That was ugly. After starting strong in the first quarter and building a 16 point lead, the Celtics let the Magic back in the game and just didn’t have enough energy to hold them off in the 4th. Sheed’s airball as time expired was an absolutely fitting finish to that game (and the uncontested layup just before that was even worse). Just ugly.
For a game that was pretty sloppy and illustrated mostly weaknesses on both sides (yes, I’m linking Hollinger, give me a minute), there’s a ton to come away with from the game.
Hmmm…Magic, Celtics, Magic, Celtics…winner?
I donâ€™t know if I just get weepy when I see the usually strong Garnett get blown by on a drive to the basket- or if I just canâ€™t stand watching him hobble through a whole quarter of basketball and claim it had nothing to do with his knee. Whatever it is, Garnett and Allen are making me feel pretty low. I remember watching Larry Bird retire and not understanding why he would ever stop playing (okay I was six, leave me alone). The Celtics were a â€œyoung teamâ€ for so long that I havenâ€™t gotten used to the thought of any of my beloved players hanging it up. Most of my favorite Celtics over the last ten years have been role players that more of less stopped getting phone calls- Walter McCarty, Eric Williams- so their exodus was much easier to take/ gloss over.
Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are not done yet, but their days as elite players are numbered. Call it naivete, call it denial- call it blatant homerism if you want, but I didnâ€™t think this day would come this year. Unfortunately, I can see Garnett and Allen declining sharply this season and into next season.
Someone, anyone, leave me some words of encouragement.
The big debate today is whether this means that KG is old and “done” or just had a bad game, which is what he’s saying. It would be one thing if his fadeaway wasn’t falling (he had a bad shooting night but made a biggie down the stretch and drew a foul on Lewis on another fake-to-the-up-and-under). But the problems are painfully obviously physical. When you don’t finish an alley oop at his height, standing under the basket? DANGER, DOC RIVERS, DANGER.
I don’t think when I watch the replay that Garnett physically couldn’t get his body over to close off the baseline. He made that same adjustment five times in the third quarter that I noted and was his usual awesome self. From what it looked to me, the wear and tear of the game wore on his focus, and enabled the slightest slip in his reflexÂ to not be able to recover from the swing right.Â That’s something that he can overcome with a few days of rest in April and then go out and blow doors off hinges in the first round of the playoffs, provided they don’t get a tough opponent. Then again, we’ve said that the last two years and those series have both gone seven games. Garnett may be able to knock down doors int he first round, but will the rest of his team? It’s not so much a matter of winning the first round, because I think they’ll do that, it’s the wear and tear of it. What if they get the Bobcats? That’s at least six games of “Dear God, quit throwing yourselves at us” basketball. That team is relentless. And that wear and tear will lead into the second round, where, you know, they’re likely to meet a team that has beaten them.Â It’s not one flaw, one achilles, that will doom this team, it’s the collective attrition of the same thing they were built for, the playoffs.
The only problem is, even machinesâ€™ get old. Machines wear down and cease to function as they once did. This may be why Ray Allen canâ€™t (or wonâ€™t) admit what is really going on with his shot lately (save for last night). He might not be able to tell you. A carâ€™s check engine light doesnâ€™t tell you whatâ€™s wrong with it, it tells you to go see someone and find out. I donâ€™t know about you, but Iâ€™m dying to find out.
A broken clock is right twice a day- which means Ray Allen will have games like the one he had last night again- but until I see him perform the way he did last night on a consistent basis, I will not say he is back. I can not say heâ€™s back because he is not. 20 points on 8-12 is a great performance and exactly what the Câ€™s needed from Ray last night. The problem lies in the fact that 20 points on 8-12 shooting should be the normal production the Celtics see from Ray Allen. Those numbers should be expected.
Holy CRAP, what happened to Ray Allen? Seriously, can someone tell me what happened to Ray Allen? Yes, I realize he got old. I understand that. But I mean, we’re not talking “lost a step or two.” We’re talking “lost a step or two, and then fell off the cliff into a revene and then the train fell off the revene and landed on top of him and then a bird pooped on the remains.” His PER is sub 15, kids. He’s shooting 35% from the arc. Even as he gets older, he should still be draining threes off curl screens. Last year, I would have been terrified on that last possession the Celtics had. But then I saw Allen, and I realized I was only afraid of it because of what he was, not what he is. I’m no longer terrified of rooting for the other team when Ray Allen has the ball on a last possession. He may make it. But it’s no longer a guaranteed dagger into your throat and then throw you out the window deal.
3) Hollinger is spot on about Rasheed Wallaceâ€™s help defense. During the live chat of Bostonâ€™s first game of the season, David Thorpe pointed out how slowly Sheed was rotating to provide weak side help. He said it would be something to watch all season.
He was right. I watch it every game. There is no way to generalize about Sheedâ€™s help defense, except to say that it is inconsistent and that he is the worst help defender among Bostonâ€™s big guys. (Which really isnâ€™t saying muchâ€”this team rotates like mad).
In big spots, it has to be better.
I’d blame Sheed for last night’s loss, but not for the airball. Everyone’s talking about him not rotating.Â Including, yes, John Hollinger:
Of course, Lewis’ drive wouldn’t have succeeded except that no help defense came from behind Garnett, despite having had ample time to do so. The closest defender, Wallace, inexplicably stayed next to Dwight Howard at the opposite block rather than rotating down to the baseline to stop Lewis’ drive.
via Daily Dime – ESPN.
For me it wasn’t even the slow rotation. Celtic commenters have pointed out that if Sheed leaves Dwight, that’s an alley-oop Dwight Howard dunk. What does bug me is that Sheed still had a play on Lewis. Not on the ball. But on Lewis. Isn’t that a staple of good defense? No layups allowed? Not habitually, and not constantly. But in that situation, you can let Lewis go, or you can put him on his back and make sure he has to hit free throws to win the game. Is it likely he’ll miss? No. But it’s more likely than Rashard Lewis missing a layup.Â I’m not saying Sheed should have punched him in the neck, but the Celtics’ entire defensive strategy is built on three things: 1. Communication, 2. Dedication, and 3. Bullying. They failed on all three on that possession and it cost them a big game last night.
On to the Magic:
I took four pages of notes during last night’s Celtics loss to the Magic. Mostly it’s really boring stuff. But there’s one thing in all caps, and underlined: VINCE CARTER SUCKS.
I’m not talking about the man. I have met him, and found him to be amazingly nice. I have talked to his mom, his high school coach and all kinds of other people. Nothing wrong with that guy.
I’m talking about his play last night. He almost killed the Magic single-handedly. It’s hard to remember any player have a worse game.
via TrueHoop Blog – ESPN.
Now, I’ve always been against VC. I understand teammates love him. I hear he’s very nice. He does a ton of charity stuff. And if I covered him day in and day out, I’d probably get to like him and defend him. I don’t. And so I can tell you that he sucks worse than anyone else alive at the art of being alive. The sooner Vince Carter is gone from the public space to the private life (where I hope he lives very long and happily), the better this world will be. I can’t prove that Vince Cater is responsible for the recession but I can’t prove he’s innocent of it, either.
That said, I tried desperately to put that aside. This had the makeup of the “maligned scorer goes to a winner, puts in his best season and becomes a difference maker.”Â The Magic thought enough of him to dump Turkoglu and add him. And many a pundit screamed about Hedo’s aging body and limited skillset and applauded the Magic for adding a weapon like this. So I tried to buy in.
Vince Carter is THE problem with the Orlando Magic. Not kidding. He’s the root. He instills a shoot-first-pass-only-if-necessary approach that the Magic have caught like VD. His defensive effort is lacking, to the point that I actually started to notice last night that the Magic as a team worked harder at running off threes (like they did against Boston in the playoffs) when he wasn’t on the floor than when he was on. He still acts like every incident of contact is a devastating blow to his physical well-being (leading to the House three last night), leaving his teammates to walk the plank. And he has no concept (neither does SVG apparently) that this is Dwight Howard’s team. Yeah, his offensive repertoire might not be as diverse as VC’s. But you know what? He’s still a freak of nature, a leader of men, and a dominating basketball player. And Vince Carter is a washed up gunner who has failed three different franchises.
Howard was superb down the stretch, showing leadership and poise, and taking the Celtics’ much balleyhooed “Perkins canah totahly shot dawn DHo wan on wan!” and smashing it into a million pieces. If the Magic get Howard the ball, good things happen. The Celtics have neither the size nor speed, nor recognition to handle him. And that reality was a cold splash of water last night.
Jameer Nelson’s step back can be covered. They have Anthony Johnson who never gets playing time yet always plays well when called upon. Heck, they have Redick, who ran that offense better last night than Jason Williams did. This team’s greatest success has come on the back of nontraditional ballhandlers. Last year it was Turkoglu. So why is this team burying Pietrus, occasionally Redick, and keeping the ball away from Lewis in order to watch VC use the same tired tricks he’s been using for two seasons unsuccessfully?
Hedo Turkoglu is having a terrible season. It’s true. And many of the reservations people have about him are completely accurate. But his ability to work with this team was a large part they went to the Finals. SVG needs to wake up and realize that he has one of the most loaded teams in the league, but he’s got to be willing to use them in ways which do not fit his model. Adapt or perish.
Orlando’s defense looked good tonight, too. Poor rotations and pick-and-roll defense helped the Celtics reverse the ball to an open three-point shooter in the first half, but for much of the second, that pick-and-roll defense tightened up. And the “roll”? Boston could forget about it. As Tom Haberstroh of Hoopdata.com pointed out on Twitter, the Celtics missed 12 of their 20 shots at the rim tonight, bumping their season total to 30 misses in 50 rim attempts versus the Magic. Nothing easy inside for the Celtics, due in large part to Howard and Gortat, who combined to tally 7 blocked shots.
For the rest of the season, I doubt we see Howard and Gortat play together very often, or Lewis at small forward. But those rotational tweaks worked tonight, a credit to Van Gundy and the players. For me, though, the biggest wrinkle tonight was Howard’s ability to finish difficult shots against the stout Perkins. If the Magic can begin counting on Howard to create for himself down low, against elite defenders like Perkins, then they’ll be in excellent shape for the next decade. Nevermind the rest of the season. With apologies to Lewis, Howard gets the game-ball tonight, with Gortat also earning kudos for playing Garnett, a future Hall-of-Famer, to a virtual draw.
The Magic are capable of being so good, if they get beyond their idea of what would make them great, and focus on what’s actually happening. Performance, not ideal. Function, not concept.