Sunday, March 30, 2008

They Were Hitting Everything

I missed most of this one, and while I am remiss for neglecting a historical evening, I think I'll get over it. The Miami Heat shot a glorious 17 for 59 tonight, the 17 made field goals the lowest in NBA history for a game. Are you even remotely surprised? I didn't think so. Combine the best D in the NBA with a pathetic roster in a year from hell and you'd figure this record had a decent chance of falling. Everything Jack said this morning about the state of the C's opponents was brought home by this game, except Scalabrine was (unfortunately?) inactive. The Heat are shockingly bad. They have reached the point now where utter disappointment and disgrace has been tampered by horrible injuries, leading you to trot out Ricky Davis, Earl Barron, Kasib Powell, Chris Quinn and Porthead Blount as your starting five. Ladies and gentleman, I predicted the Miami Heat in the 2008 NBA Finals. One of my finer moments.

The Glorious April of Scalabrine is Nearly Upon Us

The Celtics have ten games left on their schedule. Exactly one of those games is against a team with a +.500 record (April 9th at Washington; hide your daughters). In fact, aside from said clash with Wizardry, the Celtics' remaining schedule consists of playing every single Eastern Conference non-playoff team, including the Milwaukee Bucks twice. Granted, that's "if the season ended today," but have you looked at the lower-seeded EC playoff picture? I mean, who gives a shit. The Atlanta Hawks may well poised to end their 10-year playoff drought with, what, 36 wins? 38 if you're a wild-eyed romantic? Meanwhile the West is delivering some of the best basketball in the history of the League, and the strong possibility remains that a 50-win team from the left side of the map could miss the playoffs in downright historic fashion. I can't stress enough how epically fucked-up this is... but I digress.

My larger point is that its time to dust off the #44 jerseys and distasteful ethnic solidarity because the worst player on the Boston Celtics is about to start getting some burn, big time. The C's are 5.5 up on the Pistons for home-court and the next time you see KG on the court for even 30 minutes may well be against those heroic Hawks. It actually warms my heart a bit to think of Scal capering about on the court, particularly considering his symbolic valueas a sort of victory cigar for the entire regular season, but I'll probably change my tune once he starts air-balling 3s on the break, whipping passes out of bounds and generally mutilating the game of basketball. But hey, at least he'll be playing hard.

The most exciting thing over the next month (aside from everything in the Western Conference) will probably be seeing how the MVP race shakes out, and on that subject I feel I should say a few words. Numerous esteemed Celtics partisans have been banging the drum for KG, rightfully pointing out the Celtics' historic worst-to-first turnaround and the way in which one man seems to have reversed twenty years of star-crossed frustration. All of this is true. I don't think anyone quite understood how tremendous a basketball force Kevin Garnett was before this trade, both on and off the court, and I don't think there's anyone else in the League who could have done what he's done quite how he's done it.

That said--and it doesn't even pain me to say this--KG is not going to win MVP, and I don't think it's any screaming injustice. There's a number of semi-valid arguments as to why the trophy's destined for other hands: how well the C's performed in Garnett's rather extended absence; the fact that he plays alongside two All-Stars; the fact that his individual numbers aren't quite up to speed with the LeBrons and Kobes, or even the Antawn Jamisons. There's clearly an element of bullshit to each of those claims, and we could debate them till the cows come home, but here's the larger point: when the Celtics put this team together back in July and August, all we were hearing was how it wasn't about individual glory anymore, that if none of these guys ever made an All-Star team again but could bring home a championship then all would be right with their lives and ours. And you know what? They've done exactly that, and didn't even have to give up those All-Star slots in the process. This season's been a big-picture, team endeavor of singular focus, and to wring our hands when KG is left out of the top 3 for MVP voting is to profoundly miss the point. I'm sure Paul Pierce will think it's a travesty when the award goes to someone else, and KG will most likely be outraged when Pierce himself gets barely a whiff of consideration (which may ultimately be the greater travesty), but then they'll shrug it off and focus on kicking the shit out of the Pistons, as should we. It's not KG's year for the MVP, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

That said, this is going to be one of the tightest award races in recent memory. My personal feeling is that it'll go to Kobe, largely because he's never won, and then LeBron will become the new Kobe, which strikes me as somewhat unfair since LeBron's a better basketball player than Kobe (or anyone else). Chris Paul is a fascinating option and may well be the most deserving of all--what he does every night for Nawlins is almost too wonderful for words--but he's only 22 and the idiots who vote for this award seem to have it in for youngsters (see James, Lebron). It'd be enjoyably unexpected if he pulled it out.

Friday, March 28, 2008


The Celtics just took down the Hornets in the second half, like they did on Wednesday to the Suns. If we were still looking at the game-by-game picture I could write an epic about this one, but we are past that point. It is hard to imagine any team really coming close to the C's when they shoot 60% and play their customary stifling D. Pierce was ridiculous (27 points on 11 shots, 9 dimes, 6 boards, 1 turnover), KG primed (21 and 13), and neither was the best Celtic tonight. That went to my roller-skating hero, Rajon, who contained CP3 as well as you can, shot 8 of 10, and finished +28 for the night. Well done. New Orleans, like Phoenix, is a hell of a team, and when you can lay such shellackings on quality you are doing most things well.

So now for the good/bad news. The C's, who have beaten every team in the league, have an easy schedule to round out the regular season. That is excellent for getting some rest, tweaking minor issues, and assimilating Cassell (who played 4 seconds tonight). All those things are very important. The only element that is too bad is that the Celtics are playing so well right now, and you really wish it was May. But it's not. With the suddenly trifling schedule it is almost inevitable that the C's peak play will disappear; it actually will be disturbing if it does not. This is not a team that ever mails it in, but there is no way the intensity level will remain the next few weeks. Again, no big deal, that fire will be brought back by whatever first round opponent they proceed to destroy, but it is interesting what April means to a great team. You have to keep the foot on the accelerator, but drive calmly and with care. You won't be pushing 100 like the last few games. So it's gonna be a bit of a change, and you might find yourself antsy.

Saint Tom

Really, there hasn't been enough written about Tom Thibodeau this year. Yes, he has gotten a lot of credit for the Celtics' amazing defense, but honestly he deserves more. That's why it was nice to be able to actually read an in-depth interview with Thibodeau recently; I highly recommend it. My feeling (non-surprisingly)is that much of great coaching this year comes directly from Tom. While Glenn has exceeded my wildest expectations, there is no way the defense would be as good without Thibodeau's guiding hand. I'm very afraid of what next year will look like sans the defensive guru, who certainly deserves whatever head coaching job he gets this summer. My dream scenario is the Bulls poaching Rivers away and Ainge handing the keys over to Tom. But that is unlikely to happen. A situation like that is the only way Rivers can be ceremoniously removed and Thibodeau remain. So bring on the hate, Glenn-lovers. We all know who's doing the real x and o coaching night in and night out.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Don't Leave Me Alone In The Twilight

The Suns horrify me. And I think the main reason why is my ego. Back before the season started, I picked the Suns to win it all. Since then, all types of crazy things have happened - the Celtics have far exceeded expectations, the Lakers got Gasol, and Phoenix traded Marion for Shaq. Yet in my own exasperating mind, I still get the scary feeling that Phoenix will be holding the trophy in June. In defense of myself I will say I have predicted the champion before the season started for two years running - but that hardly makes me a Kreskin, more just like a cocky bastard. And it is highly unusual for so much turbulence to happen during the playing year, which you would think would effectively minimize any such predictions.

Yet my faith in the Suns remains. I was rather blase about the Shaq trade (on a talent level at least, the money is another thing) and it is now pretty clear as to where Kerr was leaning: he only cared about the playoffs. He figured (probably correctly) that it is more worthwhile to have a serviceable center than a star swingman who often disappears in a big series. Especially when you have Grant Hill to almost duplicate what Marion does anyway. And make no mistake - the Suns are a dangerous team, at the end of the day they still score as efficiently as anybody, and are as hungry, too.

All of these strong points were hammered home in the first half tonight. Try as they might, the Celtics' defense couldn't contain the Suns' attack. Phoenix can hang with you because their offense is that good, and if they play solid D you're in trouble. For the first time since microfracture, you can argue Amare looks as important as Nash, and that is quite a spectacle to behold. Offensive sustenance and veteran stamina are why they have yet to lose more than two games in a row. And stylistic grace has been replaced with veteran grizzle. What the Celtics can do to opponents defensively, the Suns can do offensively. The term "transition team" is now completely misleading, and almost mocks the hardened offensive thoroughness this team can present.

Amare really appears devastating, there is little he can't do within fifteen feet. Yet KG & gang were somehow able to contain him in the second half, and Pierce led the way offensively with his exceptional driving. So the game turned into a blowout. The Celtics by the end of the evening did indeed look like the better team - more grounded and opportunistic. And maybe Phoenix really isn't that frightening - with inconsistent defense, no backup point guard, and creaky veterans -but maybe that was just tonight. All I know is that if the Celtics are to meet the Suns in the Finals I will be terrified of destiny knocking.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some Things Can't Be Said Enough

Don't be bummed about losing to Philadelphia. The Sixers are just plain good right now, needed the game much more than the Celtics, and got an absolutely stellar fourth quarter out of Andre Igoudala. That is nothing to frown about. When you're kicking the shit out of everybody, eventually the other shoe is gonna drop. Two hard-fought losses to New Orleans and Philly hardly qualifies as anything troublesome. Be done with it, if you aren't already.

So let's talk about Leon. I know he seems to be about the only subject I write about these days, and you wouldn't think he would need that saying he already has a namesake website, but I keep having to sing it to the hills: Leon Powe is a monster. He was the best Celtic on the floor tonight, and he continues to amaze with his inside offensive arsenal. I doubt if Powe is even 6'8'', but he works so well in the paint that you never worry about it. This man knows how to find his room. Yes, he gets his shots blocked, but usually he finds a way to put the ball back in. As good as Cassell can be for this team, it is Leon who is the primary focus of the second team's offense. And well it should be. Guys know to get him the ball, because he will score. His production has been consistent and devastating. He is an efficiency machine. As much as I love Posey I am almost ready to say that Powe is more important to this team. I don't mean to be redundant, but it seems like most people still are unclear as to how good Leon has been. Make no mistake - he's been great.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

This One Stings

It's hard to complain about much as a Celtics fan these days, but man, this was a rough one. The C's appeared to have the game pretty much in hand through a good part of the fourth quarter, then squandered a double-digit lead thanks to some poor decision-making and lackadaisical defense and ended up dropping this one to the Hornets, 113-106. I'm not really sure where this one went wrong: generally speaking, nobody on the Celtics played particularly badly, and while Leon was unfortunately neutralized by some shaky officiating (4 PFs in 12 min), the C's still shot 56% to NOLA's 50% and commanded the boards by a 44-29 margin. Turnovers weren't so pretty, 20 for the C's against 9 for those other guys, and too many of those came in a fourth quarter when were outscored 32-17. Doubly painful is the fact that we were oh-so-close to sweeping a road trip that was unquestionably the toughest stretch of the season; while I don't think this loss changes the Celtics' position as provisional title favorites, a win would have served as some pretty delicious icing on the proverbial cake.

From an individual standpoint, this game belonged to New Orleans' criminally underrated David West, who poured in 37 points while more or less singlehandedly keeping his team in the game for most of the night. Chris Paul had a relatively unspectacular outing (19 points and 7 dimes) but made some absolutely huge plays down the stretch. For the losing side, Pierce had 28 while Rondo added 23, and KG notched a double-double with 19 and 12.

All in all, it's hard to complain; this road trip's featured some of the best ball played by the Celtics all season, and that's saying something. And make no mistake: New Orleans is DAMN good, and must be reckoned with in the vaunted Western Conference playoffs. Things get easier (to say the least) for 2 1/2 weeks, so try and remember these glory days of basketball purity when you're watching Scalabrine log 40 minutes against the Knicks a few weeks from now.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Powe Boy

After my glowing assessment last night of the state of the team, let's get back into the brine. Glenn briefly talks about rotations today in the Globe, and his remarks are mildly alarming. What stands out to me is that Glenn still seems a little reticent in proclaiming Leon a lock for considerable minutes. This is a terrible mistake. You can make a solid argument that Leon should be the first guy off the bench. His PER is 20.5, second highest on the team. There should never be nights where he doesn't play if healthy, which is exactly what happened Monday in San Antonio. Powe should be getting all of KG's backup minutes, plus be on the floor some when KG plays center. Glenn, in short, should utilize Leon as much as possible.

Leon really has been remarkable. He is an offensive force, and defensively he seems to make a few standout plays each game. I can understand the logic of juggling P.J. Brown and Big Baby, but Powe deserves much better than that. And while Glenn seems happy using a ten or eleven man rotation, come playoff time he might be better served to give considerable playing time to only three non-starters: Powe, Posey and Cassell. While House, Baby, TA and Brown all will get minutes, none need to be guaranteed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Look In The Mirror

Tonight's victory makes me say something I would have said anyway: The Celtics are the favorites for the NBA Title. This has nothing to do with me being a homer, and I have oddsmakers to help me attest to that. The C's might not win the championship, but objective analysis brings us to the conclusion that they seem to have a better shot than any other team. The Texas road trip has only reinforced this point, and drilled in how fantastic this squad is.

Why the Green are superior to the other contenders is their great defense and incredible consistency. This Dallas game was case in point: the Celtics just wore the Mavs down and then made key plays down the stretch to win. It wasn't remotely surprising to see them do this. At this juncture it has been established over and over again - no one is tougher defensively than the Celtics, and when you have three stars on offense complementing merciless D you win most of the time.

So Boston has less to stress about than anyone else. Yes, there is reason to be horrified of Glenn, but his coaching this year has been sound. While I will always be fearful of Glenn Rivers, other teams seem to have more worrisome issues. San Antonio is still great but has been plagued by inconsistency. The Lakers are tremendously potent but are relatively young and finding their chemistry. Phoenix could pull it all together and go all the way, but they just as easily could lose in the first round. Dallas looks off-kilter. Detroit is very good but simply doesn't seem quite as robust as the C's. I don't consider anyone else a serious contender.

Meanwhile the train keeps rollin' along. The argument that the C's don't have enough playoff experience seems nitpicky given the team's clutch play throughout the year and the large veteran presence. They beat opponents indiscriminately - now 23-4 vs. the West and 32-9 vs. the East. They have a favorable schedule down the stretch and early in the Playoffs. And they just plain seem to get it. So while any number of things could go wrong, we are no longer dreaming when we say the Celtics are the odds-on favorite.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Woo Woo!

I was tempted to title this post something like "22 and DONE" but I'll leave that hackneyed pun to the brain-geniuses over at ESPN. Anyways, the Houston Rockets' monumental 22-game winning streak came to a shuddering halt tonight courtesy of the Celtics, who not only won but blew them out in cold and methodical fashion, 94-74. The C's have now won 13 of their last 14, which isn't 22-0 (or even 22-1) but is still damned impressive. This one will undoubtedly be thoroughly diced up by the national media, but I'll break down some highlights, starting with Leon Powe's robust 21 points off the bench. KG and Pierce combined for 44 (22 and 20, respectively), but watching the game the biggest story seemed to be Houston's inability to grab rebounds and defend inside when it counted. This Rockets team has been playing undersized for weeks now--it's definitely been part of their charm--but tonight it finally caught up to them, which is interesting considering that the conventional wisdom on the C's at the beginning of the season was that they lacked the size to bang with the West. Who's laughing now, I ask. Anyways, to sum things up, this was a great win and we ought to bask in the national ass-kissing the Celtics will have coming to them at least until the Mavs game on Thursday.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Erin Go Bragh!

Better late than never for some world-class St. Patrick's Day hijinks from your unceasingly amazing Boston Celtics. This had to have been one of the best games of the season thus far--though it seems like we've been saying that a lot lately--as the C's fought their way out of an early 22-point hole to forcefully snatch one from the reigning World Champion Spurs, in San Antonio, no less. The final was 93-91, though it somehow managed to feel even closer, and considering Ray Allen was MIA you couldn't have asked for a better outcome if you're a Celtics fan: this was one of those games that gives you the feeling that maybe there's something special about this season, something beautiful, something bigger than all of us... but I get ahead of myself.

First things first: this was the first game that the real Sam Cassell showed his devilish face, and it was a sight to see. Sam I Am poured in 17 points in 27 minutes, including one three pointer that was certainly testicle-dance material (Sam refrained). Even more impressive than Cassell was his new running buddy Rajon Rondo, who scored 20 points to go with 6 boards and... well... alright, we'll say it... outplayed Tony Parker. KG added 21 and Paul Pierce was the high man with 22, and generally speaking this one was just an all-around barn-burner.

There's more to say here but it's hard to get too comfortable when you've got the downright-historic Houston Rockets looming for tomorrow night. That one's on TNT and I believe it's a 9:30 start, so get ready to stay up late. Last I checked Houston had won a handful of games in a row... you may have heard something about it. I've caught a couple of their more recent games and I've gotta say, while most of me--not even all of me--hopes they lose tomorrow night, they're an absolute joy to watch. If the C's beat them we're part of history, if the C's lose to them, well, same thing. From a pure basketball fandom standpoint there's not a whole lot of downside to this one, and I gotta say my heart skips a little to see Dikembe out there wagging that finger like a young pup. But nothing gold can stay, so let's meet again tomorrow night and do this.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Buck Huntin'

The Celts beat the Bucks last night, 99-77. It was a nice bounce-back after the Utah disappointment on Friday, and honestly, Milwaukee was never really in this one. KG led the way with 19, and Eddie House chipped in with an unexpectedly robust 17 on 7-11 shooting. Charlie Bell was the high man with 16. I know what you're thinking but you're wrong: this was NOT the most fun game of the season to watch. Who am I kidding, this game was so unremarkable that I can barely muster the energy to post about it. It's best to see it as a tune-up for the grueling Southern swing over the next six days: San Antonio (Monday), Houston (Tuesday), Dallas (Thursday), and New Orleans (Saturday). This, my friends, is where men are men I, for one, am somewhat scared. But in a good way. Anyways, take a deep breath, watch the sweet double feature on ABC this afternoon, drink in last night's victory, and prepare to get serious.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Crashing Back to Earth

The Celtics' 10-game winning streak ended at the Garden tonight with something of a sputter, as the Green fell to the ever-tough Utah Jazz, 110-92. Ray Allen was lost to an ankle injury in the second quarter--no word yet on how much he'll miss, although it doesn't appear too serious--and you could make a decent case that he might have helped them pull this one out, but generally speaking the Jazz just outplayed us. Nothing was falling from beyond the arc (a brutal 3-15), the Jazz tended to make shots when it mattered and we couldn't capitalize the few times they didn't. The Heinsohns among us will complain about the officiating--Tommy wasn't quite in full on "go back to the women's league, Violet!" mode but by the end he was edging closer and closer--but when you lose by 18, well, you lose by 18. We admit, it was a much closer game than the final score indicates, but you get the picture. When Paul Pierce only scores 8 points on 1-7 shooting and KG is your high man with 15, it's one of those nights. Oh yeah, and Deron Williams led the way for the Jazz with 32 points blah blah blah blah blah...

The winning streak was fun, especially seeing how it rather niftily flew under the radar thanks to Houston's big bowl of excellence. Milwaukee tomorrow night, then the gauntlet of terror begins St. Paddy's Day in San Antonio. Get well soon, Ray... very, very soon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I'm not gonna get waxy like the other night, but wow. It is hard to imagine the Green not putting together a double digit win streak since '86, but so it is. Seriously, though, the Celtics are just one reason to be impressed right now. There's so much more to think about. Houston has won twenty straight fucking games. I didn't want to jinx the Rockets by talking about it (at least till next Tuesday), but this is some unbelievable stuff. I was all over Adelman at the beginning of the year, and was totally wrong. My Lord, what beautiful basketball they are playing - McGrady is perhaps better than anyone right now, which is a loaded statement these days. These did it ever get this good? The 2007-08 season has been nothing short of miraculous, with seemingly another great story coming every week. I mean just tonight you have the two streaking teams, the Hornets pulling within one win of the Spurs by pasting them by 25, and LeBron going for his basic 42-11-7 insanity. And the Raptors-Warriors game is about to get under way. This is certainly the best regular season I can remember...

What's nice and encouraging about the Celtics' streak is the ordinariness of it; they aren't playing amazingly well, they're just beating teams plain and fair. Ray has been on fire (actually all of the Triumvirate have been) and that really lightens my mood. At the beginning of the season we were unclear what the offensive pecking order was going to be. Then it became evident Ray was third on the totem pole, and his play dictated that he be placed no higher. But recently something new has appeared. Ray's usage is still comparatively low, nothing like in his past seasons, but he is hitting everything. In short, Ray has become supremely efficient. No one is asking him to score 25 every game - we'd all rather he get 18 the way he did tonight, on 8 of 10 shooting.

Perhaps Ray is in a zone and will drop back out of it. But this is the Allen we were all expecting, and maybe just now he is truly getting comfortable on the offensive end. If he can keep up this potency for the rest of the season the Celtics will have a legit Big Three. All of them are now shooting the ball very well. Compounded with their great defense, the only holdup for the C's could be turning the ball over too much. It's easy to play mistake-free games against crappy opponents in March. It's harder against Detroit. But don't let that bother you, right now everything is clicking, and there is little to find bothersome.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Goodness, This Is Stupid

Please excuse me for my second lambasting of the media in a seven-day period, but I just can't help myself; I don't know if it's the whole "run-up to the home stretch" thing, but idiots everywhere seem to be leaping out of the woodwork, questionable opinions in hand. This week's culprit is Mr. Steve Aschburner, currently a contributor to but formerly of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and I can only imagine that that "formerly" is largely due to a propensity to write crap like this. Now, I should preface this rant by saying that one of my least favorite sportswriting tendencies is the "last data point" syndrome: you know, the thing that leads people to proclaim things like, "If Brett Favre's not the greatest quarterback of all time, I can't think of anyone better," even you took about 30 seconds you could probably think of at least five quarterbacks who were, in fact, better.

Anyways, Aschburner's little thesis is that the Lakers' Mitch Kupchak deserves the NBA's Executive of the Year award over Boston's Danny Ainge. Now, as any who read this site during its pre-Garnett days can attest, I'm no Ainge-worshipper; in fact, my general disposition towards the whole Ainge-as-Celtics-redeemer rhetoric could be charitably described as skeptical. That said, last year the Celtics finished 24-58, good for the second-worst record in basketball; this year they're at 50-12, good for the very best record in basketball, and by a rather considerable margin at that. This phenomenal--indeed, historical--change in fortunes is unquestionably due to moves which Ainge enacted as the team's de facto head executive.

Now, last season the Los Angeles Lakers finished 42-40. A good performance, not great. This season, the Lakers sit at 44-19, good for tops in the Western Conference. They've already won two more games than they did all of last season. The Celtics have already won twenty-six more games than they did all of last season. You can see where I'm going with this.

So I admit to having a pre-formed bias against Aschburner's central thesis. But I'm a reasonable man, and saw no reason not to hear the man out, so I clicked on his link. What followed was one of the more vapid assaults on reason and competent writing that I've encountered since Peter May's last column, at the very least. In homage to the inimitable gents at Fire Joe Morgan, I'll save our readers some time and pull out some choice gems of banality:

As Mitch Kupchak makes the basketball rounds this spring, from Pauley Pavilion to Staples Center to any of the other venues where his current (the Lakers) or future players (potential draft picks) are active, you won't see a satisfied smile plastered across his face.

Not only is this a hopelessly cliched opening, it seems casually ignorant of the fact that the Lakers don't have a first-round draft pick this year, as Kupchak traded it to Memphis in the very transaction Aschburner's ostensibly here to celebrate.

Given his image makeover of the past 10 months, as measured by the Lakers' overhaul and 43-18 record, Kupchak has a right to drop more nyah-nyah's on the league and within his own locker room -- in the vicinity of No. 24's dressing stall -- than Hilary Clinton in a roomful of pundits.

Sweet Hilary Clinton reference, and super topical as well, since she recently wrapped up the Democratic nomination in the face of impossible doubts from the punditocracy. What, you didn't hear about that? I guess it got lost in the Spitzer headlines.

Here's where Kupchak is, whether he likes it or not: challenging Boston's Danny Ainge as the favorite for NBA Executive of the Year (see chart above). If the Celtics' boss deservedly cleared space on his bookcase for the award through the season's first half -- a 34-7 seal of approval stamped on his offseason acquisitions of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and others -- Kupchak has pulled even with about a quarter of the schedule left. In a tougher conference, with Bryant's trade demands as a loaded gun to his head, he has matched and maybe even surpassed Ainge's impressive work.

One of the recurring idiocies of this article is that Aschburner consistently praises Mitch Kupchak for dealing with adversities brought about by none other than Mitch Kupchak. It's like he's under the impression that someone else has been aimlessly steering the SS Lakers for the past three or four seasons. His "point" about Bryant's trade demands is a perfect example of this: the reason he had this "loaded gun to his head" was because Mitch Kupchak himself, through a disastrous combination of poor personnel decisions and star-worship had created a situation in which he and his team were held hostage by his star player. Granted, said hostage situation appear to have temporarily subsided, but the fact that Kupchak is no longer being publicly humiliated by his star player seems like a bit of a wash to me.

Anyways, after a bit more in the way of maudlin platitudes, Aschburner launches into the "meat" of his argument for why Kupchak--not Ainge-- deserves Exec of the Year, conveniently rendered in bullet-point style. Some highlights:

• He hung onto Andrew Bynum, which would have been easy based solely on the 20-year-old's size and potential but got harder after Bryant's rant about the kid (the untouchable in a possible Jason Kidd deal last year) was made public. Whether Bryant's challenge helped or not, the 7-footer was averaging 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 28.8 minutes when he went down with his left knee injury on Jan. 13.

Ok, I admit that Bynum definitely looks as though he's going to be a very good, possibly excellent pro. But here's the thing: Bynum is clearly a long-haul investment (particularly after his rather significant injury), and this award is for Executive of the Year. I mean, does anyone out there actually think the Lakers would have been bad this year with Jason Kidd? I don't think that not trading Bynum necessarily should go in the plus column, unless you can definitively prove that holding onto Bynum enabled the Lakers to get Gasol, which seems a specious argument at best, and one which Aschburner never even attempts to develop, as that would require, like, looking things up.

• Kupchak stole, yes, stole
Pau Gasol from Memphis, giving up Kwame Brown's expiring contract, last year's top draft pick, Javaris Crittenton, a retired Aaron McKie and a couple of first-round picks, one of which won't be much better than a Memphis second-rounder coming back to the Lakers. Beyond Gasol's dramatic impact on the Lakers' lineup combinations and results -- they are 13-3 with the 7-foot Spaniard in the starting lineup -- the trade created a ripple effect among conference contenders. Next thing anyone knew, Phoenix and Dallas were tinkering with pretty proven formulas, and New Orleans, Houston and San Antonio started tweaking, too.

Look, the Gasol trade was incredible, there's no doubt about that. I still haven't really gotten over it; it was probably the most absurdly lopsided NBA trade since Kupchak himself traded away Shaquille O'Neal, or when Kupchak traded Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown (I mean, let that last one sink in a bit). That said, there's a certain extent to which Gasol fell into Kupchak's lap due largely to the mind-numbing incompetence of Memphis' front office; rumors have persist that there were better offers on the table, particularly one from Chicago involving Joakim Noah and Andres Nocioni, that Chris Wallace wanted to take and Michael Heisley vetoed. It'd be completely cliched to make the old "if the Lakers win the title, they should send Heisley/Wallace a ring" joke here, but honestly, they probably should. And yes, I realize that one could make a similar argument around Ainge's heist of Garnett from McHale, but at least Ainge needed to make the Ray Allen trade to set that shit up.

• He removed from his roster a pouting, headstrong, me-first All-Star and replaced him with the NBA's best player, who is focused and working toward his best shot yet at a Most Valuable Player award. In other words, Kupchak maneuvered the Lakers from cranky Kobe to happy Kobe with one of those legendary, bullet-dodging moves-not-made.

Once again, this is giving Mitch Kupchak credit for alleviating a dysfunctional situation that he himself created. Once the Lakers acquiesced to Kobe's ego and traded Shaquille O'Neal they gave birth to a situation in which the star player (correctly) ascertained that he could hold the team hostage to suit his whims. Mark my words, Kobe Bryant is not done pulling this shit; not by a long shot.

• But wait, there was one more move: not trading
Lamar Odom. Odom's status was shaky even after Gasol arrived, with some wondering if there was enough basketball for three offensive threats. Odom, though, is a matchup nightmare even when defenses aren't drawn away by the other two guys. His season averages (13.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 50.4 percent shooting) have bumped considerably since the Feb. 21 deadline passed (14.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 61.9 FG pct.).

This is by far the strangest "plus." First of all, I don't remember hearing any serious calls that the Lakers should trade Odom after getting Gasol, do you? This would be like me congratulating Danny Ainge on not trading James Posey: Aschburner's inventing a situation that never existed to credit Mitch Kupchak for not acting on said imaginary situation. Furthermore, besides the 10-point jump in Odom's FG%, I'm not really sure you can argue that his numbers have bumped "considerably" since the Gasol trade. I mean, they've gone up a little, but I don't think a 0.7 bounce in Lamar Odom's ppg over the past four weeks is really material in a Kupchak-for-Exec-of-the-Year argument.

Look, I realize I write for a Celtics blog, and that I open myself up to all sorts of charges of homerism in writing this column. That said, I do genuinely believe that Ainge deserves Executive of the Year: the Celtics' turnaround this season has been so remarkably unparalleled--and due purely to personnel moves--that I don't really see a convincing argument for anyone else. But really what riles me is the sort of shitty non-analysis like Aschburner's that lazily takes a slightly-controversial stand simply to try and convince us that its author is taking some stand against conventional wisdom. I mean, this article doesn't even work as a sort of counterfactual intellectual exercise, as it's completely egregious how little intellect clearly went into it. Anyways, that took a little longer than expected but I guess I feel better now.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Let's Get Sentimental

I usually stay in the present when discussing the Celtics, but tonight is an exception. The boys just won #50, and honestly it had more of an impact on me than expected. The last time the C's won at least 50 games was 1992. Larry Legend was striding the parquet floors for the last time. It's been that long. And when you're talking about a franchise as storied as this one, that's an eternity. Every other team in the NBA has won 50 games since then except the Warriors, Nuggets, Clips, Wiz, Bobcats and Raptors (the last two are expansion clubs.) Talk about keeping good company. Any true Celtic fan can relate more to the aforementioned teams the last fifteen years than the Lakers or Bulls. This is our first encounter with quality in a great deal of time. The stark difference is something we are all still getting used to.

50 wins, mind you, ain't all that great. It just means you presented a good team, and often not much more. The fact that the Celtics were unable to do even that for fifteen years has been well documented; but the emotional bearing of such mediocrity is not so easily conveyed. For my entire adult life the Celtics have been thoroughly insignificant. Some years are better than others, but the results are pretty much the same, with the occasional exception. As Celtics fans we are used to the futility of not being regarded as anything, as not worth thinking about, except as maudlin nostalgics. Obviously this whole year has changed that, and makes you realize how utterly shitty a feeling it is to cheer for a team that is going nowhere, with no end in sight. It is almost better to be absolutely terrible (like last year), and have the hope that it could lead to much bigger things (like Oden and Durant.) Of course last year did lead to much bigger things, just not in the way any of us would have expected.


A few quick thoughts about tonight's win over the Sixers:

-I love Louis Williams and hate Donny Marshall, but the Horrible Husky made a good point about Williams' iso game disrupting the Sixers' flow. Louis is a good player, but he was no help for Philly this evening. The C's did a good job of getting the entire Sixer squad less pass-happy during the second half.

-Sam looked like someone who hasn't played in three weeks and hasn't practiced with the team - which is the case.

-KG was on fire offensively, and his defense was insanely good as usual. I wonder if Kevin will become a three point shooter as he reaches his autumnal years. It could maybe add something to his game if utilized properly. He went 37 for 116 back in 2001-02, career highs in makes and attempts.

-Perk has been beastly as of late. Beastly.

-Looking ahead I know no one wants to play LeBron (a pedestrian 24-11-10 tonight) in the playoffs, but the Celtics have a margin of victory that is over ten points a game. The Cavs, on the other hand, have been outscored by their opponents this season. That means something.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Destroying Again

Last night's throttling of the Grizzlies was the second straight night of demolition for the Celtics. What can we say to that, except Bravo? Not much. We can rave about this team's professionalism and readiness to no end because they have so rarely let us down in this department the entire season. The idea of a "letdown" game does not seem to really exist for this team. You have to respect any group that is capable of doing this. The Celtics are now back over an .800 winning percentage and a 10 point differential in margin of victory. I thought those numbers would be gone after the "failure" of the last West Coast trip, but here they are again. Sometimes it's okay to be all gushy...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

No Bullshit

Yes, it's true the Bulls played Thursday night and then had to fly into the Bean for Friday's affair. But it still looked like they quit in this game. There are few teams as infuriating as these Bulls, who simply don't seem to get it, even though they say otherwise. It was men against boys last night, and the two most memorable moments had more to do with the people in the stands than the players on the court. P.J. Brown's introduction brought a completely ridiculous standing ovation from the crowd; and with the game already in hand Big Baby went careening over the scorer's table for a loose ball, further endearing himself to everybody he did not land on.

So after Wednesday's minor masterpiece, this game was crap, but nobody complained. Really what was uplifting last night was just seeing Sam here, and we might actually get to see him play against Memphis. The Celtics quietly have now won seven in a row, notching up the "easy" victories this month before the schedule gets brutal. When you analyze where the C's are compared to the good WC teams, the road seems paved with gold. The pressure is seemingly off; and from now to the end of the regular season can be utilized as one long tune up for the playoffs. Or so we hope.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

In Praise Of Kenny G

Let's briefly talk about Kenny George. If you don't know who that is watch this or this and if you're still interested read this. I'm a little perplexed why there is not more draft buzz surrounding Kenny. The most respected draft sites have him going no higher than the middle of the second round, if he is to be picked at all. There is no justification in my eyes for such a low ranking. Yes, George is a serious injury risk, and he has problems with his conditioning. But he is also 7'7", 360 pounds, and can actually play basketball. There is one college player in the country who has a PER as high as Michael Beasley, and it's Kenny George. That means he is no stiff, and honestly even stiffs at this height usually get a ton of draft buzz. So what gives?

I can understand the hesitation of picking a player who is very tall and less than coordinated. But George has a skill set that can actually be utilized by NBA teams -he's not just some clumsy bricklayer. George's injury history is troublesome; but what pick is not dicey once you get past 20? I'm not saying he will ever play 30 minutes a night (although he could), but it seems plainly naive to have Hasheem Thabeet, DeVon Hardin and JaVale McGee all ranked well ahead of a potential matchup nightmare who blocks shots without getting into foul trouble.

The good news is that Kenny will certainly get a shake in the league. The question is why he is not getting more hype. Given the right opportunity, and barring bad injuries, do not be surprised to see him become a legitimately good NBA player.

Can't Get It Out Of My Head

Sorry to carve it into the ground excessively, but that was a great fucking game last night. I recommend not over-analyzing the final score, but goodness gracious - what a show. As Jack has already clarified, there has been no Celtics' game this season that even came close to matching the ferment of these 48 minutes. "Playoff level intensity" is a cliche we all fall back on, partly out of laziness and partly because we wish the playoffs would get here sooner, but last night easily lived up to such a billing. Actually the level of play often seemed superior to many playoff games. And I'm not just talking about first round yawners, I mean Conference Final nailbiters. This showdown was nothing like the first two between the C's and the Pistons; it took us to a whole other level, and in a way it horrified me with it's bristling immediacy.

So you won't presently hear me talk about how Ray only scored three points or how Leon only played 93 seconds (though these guys will.) The contest was just too intense for me to give a shit about that stuff right now. I see a Celtics-Pistons series as being brutal in the manner Pacers-Pistons was prior to the brawl. Suspenseful, grind-out terror that is extremely well-executed. If KG leads by example as well as he did last night (maybe his finest moment with Boston so far) I have to give the C's an edge. We'll see if the expected rematch even comes to fruition in May, but in the very least these squads gave us this masterpiece...

What The Hell Is This

We've been going pretty easy on Peter May 'round these parts recently... part of this is because the Celtics' ever-increasing relevance appears to have shamed him into doing a moderately more competent job of covering the team, and part of it's just because there's been a lot more fun stuff to talk about recently than the still-woefully-inadequate state of local basketball journalism.

But this morning... well, this morning I just can't resist. Mr. May's column this morning is adorned with the borderline-nonsensical title "One Regular Season Loss Won't Defeat Them" (granted, sportswriters often aren't responsible for their own headlines, but seriously--huh?), and it would be downright comical if it didn't come on the heels of the best game of the season, which makes it feel more like a slap in the face. In inimitable May style, this column shows little indication that he even watched the game--I mean, you could churn this shit out simply by checking the final score on your cell phone--and essentially reads like one long, tortuous string of cliches.

The basic thrust of the piece, as you might imagine, is that last night's win has not single-handedly vanquished the Pistons from the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It absolutely amazes me that sportswriters continue to write these columns, because they seem to operate on the presumption that somebody out there thinks otherwise and is in need of correction: Peter May is the voice of reason among the throngs of insane Celtics fans like yours truly who were previously under the impression that last night's game was in fact Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, that we've magically skipped March, April, and most of May, that Barack Obama has won the Pennsylvania primary in a landslide and secured the Democratic nomination, that Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .800 with 90 home runs through the first forty games, that the new Indiana Jones movie has come out and is soooooooooooo awesome. Thank you for bringing me back to reality.

Furthermore, the "Detroit only views the regular season as a long exhibition before the playoffs" angle has been taken so many times that it's not even an angle anymore, overused to the literal point of parody. Anyone who thinks the Pistons didn't give a shit about last night's game clearly didn't watch it (and again, there's no indication from this column that Mr. May did), and contrary to Flip Saunders' banal pronouncement about not really caring about home-court advantage, I'm pretty certain it's crossed his mind a few times, and if it hasn't then he's a worse coach than previously thought. In short, this column basically contains negative insight, and is most notable for a bizarre reference to the movie "Hook," which actually made me check to see if that was on television at the same time as last night's game, therefore explaining both the esoteric reference and the mind-numbing vapidity of May's column (it wasn't, from what I could tell). The fact that this is what we get from the Globe's lead basketball writer in the aftermath of both the best and most momentous game of the season thus far is depressing and disgraceful.

As a final point, considering that the Pistons have only won one title since the early 1990s and haven't made the Finals the past two seasons despite widespread expectations to the contrary, when is someone going to step up and write the column suggesting that maybe, just maybe, the Pistons' famously laissez-faire approach to the regular season hasn't been working out as well as some hope? The media always construes this as some sort of sign of maturity, but that'd be a lot easier to swallow if they had more to show for it at the end of the year... I mean, the same argument gets used for the Spurs, but the Spurs actually win titles; why do I feel like no one brings this up? Consider it on the table.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bestest Game of The Year (So Far)

In one of the best basketball games you'll see all year (and probably the best you've seen all year if all you've watched is Celtics games), the C's beat the Pistons, 90-78. Kevin Garnett resoundingly announced his re-entry into the MVP discussion with 31 points, and Kendrick Perkins had a rather astonishing 10 points and 20 rebounds in the winning effort.

What a game, what a game. The stars seem aligned for a Celtics-Pistons matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals, and my God, it will probably destroy us all. Make no mistake: the Cavs loom large, as one should never count out the ever-unfolding miracle that is LeBron James. And the Magic, when the mood strikes them, are better than we often think. Still though, Boston and Detroit seem destined for a hell of a dance come May; anything else would be thoroughly unexpected and, we'll be honest, thoroughly disappointing. Over the past ten years or so, the trend has been towards epic, sturm und drang Western Conference playoff contests, and maybe this year we bring that back to the East. Obviously, the Cavs-Pistons series last year had some drama, but come on, no one expected either of those teams to have a chance in the Finals. This year, well, it's anyone's game. I CANNOT WAIT. See you next ime.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Hawkish Revival

The Celtics beat the Hawks 98-88 tonight, and the most intriguing storyline was KG's performance. Garnett finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds, both highs since his return eight games ago, but the stats are scant evidence as to KG's profound effect on this game. Simply put, KG finally looked to be his old self. This is probably more of a relief than we care to admit.

Garnett has constantly talked about working off his rust since he came back two weeks ago, but the murmurs of KG's injury being more serious than he let on seemed to get more validated with each adequate game Garnett submitted. Even in good games like against Cleveland last week, KG seemed too content settling into things, on both sides of the ball. A sense of forcefulness was lacking. But tonight it was all there.

The Hawks are long and extremely athletic up front with Josh Smith, Horford, Childress and Marvin Williams. This has surprisingly made Atlanta a good defensive club. They close lanes quickly and block shots that you usually don't think twice about putting up. Tonight the Hawks negated guards driving to the hoop; totally silencing Rondo from scoring in the paint. And in this hostile setting KG went to work. Instead of only taking fall aways or sixteen footers, KG aggressively worked the inside by consistently heading towards the rim. He fought hard to control position on the block. It was the KG we all wanted to see - initiating offense instead of just submitting to the flow; and it perfectly set the tone for the game.

Defensively KG also seemed to play at a more perturbed level than recent showings; he limited Smith to just 8 of 22 shooting, and the Hawks as a team shot only 39.5%. It was the kind of performance we are accustomed to from the Celtics, and the main reason was Garnett's incomparable intensity was back in full form.

That is not to say KG did it alone. Pierce quietly poured in thirty, and took the offense on his shoulders in the third quarter when such an authority was called for. Also helping the C's escape from the rash of turnovers in the first half was Perk, who had a less showy game than Friday's, but no less effective. His final line of 11 points, 12 boards, 6 assists and 4 blocks was well deserved. His timing was good as well, for the C's got very little out of their bench tonight, which can work out just fine when all your starters play well.

As for analyzing the Hawks' big picture - well, it's the usual muddle. If this team does make the playoffs, and they should based on their talent, they will scare nobody. There is a reason their coach is on the hot seat. Atlanta lacks substance, and bringing in Bibby is not going to solve the problem. With the makeup of this team and a transition-minded coach you could be looking at one of the more entertaining teams on Earth. Unfortunately there is little reason to think we will ever get to see such things happen.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sometimes You Play Charlotte On Leap Year

Between all the Cassell banter and the overreaction to P.J. Brown's arrival, the game last night against the lowly Cats seemed rather insignificant. But they managed to play it anyway. The Celtics basically got whatever they wanted the first three quarters offensively. Rondo riotously bounced around the court on his way to 16 dimes, Perkins didn't always bring the ball down prior to dunking, and Ray-Ray shot well. It was all leading to Gino Time when the fourth quarter arrived. Glenn decided to go small, with Powe and then KG at center. Posey was playing the 4. And the Bobcats crept back into the thing, seemingly when it should have already been in the bag.

These type of mini-comebacks always happen; it's the NBA, and fourth quarter leads evaporate like that. The Celtics have been among the best at protecting them. But what was slightly disarming about last night was Glenn sticking with a small lineup when Perk, Powe and Baby all had been playing well. The small lineup meanwhile was languid all of the final period, thereby negating any positive affects a small lineup can bring. It was one and done over and over again, with no vibrant flow. The lead whittled down to five, Glenn finally reinserted Perkins, and the C's managed to hang on.

Again, I can't be too hard on Glenn for how he played it down the stretch. Yet I would be lying if it wasn't tough to watch a small lineup being exploited with no counter-reaction taken by the C's. Shades of last season. And hopefully not shades of the upcoming playoffs.