Posts Tagged ‘Avery Bradley’

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.

Air Check: When A Call Goes Wrong

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

The national guys aren’t perfect either. And if they’re not careful, they may be featured here, where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

Here are a few more moments that made us laugh, made us smarter, or made us shake our heads.

Last Week: Showing Their Colors

1. The dagger that wasn’t

Game: Detroit @ Washington, Feb. 27
Broadcast: Washington


You’ve seen this play and heard Steve Buckhantz‘s call already, but we obviously had to include it here. It’s sort of uncomfortably hilarious.

But guess what? The Pistons announcers got the call wrong, too. And frankly, I thought the ball went in as well … and I already knew it didn’t.

Under the weather, I crashed early on Wednesday. When I woke up Thursday morning, I had an e-mail telling me that we needed to include the blown call “of Trevor Ariza’s missed shot” in the next Air Check.

So I knew the call was wrong. I knew the shot didn’t go in. And when I pulled up the game on my iPad, I knew the final score. But when I watched the play, I thought, for a split second, that the ball went through the basket.

So yeah, it was a tough moment for Buckhantz. But if you read this interview with Sarah Kogod, you’ll understand that he had a bad angle. And we’ll take a mistake like that over some of the other nonsense we hear on League Pass from time to time.

2. Classic Tommy

Game: Chicago @ Boston, Feb. 13
Broadcast: Boston


Tommy Heinsohn is an unapologetic Celtics homer. Heck, he’s been a part of the Celtics organization for most of the last 57 years. And of course, Heinsohn can go a little over the top with his analysis of officials’ calls. This one is a perfect example.

He calls the official “terrible” and says that Avery Bradley “plays this perfect.” As the replay clearly shows that Bradley didn’t beat Nate Robinson to the sideline and fouled Robinson with his shoulder, Heinsohn gets louder. “PLAYS IT PERFECT!”

“You couldn’t have played it any better than Bradley played it.”

Not really. But that’s Tommy.

3. Donatas’ Never-Before-Seen Post Moves

Game: Dallas @ Houston, March 3
Broadcast: Houston


I’ve watched this play more than a dozen times and I’m still not sure I see a travel. It’s possible that Donatas Motiejunas‘ left foot was his original pivot foot, and then he switched it to the right. He gathers the ball and makes his move so quickly that it’s hard to tell. But that’s not really the point.

What’s hilarious is Matt Bullard‘s insinuation that referee David Jones, with his 23 years of NBA experience, has never seen a move like that before.

“That’s the problem with young players in this league,” Bullard says. “The officials have not seen their moves. I think D-Mo surprised not only the Mavericks’ defender, but also the official.”

It’s also kind of funny that this was the fourth possession of the game and we’re already getting into the complaints about the officiating.

Bullard does take back his complaint after seeing the replay and Clyde Drexler notes that, you know, officials are good at their jobs. But it’s the instinct to immediately complain about a call against your team that’s bothersome.

4. Actually, he’s from Brooklyn

Game: Oklahoma City @ Denver, Jan. 20
Broadcast: Denver


Scott Hastings‘ absurd homerism was noted in last week’s post. We should probably give him some time before a second mention, but this one was so ridiculous, it couldn’t wait. Hastings continues to feed conspiracy theorists and question the ethics of NBA officials with unsubstantiated comments.

Late in a close game, Ty Lawson gets his hand on a Russell Westbrook pass, and official Mark Lindsay says the ball went off of Kevin Durant. Then Hastings takes over.

“Scottie Brooks runs to his guy Zach Zarba and says, ‘Hey can you review this?’”

“His guy.”

The officials indeed decide to review the call, because the best thing to do is make sure that the calls was right. And then Hastings chimes in one more time.

“Zach lives down around Tulsa or some place,” he says.

Yikes.

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

Morning Shootaround — March 6

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Last night’s trio of games weren’t the most exciting matchups on paper, with two games (Nuggets-Kings and Lakers-Thunder) being matchups that were pretty one-sided (and ended up being that way in the final result, too). That makes Celtics-Sixers our pick this morning, mostly because we were treated to a performance from Avery Bradley that was reminiscent of the work he did in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against these Sixers. As you’ll read below, Celtics coach Doc Rivers credits Bradley’s play with a lot of Boston’s success since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season, and this game last night was a great case in point.

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News of the morning

West chimes in on LeBron, more | Cousins argues with fan | Anthony asked out of game before injury | Celtics’ sense of urgency increases | Redick enjoying life in Milwaukee | Bynum visits orthopedic specialist

West: LeBron ‘in another world’ right nowAround the All-Star break, the LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant debate was stirred up anew after Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said he’d pick Bryant over James. Another Hall of Famer, Warriors executive Jerry West, has his thoughts on the LeBron debate — specifically where James ranks among all-time performers and whether or not he is on Jordan’s level. West’s answer to that, as well as his thoughts on the struggling Lakers, his old owner, Jerry Buss, and more are all a must-read in this Q&A from Sports on Earth’s Shaun Powell:

Q: After 50 years in the game, you’ve seen just about everyone. Are you ready to call LeBron James the greatest after Jordan? Or maybe he trumps Jordan? Or is this all too silly?

A: I’ll say LeBron is in another world right now. He’s a player for the decade. You watch him and you can tell his teammates love him. What you can’t do is judge him by the championships right now. Just his all-around play and skills. He’s a superstar who’s very unselfish. You don’t find that too often. He could lead the league in scoring every year if he wanted. But he’d rather find any way to beat you even if it meant giving up the ball. To watch his growth as a player and person has been pretty special. I would have enjoyed having him as a teammate.

Q: Miami has made it work by combining three All-Stars. But weren’t you, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain the original Big Three?

A: Oh, I don’t know. That’s just a label. The difference between us and them is they’re in their prime. Elgin battled injury and wasn’t the same player when we came together. I wasn’t the same player because I battled knee injuries and we didn’t have the medical advancements then as we do now. I was almost constantly in pain. Wilt wasn’t the same, either; he was at the end of his career. And we didn’t win together because Elgin retired before the championship. I know people didn’t like what Miami did by teaming them up, but I thought it was fantastic. LeBron is special, Dwyane Wade is right behind him and Chris Bosh is a very good player. They’ll win championships or be right there as long as they’re healthy and on the same team. People should enjoy and respect what they’re seeing right now.

Q: Meanwhile, your old team has struggled with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash although to be fair, Howard and Nash haven’t been healthy from the jump. Will they get it together? Or will this be basketball’s Titanic?

A: What people don’t understand is the enormous adjustment you have to make as a player in those situations. I was a scorer, Elgin was a scorer and Wilt, even then, liked the ball. We all had to put everything else aside. The Lakers are playing better now, especially defensively, and I think they’ll make the playoffs. I think the worst is behind them.

Q: You knew Jerry Buss as well as anyone, maybe even better. Got a favorite Dr. Buss story you could share?

A: Well, because of the personality he had, I couldn’t tell you any of the best ones for print. But everything you heard about him as an owner was true. He always did what was in the best interest of the game, from a Lakers perspective and a league perspective. I wish all owners were like him. He was a real innovator. He wasn’t afraid to make a decision. You liked him and cared about him. He was a good guy who was able to buy something and become an incredible steward of a historic franchise. I was lucky to have known him. Working for him wasn’t even work, it was fun. I never saw it as a job. Not for one day. I miss him already.

Kings’ Cousins has words for fanFor DeMarcus Cousins against the Nuggets on Tuesday, it was a night to forget. A season-worst shooting night (1-for-12) coupled with a relentless barrage by Shootaround favorite Kenneth Faried led to a 120-113 loss in which Cousins sat on the bench for the final 10 minutes, 15 seconds. But as Cousins left the game, writes Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, he got into a bit of a verbal altercation with a fan — another black mark in a season where Cousins has had his fair share of on-court dustups:

Cousins sat out the final 10:15, and his exit wasn’t the usual jog to the bench. He engaged in a shouting match with fans seated on the baseline near the Kings’ bench.

“He said some disrespectful things, and I had some things to say back,” Cousins said. “That was it.”

Cousins said he believes it was a Kings fan, “which makes it even worse.”

Coach Keith Smart said sitting Cousins had nothing to do with that verbal exchange and instead was about finding the best matchup to slow down the Nuggets (40-22).

“The focus is on the game. The focus is on what we’re trying to do on the floor,” Smart said. “And whatever happens with someone on our team in the stands, whatever needs to be dealt with, is dealt with.

“These are our fans and they come out here to support us, and we’ve got to make sure we do the right things at all times”

Asked about fan support, Smart made it clear the team’s focus needs to be on the court.

“That’s why it’s very important that we focus on playing good basketball instead of being focused on the fans,” Smart said. “They pay good, hard-earned money to come to a game to do or say whatever they might want to say. But overall the fans in Sacramento have been great to our basketball team.”

‘Melo asked out of game before he got hurtAlthough the Knicks rallied from a 22-point deficit to take down the Cavs in Cleveland on Monday, they suffered a loss as Carmelo Anthony left the game in the second quarter after injuring his knee. A day after that mishap, Knicks coach Mike Woodson says the injury could have been avoided had Woodson agreed to let Anthony out of the game when the Knicks’ star started feeling pain. Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com has more on the situation:

Woodson revealed Tuesday during an interview with ESPN New York 98.7 FM that Anthony had asked to be removed from the game due to knee discomfort before suffering the injury in the second quarter.


The Knicks announced later Tuesday that Anthony officially has been diagnosed with a sore knee and will be listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Pistons.

Woodson called Anthony’s injury “alarming” during his interview on “The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show” and admitted his decision to leave the star forward in the game was “stubborn.”

“Melo was hurt,” Woodson said. “For him to ask me to come out of the game before he actually took that spill made me realize that something wasn’t right. He’s never ever, ever, even hinted about coming out of the game [before Monday]. I play him too much in that regard. Melo’s a trooper — he’s a warrior, he’s a tough kid.”

Woodson was asked during the interview why he chose to leave Anthony in the game after he requested to come out.

“I should have [taken him out],” Woodson said. “Stubborn coach — I just didn’t.”

Woodson explained that he hoped Anthony would help dig the Knicks out of their 22-point first-half deficit.”Maybe I should have taken him out before he actually stumbled and took the fall,” Woodson said. “But again, I’m thinking [during] the game, ‘Hey, he’ll play through it. He’ll figure it out.’

“But he was hurt. He walked out after he took the spill and he didn’t come back, and that’s not Melo-like. Obviously, his knee is bothering him.”

Anthony said on Monday that his knee had been bothering him in recent days, and an MRI taken recently revealed no structural damage.

“Today I just woke up, and you know how some days you really don’t feel right,” he said after the game. “I came out here and I tried to warm up and I thought it was going to loosen up before the game, but some of the things that I was doing, I felt like I was dragging it.”

Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald said Tuesday in an interview with radio station WFAN that he did not believe the injury was “serious,” even though Anthony has been bothered by the knee for two or three weeks.

Sans Rondo, Celtics up their intensityAs was mentioned by the Inside the NBA crew last night, the Celtics are 12-4 since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season on Jan. 27. While getting key players back (such as Avery Bradley and Chris Wilcox) and adding a little depth (via a trade for Jordan Crawford) have helped, Boston coach Doc Rivers says Rondo’s departure probably did more to help get the team on a winning track than anything else. Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe has more on the Celtics’ sudden improvements:

The Celtics began Tuesday two games from the fourth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the first round, which is stunning considering Boston was 20-23 when Rondo went down and was expected to sink in the second half.

“I just think we’re playing better, for whatever reason,” said coach Doc Rivers. “You have all those injuries, you usually go the other way. I just think our guys kind of came together and realized we don’t have a margin of error anymore.

“And maybe that’s why. But overall, I think a lot of things happened, too. I think Avery [Bradley] was just coming back, so our defense improved dramatically with him.”

Rivers said Bradley’s presence has been critical. The Celtics had improved to ninth in the league in points allowed entering Tuesday night’s game.

“When the guy is on the point of the ball putting pressure, it makes everyone else kind of join in, I think that helped,” Rivers said. “I thought our second unit was just about to take off before all the injuries. So they were finding their way.”

Kevin Garnett said the team’s decision making has drastically improved to compensate for Rondo’s missing floor leadership.

“I would say [we’re] more decisive,” he said. “You get to whatever you’re doing and if you’re going to pass it, pass it, if not you make your move. Consistency is something that I always put our hat on. The more consistent we can be with stopping the ball . . . that’s been the formula for success since I’ve been here and getting guys to buy in.”

Redick savoring fresh start with BucksSince being dealt from the Magic to the Bucks at the trade deadline, J.J. Redick has been a bit reflective of his time in Orlando and even gone as far as to share his thoughts on Dwight Howard’s final season there. Part of him had hoped to stick around with the rebuilding Magic and be around when the team got good again, but that obviously wasn’t part of the plan. Redick shared his thoughts on his new home, his departure from Orlando and more with Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski:

Perhaps this is a blessing and curse, because professional sports can break a ballplayer’s heart this way. Redick’s loyal this way. He immerses himself in the franchise’s fabric, invests in the community. His two old coaches – Mike Krzyzewski and Stan Van Gundy – still get calls and texts on a regular basis.

“My wife Chelsea and I built a life in Orlando,” Redick told Yahoo! Sports. “Listen, there was no anger [over the trade], but there was a little bit of disappointment.

“Part of me wishes I could’ve been there my whole career and been part of the rebuilding, part of the turnaround, and gotten back to the finals in my 11th or 12th year. That’s the romantic in me, the idealist.”

With Redick, the Bucks have won four of five games. With the Bucks, Redick is relevant again.

“There’s been a number of moments since I’ve been here – in the fourth quarter, in overtime – where I’ve thought, ‘Man, I missed this,’ ” Redick says. “And I did.

“Even in Orlando, in a close game, coming down to the wire, you still think to yourself: ‘We’re 15-37 or whatever.’ “

So far, the vision of Bucks general manager John Hammond has been validated. Redick will be a free agent this summer, and Hammond gambled with the trade for him. As hard as the Bucks tried to get Josh Smith, Redick was the player whom they believed could become their starting shooting guard for years. Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, Monta Ellis can opt out of his contract and, almost assuredly, only one of them returns next season.

Milwaukee can’t afford to pay the three of them, so Jennings or Ellis will stay, and Milwaukee is prepared to pay Redick as a starting shooting guard. Redick will be in great demand, but make no mistake: To leave the Bucks, he’ll have to take less money – probably a lot.

Hammond and his assistant GM, Jeff Weltman, have the Bucks positioned to be an Eastern Conference playoff team for years to come. For them, Redick has arrived to make shots, yes, but also bring professionalism to the workplace.For Redick, it was over in Orlando. The Magic disassembled into a total rebuild. Part of him will always live with the regret of how everything fell apart, how they fired Stan Van Gundy and traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.

In Redick’s mind, the best thing that ever happened was getting drafted into Orlando with a coach who refused to insert him into the rotation. For two years, Van Gundy challenged him to become a more complete player and Redick thinks “a lot about what kind of career trajectory I would’ve had without Stan, and I’m grateful for what he did for me.”

“Those years in Orlando humbled me,” Redick said, “and gave me perspective on basketball and life.”

Bynum visits knee specialist In the seemingly daily update of how Andrew Bynum‘s knees, the Sixers big man headed off the New York to visit an orthopedist to get more news on his problematic joints and the long-term outlook for his career. Jason Wolf of The (Wilmington) News Journal has more on Bynum’s visit with Dr. David Altchek of the Hospital for Special Surgery and what next steps are ahead for the big man:

The 7-foot, 300-pound Bynum, whose right knee continued to swell more than a week after taking part in his first practice of the season on Feb. 22, is considering arthroscopic surgery and no longer confident he’ll play for the Sixers this season.

Bynum also visited with at least one doctor on Monday, Sixers CEO Adam Aron said in two broadcast interviews.

“We’re all trying to gather information and see what the best course of action is,” Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo said. “I’m sure Altchek will have an opinion, our doctors will have an opinion, and Andrew, basically, will have an opinion. It’s just gathering information now. And like I said before, he’ll continue to rehab and see how that goes. The option of washing it out [with arthroscopic surgery], we’ll see what happens there.”

Bynum has been sidelined by bone bruises and damaged cartilage in his knees since September. The Sixers acquired him from the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade in August.

He is making $16.9 million this season and will become an unrestricted free agent in July, when he’s hoping to land a long-term deal and a nine-figure pay day.

“He set it up. That’s his doctor,” DiLeo said. “I know it’s a late appointment, so I don’t know if we’ll hear [results] tonight or tomorrow. … [The swelling] has gone down. But the activity has gone down.”

ICYMI of the night: Kenneth Faried got Dunk of the Night honors from our multimedia crew for this jam, but we like this one so much better:

Like Doc Said, ‘Don’t Bury The Celtics Yet’



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The next time Celtics coach Doc Rivers has something to say about his team and the resolve that championship outfits always show when things look bleak, I’ll just shut up and listen. We’d all be wise to do as much.

He warned us when Rajon Rondo went down with that torn ACL that the season would not end for the Boston Celtics just because they lost their All-Star point guard on Jan. 27.

His exact words:  “You can write the obituary; I’m not. You can go ahead, but I’m not. We won tonight and so, the way I look at it is, we’re going to stay in there. In my opinion, we’re going nowhere.”

We jumped to foolish conclusions around here and assumed that the Big 3 + Rondo era was officially done. But the Celtics have done exactly what Rivers said they would. Seven straight wins, including triumphs over the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and most recently Sunday’s triple overtime thriller to snap the Denver Nuggets’ nine-game win streak.

The remaining members of the Big 3 — Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — have played like the wicked warriors they’ve always been, but they’ve cranked it back up to 2008 levels over the course of the past seven games.

Pierce was magnificent yesterday, slaying the Nuggets with big shots, clutch rebounds and timely assists. Pierce’s 27, 14 and 14 was a throwback to the days of Larry Legend in Boston, as hallowed a ground as there is in Celtics lore. Garnett was just as devastating, finishing with 20 points and 18 rebounds.

But how about the rest of the supporting cast? Jason Terry came to life, finishing with a season-high 26 points off the bench, reminding us all of the crucial role he played in the Dallas Mavericks’ championship run two seasons ago. And Jeff Green, doing his own Mr. Big Shot routine against the Nuggets, chipped in with 17 points and three big blocks.

Rivers, of course, refused to take any credit for what’s gone on the past seven games, including yesterday heroics from Pierce and the rest of the crew.

“I mean that’s what great players do. I would love to tell you I had something to do with it,” Rivers said. “I was sitting just like the fans saying, ‘Please, Lord, Paul make a shot.’ “

But he’s short-changing the power of his words and presence in that Celtics locker room. As great as Garnett and Pierce have been as locker room leaders since they came together, this team has always marched to the beat Rivers plays for them. He’s the one who showed  the ultimate confidence in Rondo when he was still trying to become the elite point guard he has become. He’s also the one who knew when it was time to elevate Avery Bradley to a more prominent role on a veteran-laden team. He’s the one who made clear to Courtney Lee that he had confidence in Lee assuming some facilitating responsibilities in Rondo’s absence.

Rivers is doing what only the greats have done and can do: he’s making a mockery of conventional wisdom and showing that age is truly just a number where the Celtics’ aging warriors and young upstarts are concerned. His belief in his team, in every man on his roster, has paved the way for the Celtics to not only keep their season alive in the midst of what should have been devastating injury news, but also helps them remain as one of a couple of teams (along with Indiana and perhaps Chicago, depending on what Derrick Rose looks like in his return from ACL surgery) capable of complicating the Heat’s march through the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets need to be concerned as well, what with the Celtics having all the ingredients to mount a furious post-All-Star Weekend assault on the Atlantic Division standings.

Everything is still on the table for these Celtics with the momentum they’ve built over the past seven games, and counting.

As usual, Rivers was right.

We shouldn’t have written that obit when Rondo went down.

He didn’t.

And the Celtics are thriving because of it!

Is Sullinger The Offensive Key For Rondo-less Celtics?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Will the Boston Celtics blow it up with Rajon Rondo out for the season?

That will be determined by what kind of offers Danny Ainge gets for Kevin Garnett and/or Paul Pierce between now and Feb. 21 trade deadline.

For now, the Celtics are moving on with what they’ve got. And they’ve got to figure out how to play without Rondo if they’re going to hold onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia 76ers are just three games behind the Celtics, have a soft stretch of schedule coming up, and hope to get Andrew Bynum back at some point down the line.

The Celtics without Rondo are the Celtics without a point guard. None of the other guards on the roster — Leandro Barbosa, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry — are real floor generals. Of the group, only Barbosa has an assist percentage above that of either Garnett or Pierce.

But the Celtics have been OK without Rondo so far this season. In fact, they’ve been incrementally better, both offensively and defensively, with him off the floor than with him on the floor.

Celtics efficiency with Rondo on and off the floor

Rondo on/off MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
On floor 1,423 94.9 99.2 100.5 -1.3 -57
Off floor 744 90.6 100.4 100.0 +0.4 -2

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Defense really shouldn’t be an issue. Even though Rondo has been named to the All-Defensive first or second team each of the last four seasons, he’s not much of an impact player on that end of the floor.

Bradley and Garnett, meanwhile, are just that. And though the Celtics’ defense had fallen off dramatically when Garnett stepped off the floor in the first two months of the season, it’s been fine (92.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Garnett off the floor and Bradley on. It’s a small sample size (83 minutes), but it’s certainly encouraging.

Offensively, though Rondo leads the league with 11.1 assists per game, the Celtics still have an above average assist rate with him off the floor.

Celtics offense with Rondo on and off the floor

Rondo on/off 2PT% 3PT% OREB% TmTOV% FTA Rate AST/FG
On floor 48.7% 34.7% 19.8% 15.0% .248 64.5%
Off floor 48.9% 30.6% 24.2% 15.8% .286 59.7%

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA

The Celtics have shot better and turned the ball over less with Rondo on the floor. But with him on the bench, they’ve gone to the line more often and given themselves more second-chance opportunities.

The key to the rebounding is that Jared Sullinger — the Celtics’ best (and only) offensive rebounder — has played just 33 percent of Rondo’s minutes on the floor, but has played 55 percent of Rondo’s minutes on the bench.

Overall, the Celtics have been much better with Sullinger on the floor (102.1 points scored per 100 possessions) than with him on the bench (97.9). Not only is he their best offensive rebounder, but he’s the one Boston big man who actually takes most of his shots from the paint.

The Celtics’ two most-used lineups without Rondo both include Sullinger, and both have been excellent offensively.

Celtics most-used lineups without Rondo

Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Terry, Lee, Green, Sullinger, Garnett 17 95 85.2 115.8 90.9 +24.8 +39
Barbosa, Lee, Green, Sullinger, Garnett 13 73 87.4 107.6 100.1 +7.5 +4
Terry, Lee, Pierce, Bass, Garnett 8 42 96.1 96.6 77.2 +19.3 +11
Barbosa, Terry, Pierce, Green, Garnett 5 27 90.4 88.3 83.8 +4.5 -2
Terry, Lee, Green, Bass, Sullinger 8 25 93.0 103.1 84.1 +18.9 +8

So Sullinger’s minutes could be the key to Boston maintaining some sort of offensive success without Rondo. The problem is that he has a difficult time staying on the floor. Of 266 players around the league who have logged at least 500 minutes this season, he has committed, by far, the most fouls per minute (6.3 per 36). He has fouled out eight times already this season.

The Celtics are not going to be a very good offensive team no matter what. But they can stay competitive if they match their top-five defense with an offense that doesn’t regress without their point guard.

So Doc Rivers has got to roll with the rookie. Sullinger started his first game in 2 1/2 months against the Heat on Sunday and managed to commit just one foul in 22 minutes. That was a defensive win against the second-best offensive team in the league, but more offense will obviously be needed over the long haul.

No Shock: KG Is A Difference-Maker On D

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Points, rebounds and assists are nice, but plus-minus is the most important stat in basketball.

Teams win games by outscoring their opponent, and plus-minus reflects how much a team has done that in a player’s minutes on the floor. If a player isn’t scoring, he can help his teammates score and also prevent the opponent from doing so.

But in basketball, with nine other guys on the floor affecting what each player does, plus-minus always needs context, and lots of it. Who is a guy playing his minutes with? Who is he not playing his minutes with?

Furthermore, sample size is important. Single-game plus-minus can help tell a story about key sequences or the impact of a player or two on a particular night. But if you really want to get a good idea of how a team performs when a player or group of players is on the floor, you’ve got to look at a large chunk of games.

At this point in the season, we can get a pretty good idea of where teams are strong and weak. Through Thursday, 224 players have logged at least 500 minutes for one team this season.

On Wednesday, we looked at the players with the biggest on-off court differential in regard to their team’s offensive efficiency. Today, we look at the defensive end of the floor.

Measuring the difference in a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) when a player is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor, here are the league’s five biggest difference makers, as well as a pair at the bottom of the list.

For all of them, the discrepancy between their team’s defensive numbers with them on and off the floor is as much about the guys replacing them as it is about what they’re doing themselves.

1. Kevin Garnett, Celtics

On/off floor MIN DefRtg
On floor 905 96.3
Off floor 613 110.7
Diff. -14.4

Because the Celtics use a unique substitution pattern with KG, you can get a pretty clear idea of the impact he makes. No other Celtics regular has played more 63 percent of his minutes with Garnett.

You probably figured Garnett would be at or near the top of this list, but 14.4 points per 100 possessions? That’s an amazing number, and it’s an indictment on Brandon Bass (382 minutes with Garnett off the floor), Jared Sullinger (331) and Chris Wilcox (297) … and Paul Pierce (391) and Rajon Rondo (432).

It’s also an endorsement of both former Celtics center Greg Stiemsma and guard Avery Bradley, because the Celtics’ defense only fell off 0.5 points per 100 possessions when Garnett stepped off the floor last season.

Bradley’s return (he made his 2012-13 debut on Wednesday) offers some hope, but interior defense will continue to be an issue whenever Garnett rests. (more…)