Posts Tagged ‘Avery Bradley’

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers take thriller vs. Pacers | Wolves gear up for Mexico City trip | Bradley trying to maintain Celtics’ tradition

No. 1: Blazers continue to amaze — Before the season, few would have pegged last night’s Blazers-Pacers showdown in Portland as perhaps the top early-season matchup to watch. But that it was, as Paul George of the Pacers and Damian Lillard of the Blazers put on a show in a thrilling 106-102 win for the home squad. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on the Blazers, who have the NBA’s best record, and their fast start that seems to be morphing into a season-long trend of success:

At first, the Trail Blazers’ stunning early-season success was dismissed as a hot start.

Then, after the wins piled up against so-so opponents, it was simply a byproduct of a soft schedule.
But now, after another impressive victory against another top-notch foe, it’s hard to find too many flaws in what is unfolding in the Northwest.
It’s time to hop aboard the bandwagon, Rip City.

“We’re a pretty damn good team,” Wesley Matthews said, when asked what Monday night’s win showed. “And we can beat anybody.”

The game was billed as the best of the East versus the best of the West, as the Pacers (16-2) entered the game with the best record in the NBA, while the Blazers sat atop the Western Conference in a tie with the San Antonio Spurs. It also offered a contrast in styles, pitting the rough and rugged Pacers against the free-flowing, fun-to-watch Blazers.

After beating up on the NBA’s also-rans, the Blazers have now earned credible wins over the Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls — with Derrick Rose — and now the Pacers. And Monday’s victory against the brawny, rugged Pacers showcased a Blazers trait often overlooked:

Toughness.

“That was a 48-minute fight,” Batum said.

The Blazers will face two more challenging opponents this week — including the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday — but they way they see it, they’ve already proven their early-season hot streak is no fluke.

“We’re right there,” Batum said, referring to the Blazers’ standing among the NBA’s elite. “This was a big win.”

***

No. 2: Wolves gear up for trip to Mexico City — In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Timberwolves are set to take on the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 4 … in Mexico City, Mexico. Minnesota coach Rick Adelman doesn’t come across as the biggest fan of the trip in this story from Jerry Zgoda of The Star-Tribune, but nonetheless, there’s some definite merit — both financial and otherwise — to the trip for the Wolves as a franchise and the NBA at large:

Ask Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman about flying 1,800 miles to play San Antonio in a “home” game in Mexico City and he’ll strike a pose of a man mystified.But he knows better: He was there at the beginning.

Adelman was a Portland assistant coach in 1986 when the Trail Blazers drafted Arvydas Sabonis and Drazen Petrovic, a pair of European prodigies whose existence until then had been personally verified by NBA aficionados only with grainy video highlight reels or a fleeting Olympic appearance.

“You knew there were good players over there,” Adelman said, referring to somewhere across the sea and a time long ago, “but I never expected the game to change the way it has. You’re seeing guys coming over here, and large groups of guys. Still, that’s no reason to go to Mexico City.”

Adelman is reluctant to give up Target Center’s home-court advantage for one night and compound a hectic November schedule by flying so far south for a game that could have playoffs implications come April.

The league began discussing a Mexico City regular-season game with Wolves officials a year ago, partly because the team has Spanish-speaking Ricky Rubio from Spain and J.J Barea from Puerto Rico among its seven international players.

The Wolves — Adelman notwithstanding, of course — were willing because the NBA is paying it at least the equivalent of a Target Center game’s gate receipts and because owner Glen Taylor calls it “the responsibility of being an owner and doing your part” for a league that’s a $4 billion-plus business.

The NBA operates offices in Europe, Latin America and Asia, including two Chinese offices in Beijing and Shanghai. Taylor has served on the NBA China board since its inception and calls the number of people watching league games on their smartphones and targeted through social media “amazing.”

He also calls worldwide revenues a “relatively small amount” of the NBA’s massive pie — “not a significant part, yet” — but also terms it the league’s fastest-growing revenues.

Taylor said it’s simply smart to capitalize on a growing international game that Adelman believes produces through discipline and fundamentals more skilled, matured team players at younger ages now than an American AAU feeder system that emphasizes individuals and a superstar mentality.

“To us, that’s just good business,” Taylor said, mentioning growing worldwide TV rights and international corporate sponsorships to name just two. “We get paid back in several ways.”

Barea represented the NBA in Mexico City last year at the finals of a school tournament that brought together winners from five regions in the country.

“They love the NBA and basketball is growing there,” Barea said. “It’s a big place: a lot of traffic, a lot of people, but a lot of the fans of the NBA. It’s going to be crazy. If it was an away game for us, it’d be even better. But it’s all right, it’s just one game, a good change. I know a bunch of our guys have never been there before, so it’ll be fun.”

Just try telling that to Adelman, though …

“It is what it is,” Adelman said. “There are a lot of reasons why we’re going there. San Antonio is going to do the same thing. We just have to accept it. You’ve got to look at it as an experience and a challenge. It’s all you can do. Where we are right now, every night is a challenge to get a road win. If we get that one there, I’ll count it as a road win.”

***

No. 3: Bradley trying to continue tradition started by Garnett, Pierce — During the offseason, the Celtics made a decided move to rebuild when they sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn in a salary cap-saving move. As such, most would expect Boston’s defense — a trademark of the KG years — to fall apart. So far, that hasn’t been the case as Boston ranks 9th in defensive rating this season after finishing fifth in that category in 2012-13. Part of that strong defense could be attributed to guard Avery Bradley, who is one of the league’s best perimeter stoppers and has embraced the role of carrying on the Celtics’ tradition of defense first, writes Shams Charania of RealGM.com:

Out of Boston and onto Brooklyn, Pierce and Garnett understood leaders on their former team would be newly cultivated. As much as anything, Bradley heard from them that being a foundational part of the Celtics’ rebuild wouldn’t be easy – that there’s a preciousness to patience, to discipline.

“They told me this was going to be hard,” Bradley told RealGM. “At some point in their careers, they both played on teams that were very young, and that’s how our team is now. It takes time, but if everybody buys into what we’re trying to do, everything works out.”

Bradley has been a solidified voice for these Celtics, and him developing a close relationship with Jeff Green has proven a reliable influence on a hard-playing team. Already, Brad Stevens has established a rapport within his locker room, a scheme on both ends of the court; infusing seven wins a month into the season.

For Stevens, Jordan Crawford has grown into a playmaker and Jared Sullinger is continuing his basketball growth, adding range and versatility to his jump shot. Nevertheless, the Celtics feed off Bradley’s tenacity on defense and he knows how critical his outside jumper is to the offense. In Bradley, teammates see a little more Pierce than Garnett, more action and force than rah-rah and verbiage.

“I don’t really speak much, I try to lead by example,” Bradley said. “I definitely learned leadership from the guys that were here before, because the Celtics have a culture. Playing hard and respecting the game – I try to keep that going, hoping it rubs off on my new teammates and some of the younger guys.”

Over a summer of sharpening his ball handling and smoothening his jumper, Bradley replayed situations from his most extensive memories last season. As a combo guard asked to play more point guard late in the year, he knew struggles would come in placing the Celtics into proper offensive sets. Yet, everyone around the Celtics expected out of Bradley nothing but further repetition in the offseason – now off to a career start.

“I was put in situations where I had to learn both guard positions,” Bradley said. “I just have to keep improving each game now. Once I got the chance, I knew everything would work out. My main thing now is just consistency.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards reserve forward Trevor Booker is frustrated with his role on the team … ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy calls the state of the the Eastern Conference ’embarassing’Jameer Nelson continues to embrace his teaching role with the young Magic … Derrick Favors gets some praise from his idol, Dwight Howard

ICYMI Of The Night: Leave it to Tim Duncan to cap off a historic night with a game-winner, too …


VIDEO: Tim Duncan nails the free-throw line jumper to sink the Hawks

Orlando Summer League Tips Off Sunday

HANG TIME, Texas — You’ve got rookies often trying to wildly impress, second-year players who have a better understanding of what is expected and a few veterans who are hoping to get another taste of the big time.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Sunday with some familiar names from the 2013 Draft and plenty of other hopefuls trying to crack an NBA roster.

NBA Summer LeagueNine first-round picks — led by No. 2 Victor Oladipo, No. 8 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and No. 9 Trey Burke — will take part in the six days of competition that will take place on the Magic’s practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center. The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

A new format will be added this summer with two extra teams and one extra day added to the schedule. Under the new format, each team will play five games over the six-day event, concluding with a championship day. Standings will be based on a seven-point system for each game — three points for a win and one point for winning each quarter.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s a whole new ballgame for the Celtics’ rebuilding program and there would seem to be plenty of room for new faces to earn a ticket to Boston now that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers are all gone. New coach Brad Stevens will be on hand to observe, but leading the team will be assistant coach Jay Larranaga. First-round pick Kelly Olynyk, obtained by trade from Dallas, will be the biggest name on the roster, though last year’s draftee Fab Melo is physically bigger. Avery Bradley is being given a rest from duty and Jared Sullinger is still recovering from back surgery.

Brooklyn Nets — The remade and reloaded Nets will have first round pick Mason Plumlee suiting up for the first time along with a pair of last season’s veterans Tornike Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor. But all eyes during the week will surely on the rookie on the sidelines. After a 19-year playing career that will surely send him to the Hall of Fame, Jason Kidd is taking no time off and going right to the bench. It will be most interesting to see if Kidd is as good in this transition as he was on the court.

Detroit Pistons — Andre Drummond arrived in Orlando a year ago with something to prove to the doubters and then went back to Detroit and showed that he was not merely a summer fling. Drummond will return, but is not expected to play the full slate of five games. The Pistons will have their entire rookie class of 2013 — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva. New coach Maurice Cheeks may have his work cut out resurrecting the Pistons at the NBA level, but the summer roster is quite capable.

Houston Rockets — After all their maneuvering and salary cap gymnastics to try to land free agent Dwight Howard, the Rockets did not have a first-round pick this year, but may have gotten first-round quality in point guard Isaiah Canaan. Terrence Jones, a No. 1 from a year ago, will be on the team and continuing to show that he’s a keeper and this Houston bunch is also loaded with Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith.

Indiana Pacers — It seems like much longer than just four years ago that Jonny Flynn was the No. 6 pick in the 2009 draft and maybe that’s because he’s mostly been on the outside everywhere he’s gone, trying to justify that selection and prove that he belongs. Now he’s back from playing in Australia and trying to get that third guard spot with the Pacers, who are also bringing in Donald Sloane. This year’s first round pick Solomon Hill will join holdovers Miles Plumlee, Orlando Johnson and Ben Hansbrough from last season’s roster.

Miami Heat — After winning back-to-back NBA titles, the Heat aren’t taking the summer off. In fact, they’re working overtime, the only franchise to be fielding teams at both Orlando and Las Vegas. Miami didn’t have a first-round pick — remember, it was traded for that LeBron fellow. The rosters will be led by last season holdover center Jarvis Varnado and second-round pick James Ennis, a swingman out of Long Beach State. A couple of high profile college guards, Larry Drew II of UCLA and Myck Kabongo of Texas will play for the Heat. Joining the team in Orlando only are Cedric Jackson, Ian Clark, Dewayne Dedmon and D.J. Stephens.

Oklahoma City Thunder — While three rookies Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett will be on hand for their Thunder debuts, most eyes of the coaching staff and back in OKC will be on holdovers from the main roster Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones. Jackson dazzled with his play in Orlando last summer, giving the first hint that he’d be ready to step into the point guard job when Russell Westbrook went down.

Orlando Magic — When it looked like everybody was losing their minds at the top of the draft a week ago, Magic GM Rob Hennigan kept his eye on the prize and simply chose his man Victor Oladipo. Is he a point guard or a shooting guard? Or is he just ready to do anything the Magic ask in the backcourt? Forward Romero Osby, a second round pick, has a lot of folks saying he’s a sleeper. Second-year men Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are also on the roster.

Philadelphia 76ers —
While many Sixers fans are still reeling from the draft night trade that shipped out the young All-Star and favorite Jrue Holiday, this will be everyone’s first chance to see how his successor measures up.  Michael Carter-Williams will be given the keys to the offense in Philly when the season starts in October, so consider this his going out to take the test for his driver’s license. Nerlens Noel, the prize that came in the trade for Holiday, will not play as he’s still rehabbing his knee injury.  But Justin Holiday, Jrue’s brother, will be back to see if he can stick with the Sixers again.

Utah Jazz — Top draft pick Trey Burke said on draft night that he hopes to be the Jazz’ starting point guard on opening night next season. So he’ll start to press his case by running the summer show. Rookie center Rudy Gobert hopes to get in a few runs maybe by the end of the show in Orlando. He’s currently trying to work out a buyout of his contract with his French team and will need FIBA clearance. Center Enes Kanter is still recovering from shoulder surgery and neither Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors will play, because they’re both part of the Team USA camp in August. Jazz fans will get to see a Stockton back in uniform. Hall of Famer John Stockton’s son Michael is a free agent signee.

Bad Is Good For The Celtics

 

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — There’s an article in the Saturday’s Boston Globe that says “Celtics might not be that bad next season.”

But being “not that bad” would be bad.

Let’s put the emotional aspect of the blockbuster trade sending Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn aside. Danny Ainge pulled the trigger on the deal for the sake of his team’s long-term success. And in order to maximize that long-term success, the Celtics must be as bad as possible in the 2013-14 season.

The trade (which can’t be finalized until July 10) gave the Celtics a few players that won’t make a huge impact and three draft picks from a team that they just helped make pretty good. Chances are that those picks will turn into one good role player down the line.

The most important pick for the Celtics now, the pick most likely to turn into a difference maker, is their own pick in next year’s draft. And that’s why it’s imperative that they’re as bad as can be next season. They have a shot at landing a star next year and they should absolutely go for it.

The New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) got draft picks when they traded Chris Paul, but the No. 1 pick (Anthony Davis) in last year’s draft was their own. Similarly, the Orlando Magic got picks for Dwight Howard, but the No. 2 pick on Thursday (Victor Oladipo) was their own. For both teams, the most important asset that came from trading their stars was their own futility.

So as painful as the next 10 months could get, the Celtics and their fans should understand that pain – along with asset collection – is part of the process. Boston went 24-58 in 2006-07, turned their assets into Garnett and Ray Allen, and won a championship a year later.

That Globe article cites the presence of Rajon Rondo as a reason the Celtics could be decent next season and possibly make the playoffs. Well, Ainge might encourage Rondo to take his time coming back from ACL surgery, that Avery Bradley struggling to get the ball up the floor against pressure for another 40-50 games is for the best.

In fact, Ainge made it rather clear that he doesn’t want to be a borderline playoff team next season, as Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald writes

Consider Ainge’s take Thursday night on the 2014 draft.

“Next year’s draft we don’t see as loaded. We see it as top-heavy,” he said. “(But) there will be more impact players next year.”

In other words, Ainge believes they have to pick among the top 10 to make the trip worth their while. And they haven’t had a selection that high since the 10th pick of the 2001 draft — Joe Johnson. Pierce came to them on that same number in 1998.

One note there: The Celtics had the No. 5 pick in 2007, trading it to Seattle for Allen.

Ainge probably isn’t done making moves this summer, but he’s off to a great start. If he could find someone to take Courtney Lee off his hands, Boston will be in even better shape.

With Bradley, Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green, the Celtics could be decent defensively next season. But they’ll obviously take a step backward on that end without Garnett. And they promise to be absolutely dreadful offensively, where they ranked 22nd even before Rondo got hurt in late January.

That’s OK, though. Absolutely dreadful is a good plan.

Celtics Preparing For One Last Run?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We always seem to find coach Doc Rivers and his Boston Celtics in this position at the end of a season.

Perhaps it has something to do with the exhausting effort the Celtics put in each and every season, or the grueling emotional fallout from coming up short of their ultimate goal (it’s always championship-or-bust in Boston, even when the rest of us understand that it’s not possible). Rivers always seems spent when the ball stops bouncing, like he’s not sure if he has another season in him, regardless of his contract situation.

The way he and Kevin Garnett acknowledged the end in that Game 6 loss to the New York Knicks last week, it certainly felt like the end of an era was near. But maybe not. Celtics boss Danny Ainge spoke publicly on a radio show in Boston about both Rivers and Garnett coming back for another go at it next season.

They’re both under contract and even with the inevitable changes that are sure to come in the offseason, Ainge is counting on those two franchise pillars to be in place. At least that’s what he said on the radio, as Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com details here:

“Doc is always unsure [about his future],” Ainge said. “Coaching is very, very draining. Every year with Doc, he’s had to go home and sort of recharge and ask himself that question, ‘Is this something that I’m passionate about and want to continue doing?’ I understand that. And we sorta give him time to unwind and relax, and after a couple of 92s on the golf course, he usually comes back.”

Pressed further on what he believes Rivers will do next season, Ainge added, “I think Doc will be coaching the Boston Celtics.”

Rivers signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension with the Celtics following the 2010-11 season. That hasn’t stopped his name from dancing in rumors about other vacant jobs, and a report by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith suggested there were whispers around the league about a potential deal that could land Rivers, Garnett, and Paul Pierce with the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a blockbuster swap.

Said an amused Ainge: “Hey, listen, those things are silly. Those are a waste of time to even acknowledge.”

Pressed on Smith’s suggestion that there could be lingering friction between Ainge and Rivers, Ainge added, “Well, you’d have to ask Doc what he thinks, but what I think is that I have the best coach in the NBA and I’m not the least bit tired of hearing his voice. We have a great relationship from what I feel, and what I perceive, and so I have no idea where that’s coming from. But it’s certainly not coming from my side of the table.”

Ainge has every reason to support his coach. Rivers has held the Celtics together through some absolutely tumultuous times over the past couple of seasons, given the injuries to both Garnett, Rajon Rondo and others as well as the roster shuffling that has gone on since the Celtics played in The Finals in 2010.

There is a genuine love between Rivers and his veteran leaders. It’s a bond that will be extremely difficult for Ainge to break up. And make no mistake, there will come a time when the remaining nucleus of the Celtics’ championship crew of Garnett, Pierce and Rondo will no longer be a viable unit.

The Celtics’ vets aren’t getting any younger. And even with an influx of youth (Jeff Green and Avery Bradley) and fresh faces (Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford), the playoff load was just too much for Garnett and Pierce to handle without Rondo around to help direct the traffic.

“We need more,” Rivers said. “It’s like that little girl on the commercial said. ‘We need more, we need more because we need more.’ We need more, because we do. The key for us is do you want to take away to get more. And that will be a decision that make … later.”

Rivers is fiercely loyal to the players who have sacrificed for the greater good in Boston. So it won’t be easy for him to part ways with Pierce either, especially with Pierce’s history with the franchise.

“He’s one of the greatest Celtics ever to ever play. He’s done so much for this franchise,” Rivers said. “Listen, we live in a day and time when guys are changing teams like socks. And Paul has chosen to stay here throughout his career, when clearly he had all rights to leave. And he chose to stay here. I have so much respect for him for that. When I first got here we were really rebuilding. Its’s funny, we made the playoffs that first year and I remember telling him that ‘we’re going to change our team and things may not go very well for a year or two.’ And they didn’t. And Paul, he never wavered. I give him that and just an amazing amount of respect. He wanted to get it done here. He made that choice … [where] other guys are running around trying to find it.”

Ainge will ultimately have to make the decision on when the Celtics’ Big 3 era officially comes to an end. Ray Allen‘s departure last summer didn’t do it. Neither did Rondo’s season-ending knee injury nor the deflating end to this season.

If Rivers and Garnett do indeed return, whether Pierce stays on or not, the Celtics are poised to make at least one last run together before the inevitability of it all finally catches up to them.

Knicks Move On After Another Scare

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BOSTON — The New York Knicks were the better team. And in the end, the better team won.

But, man, the Boston Celtics certainly made New York sweat, putting on one more display of Celtic pride before bowing out in Game 6 of their first round series, an 88-80 victory for the Knicks that puts them in a conference semifinals matchup with the Indiana Pacers starting Sunday.

It’s New York’s first playoff series victory in 13 years, a mixture of relief and exaltation for their long-suffering fans. It’s the first time Boston has lost in the first round since acquiring Kevin Garnett in 2007, and maybe the end of the KG era. The Knicks had already ended the Celtics’ streak of five straight division titles, but this was the official changing of the guard.

Both teams did their best to make it interesting in the fourth quarter though. The Knicks lost their way offensively after building a 26-point lead early in the period. They stubbornly stuck to isolation basketball that produced only tough shots and turnovers.

The Celtics finally found some offense by turning up the pressure defensively. Avery Bradley‘s ball hawking produced five New York miscues in a six-possession stretch in the middle of the 20-0 run. It was a furious push, but it eventually ran out of gas and the Celtics could never get to within less than four points.

The hole had been dug too deep. The Boston offense never looked more anemic than in did in the first half of Game 6, scoring a paltry 27 points on 43 possessions. Their spacing was terrible, they couldn’t hold onto the ball, and they couldn’t make a shot. In fact, they had more turnovers than made field goals until the 7:45 mark of the fourth.

“They wanted to play well, and they didn’t,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of his team. “They know they’re better than what they played.”

Ultimately, as resilient as they proved to be, the Celtics were a team without a point guard or much of a shot against an opponent with much more firepower. But hey, they saved face after losing the first three games, avoiding the sweep on Sunday, making the Knicks look silly for wearing all black to Game 5 on Wednesday, and giving their fans one final thrill with the 20-0 run on Friday.

Now, they face what may be a difficult summer. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett looked older than ever in this series, and the best move for the franchise may be to part ways with their two prideful stars.

“We need more,” Rivers said “But the key is, for us, do you want to take away to get more? And that will be a decision that will be made later.”

“All three of us agreed to speak later,” Garnett added. “It’s a different day for that conversation.”

Rivers himself said he’s leaning toward coming back to coach at least one more year, but will take some time to make a decision.

The Knicks won’t have much time to prepare for the Pacers, an even tougher defensive team than the Celtics. And it doesn’t bode well that the Knicks scored less than a point per possession in this series and that Carmelo Anthony shot just 38 percent, at one point missing 19 straight 3-pointers.

“It’s not something I’m too concerned about,” Anthony said. “I’ll take those shots any day. I won’t stop shooting. My teammates need me to shoot.”

The good news is that New York may be playing its best defense of the season, having held the Celtics under a point per possession in five of the six games. It’s been three years since Boston was a good offensive team, but the Knicks’ defense was, at times, very responsible for how bad their opponent looked.

The Knicks ranked 16th defensively in the regular season and weren’t necessarily playing very well on that end when they won 13 straight games in March and early April. But they’ve seemingly flipped the switch.

“We have incredible athletes,” Tyson Chandler said. “That combined with focus is dangerous. I’ve been saying that the whole time I’ve been here and we’re starting to show it now.”

Chandler added that he feels 100 percent recovered from the bulging disc in his neck that he was dealing with late in the season, which may be the most important thing for the Knicks as they get set to face Indiana’s frontline of David West and Roy Hibbert. And that Iman Shumpert played one his best games of the season – 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, six rebounds and a critical steal down the stretch – on Friday is also encouraging.

And hey, though the Knicks almost fumbled away that 3-0 lead they had, it takes a certain amount of resilience to finish off a series when your battle-tested opponent just doesn’t want to go down.

“It was an ugly series,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said, “because neither team could really score or break loose. We did what we had to do to get out of this round.”

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Celtic Pride Lives On

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NEW YORK — These aren’t the same ‘ol Celtics.

No Rajon Rondo. No Ray Allen. No Perk, Posey or P.J. Brown.

They took another step backward this season, falling to seventh in the Eastern Conference. They were pretty awful on the road, their defense didn’t have quite the same bite, and their offense was pretty anemic. You never knew what you were going to get from them, maybe a win over a great team on one night and a loss to a terrible team the next.

And when they were down 0-3 to the New York Knicks in this first round series, it appeared to be time to finally count them out.

Well … uh … never mind. Maybe these are the same ‘ol Celtics.

Fueled by a defense that continues to hold it’s own against one of the most potent offensive attacks in the league, the Celtics staved off elimination for the second time on Wednesday. This time they did it in enemy territory, holding on for a 92-86 victory at Madison Square Garden that sends the series back to Boston for Game 6 on Friday.

So now, things get really interesting. No team in NBA history has ever come back from an 0-3 series deficit, but it’s starting to look like great defense can beat great offense. The Knicks have shot just 37 percent and scored just 94 points per 100 possessions over the last two games.

Coming up empty in Boston without J.R. Smith is one thing. But with Smith back and the opportunity to win a playoff series on their home floor for the first time since 1999, the Knicks laid another egg on Wednesday.

“Offensively, we were searching,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “We’ve got to find some offense somewhere. We have been struggling to find points.”

In his return from a one-game suspension, Smith missed his first 10 shots and finished 3-for-14. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t much better, shooting 8-for-24, meaning that the Knicks basically got the same production out of the pair as they did in Game 4 (when Smith didn’t play).

The one thing the Knicks still have going offensively is Raymond Felton on the pick and roll. He continued to get to the rim in Game 5, rendering Avery Bradley useless and scoring 21 points on 10-for-19 shooting.

But too often, the Knicks became stagnant offensively, resorting to more isolations and contested jumpers. They’ve lived by the three all season, but have shot a brutal 12-for-52 (23 percent) from beyond the arc in the last two games. Anthony has missed his last 15 3-point attempts.

Of course, the Celtics wouldn’t have won Games 4 and 5 if they weren’t scoring themselves. And Wednesday was easily their best offensive performance of the series. Part of it was better execution. But mostly, they just shot better.

That was the one source of optimism when they were down 0-3. They’re a bad offensive team, but they’re not a bad shooting team, and they were missing a lot of decent shots in those first three games. The Knicks have played aggressively on the ball all series, leaving shooters open. And now the Celtics are finally making them pay. Their 3-point percentage has increased in every game of the series, peaking with an 11-for-22 performance in Game 5.

“We’re not a bad 3-point shooting team,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I kept telling our guys, ‘When you get them, take them.’ I kept telling them to let it fly. Don’t hesitate.”

Really, these are both jump-shooting teams, and games will sometimes be determined by whether or not the shots go in. But it was clear on Wednesday which team was forcing more misses. That’s the team that had its season on the line, the team that never goes down without a fight.

The Knicks wore all black to this game, thinking they were attending a funeral. Instead, they got a free trip back to Boston, thanks to a prideful team that just won’t die.

“We’re out here scrappin’,” Kevin Garnett told Comcast Sportsnet in an epic on-court interview after the game. “We know what they’re running. They know what we’re running. It’s just this is all out. Who wants this? That’s what it is. That’s all we’ve been doing these last couple of games.”

Same ‘ol Celtics, apparently. Never count ’em out.

Is It Time To Count The Celtics Out?

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NEW YORK — At some point, we’re going to have to write off the Boston Celtics as a group that just can’t hang with the best teams in the NBA.

Is it now?

When Carmelo Anthony drove right past Kevin Garnett for a dunk late in the third quarter on Tuesday, was that some sort of symbolism?

Celtics efficiency by half, Games 1-2
Half PTS POSS OffRtg
1st 101 88 114.8
2nd 48 84 57.1

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

After getting shut down in the second half for the second straight game, Boston trails their first round series with the New York Knicks 0-2. Start preparing the obituary. Just hold off on hitting the “publish” button.

The Celtics certainly seem outmatched in this series. They’ve had their moments in the first two games, but they just haven’t had the offense to keep pace with the potent Knicks for a full game. New York deserves some credit for the way it has defended in the second half, both on Saturday and on Tuesday. But the Celtics’ offense has been largely responsible for turning a below-average defensive team in the regular season into the best defensive team of the playoffs thus far.

But we’ve seen this before. We remember the Celtics getting thumped in Game 3 at home against Cleveland in the 2010 conference semifinals before eventually reaching Game 7 of The Finals. We remember them going down 0-2 to the Heat last season before winning the next three games.

Is this the time they don’t come back? Is this the first time this group loses in the first round?

Maybe Rajon Rondo‘s absence has finally caught up to them. The lack of a real point guard has been dreadfully apparent as the Celtics have struggled to get into their offense whenever the Knicks have applied any kind of perimeter pressure.

“We let them get inside our plays and it was to their advantage,” Avery Bradley, point guard by default, said. “We were getting shots up like three seconds into the shot clock every time down the floor.”

Maybe Garnett and Paul Pierce just can’t carry a team like they used to. Pierce has been defended by smaller players all series, but he’s still had to force a lot of contested shots. Garnett has had better looks at the basket, but has shot 8-for-21 (38 percent) in the two games. There shouldn’t be any doubt now that the Knicks have the two best offensive players in the series.

Maybe Boston’s supporting cast just isn’t good enough to support their two remaining (and aging) stars. Their back-up guards have shot a combined 7-for-26 (27 percent) and their back-up bigs have played a combined nine minutes. While Mike Woodson can call on Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith and dependable veterans Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin off his bench, Doc Rivers has no one he can count on beyond his starters.

We believe the Celtics are too proud, too tough and too defensive-minded to go down without a fight. But in these last six seasons, this is the lowest they’ve finished in the standings, this is the worst they’ve been defensively, and this is the best team they’ve faced in the first round.

Ask Rivers a question about how his team has responded to adversity over the last six years, and he’ll be quick to point out that “This is not that group. This is not the group we’ve had. This is a bunch of new guys, with two guys [who’ve been there before].”

Game 2, an 87-71 defeat, was somewhat of a carbon copy of Game 1, except that the Knicks’ second-half storm was much worse and the game was essentially over midway through the third quarter, after New York scored 23 points in a stretch of 11 possessions.

“They just attacked us,” Rivers said, “and we didn’t handle it very well.”

Anthony was more efficient and Raymond Felton was more aggressive in the pick-and-roll, ultimately creating better ball movement for the Knicks.

Now, the Celtics must find a way to win Game 3 at home on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). They must hope that their regular season home-road discrepancy (second largest in the league) applies to the postseason. Over the last two years, they’ve been a much better defensive team at the TD Garden than they’ve been away from it.

Of course, defense isn’t enough. The Celtics must find a way to score … for more than two quarters.

“We can defend this team,” Garnett said Tuesday. “If we’re able to put some points up on the board, I like our chances.”

Right now, that looks like a huge “if.” These just aren’t the same Celtics … right?

“We are who we are,” Rivers said. “We can’t apologize for that. That’s what we’ve been left with. I think it’s enough to win.”

Only time will tell.

Game 2: Knicks-Celtics’ Changes Afoot

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NEW YORK — They say that every game in a playoff series has its own personality. And a couple of rotation changes should give Game 2 of the Knicks-Celtics’ series (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT) a new look.

The Knicks hope to have Pablo Prigioni back from a sprained ankle for Game 2. And if they do, he will start and join Raymond Felton in the backcourt. The Knicks went 15-1 with the two point guards starting together in the final month of the regular season.

The Knicks have been incredibly efficient offensively, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions in 298 minutes, with Felton and Prigioni on the floor together. And after a game in which they scored 85 points on 88 possessions, they could certainly use an offensive boost. After assisting on just 13 of their 32 buckets in Game 1, the team hopes that Prigioni will bring better ball movement.

But the lineup change could have an adverse effect on the other end of the floor. Woodson said Sunday that if Prigioni is back, Felton will guard Paul Pierce to start the game (the original plan had Prigioni been healthy in Game 1), with Iman Shumpert defending Jeff Green.

Shumpert was guarding Pierce to start Game 1, and the Celtics posted Pierce on three of the first four possessions. When the Knicks doubled the post, the Celtics got a jumper for Kevin Garnett and a layup for Avery Bradley.

Mismatches on Pierce were a big part of the Celtics’ offense all day Saturday. Later in the first quarter, they ran the same play several times to get J.R. Smith switched onto Pierce at the foul line. And they had some more success with Pierce posting Jason Kidd on a few possessions midway through the second.

With their lineup change, the Knicks will be handing the Celtics a mismatch from the start. And Boston will obviously go to Pierce in the post early and often. New York will send double-teams, and it will be up to Pierce’s teammates to make them pay.

Green was a pretty good corner 3-point shooter (45.7 percent) in the regular season, but didn’t attempt any shots from the corners on Saturday. As a team, Boston was just 1-for-5 from the corners, an obvious area for improvement in Game 2.

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Doc Rivers plans on making some rotation changes of his own. He went only eight deep in Game 1, using just three guards — Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry — off the bench. The trio combined to shoot 0-for-7.

Rivers said Sunday that we could see a big man off the bench — presumably Chris Wilcox or Shavlik Randolph — on Tuesday. If it’s Wilcox, it will be the first playoff appearance of his 11-year career.

We’ll have to see if that results in less minutes for Brandon Bass or if Rivers plans on playing with two bigs more than he did in Game 1. The Celtics were a plus-1 (and particularly strong on the defensive glass) in 21 minutes with both Bass and Garnett on the floor on Saturday, and a minus-8 in 27 minutes with one of the two on the bench.

The Celtics weren’t very good defensively, allowing 104.7 points per 100 possessions, in 396 regular season minutes with Bass and Wilcox on the floor together. And the Garnett-Wilcox pair played just 73 minutes.

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Rivers also wants to see a bigger role for Crawford. Amazingly, Crawford didn’t take a single shot in his 10:46 on Saturday. And it surely goes without saying that it was the first time in the gunner’s career that he’s played at least 10 minutes without taking a shot.

The Celtics probably don’t want to get to the point where Crawford’s shooting determines the outcome of any particular game, but he can help make the Knicks pay for double-teams on Pierce if he’s aggressive and looking to make plays for his teammates as well as himself. He can also take some of the ball-handling duties from Bradley.

One-On-One With Boston’s Avery Bradley

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — With two-thirds of Boston’s Big Three now out of action and compromising the Celtics’ offense, the responsibility of keeping the team out of the dreaded eight-hole and a first-round series with the Miami Heat will be heaped on their ability to defend.

The shorthanded Celtics begin their final 13 games tonight against the New York Knicks (7 p.m. ET, TNT) with Rajon Rondo and now Kevin Garnett — Boston’s third- and second-leading scorers, respectively — sidelined. It means 22-year-old defensive whiz Avery Bradley steps up as perhaps the team’s most important player.

Seventh-place Boston gets New York twice this week, plus the sixth-place Atlanta Hawks, who are two games ahead of the Celtics and in a virtual deadlock with fifth-place Chicago. At worst, the Celtics, two games in front of eighth-place Milwaukee, want to maintain their position heading into the postseason.

Having played just 38 games this season after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Bradley is fresh and Boston’s best hope to defend their way through Garnett’s potentially crushing absence.

“I just think Avery Bradley has defensive DNA, I mean that’s who he is,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He has great feet, he has great hands, he’s tough, he sticks his nose in there and I think a great defensive player has to want to get his hands dirty, and he does. Avery understands what makes him a good player and what gets him on the map is his defense.”

We caught up with Bradley during the Celtics’ visit to Dallas last week:

Q: You were a highly rated defensive player coming out of high school and you enhanced your reputation during your one season at Texas. It’s rare for a young player in today’s AAU culture to embrace defense. Why did you?

A: In high school I used to be the player that scored 30 and then take the challenge to hold the best player on the other team, have him not score. That’s the reason I think in high school I was fortunate enough to be ranked so high because that’s what I’d do every game. But that’s always just been me. I’m a competitor and that’s the only way I know how to play. If we’re playing pickup, I don’t want you to score. That’s just how I play.

Q: What makes a good defender?

A: It’s definitely mental, a lot of it, just like the game of basketball, but I think it’s a God gift and just me wanting to guard, that’s the biggest thing. If you give that effort, that’s all that coach asks for on the defensive end. That’s what I give.

Q: Was it easy for you to come into the league and quickly become an aggressive defender?

A: Definitely not because refs have no respect for you, so if you’re an aggressive defender being a young guy, it’ll get you on the bench fast. But I think it has its pluses and its minuses. If you come into the league as a young player and have an offensive mindset, the majority of the time you’re not going to play. That was my approach, defense, I knew that’s what was going to get me on the floor. I bought into our defense and not only that I wanted to take the challenge every single night to want to hold the best players, to get that respect, not only from my teammates, but players and the refs. That’s what I try to do.

Q: Obviously the Celtics and Miami Heat have engaged in some great battles, most recently the Heat’s comeback in Boston to keep their winning streak alive. How do LeBron James and Dwyane Wade treat you now?

A: I can’t really say, but I know they know what to expect from me every single game that I’m going to guard them. I’m going to compete. I’m not going to back down to nobody, ever. I can tell they know that and I can tell that they know that the whole game I’m going to be playing hard. You see people try to do the same thing to me that I do to them, but at the end of the day I never get tired so I’m always going to keep going. It’s fun, like I said, I just love taking that challenge every single game, playing against the best players in the NBA. It’s what I dreamed of.

Q: When did you realize that you could compete in this league?

A: Last year once I got an opportunity to play, it was around this time of year. I believe we had some players hurt and I got an opportunity to play. I think we played Dallas and then OKC. Those were my first games ever in the NBA playing the amount of minutes that I played since the last game of my rookie season that I played 20 minutes or something like that. That was big for me and that’s when I realized I could play in this league. I think I was playing against Jason Kidd and that was my first game playing like big minutes. I got to get a feel for the game and not only that, I wasn’t nervous. That’s when I knew I could play in this league, that I could be effective out there on the defensive and offensive end.

Q: Who do you look forward to guarding the most?

A: Everybody, every single night. Everybody is a challenge on every single team, especially at the point guard position. So I always have to prepare myself and not only that, people know what I do on the scouting report so they take it as a challenge to. At the same time, I feel like I have a target on my back. Regardless, I’m just going to play as hard as I can. As long as my teammates can say I play hard at the end of the game that’s all that matters, even if I’m not making shots.

Q: What thrills you most about making a defensive play?

A: Probably the best part of it, just me getting my teammates into it when they see me playing hard out there. It literally feels like it gives me more energy for me to play hard on defense. And then my teammates score and then I go back after the guy, and it’s kind of like, ‘Dang, can I get a break, you guys just scored.’ That makes me feel good. It’s more energy, it’s crazy.