NBA PM: Can the Celtics Hold Off the Cavs?
When the Boston Celtics visit the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight, it won’t be the Goliath-David matchup we’ve grown accustomed to since LeBron James brought his faculties to Miami-Dade County.
No, this matchup, as strange as it sounds, has significant postseason implications.
Boston, which currently sits at 15-17 and has lost seven of eight before heading into the break, is just a game and a half in front of Cleveland (13-18) for the last spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Making matters worse for the men in green is the fact that the Cavaliers have been a formidable opponent for the Celtics recently.
Boston and Cleveland split a home-and-home matchup at the end of January with the Cavaliers beating the Celtics 88-87 at Quicken Loans Arena before falling 93-90 at the Banknorth Garden. Rookie point guard Kyrie Irving averaged 22 points in the two games and helped the Cavaliers to a 12-0 run to finish the front end of the back-to-back with a win.
But as bleak as the Celtics fans must feel heading into the third and final regular season meeting with the Cavaliers this season, there are a few positives they can pick out.
First, Rajon Rondo missed the previous two games with a wrist injury, which forced second-year point guard Avery Bradley into the starting lineup.
The bigger issue in Boston’s favor is that the defense is finally coming together. Recently Rondo and veteran Paul Pierce complained that an inability to handle sophisticated defensive maneuvers was preventing the team from reaching it’s potential—an idea that coach Doc Rivers agreed with this week.
“I think they’re right,’’ Rivers told the media, including the Boston Globe’s Frank Dell’Apa. “It’s something we’ve talked about all year but it’s difficult when you don’t have practice times, you don’t have the right guys on the practice floor.
“They have to trust each other more, this year more than ever, defensively and offensively,” Rivers continued. “You can’t, defensively, go double or go switch on a play where we haven’t worked on it. Usually, with a lot of practice, you can get away with it because someone will cover up for you. Execution is very important and probably more so this year than any year I’ve ever coached.”
A quick look at Boston’s roster gives a sense of some of the dramatic changes the team has undergone since falling to the Lakers in Game 7 of the 2009-2010 NBA Finals. Instead of Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House and the defensive presence of former assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, the Celtics are trying to get by with the oft-injured grouping of big men that includes Chris Wilcox, Brandon Bass and Jermaine O’Neal.
And unlike years past, Rondo hasn’t been able to rely on everyone being exactly where they should.
“Rondo learned the hard way,’’ Rivers said. “He would come down and, instead of running our secondary break, he’ll come down and call a play from last year that four know and one guy doesn’t. And they screw the play up and then everyone is mad and you just can’t do that this year.
“That’s hard for him, that’s hard for the other one,” Rivers continued. “I mean, really hard for Kevin (Garnett), Paul, and Ray (Allen)—they think you should know it.”
The statistics back up Rivers’ sentiments. The Celtics rank 23rd in the league in offensive efficiency (98.1 points per 100 possessions) and even though they’re seventh in true shooting percentage (which weighs 3-pointers and includes free throws), the team’s 27.0 turnover rate (percentage of offensive possessions that end with a turnover) is so bad (28th in the NBA), that Boston can’t take advantage of its shooting prowess. The bottom line is, when the Celtics get good looks on offense, they’re making their shots. That’s just not the case enough of the time to make a significant difference.
Despite the communication issues on defense, Boston is still tied for third in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions). Boston’s rebounding rate (percentage of misses shots a team rebounds) is just 48%, but that’s been pretty typical of the Celtics’ last few seasons, even before Perkins was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If the Celtics are to have any chance of winning the season series with the Cavaliers, the first step is to stop Irving, who has made 17 of 30 field goal attempts and added 12 assists while committing just five turnovers in his first two games against Boston.
“[Irving] has carried the entire franchise on his back, in some ways,’’ Rivers said. “He’s proven his pick was a pretty good pick.
“He’s tough, he’s a heck of a player,” Rivers continued. “He controls the tempo of their team, makes big shots. You’ve got to try and keep him out of the paint but it’s difficult because he’s such a great shooter. It’s rare you see a point guard who shoots like he’s shooting, 40 percent above the three. And he’s a rookie – that’s unheard of.’’
But Irving isn’t the real surprise of the Cavaliers this season. That honor belongs to the frontcourt, which has made Cleveland the seventh-best team in the NBA in terms of rebounding rate. Besides Anders Varejao’s 11.5 RPG, the Cavs still have guys like Antawn Jamison, Tristan Thompson and Alonzo Gee who average over four boards per game. Plus, point guards Irving and Ramon Sessions are each averaging around 3.5 RPG and even sharpshooter Daniel Gibson is pulling down close to 3.0 RPG.
The point is, the Cavaliers are a team that’s getting a little bit of production from a lot of different places. If the Celtics can get healthy and successfully incorporate their bench (Bass, Keyon Dooling, Mickael Pietrus, JaJuan Johnson etc.) they could duplicate that team-wide success. If they don’t, the Celtics may be looking at the lottery for the first time since Garnett and Allen joined the team. But if they do pull it together, Boston is going to be a first-round headache for the Miami HEAT or Chicago Bulls.
Is Brandon Roy Done or Not?
David Pick of USBasket might have the juiciest tidbit of the day.
Not only is former Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Brandon Roy considering a return to the NBA, but his decision to retire wasn’t completely related to his injured knees.
“It’s hard being away from the game,” Roy told EuroBasket. “Don’t be surprised if you see Brandon Roy make his way back to the court.”
But the big news came from USBasket.com, which was told by sources “close to the player” that Roy retired for something more than just his knee injuries.
“There’s something to it, but it’s not the right time for me to get into it right now,” Roy said. “I’ve been doing some treatment and I’m trying to leave the window open to returning to basketball.”
Roy actually watched the NBA All-Star Game from fellow-Seattle native and would-be Blazers teammate Jamal Crawford’s house and confessed that it brought back a lot of emotions for him.
Roy, as you probably know, retired prior to the season, citing his ongoing knee issues. The 27-year-old did not specify what kind of treatment he was undergoing, but it likely has to do with his knee.
Check Out: Clippers-Timberwolves
The Clippers-Timberwolves matchup from Los Angeles might involve the two most-entertaining teams of the NBA season. What else is there to say besides: “Ricky Rubio, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love?”
Tip-off is at 10:30 EST, 7:30 PCT and portions of the game can likely be seen on NBATV.
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