Running Diary: Not much defense as Celtics down Raptors

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Before you read this, please promise me one thing: Promise me you won't ever, ever let me go to another NBDL game.

I live right next to Springfield, where there is a new NBDL team, and tonight was opening night. It seemed like fun, plus my friend bought me tickets for free, so I decided to go. After all, it was professional basketball. How bad could it be?

The answer? Pretty. F---ing. Bad. By the time we left, with eight minutes still left in the game, the Springfield Armor were losing 92-58, and I still wasn't sure how they'd even scored 58 points. It was so bad that my brother and I had conversations during the game like this one:

Tommy (my brother): How many points do you think you could score if you played in this game?
Me: Probably 15-20. I'm a better shooter than any of these guys, and they don't exactly contest shots. If I played the full 48 minutes, I'd have at least 15 or 20.
Tommy: Yeah, that sounds about right. I was thinking the same thing.

And we were dead serious! Meanwhile, I'm the same guy who quit my division three basketball team after not getting any minutes whatsoever. And my team was one of division three's worst programs. I'm not exactly what you would call a super-talented player. But I was convinced -- and, frankly, still am -- that I could have score 15 or 20 points if I played the full game. Even though the Armor had only scored 58 through 40 or so minutes.

Honestly, the most talented player in the gym wasn't even a player. (And, surprisingly, it wasn't Armor coach Dee Brown either.) Nope. It was the guy who participated in one of the shooting contests during a timeout. In the contest, he had to sink three foul-line jumpers and three three-pointers in a minute in order to get the prize, whatever the prize was. He made his first five shots, leaving him with half a minute to make the final shot.

Since I'm telling you the story, you know he ended up making the last shot, but listen to how he did it: Instead of shooting with half a minute left and getting a few chances to win the prize, he waited until the clock ran all the way down, leaving himself with one pressure-filled NBA three-pointer to collect his bounty. Needless to say, he canned it. And, with that sixth made shot, he had made more field goals during a one-minute contest than the Armor did in the entire second half. The NBDL: Where a random fan picked out of the crowd being better than the home team's players happens.

Now that you know just how bad the level of play was, you can imagine how excited I was to get back to the Celtics game. (Which I had DVR'ed.) Think about how hyped I must have been to get back when I kept getting tweets like "The Celtics are shooting 83%. Not in the first four minutes of the game. Nope, it's almost halftime.", "Paul Pierce just crammed on Chris Bosh's head.", and "The Celtics are threatening to break their record for highest single-game field goal percentage." I couldn't wait to get back and get the horrible taste of the NBDL out of my mouth.

I knew the Celtics had won by the time I got back, but I had to see for myself and decide what I thought about this one. Here is what I came up with, a running diary of my thoughts as I watched the game:

First Quarter

  • First good news of the telecast: Tony Allen is still out tonight. Thank you, Tony, and please, take your time coming back.

  • The first Celtics bucket: A Ray Allen 15-foot jumper. Not only did no Raptor contest it, but no Raptor even seemed to know that Ray was shooting.

  • Tommy Heinsohn on Andrea Bargnani's defense: "I tell ya. That Bargnani, he's got his feet stuck in spaghetti." Comcast Sports New England telecasts: Where racial slurs happen.

  • Of the Celtics first 12 points, ten of them are on easy layups or dunks. Make that 12 of the first 14. Nope, make it 14 of their first 16. Actually, 16 of their first 18.

  • Mike Gorman just said, "First one to 140 [wins]", and it doesn't even seem like he's exaggerating. The Celtics are having layup lines, and the Raptors aren't having much more difficulty scoring than the C's. The game has been tied seven different times, and it's mostly because neither team can buy a stop.

  • The Celtics are shooting 9 for 10 from the field, but are down two, 20-18. If you've ever imagined what it would be like to watch NBA players play H.O.R.S.E., here's your chance.

  • As good as the Celtics look offensively, getting layups and dunks whenever they want, they weren't taking care of the ball at all in the first quarter. Their 6th turnover of the game came with three minutes still remaining in the first. They could play a lineup of five Tony Allen's and probably not have that many turnovers. On second thought, nahhhhhh.

  • The Celtics hit 12 of their first 13 shots, and the one miss was a Ray Allen missed lefty runner on the C's first shot. For those of you who still haven't gathered this, that means they hit 12 shots in a row. Not too shabby. Here's one of the shots they hit:

  • Watching Hedo Turkoglu play defense makes me realize 1) how good Dwight Howard is defensively, to be able to hide Hedo's deficiencies, and 2) how good a coach Stan Van Gundy is, to be able to hide Hedo's deficiencies. The duo of Chris Bosh and Jay Triano hasn't quite had the same success in making Hedo's defense somewhat permissible.

  • This Toronto team is historically bad defensively. Any time you put two of the NBA's softer big men on the same team, then surround them with a whole bunch of soft, slow-ish players, it's a recipe for defensive disaster. The Raps just give up layup after layup, and when they aren't giving up layups they're giving up wide open jumpers. It's unbelievable how bad they are on "D".

  • The C's shot 83% for the ENTIRE FIRST QUARTER, and are up 33-27 at the end of one. Really, it should be far worse, but the C's defense is still suiting up in the locker room and their offense is throwing turnovers left and right.

    Second Quarter

  • Early in the second quarter, 'Sheed got a steal, bulldozed an official, then missed an awkward pullup five footer on the break. Less than a minute later, Sheed picked up a technical foul, and the refs had gotten their revenge. Meanwhile, Tommy Heinsohn acted like Rasheed is an absolute class act, saying "I'm getting tired with these officials. I'm getting tired with that type of nonsense, that call. I mean, the guy is upset because he goes to one end of the floor, goes to the basket, doesn't get a foul"... and then Tommy just kind of trailed off without finishing his sentence. Either way, he apparently thinks Rasheed doesn't deserve his technicals, despite Rasheed being the league's technical leader for, oh, about the last fifty some-odd years, and the fact that he argues just about every single call made against him.

  • The C's defense is non-existent. Somehow, they are only up two points despite scoring just about every time they've taken a shot.

  • Why, oh why, does Rasheed Wallace not go into the post more often? Especially when he's mired into a seemingly oh-fer-the-season slump, wouldn't you think he would at least try his post game out a little? Well, he did in this game. First post touch: Drop step towards the baseline around Bargnani for an easy bucket. Second post touch (on the very next play), an unblockable fadeaway turning towards his left shoulder for another bucket. Please, Rasheed, don't be allergic to the paint. You are far too talented on the blocks.

  • I'm not sure exactly what he said, but Rasheed just started woofing at Turkoglu while the two were walking to their respective huddles to begin a timeout. After the game, I received a tweet from thew Globe's Gary Washburn that said: "Rasheed wallace on hedo turkoglu: 'flop. Thats what turkadodo do. Flop.'" It's too bad for the Raptors that "Turkadodo" is too busy flopping to play any semblance of real defense. Also too bad for the Raptors: Nobody else on their team plays any semblance of real defense, either.

  • Paul Pierce just scored on Marco Belinelli, and Mike Gorman said something to the affect of, "It's like Pierce looked up, saw he had Belinelli on him, and decided he would go ahead and score." Gorman might as well have said, "It's like Pierce looked up, saw he was playing the Raptors, and decided he would go ahead and score."

  • 'Sheed is doing it all in the first half. He's hitting from inside, hitting from outside, rebounding, and blocking shots. When he plays like this, he helps the Celtics SO much. Unfortunately, most of the time he's too busy living in a tent at the three-point arc to play so well.

  • Comcast just had the following "Roundball debate of perfection": Who is the perfect Celtics shooter? A) Ray Allen, or B) Jo-Jo White. There is no C) option. Now, I know Ray Allen is a great shooter, and so was Jo-Jo White, but don't you have to include a certain white shooter on the list? And, for those of you out there wondering, I don't mean Brian Scalabrine. Larry Bird, people. Doesn't he deserve to at least be an option on the Goddamn list? They called Ray Allen "Jesus" in He Got Game, but they called Larry Bird "Jesus", or at least "Basketball Jesus", in real life. Let's just say the "Roundball debate of perfection" could use a little tweaking.

  • Kendrick Perkins is really an underrated passer. He usually makes one or two passes a game that make me scratch my head and wonder how Perk saw the pass when a lot of point guards wouldn't. (Okay, maybe just a lot of power forwards wouldn't make.) This time, it was a wraparound pass to a wide open Garnett underneath the bucket. Perk can do a lot of surprisingly good things with the basketball in his hands.

  • The Celtics shot 67.6% in the first half. The problem? The Raps shot 66.7%, and actually lead the C's by one point at halftime. The first half was simply a clinic on how NOT to play defense, for both teams. Layup, after layup, after layup, on both ends. Somehow, despite negative defense on both sides, the two teams have combined for 24 turnovers. Go figure.

    Third Quarter

  • The second half started out much the same as the first, with the Raptors getting unmolested shots at the hoop. A layup, a dunk, and another dunk were results from Toronto's first three possessions. Since I am DVR'ing this, I know the Raptors only scored 17 points the whole third quarter, but it looks right now like they are ready to have another 30-or-so point quarter.

  • The C's were down 61-57, then rattled off a 13-0 run that only ended when Amir Johnson hit a free throw to make it 70-62. During the run, the C's "flipped the switch", finally putting together a stretch of good defense and maintaining their prolific offensive output.

  • It might just be playing a team softer than a baby's bottom, but the Celtics are pounding the ball down low and scoring easy buckets all day. It bothers me when KG and Wallace spend too much time on the perimeter, because the trio of those two and Perk should be absolutely dominant down low on both ends.

  • By the time the third quarter was over, the game was over, and I'm getting kind of restless. I just want to see Pierce's dunk...

    Fourth Quarter

  • Well, I saw Pierce's dunk and, of course, I want to say a couple things about it. First, there's no way Pierce intentionally kicked Bosh. To kick him, while simultaneously skying through the air and dunking a basketball, would have been almost impossible. Still, he certainly kicked him. On another note, somebody needs to tell Jay Triano to shut the f--- up. For some reason, he started yapping at the Celtics about something being bullshit. I don't know whether he was talking about Pierce's kick, Pierce's taunt afterward, or what, but I DO know that instead of getting into a shouting match with Rasheed after a Pierce dunk, Triano should have been more focused on coaching his defense.

    Dunks happen, offensive fouls happen, and trash talk happens, Triano, but you don't have to make it worse by getting into a shouting match with Rasheed after it. Just shut up and coach your team. It's your defense, not Pierce's dunk, that was bullshit. If you want to argue Pierce should have toned it down a little, I agree, but it's not the coach's place to do something about it. The referees called a technical foul, and the coach should just let bygones be bygones. There is no need for a coach to ever get into a shouting match with an opposing player. Not over a little taunting, at least.

  • Somehow, Doc Rivers ended up with a technical foul after Triano was up in Rasheed's mug screaming his head off. You wonder what in the hell goes on in NBA officials heads, sometimes.

  • Instead of watching the end of this game, I'm just going to put that dunk on repeat:

  • Before I go, I'll leave you with some stats:

  • Eddie House was the only Celtic to take a shot and not shoot at least 50% from the field. He was 1 for 3.

  • Rondo had more assists (11) than the entire Raptors starting five (8).

  • KG and Perk were both perfect from the field, combining for 14 for 14 shooting and 30 points. That would have been a lot more impressive had their degree of difficulty not been higher in layup lines than it was in the game.

  • The C's shot 62.3%.

  • Despite playing a frontcourt that would have been overpowered by Mikki Moore, the C's were outrebounded 31-26.

    I'm sure there are some other wild statistics from this one, but I have yet to unearth them. Just know it was an unorthodox game with some blistering shooting, and that the Celtics had no problems putting Toronto away once they put it into first gear in the third quarter.

  • A Boston Celtics Thanksgiving: Reasons to be thankful you're a Celtics fan

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Visit for high-quality custom-printed tees!If you are like any other Celtic fan I know, you've been worried to death over the Celtics' recent play. You've been wondering when (if?) the team is finally going to gel, and whether Boston is really as bad as it's looked recently. (Can they possibly be that bad?) If you're like me, you've likely needed to ingest (at least) a few beers to ease your mind after each game over the past couple weeks.

    Everywhere I look, a new blogger or columnist is writing about the Celtics' struggles. Chris Sheridan examined the C's problems in depth. (And I replied). Jeff Clark from over at Celticsblog felt compelled to address trading Ray Allen, as if some people have already given up on this young season. (And I didn't reply, though for some reason it actually makes sense that some people have given up on a 10-4 team. That's how poorly the C's have looked recently, even in their wins.)

    People are down on the Celtics, but there are still some things to be thankful for. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, and dread and worry spreading like the Swine Flu through Celtics nation, I think it's time to take a look on the bright side, and discuss everything that should still bring a smile to your face. So sit back, dream of turkey, gravy and stuffing, and be prepared to have your spirits lifted...

    The C's couldn't possibly shoot any worse
    The Celtics have hit rock bottom from the three-point arc, ladies and gentlemen. In case you think Rasheed Wallace can stay mired in his slump forever, check out Rasheed's percentages from downtown over the past four seasons: 35.7%, 35.1%, 35.6%, 35.4%. If those percentages don't scream consistency, then I don't know what does -- 'Sheed will right the ship; it's just a matter of time.

    And all those other Celtics shooting like blind geese from behind the arc? Well, they're pretty good shooters, too. Ray Allen (30.4% this season) has never hit less than 37.2% in a full season. And Eddie House? It may seem like he's been cold, but House is actually shooting over 40% from threes. Which, in case you're basketball illiterate, is pretty damn good.

    Tony Allen has yet to play a single game this season
    Should I say any more? Do I even need to go into why everyone should be ecstatic that this statement is true? In other news...

    The Tony Allen era is likely over following this season
    Allen's contract is mercifully done at the end of this season. As soon as Allen plays his final game as a Celtic -- assuming he hasn't already -- you will probably see a strange-looking man outside your window, drinking champagne and doing cartwheels for hours on end. No need to be alarmed -- That man will be me, celebrating not Tony's career, but the end of Tony's career.

    The maturation of the young guys
    I'm looking at you, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. Rondo still doesn't have a jumpshot (or a free throw, for that matter), but he can change games and win games with his speed, court vision, and tenacity. Perk, meanwhile, has slowly but surely proved himself to be one of the more reliable, defensive-minded centers in the NBA, and isn't so much of a slouch anymore when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. Even when the Big Three are done with their careers, the Celtics will be in good hands with these two.

    Marquis Daniels fits right in
    When the season started, I wasn't sure what the Celtics had in Daniels. I knew he put up decent stats for Indiana last year, but I also knew Tony Allen had at one point in his career posted decent stats. WIth that said, Daniels has been a pleasant surprise to me; his stats are back down (as is only natural for a player with a far more limited role), but he does all the little things to help a team win games. Daniels attacks the hoop, finishes very well, defends the other team's best wing, and has a very high basketball I.Q. Simply put, the guy's a winner.

    Glen Davis will be back soon
    Remember him? The player who spent all offseason doing MMA-style training, claiming it was to get him in shape when really it was so he could beat the hell out of his visiting friend. Okay, maybe it really was to get himself in shape, and maybe Davis did more damage to himself than to his friend, but his broken thumb is just about healed. According to today's Herald, Davis will be ready for action in the early part of December, and he will bring a much-needed spark and some scoring punch to the Celtics lineup.

    The Celtics are one game away from the East's top seed
    That doesn't seem right to you? Maybe it's because you, like the rest of us Boston fans, have been too busy fretting about the C's close wins and bad losses. Anyway, the Hawks and Magic are the only two teams in the East with a better record than Boston, and both teams are only ahead of Boston by a single game. Start smiling!

    The Celtics are #1 in scoring differential
    Not just in the Atlantic Division, or the Eastern Conference, or even in the group of teams struggling mightily over their last two weeks. Nope, the C's have the best scoring differential in the entire NBA. And in case you didn't know, scoring differential is normally the most indicative stat of how a team fares in the playoffs. Smiling yet?

    Boston still has the Big Three
    Last year, the Big Three was down to the Big Two. Two years before that, it was the Lone Ranger, Paul Pierce, and his bumbling, inexperienced teammates. This year? The Celtics still. Have. The. Big. Three. And, beyond anything else, that's why you should be happy. Kevin Garnett may still hobble around on occasion, and he might look bad at times (like the first 52 minutes and 52 seconds of the Knicks game), but he's still Kevin Garnett, and he's still wearing green. Paul Pierce looks spry this season and prepared to have a nice year, and Ray-Ray will turn things around and become the fire-thrower we're used to.

    See, there's still a lot to be happy with when it comes to the Celtics. At times this season, they have looked bad, they've looked unengaged, they've looked old, and they've looked, well, bad. But they still have a hell of a nucleus, and they still have surrounding players who know their role and perform their job well. When the C's finally weather the storm of this early-season slump, they will still have all the pieces to make a great playoff run.

    Smile, damn it!

    Maine Red Claws Preseason Postgame

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    The Maine Red Claws played their first game tonight, a preseason game against the Springfield Armor in the Augusta Civic Center. For those From Away, Augusta is the state capital, about an hour north of Portland (the normal home of the Red Claws) up I-95. In front of a large, boisterous crowd that included Maine Governor John Baldacci and Celtics GM Danny Ainge, NBDL basketball was played in New England for the first time. Although the Red Claws fell to the Springfield Armor, it was an excellent chance for the state to begin to fall in love with the team. Maine's basketball fanaticism was very much on display.

    The Red Claws looked rough, as is to be expected of any newly-established team. It's important to note that while the Springfield Armor are new to the region, they are a relocated team, unlike the expansion Red Claws. So the Armor have played together, whereas the Red Claws are a recently thrown-together group. Still, they played well, and Austin Ainge acquitted himself in his first performance as Head Coach.

    The Claws were behind at halftime and looked lackluster for much of the first half, but whatever Austin said to them at halftime worked. They came out in the third looking strong, and it was an exciting, back-and-forth game for most of the second half. Unfortunately a few key missed shots for the Claws knocked them out with about a minute left, and they lost by eight points.

    This team played unevenly, but with a lot of energy, including from recently-assigned Celtic Bill Walker. Walker looked good; in 25 minutes he scored 13 points, had 3 boards and no assists, tying with Tony Bobbit in both categories. Bobbit did better with 5 boards and an assist, though. The Claws' statistical leader was Darnell Lazare, with 19 points, 8 boards, and no assists in about 34 minutes. FULL BOX.

    I've no doubt that with Austin at the helm they will improve tremendously over the course of the season. It was a great idea to do a preseason elsewhere in the state and build up excitement for the team outside their home base of Portland. Principle owner Bill Ryan, Jr., President Jon Jennings, and the entire Red Claws ownership group and staff have run an impressive, professional organization from the get-go. They've clearly learned from other teams how to do things right. Long before the home opener at the Portland Expo next Friday vs. Springfield (again) they've fully embedded themselves into the community.

    They've sponsored a number of charity events, and the team's dancers have shown up at various events. They've held very effective open houses, letting folks visit the revamped Portland Expo facility, seeing how it will look on gameday. Their staff is friendly, helpful, and accessible - something I especially appreciate as a season-ticket holder. It's good to know, as a customer, that I'll be dealing with true professionals.

    I recently received my season-ticket holder packet, and realized that I don't get a bundle of tickets - I get a card as a pass instead that functions as a ticket for every game. I don't know if every NBDL team does this or not, but I have not seen it done before, and I'm already thrilled by it. It makes my life immensely easier. I really hope that if it works, the Celtics consider doing the same for their season ticket holders in the future. This is one area where the Celtics could learn from the Red Claws.

    All this explains why, in the middle of a recession, the Red Claws managed to sell a huge number of season tickets. Regardless of their record this year (and I think they will be competitive), they are a welcome addition to Maine. Indeed, not only Mainers but all Celtics fans should be thrilled with this new arrangement, as in the long term, it will work out very well for all involved.