Boston Celtics return from three-day layoff tonight against Utah Jazz

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Damn, it feels like forever since I’ve seen the Celtics play. After having played eight games in twelve days, it seems like the Celtics have had a second offseason with their three full days off. In fact, I keep waiting for talks of valuable free agents to pop up. (“Who should the Celtics sign – Grant Hill? Carlos Arroyo? Bobby Jackson? Fine, I guess they’ll settle for Marquis Daniels.”) Since the Celtics last played (about four months ago), I’ve been watching the poo-poo platter of games on NBA League Pass and wondering why in the hell they can’t have a premier matchup while the Celtics are off. Instead, Cleveland has to play Orlando at the same time as Boston takes on the Utah Jazz. Oy Vay.

Anyways, the Celtics looked unbelievable through their first five games. They were steam-rolling opponents, bashing them and battering them, and stating their case as the NBA’s top team.

Then, the Minnesota Timberwolves happened and, all of a sudden, things went a little downhill. During that T-Wolves game, it wasn’t a Celtic who was the best player on the court. Hell, it wasn’t even Al Jefferson. It was Oleksiy Pecherov. The Celtics escaped with a win, but started a trend of playing down to their opponent’s level. The next two games, against Phoenix and New Jersey, ended with a loss to the Suns and another slim escape from the grip of a big upset against New Jersey.

A lot of people will blame the recent poor play on the brutal schedule featuring eight games in twelve days. To be fair, the schedule was daunting. Not only did the Celtics play all those games in twelve days, but they had to travel for at least one absurd set of back-to-back games: The Celtics played in Philly one night, then in Minnesota the next. Doesn't the NBA realize how long that is to travel, then play the next day?

But not all the Celtics' problems can be blamed on the poor schedule. Only eight games and twelve days into their schedule, shouldn't the Celtics still be fresh? No matter how many games they played in the season's first two weeks, shouldn't the Celtics have rejuvenated legs after a longer-than-expected offseason?

Before the season, the biggest question mark surrounding the C's was their age. Now that Boston is showing its age and playing with old, tired legs, people are blaming it on the schedule. The truth is, the Celtics will struggle with older legs at times this year. There will be times when they won't play their best, and there will be times when their energy is lacking. Hell, there already have been. As a Celtics fan, you just have to hope they'll have enough in the tank to bring it every night come playoff time. I won’t get too down when they don’t play well during the regular season, especially when it’s obvious the only thing lacking is their energy. I trust them enough to know the Celtics will leave their hearts on the floor when it matters. I think.

People have said the C’s won’t face such a rigorous stretch of eight games in twelve days in the playoffs. They’d be right about that, but they’d also be forgetting that the Celts have yet to play a grueling game with playoff intensity. Those eight games were hardly played with that type of passion and grit characteristic of playoff games. The Celtics won’t play as many games in as short a time span during the palyoffs, but they will likely exert at least as much energy. In a long, seven game series, with each team battling for 48 minutes every game, will the Celtics have enough legs to battle through the nicks, aches and pains that accumulate over an NBA season? I don’t know, and we won’t find out until they try. For now, they failed the first test of the “old legs” exam, but are still 7-1 after the grueling eight-game stretch. It could be a lot worse.

Putting that eight-game stretch behind them, the Celtics face Utah tonight at the TD Garden, looking to turn things around at home after a rare home loss to the Suns. Here are some things to look for during tonight’s game:

1. Eric Maynor starting at point guard for the Jazz?

Backup Ronnie Price is already out, and Deron Williams is probably out too. That would leave rookie Eric Maynor, who’s played only 16 minutes on the entire season, as the only point guard. On behalf of the entire state of Utah, Yikes.

I actually liked Maynor coming out of college. He’s an intelligent player who changes speeds well and is always under control. He can shoot, score, and make plays -- or at least he could in college. Now, who knows? No matter how talented, a rookie point guard with only 16 minutes under his belt should truly struggle against the likes of Rajon Rondo. Especially when Rondo starts telling Maynor he’ll never win a ring.

2. Utah’s lack of wing scoring

With Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, and Wes Matthews (Wes Matthews??) playing the brunt of the wing minutes, the Jazz can really struggle to put the ball in the hole from the perimeter. If Deron Williams is out, too, the Jazz could be in for a tough time against Boston’s defense.

3. Boston’s frontcourt defense vs. Utah’s frontcourt scoring

With Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, and Mehmet Okur, the Jazz big men can score both inside and out. The Celtics have great interior defense, but will be tested by the scoring, toughness, and versatility of Utah’s big men. Look for this matchup to go a long way in determining who wins the game, although, if Deron Williams sits, the Jazz could be in for a looonnnggggggg night.

Marquis Daniels: The difference between Daniels and Allen Iverson

Monday, November 9, 2009

When Allen Iverson took a personal leave from the Memphis Grizzlies, the Grizz wondered if the angered Iverson would ever return.

When Marquis Daniels left the Boston Celtics for personal matters, they just hoped he’d come back soon.

While Iverson has become the poster boy for what not to do as a teammate, Daniels has proven to be the epitome of a selfless player. He made $6.86 million last year and set career highs in points and rebounds; nobody could have blamed Daniels if he took the biggest deal he could get and played for whatever team offered him the most money and a starting job. After all, Daniels is entering the prime of his career. He’s already made big money, but Daniels’ age is when a lot of guys aim for that one last big contract.

Instead, Daniels signed with the Celtics -- to come off the bench behind two All-Stars -- for less money than he would have gotten elsewhere. He signed a one-year deal, so Daniels has every incentive to play for next year’s contract. Despite being in a contract year, he’s content doing whatever the Celtics need him to, anything to help the C’s win games.

His stats (5.7 points, 2.9 assists, 2.1 rebounds) certainly don’t jump off the page. In fact, they scream out “Worthless bum!” But the way he affects the entire Boston second unit is easily noticeable for anybody who watches the Celtics play. For a Celtics fandom that spent so much time last season harping on Tony Allen’s shortcomings, Daniels is, well, the anti-Tony Allen. Allen is known for his boneheaded mistakes, stupid drives to the basket, and ill-advised shots. He fouls the opposing team at the worst possible times, often on jumpshots.

Daniels, on the other hand, does whatever it takes for the Celtics to win. His stats aren’t going to put him on the All-Star team (hell, they aren’t even better than Allen’s stats from last year), but Daniels does all the “little things” that make a big difference. He moves the ball, takes good shots, and penetrates into the teeth of the opposing team’s defense. He handles the ball, leaving Eddie House to roam the three-point arc rather than being harassed by the opposing PG. Daniels plays good defense on his man and great position defense when his man doesn’t have the ball. Doc Rivers raves about Daniels’ basketball IQ, and talks about how much better the second unit operates with Daniels on the floor.

After a year of Tony Allen, Daniels is a human sigh of relief. He won’t light up the scoreboard, he’s not going to drain threes, and he probably won’t play many crunch-time minutes at all. But when he’s in there, you can feel confident that 1) he won’t do anything destructive to the team, 2) he will do positive things, even when he isn’t scoring, and 3) he’s not Tony Allen.

Especially with Iverson’s tired act of refusing to come off the bench, everything Daniels has done for the Celtics, everything he’s sacrificed to help the team, makes him look like a great teammate. Iverson put up nice stats in his first three games with Memphis (maybe his ONLY three games in Memphis), but watching the way he put up those stats you realize he’s a selfish gunner who, at this stage of his career, doesn’t make his teammates better.

Iverson controlled the ball, isolating early and often, completely foregoing his teammates and never involving them in plays. He took contested pullup jumpers off one pass. He dribbled the ball excessively. He turned the ball over by trying to do too much. For those three games, Iverson averaged 12.3 points, 3.7 assists and 1.3 rebounds while shooting 57.7% from the floor. On the surface, those numbers look great, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find out that Iverson had a negative +/- in every game he played for the Grizzlies. By monopolizing the ball and turning it over frequently, Iverson completely limited any contributions his teammates would have made. He scored a lot, but Iverson did none of the little things to help the Grizzlies emerge victorious.

Contrasting Daniels and Iverson, you find one player who makes sacrifices to help his team win, who is fine with coming off the bench as long as he can contribute to “W’s”. The other player? Well, let’s just say he’s a malcontent who has never gotten the concept of team basketball.

Just in case it wasn’t painfully obvious, Marquis Daniels (not Iverson??) is the unselfish player who has foregone more money and a starting role for the chance to win a ring, then adapted his game to fit the Celtics’ needs.

Iverson is now said to be contemplating retirement, frustrated by his role as a sixth man.

And Daniels? He'll be back for the Celtics on Wednesday, willing to fulfill whatever role Doc requests.