence of Ray was unfelt. Ubuntu is occurring, and it's ineffable. Special props to Posey at the end there, he was fucking out of sight, singlehandedly stopping the Raptors from scoring like five times in a row. Marvelous stuff...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Where Winning Without Ray Happens

In the first half of the game I was concerned about Ray's absence, with Tony's proclivity for bouncing the ball off his knee and all. We quickly learned that it meant little in the Garden when the opponent was as shaky as Milwaukee. Last night's game was interesting simply because without Ray no one seemed to miss a beat. Good things, good things. Oh, and with Pruitt's big game we can rest assured that Scal is the worst player on the team.

Friday, December 14, 2007

As Per Our Conversation

The Celtics and their respective PERs:

1. Kevin Garnett 25.21
2. Paul Pierce 20.39
3. Big Baby 19.29
4. Ray Allen 17.71
5. Eddie House 15.56
6. James Posey 14.91
7. Rajon Rondo 13.84
8. Kendrick Perkins 12.72
9. Leon Powe 12.18
10. Scott Pollard 11.41
11. Gabe Pruitt 8.77
12. Tony Allen 7.62
13. Scalabrine 5.34
14. Grasshopper n/a

No big surprises on an individual level. Most prominent to me is Ray's 17.71 PER, he usually is in the lower 20's. I would argue that his excellent defense has made up for this lower PER, but it does point to the fact that Ray is older, and everything that implies for shooting guards. KG and Pierce are right where you'd expect, as is mostly everyone else. One thing Hollinger's PER can't do is give us a good idea as to how well defensively these guys have been playing, and almost across the board defense has been a positive aspect.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Media Corner

Bob Ryan's been slowly growing increasingly irrelevant for the last fifteen years or so, but ever since he started suckling at the whorish teet of NESN in that "Globe 10.0" nonsense, his descent into bumbling idiocy has apparently been expedited. As a friend of mine likes to say, if Ryan hasn't yet jumped the shark, he's certainly revving up his motorcycle. I'm not sure how many out there are familiar with Stephen Rodrick's brilliant 2005 Slate column about the state of mainstream sportswriting, but it speaks to Ryan's situation perfectly: no matter how dickheads like him or him try and spin it, the proliferation of endlessly vapid TV programming has reeked far, far more havoc on legitimate sports journalism than anything happening in the litle ol' blogosphere. And all of this is a shame, because at the height of his powers Ryan was one of the great basketball writers of his generation, and now that the C's have their best team in 20 years it'd be nice to have a talent like his covering the team as opposed to an incompetent lackwit like Peter May. But hey, that's why you have us.

Anyways, I'm not sure if anyone's checked out Ryan's column today, but it's pretty remarkable for its worthlessness... the day after the C's ran their home record to 11-0 and Big Baby Davis formally announced himself as the Real Fuckin' Deal, Ryan cranks out one of those weird "idle thoughts" columns that always make me think of The Onion's classic Larry King parody. Ryan's bag of insanity is a charming mix of holiday music ruminations, shameless Lupica-style book plugs, movie recs, and casual racism. Some choice excerpts:
  • "I must admit there has never been a Christmas tune half as funny as Adam Sandler's immortal "The Hanukkah Song.""
  • "Is there anyone, anywhere, more on top of his game right now than Philip Seymour Hoffman? As good as he is in "The Savages," he's absolutely chilling in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.""
  • "No one can completely ruin "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for me. But Sinatra, Streisand, and Garland's 1944 original get the gold, silver, and bronze."
  • "I'm predicting that Michael Vick will be the anti-O.J. He will turn out to be a great American redemption story. The look on his face at the sentencing was, "Oh, my God. What have I done with my life?""
  • "True or false: There is no in-between on eggnog. You either loathe it or dream of bathing in it. You can guess which way I'm leaning."
  • "Tall, short, skinny, fat, 15 or 75, ask any African-American male whom he'd like to play him in the movie and the answer will always be Denzel Washington. No exceptions. White guys are usually split between Brad Pitt and, increasingly, Russell Crowe."
The last one is just insane... I hope "Globe 10.0" develops a nightly "Bob Ryan Makes Sweeping Racial Generalizations" segment. The "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" observation is so poorly written that it reads as though he's accusing Sinatra et al of ruining the song, which I'm guessing isn't what he means. The Vick prediction is decidedly un-tethered from reality and I'm not going to touch it. And if the image of Bob Ryan bathing in egg nog isn't enough to make you vomit all over your laptop, well, I'm disappointed in the both of us.

One could argue that spending so much time dissecting an unapologetically, aggressively stupid column like this one is a waste of everyone's time, but with all the hot air expended on how blogs are ruining civilized sports discourse I'd just like to point out that crap like this is infinitely more indulgent and worthless than anything that's ever appeared on this site, so fuck you, Stephen A. And again, I urge you all to check out the Rodrick column, if you're not already familiar.

On a more positive note, Big Baby now leads all rookies in Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (PER). I realize many are still wary about his precarious weight situation (myself included), but man, what a steal this kid is turning out to be.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Garden Variety Win

It was one of those games where I happened to be there, but I felt like I wasn't, if you know what I mean. A Wednesday night yawner. Mikki Moore's shoes were amazing, kind of like Artest's in the photo but with a much bigger and more mythological Nike logo. That was cool. Big Baby was cool, Pierce was cool, Artest offensively aloof was cool, and of course winning was cool. Baby seemed to make up for the beastliness that was in street attire tonight. Sactown is so injury depleted, the season is going right down the tubes without Martin and Bibby; their only hope is to play maniacal defense and have Artest get his head back on as straight as it can go. There was a time when Ron was the best player on the best team in basketball. Then some beer got on him. Oh, Orlando is "fading", they lost to the Bucks tonight. I'm gonna always try to use quotation marks when describing the Magic; probably because I was stupid enough to predict only 40 wins out of them even though Howard and Van Gundy were around. Foolish. Anyway, the Bucks are next on Friday, I assume most of you who read this blog will be drunk for that one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

If Only in Your Dreams

What’s the best part about being a sports fan? For me, it’s an easy answer: realizing the dream. When your team comes out of nowhere, against all odds, with the sports gods firmly in their corner, to win it all. I spent 15 of my formative years (the late 80’s and all of the 90’s) waiting for one Boston team to break through – then TWO teams did it – the 2001 Patriots and the 2004 Red Sox. Wasn’t it incredible? Both of those teams faced situations where there was NO POSSIBLE WAY they could ever come back – and not only did they win those games, but they finished the job and brought home the shiny trophy. During those two magical years, I followed every game with an unbridled enthusiasm usually reserved for little kids at Christmas. What an unbelievable feeling.

Now, and once again, sporting success has become commonplace in Boston. The Patriots are undefeated and we didn’t once mention them on our radio show last week. The Red Sox won the World Series again. All right! Time to get another commemorative T-shirt.

Meanwhile, the TD Banknorth Garden has played host to the city’s “losers,” the Celtics and Bruins. I figured that fans of these teams would be cautious of jumping into the tank of Cuckoo Juice if they actually started winning, to avoid becoming just as annoying as Pats and Sox horn-honkers. But no! We’ve got a plague induced by a 17-2 start compiled against FOUR TEAMS WITH WINNING RECORDS!! Why do I have to keep repeating myself? Am I too focused on the negative? And why is the head of all Headbands, Mr. Tim himself, drunkenly floating in the punch bowl? He’s dreaming the impossible dream, folks!

In all fairness, Tim has not ENDORSED the Celtics as a 70-win team. But he notes it as a real possibility. And he HAS endorsed them as a 65-win squad. Know how many Celtics teams have won 65 games in history? Two. 1972-73 and 1985-86. The latter won a title. In fact, there are TEN TEAMS ALL-TIME who won 65 games and a championship (the 85-86 Celtics, 91-92, 96-97, and 97-98 Bulls, 71-72, 86-87, and 99-00 Lakers, 70-71 Bucks, 66-67 and 82-83 Sixers). Are 70 wins possible for the Celtics? NO. Are 65 possible? I don’t see it. But for those who do - you’re getting into some rarefied air here. Particularly with the schedule that I pointed out in my last post.

“I don’t care that they have yet to play” the top-tier teams, Tim says. How can you not? You note that the Celtics have been blowing out the opposition, and how impressive that is, but the fact remains that they won’t be beating Phoenix, Utah, San Antonio, Detroit, Orlando, or Dallas by 20 points. Quote me on that. They’ll be hard pressed to win those games, period. Tim actually proposes a scenario where the Celtics lose all of their remaining meetings with Detroit, San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and Utah, accounting for 13 losses. Add that to the two they already have, and Tim’s math puts the Celtics at 67-15.

Honestly. We don’t need to have a contest to determine who is the bigger Celtics fan at Shamrock Headband, nor do we need a trivia showdown to establish the idea that the combination of Garnett, Allen, and Pierce is very special in the NBA Pantheon. But I don’t understand how beating the crap out of Eastern Conference also-rans suddenly vanquishes all concerns about this squad. Rewind a couple months: I’m grumbling about the team’s lack of pivot men. Boston sportswriters are bemoaning the lack of bench depth. National loudmouths have concerns about the age of the so-called “Big Three.” Tim is calling for Doc Rivers to be fired immediately(!)

Have these problems ironed themselves out? Pivot men: Perk has defined adequate in a Mark West kind of way (7.3, 4.8, 1.8). Backup center? God forbid anything happens to Perk. Bench depth? House and Posey are producing, as they should – but the Oversized Infant isn’t ready for prime time, despite the flashes of ’84 Barkley. Tony Allen isn’t there, either. The age of the superstars? Not a factor so far, but Ray Allen hasn’t shot the ball well at all – and have we forgotten that NBA players, particularly those in their 30’s, sit out 5-10 games a season with an array of nicks, dings, and bruises?

If anything, Doc Rivers has been the revelation here, proving very effective in the role of, as Brick says, “game manager.” Doc no longer has to change diapers and breast feed in exchange for wins. He has a team capable of making smart decisions and has so far maneuvered the ship with Francona-like ability. For all of this “too much minutes” talk:

Ray Allen – 35 minutes or less 4 of the last 6 games.
Paul Pierce – 38 minutes or less 5 of the last 6 games.
Kevin Garnett – wait, you know he’s averaging 35 minutes a night?

Even with a capable performance by Doc, the Celtics would need to hire Towelie from South Park to blaze the entire rest of the league before Celtics games to get to 70 wins. Or even 65. An NBA season has too many variables to speak of in a 1,000 word rant. You’re going to tell me that the C's will miraculously avoid injuries? That Glen Davis will be a reliable backup center by April? That a great home team, like the Portland Trail Blazers, with a talented young lineup, couldn’t beat the Celtics at the Rose Garden on a February road trip after stops in Denver, Oakland, and Phoenix? And that the Clippers won’t be ready to prey on the Celtics (their 5th game and 5th city in 7 days) the following night?

The Celtics will be challenged this year by all comers. And I hope they stand and slug it out. But put away the history books and get your head out of the clouds if you think back-to-back wins over the St. Elsewhere Raptors and Bricklayin’ Bulls is any indication of greatness.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Low Post Blues

Yao taking a three, soon part of his regular arsenal

While the reemergence of transition basketball is generally looked at as a happy feat in NBA circles, there are some less amiable aspects to it. One has to do with the fact that while many teams try to run, only a few are truly good at it. But a larger issue for me, and the one I want to touch on, is the lack of remembrance of "how the game is supposed to be played"; Larry Brown I hope you're enjoying your coffee in the Sixers' suite. I'm not talking about how the repositioning of position players has gone too far, although that sometimes bugs me. It is too easy to see the brilliance of Amare at center to get seriously perturbed about that. No, what makes me cankerous is the complete lack of understanding of what a dominant big man can do for you, specifically a center. I refer most prominently to Yao, who I thought was going to be a MVP contender this year. The reasons for thinking this were obvious - Yao has improved every season, he has a better supporting cast around him, and he's freaking bigger than anybody else. So what happens? Adelman decides Yao should play in the high post more, and become more of an enabler for his teammates from that point on the floor. The Rockets are 11-10, Yao is rightly pissed, and you can see why.

With our love of motion offense and running, fans, coaches and GMs seem to have forgotten the inherent brilliance of having a big man who can just wreck a team down low. If Yao was on my team I would almost always have him as close to the basket as possible, because the guy is 7-6 and knows how to use his size. He shouldn't be lollygagging by the free throw line. If coaches of yesteryear saw acts of deviance on this level there would a coup. Today nothing of that sort happens. Everybody is perimeter happy, and the most efficient and obvious way to score has gone to the wayside. A dominant center is the best thing you can have in basketball, Michael Jordan notwithstanding, because it gives you the most efficient scoring option known to the game. Throw the ball down low, and if you have a skilled big man, let the game develop from there. It's better than having your guard skirting around someone from seventeen feet out. But today's audience seems to have momentarily forgotten this. It's sad really.

Adande just wrote about how Phil Jackson fails to acquiesce to Don Nelson's matchup gimmicks, unlike most coaches, who fall under Nelson's spell. The results have been good for Jackson, and you can see why - there is a fundamental advantage when you get to use a talent like Andrew Bynum. Ironically, I think in general Bynum is hardly used enough by the Lakers, who quietly are one of the fastest tempo teams in the league. If I were Jackson I would slow things down and constantly throw the ball into Bynum, making sure he got the second most shots on the team beside Kobe. Believers in Bynum, like myself, should be fascinated to see if Bynum is given more opportunities in the low post as the next few years develop. Because he is one of the few legitimate centers that could potentially dominate the game, and in today's setting we may never get to see that happen.

It is also worth noting the recent (and seemingly consistent) uproar over Shaq's production. If there was ever an argument to throw the ball down low, it would be Shaq. But at this decrepit stage in his career the sad fact is that he no longer is a menace down there. The reason he does not get more touches often is because he cannot get in position to receive the basketball, and when he does he often cannot get in good enough position to take a decent shot. Nonetheless, he is right that his teammates don't get him the ball enough. It is different than 2004, when not getting Shaq the ball enough cost the Lakers the championship, but nonetheless a behemoth underneath should be a consistent offensive option.

I don't consider Dwight Howard a legitimate center, at least not yet, but what I can thoroughly appreciate is Orlando's understanding to just get him the ball close to the basket and the let the heavens take over. That is how you play good basketball, and the biggest reason for the Magic's "surprise" start. Just throw it to the biggest and most highly skilled guy out there in his true comfort zone. Even Duncan has gone away from the basket much more than he has in the past, although I give him and San Antonio a pass for doing what they do so effectively. Still, the fact remains that the only true dominant centers in the league right now are Duncan and Yao. Howard is still too much of an unrefined power forward, Bynum too young, Jefferson too small, and no one else remotely good enough to be considered dominant. Yet if you have any of the players just mentioned, or any big guy with a knack for scoring down low, you would be doing a disservice to your team not to get the ball to him often in his happy zone. The future of diplomatic relations with China might rest on this laurel.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

No Lollygagging Allowed

One thing you gotta love about Tommy is how obscene he can be without hardly trying. His first quarter "lollygagging" remarks, compounded by rugged defense, made last night's game seem a tad dirty; although Posey didn't slug anybody, as he is wont to do in the United Center. Two good defensive teams going at it, and it was one of the more fun games of the year. The main reason was Rondo, let us praise him so, who showed you what the future of Celtics basketball is gonna be all about. Rondo as a positive misfit hellion is always providential fun, and we caught more than a glimpse of it yesterday. He should be more important to this team than Ray Allen by the end of next season. But on to the present campaign - I would like to quickly revisit some of my 70 win remarks made yesterday, maybe not to clarify as much as to conjecture.

First, let it be known that I don't think the C's will win 70 games, but I no longer think you can laugh at people who say they will. The Celtics are giving a historical pounding to people, and I don't care that they have yet to play Detroit, S.A., Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Utah. Let's say they lose all those games (if we're gonna be ridiculous, let's be ridiculous.) That's all of 13 losses, or two less than the Miami Heat have right now. What I mean is that the C's are not losing at a regular pace for a great team. They're giving everybody the finger, and opponents in general just don't have a clue. It's reminiscent of when the Suns got Nash, totally revolutionized their play, and started 31-4. No one knew what to make of them, and no one knew how to handle it. I remember being in a hotel room somewhere down south and Ric Bucher saying that they were gonna win 70, and you couldn't scowl at him like you usually could. That's the vibe I'm getting from this C's team. Now, as we've been saying, do we really want to be that Suns team? Or the Pistons of '05-06, or the Mavs of last year? The answer, frankly, is no. We want a championship, we want to be like the Spurs and lollygag some during the regular season. But with this current band of brothers in Boston I'm afraid we can't hope for such attentive focus solely on the playoffs.

The reasons for having to destroy everybody in the regular season, even if it ultimately leads to burn out, is that the Celtics really know no other way. No player or coach has recently tasted that Championship experience, and knows it, with the exception of Posey. And just having Posey is not enough experience to get guarded about how to treat the regular season. As has been exposed everywhere, KG goes hard all the the time, and at all costs. You can't tell that guy not to win 67 games, ever. Pierce and Allen have never been past the Conference Finals, and have no idea how to temper the rigors of the season to make it so they crest in June. Glenn is Glenn, and I am just thankful to God that he has them winning, period. "There's no success like failure, and failure is no success at all." So fuck it folks, we're winning 65 games, there's nothing that can be done about it, and we will let the chips fall where they will. Maybe the whole operation is gonna run out of energy, or run into too much tested mettle, but we got no choice but to let things run their course. All we can do is be reasonably cautious, and hope that our greatness is such that it shines through despite our inexperience. That means don't play Ray 44 minutes in the second night of back to backs, Glenn. And as fans we have to just enjoy this utterly new experience, and praise it for happening.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Murderers' Row

Listen, I don't think any team is playing better than the C's. And I thought that before Duncan got hurt. We are not seeing normal dominance here. The Celtics killed the Raptors last night, and they've been doing demolitions of this sort the whole year. Hollinger in his chat glibly said 70 wins was actually possible, and you can see why. The point differential is still absurd, and the type of damage they regularly inflict on decent teams like the Raptors is awe-inspiring. We were talking about the Mavs during the regular season last year, the Pistons two years ago, and now it's the C's who become the focus. The two aforementioned teams didn't win the title. Hopefully that can be corrected this time.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Great Hugger

I want to talk about Posey a little bit. While the Celtics' results so far this season have been shocking, individual players have not really stood out for being far more exceptional than in the past. The Triumvirate have played like the three All-Stars that they are; and Rondo, Perkins, and House have all filled their roles as most of us (optimistically) hoped they would. The exception to all this has been Posey. I wrote back when they signed him that I was lukewarm about the deal, and I had my reasons. Posey's PER in his two years in Miami was 9.90 and 12.75. Offensively he seemed dormant, and his tough defense didn't really seem to make up for his offensive shortcomings. I lamented paying such a player $3.5 million a year when you were already over the cap.

And Mr. Jimmy, that lovable salty s.o.b., has done everything to quiet my doubts. The other night in Philadelphia is obviously a prime example, but Posey has been making similar contributions the whole season. And for those of you who expected this, I have to praise you, because it was hard as hell to see this coming. Posey did not play like this for Miami. While he was a tough-nose player, the first guy to rough it up out there if the situation called for it, James was not really an important cog in the Heat's machine. There was just no definable place for him in Miami. Between Wade, Shaq, and Antoine there weren't enough shots as it was, rendering Posey a complete afterthought. And with a player like James you might think that would be okay, but it certainly wasn't. When Posey got the ball for the Heat he would usually chuck up a three pointer or cumbersomely move with the ball, seemingly unaware of where any of his teammates were on the floor. For a good chemistry guy, he had terrible flow on the offensive end. Defensively he often matched up against the opponent's big scorer, but his contributions never seemed that noteworthy, his defense was good but not game-changing. There were just too many other things going on in Miami for Posey to ever mean anything; his unique chirpiness was leveled inaudible. Riley specifically lamented this past summer that Posey was not a creator, admitting his uselessness to the Heat's scheme. Likewise Miami gladly dispatched Posey for Ricky Davis, the "creator" that Riley referred to.

Of course it was not always that way for Posey, although we can partially excuse Riley for forgetting this. Under Hubie Brown, in Memphis, Posey had developed into an awesome player, offensively intelligent and defensively manic - he might have been the main reason the Grizzlies finished with 50 wins in 2004. Yet when Fratello took over for Brown the next year Posey fell back to Earth, and played his way out of town. That year and his two Miami seasons meant it had been three years since he'd done anything really mentionable. His career seemed to have permanently turned downward.

Which brings us to today. Ainge can talk about how he knew Posey was a good chemistry guy, but he said the same thing about Scal when he brought him in with a $15 million contract; and we all know how well that's worked out. The way Posey is rubbing off on everybody has to come as a major surprise. He's mainly playing undersized power forward, and getting away with it because he just seems more feisty and into it than most of his adversaries. Posey appears to legitimately be a team guy, and the fact that this Celtics squad is so invested in being a team has resurrected Posey's career. The man clearly feeds off positive energy, and this team is the perfect context for such an instrument. Posey wants to be loved and will love in return. Something tells me that Perk is a little more affected by a hug before each game than Jason Williams.

Posey is a mettlesome forward out there, and his scrappiness is not because of a lack of athleticism. Similar to Pierce, Posey is a big, loping fellow - and his quickness often lies in his deception. He is able to get to the ball faster than it would appear, and he is able to fill a lane more briskly than expected. You can count on these things, there's no way Posey is going to let up. What we can't count on is for him to continue on hitting 53% of his threes; but even though he probably will not continue to be such a dangerous offensive option, he does not need to be to deserve our praise. He will still be Mr. Jimmy Posey, the heart and soul of the bench.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

John Hollinger's New Formula, "WTF"

So ESPN's resident hoopsnerd John Hollinger, apparently bored by the proceedings of the season thus far, has invented something called "Hollinger's Playoff Odds 2007-08." You can read JH's explanation of it here; it seems fairly complicated but also weirdly simplistic, if that makes sense.

Hollinger tends to do pretty good work, though, so we're tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt, EXCEPT... his playoff predictor has the Celtics as a 42.6% likelihood to win the NBA Finals. They are roughly 3 times more likely to win the Finals than the next most likely contender, the Orlando Magic (choking on my bowl of cereal). Third most likely? Wait for it... ladies and gentlemen, your Detroit Pistons! Yes, you read that correctly: the 13-5 Pistons have a greater likelihood of winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy than the 16-3 San Antonio Spurs, who have a fairly decent track record in these sorts of things.

I mean, I like Hollinger and he's certainly a sharp dude, but even he has to realize this is fucking crazy. I'm one of the more biased Celtics fans on the planet, and while I'm absolutely ecstatic that they're 15-2, I wouldn't give them more than a 20% chance against San Antonio, Phoenix or Dallas. I dunno, I feel like this is one of those moments in Looney Tunes where Wile E. Coyote blows himself up and then mutters something about going back to the drawing board.

Sexy Girl

A little anecdote from last Thursday's Celtics-Knicks debacle:

After the clock ran down, The Brick and I went across the street to The Greatest Bar and found our way to the third floor where a friend was drinking his face off. Said friend bought me a Bud and a group of us hung out drinking and discussing the game.

A few minutes later a rather large gentleman in an orange flowered shirt (he looked like the lead singer of Smash Mouth, but 50 pounds heavier) comes over to me. "You don't remember me, but I know who you are," he says. All right. After a brief exchange, he announces, "I'm good friends with your manager." Okay.

I don't have a manager. Although I can kick a rhyme better than anyone I've ever met personally, hip-hop is not my profession. But the guy knew my name (Sean) and said I had played his club in the Hamptons a couple summers ago. I've never been to the Hamptons. I've been to New York 3 times in my whole life. I'm thinking someone in the bar is playing a practical joke on me. But the guy was adamant. He looked me straight in the face and goes "You might not remember...but I know you. I wouldn't lie to you." He put his hand on my shoulder and pressed me against the wall. I'm 6 foot 4 and about 210 pounds and I noticed how strong this guy was.

Just as I thought something very weird was about to go down, the guy backs off and starts name dropping other rappers I should know. Guys that have played his "club." Then he starts talking about this great reggae guy that I'm supposed to be friends with - Redd Cat. "He has this song, you know it - 'Sexy Girl.' You know how it goes - sexy giirrrrlll..." The big guy starts dancing and singing his version of the chorus: "sexy giirrrrlll." What a mess. You had to see this mess.

By this point, Brick comes in for the save and says "why don't you give Sean your card and he'll call you the next time he's in the Hamptons." The guy goes through his wallet but can't find his card. Then he announces he's "gotta take a piss." I got the hell outta there before the night got any weirder.

The next day, Brick calls me and says, "did you see Sports Center? Your guy Redd Cat was on Sports Center." Indeed he was. And on the TNT postgame. And in the Daily News. Thanks to the Sports Guy for the update today on my old friend. Sexy giirrrrlll.

So Long Philly...

Man, does Mo' Cheeks have a project on his hands. The Sixers have about as much chance of making the playoffs this year as the Celtics did last season. And that's not a total knock on Philly - it's just a reflection of the inconsistency that a squad of young "upside" players brings to the table. Sure, they have Andre Miller (who had his best game of the season tonight) and the immortal Kevin Ollie, but for every great play the young guys make, a rookie mistake is sure to follow. In the second half, the Celtics applied themselves and took advantage of gaps in the Philadelphia defense to drain the young Sixers.

The Fox Pelt tonight goes to the bench - Posey hit some HUGE shots in the second half and really showed what he's capable of. House came off the bench firing and posted an impressive 15 points. The Oversized Infant refuses to be intimidated by larger defenders and keeps attacking the basket and hitting the glass. I've expressed numerous concerns about this team's depth, but it seems like Rivers has developed a substitution formula that works. It's a decent group top to bottom - I don't feel uncomfortable with Pollard on the floor, Scal does what Scal does, Powe is looking like a garbage time player for Doc this year but I don't question his intensity for a minute. And speaking on intensity - Tony Allen does indeed freak me out every time he touches the ball, but he's getting back some of his physical gifts as the season (and healing) progresses. This should equate to a brighter future with fewer stupid turnovers from trying to do too much (we hope).

Paul had 12 dimes tonight - showing just how effective he can be when he draws the defense and kicks it. And let me also commend Eastern Conference Coach of the Month Doc Rivers for making the halftime readjustments to come out and shut down the Sixers in the third stanza. Just a great job on both ends of the floor.

Everyone should enjoy this win like a batch of holiday cookies. Savor the moment and feel free to indulge. There will be several more nights like this (including 6 of the next 8 at home) before Santa Claus comes to town. And when he does, he'll have a nice west coast road trip all wrapped up with a shiny bow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

So Long Billy

Billy King's tenure as Sixers GM came to a halt today, when he was finally fired by Ed Snider. Ed Stefanski, previously working under the incomparable Rod Thorn, has been hired to replace him. I'm interested by this for a couple of reasons. The most superficial is that the C's play the Sixers tomorrow night, and I wonder if Philly will be affected at all. But what interests me more about this firing is the timing, and what it might indicate about the Sixers' larger picture. Philly was my darkhorse team this year, and so far they have floundered badly in this role. They're 5-12, no one on the team seems to be playing that great except Louis Williams, and you get the feeling there is just a general malaise about the whole operation. This is still the Eastern Conference we're talking about here, so I'm holding out hope, but things look a bit glum.

That said it seems weird to fire King now,when the Sixers are finally admitting to rebuilding, and actually have pieces to do so. After living with a bad GM for so long, today is when you finally get rid of him? The team only has $40 million committed to the cap next summer, and while they will probably want to resign Iguodala and Williams, they should still have some serious money to play with. Plus there is legitimately intriguing young talent on the team for the first time in a while, in the form of Williams, Thaddeus Young and Jason Smith. Andre Miller's contract also is a nice card to have in your deck.

So what I'm getting at is that Snider must have fired King in part because even though the team is rebuilding, Snider still expected them to be very competitive. If this is the case I would not feel very comfortable right now if I were Mo Cheeks. When almost all your key players are underachieving, and a new GM is in town, you might want to start thinking about shaking it up some. For starters you could pick up the pace, as the Sixers currently rank 26th in possessions per game. The Sixers certainly should be running more, the roster is really made for it. Philly is not at all bad defensively, it is their offense that needs working. If Cheeks can't quickly remedy this, Larry Brown should probably come back down from the owner's box. Or at least some more competent coach should.

Good Heavens

I can't write much, since I'm on my way to a mass wedding of dogs and cats, but apparently Glenn Rivers has been named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for November. I guess this isn't too surprising, since the Celtics went 13-2 in November... but who are we kidding, it's absolutely goddamn stunning. Congratulations, Glenn. You owe Garnett a steak dinner, at the very least.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Beat Goes On

It wasn't operatic, but the C's won again this afternoon, against the Bron-less Cavs, 80-70. Even with Bronzi wearing a medallioned jacket, and even with Mike Brown pacing the opposing sidelines; it was still nice to hold a team to 70 points. It has a way of covering up offensive mistakes. The most points the Celtics have allowed this year is 109, and that game went to OT. I never would have thought such things possible a month ago. But by now we are used to defensive dominance, and we are used to excellent ball movement, and when you have these two things going for you success is sure to follow. I'm not gonna complain about victories until the Celtics start losing more consistently. Right now they are just too good to loudly bitch about. What we saw last year in terms of losing we are now seeing in terms of winning. I dare say I'm getting a little blase with some of these wins - when the C's handle an inferior opponent and do not play at a high level I'm restless; how could I become so spoiled this quickly? The Celtics meteoric rise the past six months is hard to comprehend; you just have to go with it because it's so unusual, and I can't help but think I might stammer in disbelief when describing the events that transpired to those who weren't around to see the turnabout themselves...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Eastern Dominance

I think it'd be crazy to be upset with the C's for losing that big lead last night. They played great for three quarters, and were able to withstand Miami getting it closer than seven. In terms of impressive victories, this is right up there. Glenn curtailed the bench bigtime (Scal only six minutes thankfully, Baby none at all) and it paid off. Boston is a damn good team. You get worried for tough road games, or back to back contests - and then the Celtics go out there and run all over the opponent anyway. Only excellent clubs do that. I don't want to hear anything about the paltry schedule thus far - the C's are the cream of the East. Without Glenn screwing up grandly and no major injuries I don't see any reason this team can't win 60 games. I know I am uttering what might at this moment seem obvious, but it needs to be said anyway. I don't think Orlando is in the Celtics' class. And surely no one else in the East can even be compared to Boston. In the playoffs, because of matchups (a euphemism for Glenn fucking up) you could see an upset, but the Celtics should be in the Finals. I don't think Orlando can continue on a .778 clip, so let's try to stop playing Ray 40 minutes a night. It's time to admit that what we were hoping for is true.