Pierce and Rondo lead way as Celtics thrash Bulls to improve to 3-0

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I guess having Kevin Garnett is better than not having Kevin Garnett.

During last year’s postseason, the Chicago Bulls kept it close with the Boston Celtics for seven full games. This time around, with Garnett healthy, they kept it close for, oh, about a quarter. By the time Shelden Williams hit an early second-quarter layup, the Celtics were ahead 29-19 and well on their way to a 118-90 massacre.

There wasn’t much else the Celtics could have done. They moved the ball beautifully, they hit shots and, as has been the early-season trend, were extremely difficult to score on.

For the Celtics, Paul Pierce did the scoring and Rajon Rondo the distributing. It’s almost impossible to control an NBA game while scoring only two points, but Rondo did it. He pushed the tempo when he needed to, facilitated the offense, and found the open shooter. There was one sequence in particular that demonstrated how far Rondo has come in his development. He pushed the ball upcourt in a 1-on-1 scenario with Brad Miller in front of him. Rondo could have and, in the past, likely would have, forced the action and attempted to make a tightly-contested layup.

Instead, he circled the ball out, waited for his teammates to join him, and hit a streaking Kevin Garnett with the lob. The play didn’t result in one of Rondo’s 16 assists -- Garnett was fouled on the attempt -- but it displayed a level of patience and intelligence that Rondo only showed at times last season.

While Rondo was racking up the assists, Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and company were scorching the nets. Pierce shot 8-12 from the field, Allen 7-9, Garnett 7-13, and the Celtics shot 58% from the floor and hit 12 of 24 three-point attempts. The shooting display was impressive, especially in the third quarter, when Pierce hit all seven of his field goal attempts and all five of his three-pointers.

It’s a sign of how well the Celtics have been playing that I was actually disappointed by their defensive effort. I know, I know, they only gave up 90 points and held the Bulls to 41.3% shooting and only 13.3% from the arc. But the Bulls had a lot of easy buckets, especially in the third quarter, when Chicago shot 12-22 (even though Pierce’s long-range barrage made sure that A) the defensive lapses didn’t matter and B) most people didn’t notice the wide open dunks and layups the Bulls kept getting.)

Either way, I’ve seen this team enough to realize that they are a hungry, hungry bunch. Last season, the Celtics won a lot of games but there was always the feeling that they lacked a killer instinct to kick teams while they were down and put them away.

Even as the Celtics got off to a 27-2 start that was the best in NBA history, they worried me and seemed not to be completely clicking. This year, the C’s are firing on all cylinders right out of the gate, leaving no doubt in any of their three games which team was better. Scratch that -- way better.

About Pierce’s third quarter outburst, Garnett said, “That was beautiful to watch.”

I’ll take you one more, Kevin. So was the whole game.

Game Notes

  • Eddie House did as Eddie House does, shooting 9-13 and piling on the damage in another blowout victory.

  • Joakim Noah flashed an improved post game, hitting some very tough left-handed hooks and a long perimeter jumper. I’m not quite ready to say he’s a legitimate offensive option, but he’s a lot closer than he was last year.

  • Shelden Williams posted a double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds. I might have sold the Duke product short when I wrote I didn’t think he’d contribute much; Williams is playing great basketball so far, and has admirably filled the void left by Glen Davis’ unfortunate (and stupid) injury.

  • Ray Allen only played 24 minutes. For all those C’s fans clamoring for Doc to limit Ray’s playing time, you can hold your complaints… until the next time Ray plays 40 minutes in a 30-point blowout.
  • Rajon Rondo not letting contract situation dictate his play

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    He was the Celtics’ postseason MVP and then, before you could say “work on your jumper, Rajon”, Rajon Rondo was an immature, egotistical player on the trading block.

    After a tumultuous offseason filled with rumors of trades, immaturity and an oversized ego, Rajon Rondo had every reason to sour on the Boston Celtics. They (and specifically, Danny Ainge) publicly humiliated Rondo, calling him out for his childish behavior, boorish personality and lack of punctuality. The C’s tried to trade him all summer, even after Rondo averaged a near triple-double throughout the entire playoffs. They desperately tried to get rid of their rising young star, their team’s future, and tore him to shreds in the process.

    If Rondo’s ego was a problem before, it became an enormous asset. Someone who didn’t think as highly of his own abilities, who wasn’t completely assured of his own worth, surely would have folded under the immense scrutiny Rondo underwent this summer. When people are bashing you from all angles, natural human tendency is to react defensively, to lash out at your detractors. But Rondo stood tall and, instead of responding with angry words, he strived to make himself better.

    People said he was too skinny, so he put on 11 pounds of muscle and came back stronger than he’d ever been. People said he couldn’t shoot, so he hired Mark Price to be his personal shooting coach and returned with a far-improved shooting form. People said he was a malcontent, so Rajon Rondo spoke with Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge about what he needed to do to improve.

    Rondo still isn’t under contract for next season. If the Celtics don’t sign him by Saturday, he will become an unrestricted free agent. The contract talks have apparently hit a snafu; Rondo and his agent think he’s worth more money than the Celtics do. But if you expected Rondo to gun for his own stats, to be out to get his, think again.

    If anything, Rondo has become even more selfless on the court. Through the first two games, he’s been perfectly content to take whatever the defense gives him, to use the great scorers he has around him, and to distribute the basketball with great frequency and delicacy. At no point has he looked like a player worrying about a contract; at no point has he looked like a man trying to prove his doubters wrong.

    Admittedly, I don’t know much about what goes on behind the scenes. I don’t know what time Rondo arrives at games, I don’t know how often he argues with Doc Rivers, and I can’t observe his relationships with his teammates. All I know is what I hear in the news and what I see on the court.

    And from what my eyes tell me, Rajon Rondo is a team player. He may get into arguments; everybody does. He may occasionally show up late; don’t we all? But once the ball is tipped, once the game is underway, there are few players who play with more unselfishness. His play over the first two games hasn’t been spectacular, but it has been nearly flawless.

    He’s only averaging 9 points so far, but he’s shooting 64.3% from the field. He’s only taken 14 shots, but he’s made 9 of them. He has 21 assists to go against only 3 turnovers. Not to mention 6 steals in two games.

    Rondo could be playing for a contract. He could be out there calling his own number and saying, “Screw the offense.” After all, there’s really no other point guard Doc Rivers can turn to. But he’s not. Instead, Rondo has played two of the most efficient games you could ask for. He has put the team ahead of himself and run the offense just about as well as a point guard could.

    I still don’t know much about Rondo’s relationship with the coaching staff, or how well he’s getting along with his teammates. But I don’t really care. As long as he maintains his selflessness and passion every time he steps on that 94’ x 50’ slab of parquet floor, I could care less if he isn’t best friends with Doc or Ray Allen.

    Rondo is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and he’s doing it by not trying to compile his own stats.

    He’s doing it for the sake of the team.

    Boston Celtics clamp down Bobcats, 92-59: Running Diary

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Another night, another low-scoring win.

    I think that might become a pattern with this Celtics team. While the Bobcats clearly didn't come to play, a lot of credit has to be given to Boston's defense for the ugliness of Charlotte's offensive attack. And by attack, I mean an attack of misses, bricks and turnovers.

    I wondered in my game preview where the Charlotte scoring would come from, and the answer was D) None of the above. They just don't have anyone capable of creating easy shots, and they had a bad matchup with a Boston team that thrives on making even good teams take low-percentage shots.

    It's hard to take too much from an early-season game. Or even a couple early-season games. But if you can tell one thing about the Celtics, it's this: Their defense is going to be very, very good. It's not often one NBA team holds another to only 59 measly points and 31% shooting.

    Two years ago, the Celts had the best defense in the league and one of the best the NBA has seen in many years.

    This year, they have the potential to be even better. All the additions they made this offseason (Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, even Shelden Williams and Lester Hudson) are defensive-minded players with the ability to affect a game by stopping the other team from scoring. They don't have James Posey anymore, but Wallace and Daniels combined should provide more defense than Posey could by himself.

    And on offense? Rajon Rondo continued to play great, unselfish basketball. If anyone thought he might be gunning for his own in an attempt to get a bigger contract, think again. Rondo has played absolutely selfless basketball in the first game, taking whatever the defense gives him and running the team almost flawlessly.

    KG looked good, Pierce looked good and Ray looked good. Two games into the season, the world is smiling upon the Boston Celtics. 2-0. Only 71 wins to go, 'Sheed.

    Here's a running diary from the game...

    First Quarter

  • Here's what Paul Pierce had to say in his pregame speech: "You see up there? [pointing towards the rafters] There's only 17 of them. I think we need another one." Are you excited yet for the home opener? Is your blood boiling?

  • Brian Scalabrine will be out again. With Big Baby down, the Celtics will really miss him. Shelden Williams played yesterday and Doc said something to the effect of, "He's a lottery pick for a reason. We just have to get it out of him." Doc, he's also a huge bust for a reason.

  • The Celtics are up 8-0 before I even settled into my couch. They're running, they're gunning, and Garnett looks great. Perkins had a sequence where he blocked a Felton layup then went outside, guarded Felton on the perimeter and blocked him again. No, no, no, no, no! Charlotte usually plays Boston really tight, but don't expect this one to be. The Celtics are locked in.

  • Garnett now has two blocks, Perkins has two blocks. Did I mention there's still 8 minutes left... in the FIRST QUARTER! The Celtics interior defense could be pretty damn lethal.

  • Boris Diaw finally hits a jumper to get the Bobcats on the board with 7 minutes left. But Rondo answers with a jumper from the top of the key. Have I ever mentioned that his form looks way better?

  • Ew. I just noticed Gerald Wallace's hair. It's worse than Marquis Daniels'. It looks like he has sticks of black licorice coming off the back of his head. Don't think that's what he was going for.

  • The Celtics are starting to play sloppy basketball. They're playing down to their competition, which is, admittedly, poor.

  • KG's looking good. Then again, I would probably score on Diaw in the post.

  • Nazr Mohammed with a tip-in that gets waved off for offensive goaltending. Isn't it about the time the rest of his NBA career gets waved off too?

  • Tommy Heinsohn after Rondo blew by Augustin for an easy lay-in: "One thing we know about Augustin: He didn't make all-defense in college."

  • Rasheed is out here drilling threes. By hitting two in the first quarter, he probably already hit more than the Bobcats will all season. 22-12, Celtics.

  • The Bobcats just have no scoring. Even their top scorer, Gerald Wallace, is only a garbage guy who lives off second-chance points and fast breaks. I'd say DJ Augustin is their best pure scorer, and he happens to be their backup point guard.

  • My roommate: "Mohammed is Not-zee best basketball player." Truer words have never been spoken.

  • 22-13 to end the first quarter. Celtics will probably roll with this one. Charlotte just doesn't have the firepower to keep up.

    Second Quarter

  • Celtics up 25-15, but it could be a lot worse. The C's aren't making the easy ones. I'm betting they'll start, and when they do, this will be a blowout.

  • Tommy Heinsohn: "Guess who's in the game!?!? J.R.!! When an announcer gets that excited to see you, you know you aren't a very valuable player.

  • Bobcats slowly crawling back into the game. The second unit hasn't looked nearly as good as yesterday. They simply cannot put the ball in the bucket right now. 29-23, Bobcats. This game reminds me of a summer league game. Nobody can hit a jumper, and turnovers galore. Actually, that might be an insult to summer league.

  • During the commercial, I switched to the Knicks game just in time to see Darko Milicic hit a jump hook. Sadly, I then saw him do his own version of Deshawn Stevenson's "I can't feel my face" routine. Really. I'm not kidding. I felt like I would if Earl Boykins started posting up for an entire game. He's just not supposed to do that.

  • The Celtics have looked very lethargic since that first spurt. Maybe its the back-to-back games, maybe it's age, or maybe it's just that they realized they're playing the Bobcats.

  • The Celtics are just a lot more physically imposing than the Bobcats. At any given time, the 'Cats have Boris Diaw or Vlad Radmanovic guarding Perkins, Wallace or Garnett. Mismatch city. The Celtics will be too physical and too big for a lot of teams this season.

  • Another commercial, another switch to the Knicks game. Walt Frazier says, "If Daequan Cook improved his off-the-dribble game, he'd be an All-Star." Really, Walt? Or maybe he'd be good enough to start for the Kings.

  • Just realized I haven't had a score update in awhile. Thankfully, there hasn't been a lot of scoring. 39-31 Celtics.

  • Ray's missed a lot of jumpers tonight, but he's such a weapon to have. Rondo just pushed it ahead to an open Ray on the fast break, and all of a sudden an 8-point lead becomes an 11-point lead.

  • 42-31 Celtics at halftime. Ray Allen with 13 points is the only player in double figures. Somehow, I felt he was missing the whole half, but he ended up 4-7 from the floor. Huh? Celtics are really locking down, but their offense has been poor, poor, poor. I'm feeling an Eddie House outburst at some point in the second half. Why? I couldn't tell you.

    Third Quarter

  • Tommy Heinsohn with another gem: "Go to the hoop! This isn't the world's greatest defense their playing."

  • Quick 8-0 run by the C's to open up the second half. They're getting easy buckets, and not giving up any. That's usually a recipe for success, at any level of basketball.

  • Make it 10-0. Garnett jumper. The Celtics are now making the easy jumpers. Is 8 minutes left in the third too early for Red Auerbach to spark up his cigar?

  • Make it 12-0. Pretty play, Garnett pass to a cutting Rondo, Rondo wraparound pass to Perk, Perkins reverse dunk.

  • Make it 15-0. The Bobcats seem to have given up. Every Celtics jumper is uncontested, every layup easy. Larry Brown must be supremely pissed off.

  • The 21-0 run (including a brief 6-0 run to end the first half) is finally over. It only took the Bobcats six minutes to score their first second-half bucket. But a Pierce three and a fast-break Pierce dunk increase the run to 26-2, and the Celtics are up 29 points. Rondo has 10 assists, and the Celtics are making things look very, very easy.

  • Update: Red Auerbach is now DEFINITELY smoking a stogie. No doubt anymore... No matter how much time is left.

  • Gerald Henderson, Jr. scores two free throws for the Bobcats third and fourth points of the third quarter. Did I mention there are only three minutes left in the quarter?

  • Rondo is playing such great basketball these first two games. After yet another pretty feed to Perk, he now has 11 assists with 2 minutes to go in the third quarter. He hasn't forced any plays, he hasn't turned the ball over, and he is taking whatever the defense gives to him. You can't run a team much better than Rondo has these first two games. You just can't.

  • The third quarter is now over. The Bobcats ended the quarter with a running Raymond Felton jumper, to give them a whopping total of 10 points scored for the quarter. 67-41 Celtics. Don't expect to see a lot of the Big Three in the final stanza.

    Fourth Quarter

  • Charlotte shooting 28% so far. Scorching the nets.

  • Eddie misses his first three of the fourth quarter. I predicted him to have a big outburst in this second half, and I stand by my prediction. Eddie kills in garbage time.

  • Shelden Williams pulls down a rebound in traffic. He's got a strong set of hands, and positions his body well.

  • Lester Hudson gets his first minutes as a Celtic. Almost immediately, he gets a steal and a nice assist to a wide-open Marquis Daniels. I LOVVVEEE LESSTTAAAHHHHH!

  • The Bobcats are starting to get a few easy buckets as the C's have their 12th-man lineup in the game. Unfortunately for them, they're down 28 points. Which amounts to approximately three more quarters of scoring they'd have to do to come back.

  • House finally hits a jumper with 6 minutes left. There's still time for a barrage of threes to validate my prediction. Please, Eddie.

  • Giddens reminds me of Tony Allen as he picks up a foul flying into a jump-shooter. And being compared to Tony Allen is never, ever a good thing.

  • Eddie with a three! I'm in the process of being validated. I can feel it. The House is starting to burn up.

  • Eddie with another three, his third jumper in a row. Don't ever bet against House catching fire in a blowout. Ever.

  • I officially am really liking Shelden Williams' game. He does the little things well, gets rebounds and plays within himself. If he could just stop himself from shooting jumpers once in a while, the Celtics might have found themselves a real steal.

  • I didn't watch the last few minutes. Not that it mattered. My roommate wanted to watch the Yankees, and it was tough to convince him that watching a 30-point blowout was more important than watching the World Series. I tried to tell him he doesn't really want to watch the Yankees lose game one, but he didn't agree. Either way, the Celtics are 2-0 and the Yankees are down 2-0. It's a good night.

    Note: Videos thanks to Red's Army.

  • Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Big games mean something in the NBA

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Damn it, Rajon Rondo and Danny Ainge, why couldn't you have come to an agreement for a contract? Damn it, Glen Davis, why did you have to go around getting into "altercations" with your old college buddy? Damn it, Shelden Williams, why do you have to be in the f---ing rotation now?

    Okay, that's it for my venting about the tough day the Celtics went through yesterday on the eve of a new season. Today, I'll have my basketball playlist on: "You're the Best Around" from Karate Kid, "One Shining Moment" immortalized by the NCAA tournament, and the entire Hoosiers soundtrack. Maybe even a little bit of Busta Rhymes' "We Made It." Or Nelly's "Heart of a Champion." Or Eminem's "Till I Collapse."

    Hell, I already watched Hoosiers last night. Then slept in my Paul Pierce jersey for good luck. You might call me obsessed, or maybe just strange, but these are the things you do when basketball is your religion, a couch your church pew and Tommy Heinsohn your preacher.

    If you haven't guessed, there's a game to play tonight. And it counts. Just in case that weren't enough incentive, it's against Lebron, Shaq and the Cavs. The team many predict to be the best in the Eastern Conference, and the East's number one seed last year.

    Most coaches could talk until they're blue in the face about how one regular season game means very little. After all, an NBA season is 82 games long and one game means little to a team's final record. One regular season game in and of itself means nothing. Does anyone remember that the Celtics beat the Cavs on opening night last year? Chances are you didn't. But you sure as hell remember game seven against Orlando. Coaches would probably remind you not to read too much into a regular season game.

    But I'm not a coach, and no matter how much you can say a regular season game means nothing, tonight's game is important. It will set the tone for the season and will determine the early frontrunner for Eastern Conference champion. Two seasons ago, the Celtics came out of the gates like lions preying on unsuspecting food; they smacked the Wizards on opening night by some ridiculous margin, in the process setting the tone for a championship season. Last season, the C's opened with a sluggish 90-85 victory over the Cavs. While the Celtics' 62-win season was nothing to laugh at, they never regained the dominant form they displayed in 2007-08. They were still very good, still one of the best teams in the league, but never dominant.

    Have there been teams that have won the NBA championship after losing their opening-night game? Of course. But I refuse to believe a single regular season game doesn't matter, and especially one on opening night, played against a rival. On any given night in the NBA, even the best teams can lose to a team like the Kings. The gap between the top teams and the bottom teams just isn't large enough where even the top contenders can get away with a lackadaisical effort. But when the lights are on and two contending rivals are playing, especially in an opening-night game where the emotions are running high, the game simply means something.

    Tonight, both teams are going to give a full effort. That's a given. It's the season's first game and there will be excitement, passion and intensity in every player on the floor. Last year, I was underwhelmed by the Celtics in situations like this. The last time we saw the C's play a big regular season game, they were getting steamrolled by these very Cavs, 107-76. The Celtics also lost both games against the Lakers last year, including a Christmas day game that served as the first rematch of the 2008 Finals.

    When rivalry games, or even just two games between top teams, are played, both teams are playing hard. And when both teams are playing hard, it's the team that executes more effectively that wins. So maybe you can't tell a lot about a team based on a normal regular season game, but when the ball is tipped between two of the best teams in the league and both teams leave their hearts on the floor, a good deal is learned about both teams.

    Last year, the Celtics just plain old may not have been good enough to win the championship. I've written a few times that the Celtics very well could have won a championship had Kevin Garnett stayed healthy. But, to be honest, the signs were there that they just weren't as good as the Lakers... even before the KG injury derailed any hopes they had for a repeat. In the big games, the Celtics were outclassed by their opponents – a big warning flag.

    Here's what I wrote last year during the Lakers' run to the finals:

    This year's Lakers have something to prove, and came out of the blocks showing the chip on their collective shoulder. Bursting to a 23-5 record, the Lakers were set to play the Celtics in a Christmas Day showdown. In a manhandling very reminiscent of the way I saw my Celtics play last season, the Lakers completely shackled the Celtics, forcing them into an ugly, rhythm-less game.

    That game, a huge game by all accounts, even so early in the season, set the tone for the rest of the Lakers' regular season. When they played the power-house teams, the Lakers came to play. They beat the Celtics both times they played them. The Cavaliers? Beat them twice too, smacked them actually (including their first home loss, right when the Cavaliers were starting to think about the NBA's first undefeated home record).

    I've always been a firm believer that the team that wins big games is most likely a better team. On an off day, any team in the NBA can lose to another one. But in the big games, when the lights are on and the whole country's watching on TV as two NBA powerhouses do battle, both teams usually bring their best effort. And when both teams bring their best effort, it's usually the better team that wins. Last year, it was the Celtics who won all the big games.

    They were 2-0 vs. the Lakers, 2-1 against the then-Eastern Conference defending champion Pistons and 2-0 vs. the ever-contending San Antonio Spurs (who were also the defending champs). They were the first team to sweep the Rodeo Road Trip (at San Antonio, at Houston, and at Dallas) in twenty years. Whenever there was a big game, the Celtics left no doubt who was the better team.

    Then the playoffs came around, and the Celtics let Atlanta take them to seven games in the first round. The Cavs came next, and they pushed the Celtics to the brink of elimination, too, before succumbing in Game 7. Everyone was clamoring about the Celtics allowing lesser teams to take them to seven games, but what everyone failed to notice was that every time the Celtics needed a win, they delivered. In Game 7 against the Hawks, the Celtics ratcheted up the intensity and the game was over within minutes. In the Cavs' Game 7, the Celtics held off an amazing performance by Lebron James, gritting out a tough win.

    Somewhere along the way, the Celtics learned how to consistently win, and how to finish out playoff series'. As they advanced through the postseason, Boston got stronger and stronger, beating a seasoned Detroit team in six games in the ECF and smacking the Lakers in Game 6 to take home the franchise's 17th banner.

    I see the Lakers making those same strides. During the Jazz series, everyone wondered what was wrong with the Lakers when they lost a game, and when they kept blowing big leads. In the Rockets' series, everyone wondered how a Tracy McGrady-less, Yao Ming-less Houston team could bring the Lakers to a Game 7.

    But what I saw was that the Lakers picked it up a notch in that Game 7. They raised their play to a level no other team in the NBA can attain. They played flawless offensive basketball, with terrific ball movement, great shooting and slashing penetration. They played inspired defense, hedging out on the dangerous Aaron Brooks pick-and-roll and forcing the Rockets into bad shot after bad shot.

    The Lakers, now, seem to have learned how to bring that effort on a daily basis rather than merely when they need it the most. They ended the Nuggets' season just six games after a lot of people picked a Denver upset, and took their great play into Game 1 of the Finals, defeating the Magic in an overwhelming blowout. When the Lakers play up to their capabilities, there is no other team in the NBA that can measure up.

    When you watch the game tonight, don't think the whole season is riding on this one bout. Don't think the Eastern Conference champion should be crowned tonight. But keep in mind that in the big games, the better team wins most of the time. Not every time, but most of the time. The Celtics won the big games two years ago, and the Lakers won them last season. When those two teams were operating at their best, there was no other team in the NBA that could match up.

    The Celtics may win tonight, they may lose. Either way, we're going to learn a lot about the guys in Green. Whether we like what we learn or not. It's only one game, but it's a big game.

    And big games tend to reveal a lot.

    Don't expect Rasheed Wallace to shoot a good percentage from the field

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    I watched a classic Portland Trail Blazers–Los Angeles Lakers game over the summer, before Rasheed Wallace signed with the Celtics. Watching the game, a playoff game versus the Lakers in 2002, I was struck by two things. First, the Lakers were a great collection of talent. They had two guys, Shaq and Kobe (obviously), who were probably the very best players in the game, and they had role players galore surrounding the two super-duper-stars. Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Brian Shaw, Lindsey Hunter, Devean George. Those guys knew their roles and played them well.

    The second thing I noticed was Rasheed Wallace. Watching him recently, you forget how good Wallace once was. Don't get me wrong, I think Wallace is a great fit for the Celtics. I've written plenty of times about how he'll spread the floor on offense and provide stellar, versatile defense. But this guy used to be SO talented. He would post you up, and could turn either way and finish with both hands. He could take it strong to the hoop or he could fade away for a pretty much unblockable jumper. He could take you outside or he could punish you on the blocks.

    On that night in 2002, guarded mostly by Horry, Rasheed scored 31 points and corralled 11 rebounds. But it wasn't just the stats that were so impressive; it was the way he got them. Whenever the Blazers needed a bucket, they went to Wallace down low. He took five three-pointers that game, but the longer the game progressed, the more 'Sheed took the ball down low. And he was so tough to guard on the blocks. He had a full repertoire of moves, and was a lot stronger than his 225-lb. frame would seem to suggest. Wallace punished Horry that night, demanding the ball and scoring at will. His team lost, but Rasheed did everything he could to keep the Blazers in the game.

    Sadly, Rasheed's game had already begun to change. Those five threes he took that night weren't just a sign of a player taking what the offense gave him; they were the signs of a player whose game was evolving. Whereas Rasheed was once almost strictly a post player, he quickly became more and more perimeter-oriented. 'Sheed took 0.6 three-pointers per game in 1999-2000, 2.1 the following year, and 4.0 in 2001-2002. He was still capable of dominating in the post, but Rasheed was floating to the arc more and more.

    As his game became more centered on outside shots, Rasheed's shooting percentages plummeted. From 1996-1997 to 2000-2001, 'Sheed never failed to shoot above 50% from the field. Not coincidentally, he never took more than 2.1 three-pointers per game over that span, and took less than 1.0 threes per game during every other year in that time frame. In 2001-2002, Wallace shot 46.9% from the field while shooting 4.0 threes per game. He has not come close to the 50% plateau since, and has never again shot less than three three-pointers per game. His past four years, Wallace's shooting percentages have been brutally low: 43.0%, 42.3%, 43.2%, and 41.9%.

    In Doc Rivers' offense, Doc expects and even encourages Wallace to stay near the three-point arc. I see where Doc is coming from; he wants to spread the floor and leave more space for slashers like Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels. Hell, I've even been an advocate of the advice. It makes sense to keep Rasheed on the perimeter and, especially against a team like Cleveland that has Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas playing center, Rasheed's bombing tendencies can even be an advantage.

    But if 'Sheed stays almost strictly to the perimeter, he could be in for a pretty miserable year shooting the basketball. I'm talking about Allen Iverson-on-an-off-day type numbers. I know you can't put too much stock into preseason stats, but Rasheed took 39 threes in 7 preseason games, despite playing only 25 minutes per game. He shot only 35.8% from the field, and didn't even shoot 50% from the field in a single game. Not one game. For a 6'11" center, that's almost unheard of.

    Now, I don't know if Rasheed is still capable of dominating down low. In fact, he almost certainly isn't. He's older, slower on his feet, and hasn't shown the ability to control the low post in years. But if Rasheed doesn't put more of an effort into getting shots closer to the bucket, he could be in for a miserable year shooting the basketball. Watching him now, it's easy to see 'Sheed can't get easy buckets. It's no longer easy for him to operate down low and get easy layups and dunks. Almost none of the shots he takes are high-percentage; they are mostly contested jumpers from the post or long three-point bombs. Old age has taken away Wallace's ability to create easy looks for himself.

    Still, I like Rasheed in Green. He will solidify the defense and spread the court, and he simply knows how to play the game.

    Just don't be surprised if his field goal percentage struggles to reach 40%.

    NBA Season Preview: San Antonio Spurs

    Last year's record: 54-28
    Head coach: Gregg Popovich
    Projected Starters: Tony Parker, Roger Mason, Jr., Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess


    Like most of the NBA's contenders, the Spurs re-tooled over the offeason. Adding Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess (not to mention rookie DeJuan Blair) to an already talent-laden roster could mean another championship for the bland boys from San Antone.


    Jay – George Hill. If Hill can become a solid backup for Parker, the Spurs have depth and talent at every position.

    Tommy - Ginobli; The most underrated player in the league. I know he's had health issues,but when healthy, Manu is a cold-blooded killer. He rounds out the top 5 assassins in the West, along with Kobe, 'Melo, Roy, and Paul.

    TJ - Ginobili's health. The Spurs desperately need the third person of their three-headed monster. Last year, without Manu, Duncan and Parker had to shoulder way too much of the load...

    Biggest question mark:

    Jay – Do the Spurs stay healthy? The Spurs are old and they are injury-prone. But if they can maintain health, especially for the trio of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili, they will be RIGHT THERE for the Western Conference and NBA championships.

    Tommy - Will the Spurs speed up the tempo at all with newcomer Richard Jefferson running the wing? Tim Duncan has lost about 20 pounds this offseason and Tony Parker is one of the fastest point guards ever. Last year, it looked like San Antonio's offense needed a shot in the arm.

    TJ - Is Richard Jefferson what this team needs on the wing? I'm not sure he is. In his prime, Jefferson was an explosive scorer. But Jefferson is on the way down, and is better suited for a team with quicker tempo. I'm just not sure the Spurs will be seeing a lot of this next season...

    Most compelling storyline:

    Jay – Tony Parker's ascent to the Spur's clear-cut go-to guy. For years in SA, Duncan has been the man, but Parker was the Spurs' best player last year. He should create an even larger gap between he and Duncan this year.

    Tommy - If R.C. Buford and Greg Popovich had a son, his name would be Bill Belichick.

    TJ – Dirk should be on his A game this year as his window to win a championship is slowly closing. He has the talent around him; however the elite teams out West have also gotten better. The Mavericks will have their work cut out for them this season.

    Player to watch:

    Jay – Manu. When Manu is healthy and productive, the Spurs are inevitably one of the NBA's elite teams. He took the summer off from playing international basketball, and should benefit from the extra rest. Look for a better, healthier season from Manu, one of the league's greatest competitors.

    Tommy - George Hill; The kid has a promising future, but hopes to provide an immediate energy-boost this year off the bench.

    TJ - Manu. Contract year, and coming off an injury? It all adds up to an important season for Manu. If he's good, the Spurs will be great. If he's hurt, the Spurs will only be good.

    Projected Record:

    Jay – 58-24

    Tommy – 59-23

    TJ – 60-22

    Delonte West's bout with depression takes a dire turn

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    It's bad enough to be carrying three guns.

    It's even worse when one you are riding a motorcycle with a handgun strapped to your leg, another attached to your waist, and a shotgun slung over your shoulder in a guitar case.

    Delonte West was pulled over by police late Thursday night, driving his motorcycle strapped with three guns. While it is unknown where he was driving or why he was armed, it can't be a good sign to have a shotgun hanging over your shoulder, held in a guitar case.

    Most of the time, when a person is arrested for gun charges I dismiss it as the foolish actions of an immature person, a violent person. I instantly blame the individual for his or her actions, giving little thought to any reasons for them being armed. Especially with an athlete, there is no excuse for being armed. When you make as much money as professional athletes, if you feel the need to have armed protection... just hire a bodyguard. Being armed invites trouble and nothing good seems to ever come out of carrying protection of any sort.

    But in Delonte's case, I feel compassion for him. I feel sorrow. I only hope he can recover from whatever demons that are haunting him. After all, he's the same guy I rooted for when he was a Boston Celtic. He's the same guy who won me over by displaying true grit on the court and a fun-loving, goofy personality off it. When I heard last October that West had depression, a feeling of deep sadness came over me. I don't know whether it's a good thing or a sign of society's screwy priorities, but people start to think of their favorite players, favorite actors and favorite singers like friends. It's why the country mourned Michael Jackson's death with such passion.

    When you become drawn to a person's talents, you start to care deeply for what happens to them. I will likely never meet Delonte West in my life, yet I was drawn to his basketball talents and thus it mattered what happened to him off the court. It mattered that he had to struggle in a life-long bout with depression, and it gave me heartfelt sorrow to hear his plight with depression.

    Now, Delonte's back in the news and it's in a very bad way. But instead of thinking about how heinous it was for Delonte to commit the crime, and wondering what the hell he was going to do with enough guns for a small army, I can't stop hoping that Delonte West will get help. I can't say for sure that his depression was the reason for his outlandish behavior, but I highly doubt it didn't at least play a part in his horrendous decision to carry three guns on his motorcycle.

    "I needed help," West said last October after admitting his depression. "In a sense, you feel like a weaker man because you have to raise your hand and ask for help."

    West needed help, he got help, but it didn't cure him from a disease that will likely continue to affect him the rest of his life.

    "The ugly head started to show itself again. It’s been haunting me my whole life, self-destructive behavior."

    And it looks like it's come back to haunt him again. Depression is a deep and powerful sickness, a disease that often can't be noticed on the surface. But its demons haunt all those affected, and it can rear its ugly head at any time.

    "I’ve had a history of doing that in the past, where I’ve quit teams or sabotaged my own success," West said last October. "At this juncture in my life, I don’t want to keep doing that. I want to enjoy being in the NBA. I want to enjoy being successful. I want to enjoy my life."

    Let's hope he can once again get help, and let's hope that, this time, the effects of that help last forever. I can't shake the feeling that this arrest actually saved him from some trouble that would have been far worse than a couple gun charges. He couldn't have been planning anything good, not with two guns attached to his body and another slung across his shoulder.

    "I don't care if anyone laughs at me," West said. "All that matters is how I feel about myself."

    I hope nobody's laughing now.

    NBA Season Preview: Utah Jazz

    Celtics Town’s team-by-team NBA season preview continues today with the Northwest Division. Look out for our Portland Trail Blazers preview tomorrow.

    Last year's record: 48-34
    Head coach: Jerry Sloan
    Projected Starters: Deron Williams, C.J. Miles, Ronnie Brewer, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Ohkur


    The Jazz aren't quite a contender, but still one of the NBA's better teams. Look for them to make the playoffs, but don't expect them to make much noise once they get there.


    Jay – Carlos Boozer's mentality. Is he going to harbor a grudge about the Jazz re-signing Paul Millsap too a huge deal, or is Boozer going to bring his hardhat and prove that he still deserves to be the starter? When he's on his game, Boozer can be one of the league's best power forwards. But he might be looking over his shoulder at Millsap...

    Tommy - Jerry Sloan; With Carlos Boozer already asking to be traded and his team in limbo, Sloan will have to do a great job managing turmoil and focusing his team. But he's a Hall of Famer for a reason, and the reason isn't John Stockton or Karl Malone, like Sloan claims.

    TJ - Paul Millsap has a new contract and Boozer wants out. How will Millsap feel when he has to come off the bench if the Jazz do not move Boozer by the trade deadline?

    Biggest question mark:

    Jay – Does Deron Williams really have 4% body fat? He said so this summer, but can it really be true? If it is, he either lost a lot of excess fat or his physique appears very misleading. But I don't really care what his body fat % is as long as he can still do things like this...

    Tommy - How long will Carlos Boozer be in a Utah Jazz' uniform? Will Boozer give his full effort, or pull a Vince Carter on his way out of town? Unfortunately for Jazz fans, I'm leaning towards the latter.

    TJ - If Jerry Sloan is considered one of the greatest coaches of all-time, how is it that he has not won an NBA title in his career? Before I rank him among the all-time greats he will have to win a championship. Is this the year for the Jazz to help get a ring for their legendary coach? (Most likely not)

    Most compelling storyline:

    Jay – Will Andrei Kirilenko use his free pass for cheating on his wife, former Russian pop star Maria Lopatova? She allows him to cheat on her once a year, but he says he's never taken her up on her offer. And no, I'm not even kidding.

    Tommy - With Boozer and Okur re-signing, Utah is in the dreaded situation of being good enough to be competitive, but not good enough to challene the West's elite teams. When will Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor decide to make some big changes around Williams? Either Boozer, Kirilenko, or both need to find new homes.

    TJ – The Carlos Boozer saga continues, with The Booze still wanting out of Utah. If the Jazz front office is smart they will trade for something because after next summer he will likely be heading to Miami, where he has a home and has said he wants to play. Please get something in exchange for this double-double machine.

    Player to watch:

    Jay – Paul Millsap. He could develop into an all-star type player. But I think he'd really benefit if the Jazz get rid of Boozer. Either way, he'll be very productive.

    Tommy - Deron Williams; I'm most interested to see how he leads this team amidst all the distraction. A world-class PG has to be a world-class leader,too.

    TJ - Pay attention to Deron Williams this season as he will challenge the likes of Chris Paul for the league’s best point guard. He is a stud and I am going to enjoy watching him grow into a perennial all-star over the next decade.

    Projected Record:

    Jay – 46-36

    Tommy – 45-37

    TJ – 47-35