Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Yeah... that's more like it. The Celtics summarily stomped the shit out of the Atlanta Hawks tonight, 110-85. The series is now at 3-2 in favor of the Green and headed back to the ATL, where the C's will try to close it out Friday night. This was an immensely satisfying victory, though still felt like it could have been more so: these Hawks are pesky, make no mistake, and clearly, clearly not to be taken lightly. Even though the Celtics outscored them in every quarter, the Hawks were still within single digits well into the third quarter, and really only fell irretrievably behind when they allowed themselves to lose focus in that comfortably familiar Hawkish way. But hey man, a win is a win, and it's a bit presumptuous to gripe when you've just bounced back from a two-game skid to slam your opponent by 25 points.

The Celtics had six players in double figures, led by the truly menacing Paul Pierce, who lit up Marvin Williams to the tune of 22 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. A fantastic performance, and one that should quiet some of the whispers that his Game 2 injury is worse than previously thought. Leon had a Leon kind of night, and James Posey continued to remind us why there is absolutely nothing to dislike about his game. The C's generally dominated the Hawks in every meaningful statistical category with the continually troubling exception of free throw attempts, where they shot 29 to our 15 (and made an impressive 25, I might add). Tommy was displeased. I refrain from comment, except to offer a rather flamboyantly furrowed brow. In the end, fuck it, we'll take it, a 25-point win and hopefully reclaiming what's rightfully ours, i.e. the Atlanta Hawks' sacrificial head on a platter. Let's do this again on Friday, shall we?

Anticipation Can Be A Drag

The funky dissolution of the two great "just miss" teams of the last five years bears mentioning, but in terms of unpredictability this Hawks saga is still the strangest thing to come out of the playoffs so far. I will not comprehend it anytime soon, I'm afraid. And while only the Jazz and Houston toil on out West, here in the East the best team is gonna play at least six, and get no extended rest. And they have no one to blame but themselves.

While the Spurs had maybe the hardest first round opponent of all time, the truth is they are now going to have time to lick their wounds; the same goes for the Hornets and Lakers. As draining as we said these Western series were going to be on the elite teams, the main reason why was the drag-out fatigue a seven game stretch produces on your players. But LAL, SA and NOLA all avoided that with aplomb. Don't be surprised if the second rounds are shorter than expected out West, too. The postseason almost always normalizes within its traditional framework - the first round cannot be a kaleidoscope of epic battles; it's too early and it just doesn't happen.

Which brings us back to the great exception for this year - the totally bizarre "showdown" between two teams that seemed to be on the opposite ends of the playoff spectrum. I still cannot imagine the Celtics losing this series, and indeed will be stunned if it reaches seven games. And years from now when we see that the Celtics won the series in six no one will care one way or the other. But contextually in the moment it is far more shocking than seeing the Mavs and Suns going down in five to good teams. Something horribly askew will have to occur, however, for it to have more of a historical remembrance years from now.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ubuntu, Motherfuckers

Last night was, as Tim astutely pointed out, the Worst Loss of the Year. There's not even a close second. Whereas Saturday night's game was one of those weird "what-the-fuck" moments that you sort of chuckle nervously about and shrug off, last night was infinitely more troubling. The Hawks played with far more energy than the Celtics, Joe Johnson looked like a mid-1990s Reggie Miller in the fourth quarter, both Garnett and Pierce were disturbingly cold from the field, and the officiating more than occasionally left you wondering if there was some sort of Keyser Soze-level conspiracy afoot. It was a difficult night to be a basketball fan in Boston.

However, the time to panic is not now. It might be closer than it was on Saturday, but it's not now. Wednesday we're back in Boston in front of a home crowd and all that entails, and the Celtics will be fired up, make no mistake. Here's an interesting quasi-parallel to mull over: recall the 2002 playoffs, when the Celtics made their historic 21-point fourth quarter comeback against the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals, stunning the heavily-favored Nets at the Garden and taking a 2-1 lead in the series. Many a pundit declared the momentum in the series irrevocably shifted, and speculation was rampant that the Nets would never be able to pick themselves back up from such epic humiliation. Of course, that was all bullshit, and the Nets went on to win the next three games in a series that we don't even remember as being particularly close. Why did this happen, you ask? Because they were much, much better at playing basketball than the Celtics were. Granted, there are numerous differences between these two situations, but at the moment that's what this situation most reminds me of: a humiliating aberration that will be dealt with because part of being a world-class athlete is dealing with humiliating aberrations on an almost constant basis. It's why Kevin Garnett took 21 shots last night and only made 5, because most nights he will make more than that; it's why Eddie House kept firing ill-advised threes that made me scream in frustration at the television, because most of the time what Eddie House does is make ill-advised threes that cause me to squeal with delight.

Look, last night was horrible; I woke up this morning and literally cringed in bed thinking about it. But it's one game. The series is tied 2-2. If three weeks ago someone announced to you that the first round of the playoffs had been truncated to a three-game series against the Atlanta Hawks, would you bat an eye? No, you would not have, except perhaps when you yawned and asked who we'd be playing in Round 2. And calling it a three-game series at this point is obviously cliched and disingenuous but it's not as disingenuous as claiming Game 4 as proof that the Hawks are in the Celtics' heads and that Rome is burning: the Hawks played the best basketball of their young lives last night, but they're still the Hawks; the Celtics played uncharacteristically lackadaisically and at times looked positively frightened, but they're still the Celtics. You're going to hear a lot about Mavs-Warriors in the next day or two but there are a number of reasons not to believe that garbage, starting with a couple big ones: 1) The difference in talent between the Mavs and Warriors was nowhere near as large as it is between Boston and Atlanta, and everyone at the time knew this; 2) the Warriors had one of the great coaches of the modern era guiding them against the Mavs, while the Hawks have Mike Woodson. This isn't to say that Glenn Rivers is Don Nelson, simply that Don Nelson's a hell of a lot more likely to outcoach Avery Johnson in a seven game series than Woodson is to outcoach Rivers. If Atlanta takes Game 5 in Boston we'll reconvene and have a vastly different discussion, but for now, let's try not to believe the hype, shall we? See you Wednesday.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Worst Loss Of The Year

Yikes. I don't know how cogent I am right now, but let me at least start trying to make sense of what just happened. Basically, the Hawks have made this a series - which seemed incomprehensible to me until the fourth quarter actually unfolded tonight. So while much can be said, the simple fact is that Atlanta-Boston actually has gravitas now - which should be a scary thought for Celtics fans.

I was almost certain the Green would win today - because these are the type of contests they have won the entire season. KG's angry reaction to Saturday's loss insured in my mind that the series was about to be sealed up. And as skittish as the Celtics played in the first half, by the end of the third things were falling in place as they always do. Boston's defense had settled in, allowing only 14 points the whole quarter, and a comfortable 10 point lead had been established. After a game and a half of playing poorly, and seeing the Hawks play well, natural order had been restored.

But the final quarter panned out in a completely unfamiliar way - Boston's offense was limp and Atlanta scored 32 POINTS to rightfully come away as the winner. It was something we have hardly seen this year - especially when all the chips are on the table. It was disturbing as hell - because this collapse could imply a weakness that so far has been concealed. Yes, it was but one game, but it was a horrible one to lose, especially against a clearly inferior opponent.

And rationalizing why the Celtics lost won't help much in getting rid of this lousy sinking feeling. Sure, Josh Smith had a monstrous evening. And Joe Johnson had an even bigger game - with his monumental fourth quarter heroics shaking the building. Meanwhile, the officiating seemed partial the entire night - goaltending wasn't called on two of Smith's blocks, and the C's seemed to get mauled several times without whistles being blown. On top of this, many shots seemed to roll around the rim and then fall out - shots that find the bottom of the net most nights. The C's 41% FG percentage was partly their own doing - they often just couldn't get the ball to go in. And finally, the ATL crowd really was into this game tonight, as they seemed to sense that their lovable losers actually had a chance.

With all those excuses spelled out, let me now say - none of them are very legitimate for rationalizing tonight's final outcome. The Celtics played subpar D (for them) in the first half, turned it on for a quarter, and then went right back to bad D in the fourth. Still, it well might have been their offense that killed them in the end. Glenn inserted a bench-ridden Eddie House to replace a hot Rondo at the beginning of the fourth, and the wheels immediately began falling off. They made one field goal in the six minutes Eddie was in there, and scored 5 points total. Atlanta scored thirteen, totally changing the complexion of the game in their favor.

Glenn turning to Eddie to give Rondo a blow made sense - Cassell had been awful in the first half. But after a few minutes of anemic offense House should have been pulled for a fresher Rondo; or in the least Sam should have been given another shot. Instead House remained in the game, and the hourglass was turned the other way. Many coaches would make the mistake Glenn made - nonetheless it was mighty disconcerting.

But I can't pin this loss on Rivers. It was a team defeat, and the big boys have to step up and play when it counts. For a team that has shown such mettle throughout the year, there was little to recognize tonight. The fact that they failed miserably for one evening will mean nothing if they can show it's just a fluke. But it only takes a few "flukes" in the playoffs to end up going home unhappy for the Summer.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Not Lanta

Well, for the first time this season the Hawks didn't lose by double digits to the Celtics. They even beat them! While the masochist in us may look at SA and LAL up 3-0 and think them superior to Boston at the present moment, let's stay real. Tonight the Hawks shot the ball well, particularly from behind the arc. This was aided by uncharacteristically flat defense by the Celtics throughout the evening, and the results are therefore understandable. The Celtics were not their customarily dominant defensive selves tonight, which we can pardon given that they utterly destroyed the Hawks every other time this year. So I will say it - perhaps the C's were a little too carefree tonight. ARE YOU PANICKING YET? Please don't, appreciate the splendor of Josh Smith and let everything else go. If the Green are at the short end of the stick on Monday then we'll have more sinister words, but till then you may still rest your head in blankets made of stars...

I'm not really keen on Leon only getting 6 minutes when they could have used him on the inside (where KG had his way the whole evening). I love Pose, but don't know if he had to play 25 minutes at the expense of Powe, and I don't know if P.J. had to play at all. Philips Arena is a joke - the clock thing was just another reminder of how bush league this franchise has become. Yeah, the energy appeared good in the stadium - almost the same as a regular season game in Sacramento. Like we've said many times already, fuck this series. Please let it be over without anyone getting hurt.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Collective Reprieve

Last night saw three teams previously down 2-0 (Rockets, Raptors and Wizards) battle back to reclaim some semblance of control over their respective series. No sweeps here, folks. In some senses the Rockets win was most commendable since it happened on the road, but it still seems to me that Houston has the least chance of these three teams to actually battle back and win their series. The Wizards' win was easily the most convincing, as they absolutely destroyed Cleveland, 108-72, a score that begs the question of how the hell the Cavs could lose a playoff game by 36 points with all that "veteran toughness" they traded for a few months back. If you're looking for one series to truly turn around this one might be it, although the Wizards are known for similar problems of focus, so it's possible these teams could go to seven games by exchanging blowouts. Oh yeah, and Toronto beat Orlando. I know, I know, I don't care either, but it warrants mention.

From David Stern's perspective it's probably good to avoid any of these teams falling into 0-3 holes, since no one finds that particularly interesting, at least not in the first round. I, for one, am not entirely sure that the vaunted Game 3 victory means a whole lot: ask any inveterate gambler and s/he will tell you that the best bet in a seven-game series is on the underdog going home for Game 3. Tonight we've got Detroit-Philly, NOLA-Dallas and SAS-PHX, as the Mavs and Suns will hope to duplicate the legendary feats of last night's players. Best of luck to the Suns; not so much the Mavs, whom I'm sort of hoping will get swept, if only because I'm sick of them and also because Cuban will go absolutely batshit if his team gets ousted in the first round in two straight seasons.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's About Time

Good news that I didn't catch till just now: Peter May is going to be leaving the Globe. As we have tried to document, May is an atrocious NBA writer with no real semblance of understanding the game anymore. Honestly, often it appears he has not even been watching the actual games - his words are that bereft of any critical substance. His departure can only help - although almost inevitably the Globe will fill the position with another writer high in the hack quotient. But at least Springer and May have been removed, that leaves a glimmer of hope...

Now onto a more important thing: Paul Pierce's health. P's spill last night was gruesome, and when he took himself out of the game it was very discomfiting. Thankfully he returned, but when Paul leaves a game you know something is going on. He gave the regular "I'll, be fine, it's the playoffs" lip service afterwards in the locker room, but I think I am in the majority in saying that it is okay for Pierce to miss the rest of the series to get healthy. We don't want this back injury to linger into next month, and the best way to avoid that is probably rest. The team can tough it out against Atlanta without you Paul, but the same maybe can't be said in a few weeks time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


That'd be tonight's buzzword, from Tommy complaining about the "mercy officiating" shown to the Hawks (he was more right than wrong), to the look Mike Bibby's face as he stood at the line in the fourth quarter, down 20 and showered with boos, to the point around the three-minute mark in the final frame when the C's finally, finally started yanking their A-list. Celtics win, 96-77: that sound you hear is absolutely no one gasping with surprise. This series is getting ugly fast: watching the C's play the Hawks is like watching a housecat slowly mutilate some sort of small animal, keeping it alive for the sole purpose of toying with it. The Hawks, obviously, dislike being in this position and have rebelled by playing atrocious basketball that borders on the dangerous, from Paul Pierce being mauled by Josh Smith in the first (a flagrant foul if ever there was one; he seems okay but sweet jeebus, keep him in your prayers) to KG being wrecked in the fourth, again by Smith. Like Game One, this contest was never very close and would have certainly been even less so if not for an uncharacteristically poor shooting night for Garnett (6-18 from the floor). Rondo continues to play out of his mind (12 points, 8 assists, 6 boards), and Boston again wielded a hyper-balanced attack, with five players in double figures. Atlanta looked terrible, particularly in the second half, when any semblance of a game plan went out the window and most players seemed to openly quit on Mike Woodson. Yikes. We'll see if Dr. Rivers' decision to continue playing KG, Allen and Pierce with the game well in hand leads to any shit-talking shenanigans; I for one am endlessly amused by the bizarre, entirely unexpected Mike Bibby-Kendrick Perkins feud. This series needs more in the way of ludicrous off-court subplots, since the games themselves have been a bit, um, one-sided. See you in Atlanta! (Not literally)

A Helpful Reminder

Chris Paul just carved the Mavs to the tune of 67 points, 27 assists and 7 steals over the first two games of his series, and it wasn't all that surprising. That means more than a little. While we always say that we have seen no one like LeBron or Dwight Howard, CP3 is just as revolutionary a sight. He's still only 22 and just had the greatest statistical season of any point guard in history. This is coming on the heels of two of the more impressive years a point guard has had to start their career.

Paul is special. He is not just a statistical phenomenon, but legitimately leads his team to a higher place. Most squads with virtually no playoff experience from their stars would shrink under the pressure, but Paul is simply too good to let that happen. Players like Deron Williams, Tony Parker and Monta Ellis are all young and with tremendous talent. But it is time we stop comparing them favorably with Paul. He is on another level, and frankly that should have been clear even after having watched him play at Wake Forest. There is only one Chris Paul. He is already better than Steve Nash, Chauncy Billups and Baron Davis ever were. As long as he stays healthy the Hornets will be contenders for the next decade.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

KG Gets Another Car

KG was named Defensive Player Of The Year today, and the only mini-surprise was that it wasn't a more sweeping victory. KG "only" got 90 of 124 votes; and while Camby, Battier, Bowen, Duncan etc. all clearly are defensive stalwarts, how in God's name could you not vote for KG? The results should have looked a lot more like Manu's did yesterday. If I sound like a whiny Boston homer so be it, but incredibly it appears many national writers still have no idea how good this Celtics D has been.

While Thibodeau is brilliant, Rondo perhaps the best defensive PG in the league, and the roster in general full of defensive heart and savvy, it is KG who instilled and anchored a truly historic season of defensive tenacity. As quietly great as KG has been defensively throughout his career, he was able to step it up to a special level this year, and his whole team realized a defensive potential that otherwise would have been unfathomable. Yes, Camby is a wonderful defensive player, but the profound effect it has had on his team is relatively minor compared to Garnett's accomplishments. Likewise for Battier and Bowen.

KG doesn't block that many shots, get that many steals, or rebound every ball. He often isn't required to cover the opponent's big scorer. No, instead his role on the Celtics is to make sure the entire opposing team is softly shut down. It's not particularly glamorous, but it is hard as hell, and the results speak for themselves. Gaps close faster, the ball pressured more, communication seamless, and gambles appropriate - all of this directly correlates with KG. No player came close to sustaining such focused defensive excellence throughout the season. For that the recipient of today's award should have been blatantly obvious to everyone.

The Raw and the Cooked

Tonight will be the fourth night of the NBA Playoffs, and a number of things have made themselves apparent thus far: 1) Do not tease LeBron; 2) PHX-SAS looks like fun; 3) The Jazz look almost as good as some folks say they are; 4) The Hawks look exactly as bad as everyone knows they are. It's been an eventful few days, for sure, and tonight should be pretty fantastic as well: Dallas-NOLA at 7, followed by Round 2 of the wondrous Suns-Spurs series. For those in the crucial Central Florida/Central Canada demographic, check your local listings for Magic-Raptors at 7:30. In the meantime, some observations and impressions:

Pity the Rockets. These poor dudes. Talk about your boulevards of broken dreams. After dropping Game One by eleven at home, last night the Rockets were the victims of the first (though surely not the last!) instance of overzealous officiating interfering with a basketball game, as Luis Scola (aka New Laimbeer) was called for an offensive foul away from the ball about a second before Bobby Jackson hit a game-tying three with less than a minute to go. Basket revoked, ballgame. Having watched the replay numerous times, it was a classic flop on Andrei Kirilenko's part, exactly the sort of play the NBA insists every year that they're not going to call and then some bullshit like this happens. Adelman and McGrady were justifiably livid after the game, although there's no changing the fact that the Rockets have dropped two straight at home and there's certainly no guarantee they would have prevailed had the officials conducted themselves properly. McGrady seems once again destined for an early exit, and the talking-head media douchebags are already licking their chops, and that's a crying shame since according to those same douchebags a few months ago these guys aren't even supposed to be here. Keep ya head up, T-Mac.

The Wizards are not who we thought they were. Seriously, this is the only team in the NBA that beat the Celtics three times? The Wizards have looked like scared, petulant children the first two games of this series, and last night they expanded that description to "scared, petulant, thuggish children" in the wake of Brendan Haywood's flagrant, borderline-repugnant foul on LeBron James in the midst of last night's blowout. There will be those who will argue that Haywood was simply playing hard and misjudged his play on the ball, and maybe that's true, but he can still go fuck himself, and Stern ought to suspend this hack if only to send the message that body-slamming the best basketball player in the world in the midst of a 30-point defeat is uncool for all involved. Haywood's teammates ran their stupid little yaps about how excited they were to be playing the Cavs in the playoffs (with Agent Zero giving new life to the old "writing checks with his mouth that his body can't cash" cliche), and now we're already getting this bullshit by the second game. You disappoint me, Washington.

Sixers-Pistons suddenly interesting blah blah blah blah... Seriously, I heard some commentator on Sunday night actually use the phrase "backs to the wall" to describe the Pistons after their Game One gag-job. I'm sorry, I must have forgotten that this was a three-game series. Seriously, much respect to Philly for pulling this one out (although as Tim noted, the last minute or so of that game gave every indication that they were trying to lose it), but does anyone out there actually think that this strongly changes the complexion of this series? Until further notice this is a Game-One-of-the-2001-Finals situation (which, incidentally, Philly was also involved in). If Philly wins the next game I will strongly reconsider this stance, but in the meantime I don't think the Pistons are exactly wetting themselves over the challenge of having to win at least one game in Philly to take this series.

Teams that aren't in the playoffs can still do things; why shouldn't they? The Milwaukee Bucks hired Scott Skiles to be their new coach yesterday in a move that I find puzzling for both sides. Skiles still has some dap as a successful NBA coach and you'd think that he could have had his pick from at least several open jobs this offseason; why in the world he would choose the Bucks is simply beyond me. I actually attended the Celtics-Bucks game a couple weeks ago and the Bucks are just terrible; even their young players seem almost precociously disappointing. From the Bucks standpoint, Skiles is a notorious firebrand with little patience for clownery, and you're putting him in charge of a team that's trying to build around Yi Jianlian, Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva? Christ. We'll see, but something tells me Skiles isn't making it to the end of his four-year contract (although seriously, those numbers are all pretty much made-up anyways).

Lastly and most enjoyably, a report from the Daily News tells us that Isiah Thomas, while still not fired from the organization, has been banned from having any contact with the team. James Dolan really knows how to run that organization. The same article reports that Mark Jackson is now the lone horse in the highly-dubious "race" to become the next coach of the Knicks. We shall see.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


The 2008 Celtics playoff extravaganza got underway tonight, as the C's dismantled the wildly overmatched Atlanta Hawks, 104-81. The Hawks surprisingly kept this one fairly close for a while (they were only down nine at halftime), but sooner or later it became clear that there was simply no escape. The most striking thing about this one was that the Hawks seemed to play pretty well (for the Hawks, at least) and still lost by 23. This wasn't even vintage Celtics, either; the offense sometimes appeared unfocused and KG spent a good portion of the first half in foul trouble. No one thinks the Hawks can make this a series and there was certainly no evidence from tonight that the conventional wisdom is mistaken. The looks on the Hawks' players faces in the fourth quarter were almost excruciating to behold: they looked like they were completely aware that they have absolutely no chance to beat this team. I think it's safe to say that they're not exactly looking forward to Wednesday.

From the Celtics standpoint, they received solid contributions from the usual suspects and boasted six guys with double digit scoring numbers, although no one scored more than 18 (Ray Allen). KG had 16 and 10 boards, and honestly Rondo may have had the best game of anyone, pouring in 15 to go with 9 assists and 6 boards. Any remaining doubt as to whether or not Rondo's ready for the playoffs should be settled by this performance. Leon scored 10 and was the beneficiary of a stunning display of Garnett charisma/intensity/borderline psychopathology. Breathtaking stuff. Anyways, there's now two days off before the next meeting--God I hate the playoff plod--so get some rest, you lovable Hawks.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tomorrow, Life Begins Anew

We've made a lot of noise around these parts concerning the impending playoff odyssey... in fact, we probably started making noise about it sometime in December. Still, nothing could have prepared us for what we have in front of us: Celtics with home court throughout. A Western Conference first round that may well be the greatest sustained two-week stretch of pro basketball we'll ever see. And, of course, the Atlanta Hawks, who are just so pleased to be here. Anyways, with things beginning in earnest tomorrow (although the Celtics don't play till Sunday, and if you didn't already know that chances are you misspelled a URL or something), I figured I'd offer up a quick take on things around the Sweet Sixteen, if only for posterity's sake.

Eastern Conference

Boston vs. Atlanta: Seeing as this is a Celtics blog I should probably have more to say about this than any other series, but Christ, what can I say that hasn't been said already. I'm not sure which NBA prognosticator first coined the phrase "Celtics in four" to describe this series, but a wise man was he. I'm sorry, but I just can't see the Hawks making this remotely interesting; it's just an outrageous mismatch.
Celtics in four.

Detroit vs. Philadelphia: The Sixers are a great story, Mo Cheeks deserves Coach of the Year consideration, and they've done more with less talent than any team still standing. That said, the Pistons are having none of these guys. It's just not happening.
Pistons in four.

Orlando vs. Toronto: I dunno, for me this is kind of the ultimate who-gives-a-shit series. The Dwight Howard-Chris Bosh storyline will be kind of fun but it'd be a lot more fun if they didn't play for the Magic and Raptors. The main point is that either of these teams will probably get completely demolished in the second round. For now I'll respect Orlando's regular season proficiency and give it to th
e Magic in six.

Cleveland vs. Washington: Ding-ding-ding!!! The one first round Eastern Conference series worth its salt. This one will good, and the shit-talking is already in mid-series form. The Wizards are good (just ask the Celtics) but after last year, can you bring yourself to pick against LeBron in the first round? Don't even answer.
Cavs in seven.

Western Conference

Before I begin, I'd like to take issue with Tim's assessment of the Western Conference as only possessing four (or perhaps even only two) legit Finals contenders. The only teams in the West that I think have categorically no shot of making the Finals are Denver and Houston. Nothing else would shock me at this point. That said, on to the picks:

Los Angeles vs. Denver: LA lucks out and gets the one West team that everyone else wants to play. Well, I guess it's not really "lucking out," since that's kind of how it's supposed to be when you get the top seed. Anyways, Denver plays enjoyably irresponsible basketball but not nearly as enjoyably irresponsible as last years Warriors (RIP; it should have been you here, fellas).
Lakers in five.

New Orleans vs. Dallas: Holy hell what a series this is. Upstart meets the Establishment, New Money meets Old, one superstar who's even better than everyone thinks he is (Chris Paul) meets another who never seems to be as good as everyone thinks he is (Dirk). I realize the Mavs have experience, etc., but they had experience last year, so... fuck that. NOLA's for real,
Hornets in six.

San Antonio vs. Phoenix: I'm going to say something that may well seem remarkably stupid two weeks from now, but I'm still going to say it. I don't think the Spurs are that good this year. I think they have 2002 Yankees written all over them. Everyone keeps saying they've taken it easy during the regular season like the Pistons always do, which would be all well and good if a) the Pistons actually won playoff series, and b) there was convincing evidence to suggest that was the case. It was only about a month ago that they lost six of seven. Granted, all those losses were to good teams, but guess what kind of teams you play in the playoffs. Furthermore, Phoenix took 3 out of 4 and beat them by 17 a week and a half ago. I dunno, they'll probably prove me wrong.
Suns in six.

Houston vs. Utah: You could call this Orlando/Toronto, Western Conference-style and you probably wouldn't be mistaken. That said, I'm starting to believe the handful of knowledgeable people that tell me the Jazz are much, much better than most of us think they are. I see the Jazz winning this series, as do a lot of folks, apparently, which is honestly too bad because it means Tracy McGrady will be forced to live with the "can't make it out of the first round" tag for another year in spite of a season in which he took a questionable roster to downright historic levels. I'm sorry, T-Mac... I really am.
Jazz in six.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

That Escalated Quickly

And we are here. Everybody has been looking at the 2008 Playoffs as promising greatness, and there is little to dissuade us from this thinking. Yet, at the same time, two and half months from now I wonder if we will look back at this moment and say that we were excited about the wrong elements. As Celtics fans we have every right to be pumped - it looks like Boston has the easiest road to the Finals of any contender. But the way the West seedings shook out, coupled with the thought that some of the Western teams might not be as legitimate as we think, makes me believe we could be looking at a much more traditional playoff experience than is being advertised.

Let's get real - most teams in the West don't have a chance of winning the whole thing. We should get this thought of awesome Western parity out of our heads - there is no Finals grab bag. It's the Spurs, Lakers, Suns and Mavs who have a shot - and I might be generous by including those last two teams. While any of seven Western teams could win a series (Denver is helpless), there is little reason to believe that most have the stamina and strength to successively win multiple series. You have to be mentally sharp as nails and also have an abundance of talent. Thus most prognosticators realistically think it will be LA or San Antonio.

The biggest shame about the seedings is Spurs-Suns in round one. In terms of talent there might have been a better first round pairing in history, but I can't think of it. I still believe whoever comes out of that series will represent the West in the Finals. Which is why it sucks they have to play in round one. It was strange enough when they met in the second round last year, and this is much worse. Too much good quality is going to be immediately eliminated, and you'll realize it more once it's gone. I know there are those of you who think the Suns are a jokey team that doesn't play enough defense, but they are much more legitimate than Utah (which often doesn't play good D), New Orleans (ultimately too young), and Houston (not enough talent). I see the Suns probably losing this series, and it would be an interesting epitaph to Phoenix's run as a serious contender.

The Lakers, meanwhile, should be able to (relatively) glide into the Western Finals thanks to the seedings. The Nuggets are ultimately a joke, and Utah doesn't play enough defense to stop LA, while Houston wouldn't have enough firepower to keep up with them. SA/PHX will have a dragout fight with either Dallas (peaking just like they hoped to) or NO (actually the Hornets might get lost in the moment a little - even though Chris Paul does deserve the MVP.) So while all this might make your head spin (and my convoluted writing doesn't help) it turns out that we probably have the same amount of contenders and same playoff paradigm as most years. I see (pray) the Celtics taking down the Spurs in the Finals. But there'll be a lot of action before we reach that dream point.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Over Fifty Club

66-16. Oh mercy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tonight We Dined in Hell

The Celtics beat the Knicks tonight, 99-93. I'm not even posting a photo for this atrocity, as it's best stricken from memory as soon as possibility. While it was going on, this one had its perverse charms: Zach Randolph airballed a couple threes and picked up three fouls, all in the first quarter, and Rondo and Cassell combined for a solid 45 points (23 and 22, respectively). Pierce, KG and Ray-Ray politely watched from the bench tonight (duh), and generally the atmosphere was total chaos both on and off the court, as the Knicks apparently rolled out free food for everyone in attendance at MSG. So, you know, at least they've got that going for them. All in all this one was a complete mess, one of the worst displays of allegedly professional basketball in recent memory; I actually think an NCAA bubble team could hang a convincing win on the Knicks at this point. These guys better pray for a top-two pick in this year's notoriously weak-ass draft, otherwise... Jesus Christ. In closing, it's worth noting that the C's notched their 65th win of the season tonight, which is nothing short of astonishing, and acknowledging this really never gets old.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Nuts And Bolts

In by far the most entertaining of these April games, the Celtics just beat the Hawks behind a quintessential fourth quarter by Sam Cassell. As the C's starters rested, and the Hawks stayed with their stars, Sam put on a clinic that he long ago patented. First he found angles on the floor to get his mid-range game going, and then when he heated up he just started draining long range jumpers. Then there was considerable amounts of the testicle dance. It was brazen, artful, wise - and it was what we were all hoping for when Sam arrived. The fact that it suddenly showed up a week before the playoffs is great, although honestly I don't know exactly how it will be handled.

Like I recently mentioned, Sam has hardly been incorporated into the flow of things. And when you see a performance like tonight, one cannot help but want to see more of him. The problem is that we have no idea how his strong play translates with the Triumvirate on the court in a big setting - because it really hasn't happened yet, if you perhaps exclude the San Antonio game. As many scribes have asked: do you really want a 38 year old Cassell taking shots at the end of the game as opposed to KG, Paul or Ray? I'm not sure - but my first inclination is to say no, that everything has been smoothed out over the course of the year, and it is too late in the season to dramatically change things with Sam. I think this is also probably what Glenn is thinking, and in extension why he has often stayed with TA and House, although Cassell is still the better player. But at the same time, we do have to remember that the player in question is Sam Cassell, one of the savvier and most clutch pros in recent NBA history.

What tonight's performance again does is obviously raise the question of who deserves the minutes more: Cassell, TA, or House? All three are vastly different. Cassell is the smartest and most dynamic, still fully capable of taking over games. TA can be brilliant defensively and also sometimes provides an offensive spark. House meanwhile is a steady pro who is maybe the best shooter on the team. Whether Glenn rotates these three based on matchups or decides on a fixed order is one of the more intriguing issues as the playoffs approach.

Can't You Hear Me Knocking

Sorry for the lack of posts recently - you have to admit, the games aren't exactly stirring the imagination. Mainly I watch and fear someone getting hurt. So far, so good - only minor ailments to Cassell, Baby, House and Powe. All stuff we can joke about. In the back of my mind I fear a devastating injury just as the train gets rolling in April. But I think this way just because there is little else to do but to worry and dither at this point of the season. I want PLAYOFFS.

It's dumb to dip my foot in the MVP pool; absolutely everything has been said on the subject, but I think there is perfect validity for KG's case after pondering it more thoroughly. As Jack said, no one else could have caused such a crazy turnaround to actually happen. When you're the cause of the greatest positive transformation of all time, you deserve the plaudits you get. If you just look at what Kevin Garnett does on the floor (which is a ton), he would not be in the MVP discussion. But because he not only is the symbol of the Green Revolution, but the direct cause of all of it occurring, he needs to be in this discussion. I would still probably go with CP3, but God Bless KG.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wizzed On

If there is one team that has given the Celtics fits this year, it is the Wizards. Be scared, very scared. Or rather, don't be. The Wiz have been lucky as to when they have met the Celtics, and that has as much to do with their three victories as anything else. Tonight Glenn had a very strange substitution pattern, and the defense was flat, so defeat seemed destined. You gotta lose sometimes, and the cards have played out in such a way that Boston ends up losing thrice to the Wiz. Eddie Jordan's team is a frisky bunch, and they do match up with the C's better than most clubs. It's just they clearly are inferior to the Green, regardless of the regular season outcomes. I'd be more concerned about meeting LeBron in May.

Our man Leon played all of seven minutes tonight, we don't know what was up with that, but we do want to endorse the idea of getting him signed to an extension this Summer. If you can wrap up a Perk-like deal with Leon it would appear to be a relative bargain given his performance. Also hopefully Big Baby's hamstring injury is minor, those type of ailments can linger for a while, and we can only hope it's just a slight tweak...not much else to say, the big stuff is about to start, we just have to be patient.

Why Not Just Call It a Tie

The Celtics beat the Bucks in Milwaukee last night, 107-104, although they needed an overtime period to get it done after the bench gagged away a 25-point lead in the third quarter. Playing in overtime at this point in the season sort of just seems like a joke, but the Celtics managed to keep a straight face and dispense with their pesky adversaries, whom they'll see again on Friday at the Gahden. Garnett, Pierce and Allen played 20, 21, and 22 minutes, while James Posey and Tony Allen played 35 and 31, respectively. So yeah, it was one of those nights, and I can only hope we should be ready for quite a few more in the coming week and a half.

Suffice it to say, I'm ready for the playoffs to start.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Get Ur Knick On

Not sure if people have had the chance to read Jeff Coplon's masterful take on the Knickerbocker Fiasco, but it manages to eclipse Ben McGrath's recent Lenny Dykstra profile in the New Yorker as the most ceaselessly entertaining piece of sportswriting I've read this year. I actually went scouring YouTube looking for a clip of the Randolph-Troy Murphy incident that Coplon describes but couldn't find one. I did, however, stumble upon this, which is quite honestly even better:

Note that the shot clock has a solid 7 seconds on it when he lets it fly, and it's a three-point game... I mean, this is seriously one of the most brazenly "I-don't-give-a-fuck" plays I've ever seen a professional basketball player make. Honestly, this might be my favorite non-Celtics-related highlight of the 2007-2008 NBA season.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Incomprehensible Turnaround

I know both Jack and I have written about this change of fate a dozen times, but the fact that a year ago this team had 23 wins and presently has 61 is still beyond belief. Is there any logical circumstance under which you could have seen this coming? No. Everything that had to go perfectly right has - not just the farfetched idea of getting KG and Ray Allen, but also having fantastic coaching, an unbridled defensive intensity, and stellar role players to complement the stars. All these pieces falling in place makes for a historic occasion, and is why Ainge has to be the no-brainer winner of Executive of the Year, although he won't be. And while in earlier months we were saying that big seasonal turnarounds do happen in the NBA, it needs to be acknowledged that nothing like this has ever occurred. This is not Nash to the Suns or Duncan to the Spurs - it is a huge calculated risk by Ainge in giving up nearly his whole roster to acquire the right veteran pieces, and then see it flourish more than he could have ever hoped. So we can quit kidding ourselves that previous teams have had this year's experience. It is wholly unique.

Nothing has been more personally amazing to me than Glenn's deserved ascension into the Coach of the Year talks. As much ribbing as I give him, he's done an excellent job, and if he wins the award it will be deserved. Everything has been different about Glenn this year as a game coach, while his personality has been exactly the same. Last night was a good example. Earlier in the week he was adamant in saying that the Triumvirate would not get games off, no matter what the situation. Last night all three sat - leading to a quintessential Glenn moment where he said that sitting all three was something they had talked about doing for a while. Probably no coach in the NBA prevaricates more than Glenn Rivers. This year when he does, it usually comes up aces, like it did yesterday.

Glenn misleading you is fine because he always seems to find a way to make the team win. Last year was the total opposite. It seemed whenever Glenn contradicted himself last year it led directly to another loss. He seemed like a buffoon, and that was because he was one. Those of you who think I don't give Rivers a fair shake simply don't vividly remember '04-'07. I wish Jack and I were not too traumatized to write about the Celtics in early 2007, because if we did the animosity we have held against Rivers would make sense to outsiders - we would have a written record of the blasphemy witnessed during that cold, cold winter. I stand by my belief - Glenn Rivers was probably the worst coach in the league in '06-'07, and he was almost as bad the previous year. From never being right to always being right is a hell of a transition over the course of one season. Yeah, Glenn now has KG, Ray, and Thibodeau - but it is still unbelievable. Of all the crazy things this year, I have the hardest time making sense of this one. It sure is fucking awesome, though.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

PawCelts Defeat Bobcats, Clinch East, Generally Kick Ass; Plus, College Kids!

Tonight we were treated to a bizarro-world vision of the Celtics if the Garnett and Allen trades had never happened and Paul Pierce hadn't slid to #10 back in 1998. And guess what? Still totally awesome. The C's stomped the Bobcats in Charlotte, 101-78, and clinched both the best record and... ahem... bragging rights for the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history. Guys like Posey (19 points) and Eddie House (16) got the chance to remind us they can fill it up as well, and Mr. Leon (22 points, 9 boards) continued to build his case for shrewdest draft pick of the Ainge era, no small honor indeed. Seriously, Leon was picked 49th two years ago, and when you consider that we landed Rondo at #21 the same night, that 2006 draft might end up being the stuff of legend when the curtains close on the stunningly revitalized Ainge era.

I have to admit, it was pretty difficult to truly focus on this game with the college kids playing a mere tap-of-the-remote away. Watching the tournament as a Celtics fan this year has been a different sort of experience... for much of the past, er, twenty years, the Celtics going deep into the postseason has been a safe impossibility, so March Madness was a time when you could watch some of the blue-chippers and daydream about them suiting up in green the next season. This year's draft isn't really going to hold the same allure for C's fans; we do have a first-round pick but smart money says it'll used on an overseas project who's a year or two away so as to avoid taking on salary. Obviously I much prefer the current situation than, say, watching Danny Granger and wondering if he might fall to #18 (almost!), but still, obsessing over the draft around this time of year has long been a cherished pastime of mine.

That said, I think I'll go on record now as stating that if I had the first pick in this year's draft, I'd think long and hard before not selecting Derrick Rose. It's more or less conventional wisdom at this point that Beasley will go first, and it's hard to argue with the size, athleticism and jaw-dropping numbers that he brings to the table. But my word, Derrick Rose is frighteningly good, and as rare as it is for an NBA-ready talent like Beasley to come along, a point guard of Rose's caliber is arguably more uncommon. It's more than a little confusing to me that it's been only three years since the Bucks, Hawks and Jazz all talked themselves out of picking Chris Paul out of a similar sort of received wisdom (yes, Deron Williams is very good, but knowing what we know now there's no way Utah still makes that pick) and nobody's let them forget it since, but now everyone seems perfectly content to quite possibly make the same mistake equally blindly.

Beasley could easily be a great player but his major downsides are his surly attitude and problems with authority... concerns that should not be taken lightly. I'm not sure how many have had the chance to read Grant Wahl's lengthy profile of Beasley in Sports Illustrated a few months back but it's totally fascinating, equally entertaining and disturbing. Rose, on the other hand, is a famously good teammate with great leadership skills... aside from a somewhat shaky jumper, the primary knock on him is that he's not 6-9, 235, but guess what? He doesn't need to be. Rose is so smart and so athletic that he's got the chance to be some sort of unholy amalgam of Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and Dwyane Wade. The kid can flat-out play, and while I'm not suggesting that Beasley will be a Marvin-Williams-to-the-Hawks level fuck-up, I can easily foresee triumphantly (and obnoxiously) linking to this post three years from now when Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are leading the Sonics deep into the Western Conference playoffs.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What Goes Around...

This is so ludicrous that it's practically a waste of a post, but I feel like a published report is fair game. The New York Daily News has a story today on the ongoing shake-up over at MSG; you might have heard about it. According to beat writer Frank Isola, Isiah's long overdue dismissal is an all-but-done deal, and Donnie Walsh is leaning towards New York native, former point guard and current (exceptional) television analyst Mark Jackson to replace him. The only question is in what capacity: Jackson's long been considered an intriguing coaching candidate, but Isola suggests that Walsh might be interested in MJ for the GM position, which would be a somewhat weird move since Jackson's never held a position like that (do the Knicks really need a first-time GM?) and leads me to believe he'd basically just be a sidekick/puppet ruler in the new Walsh regime. Whatever, I'll cut to the chase. Five paragraphs into the story, once we're well ensconced in the Jackson-as-GM hypothetical, Isola drops his bombshell:
Another name that cannot be ruled out is Louisville's Rick Pitino, the former Knicks coach. Jackson considers Pitino the best coach he played for and the two have remained close throughout the years. Whether Pitino would leave college and return to the NBA for a third time is not known. The fact that Pitino would be answering to both Jackson and Walsh might also keep him from taking the job.
This is normally where I'd say something like, "you can't make this shit up," but honestly Isola's story is so poorly sourced that perhaps, indeed, you can. Nonetheless, how incredible would this be... not only would the Celtics come back next year on the heels of a 60-win-season (and who knows what else) but they'd come back to a situation where they'd face Rick Pitino four times as coach of the Knicks. Is there any doubt that Pitino could coax the loudest boos out of a Celtics crowd since the heyday of Bill Laimbeer?

Granted, I don't really see any possibility of this happening. Pitino's got a great situation at Louisville, and as Isola suggests, he's such an inveterate egomaniac that I can't see him going back to the NBA in a situation where he'd have to relinquish autonomy to Jackson and/or Walsh. That said, part of me feels like if they could convince him, it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world--remember, Pitino's problems were far more related to his management than his coaching, and his first go-round with the Knicks was pretty successful--but then I look at the Knicks roster and immediately conclude that it would be the worst idea in the world. I mean, can you imagine Rick Pitino trying to coach Eddy Curry? Please, please let this happen.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sam It Ain't

There's not much to carp about when you've just reached the 60 win plateau, but we'll try. First, let me say again, the Celtics look awesome. They are destroying most teams, and are so dang professional that it almost gets me teary. The team is a joy to behold. 60 wins is a sure sign of a dominance, and no one can doubt that this group is an elite bunch.

But now let me have my caveat. Cassell is hardly playing. Sam has played in 17 games with the Celtics, averaging about 15 minutes a contest. He's also been DNP-CD five times, including tonight. He played one minute against the Hornets last week, and all of six against Phoenix. And like I said, he didn't play at all tonight.

So what gives? I know you hardly want to rock a boat that is sailing along as smoothly as the Celtics' has, but there needs to be a rational compromise here. House has been playing very well lately, and perhaps has earned himself a regular position in the playoff rotation, but Glenn needs to find minutes for Cassell. I mean, in the second night of a back to back why is Ray Allen playing 37 minutes and Sam none? Why in general has Glenn stuck with Tony Allen and regulated Cassell to the pine? Does he really think TA will be more important than Sam come playoff-time?

The point of these last few weeks is to fine-tune things, and part of that clearly should be assimilating Sam into the flow as much as possible. Yet Rivers seems disinclined to do this, which strikes me as shortsighted. What excites us about Sam is not only his gamesmanship and playoff savvy, but the fact that he is still a very good player. Unfortunately we have not gotten to see any of that since he joined the Green. The results surrounding Sam's disappearance have been positive - the bench has been great of late - but the truth remains: Sam is one of your more important bench players. He is more important than TA, and probably more important than House. He needs to play.

It takes a while usually for players to adjust to their new team. I would be concerned that Sam would not be able to fully adapt even if he were averaging 25 minutes a night since he joined Boston. But presently the concern is more profound. When the C's picked up Cassell I assumed they were getting a considerable resource - now I only get wistful.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Best Game of the Year

Hey, it's still April Fool's Day, right? Whatever, this one was alright, I guess. 106-92, 22 points for Ray Allen, 20 for KG, 10 assists for Rondo (to go with 7 turnovers... shhhh!!!). It gets our magic number down to 2, which is exciting because it makes me think of the playoffs. Big Baby's mohawk will surely be a lively topic of discussion over the next few weeks, provided he gets in games: don't look now, but he hasn't played more than 17 minutes since the first week of March, and while that's partly due to the ever-unfolding genius of Leon, there's little denying that Baby has slammed into the rookie wall in a major way, and judging from appearances it may have been a wall of milkshakes and cupcakes. On the bright side, this is the last time we have to watch the study in misery that is the Chicago Bulls this season, so we've got that going for us. That and 59 wins.

Also, Kevin Garnett won the 500th Tommy Award, so that elusive Championship would really just be icing on the cake at this point. Gary Tanguay also just asked Donny Marshall if he anticipated ever having 500 "Marshall Plans" and I nearly threw my remote at the television in terror.