Tag Archives: Boston Celtics

Hi! How Was Your Summer? Boston Celtics

Photo: Helen Thorn/Flickr

2012-’13 Record: 41-40

New Faces: Brad Stevens (Head coach); Keith Bogans, Marshon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Donte Green and Gerald Wallace

New Places: Doc Rivers (Head coach, Clippers); Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White (Brooklyn); Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams, and Kris Joseph (Waived); Fab Melo

Draft: Kelly Olynyk (via Dallas)

Whether or not Danny Ainge will admit it, this summer marks the end of an era for the Celtics. It’s hard to sell a rebuild to any fanbase, especially be the Celtics’, but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and looks like a duck…it probably is a duck.  So, I understand why Ainge or anyone in Boston is trying to avoid publicly calling it one. But it’s pretty obvious, and you can’t fault them for looking to the future at this point.

Gone are championship team fixtures Pierce and Garnett, and Terry as well. In come Humphries (The face of  the 2013-’14 Celtics for half a season?), Brooks, Bogans, and Wallace’s bloated contract. More evidence of a rebuild: Boston received up to four 1st round picks in the Pierce/Garnett deal from Brooklyn in 2014, 2016 and 2018, with the option to swap picks in 2017.

The Celtics also made a great move toward the future in acquiring Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk on draft. Terrific in the half-court, Olynyk works well in the pick ‘n roll, which should make Rajon Rondo happy when he returns. He also shot 70 percent at the rim during his senior season in college which, if that ability translates, should make everyone happy. Paired with Humphries’ ability to rebound (when healthy), the Celtics could potentially have a nice frontcourt pairing by season’s end.

Boston’s offseason has set them up well for the future. Aside from the picks, they will have some cap flexibility down the road. Humphries’ contract comes off of the books after this season; the last two years of Bogans’ deal are unguaranteed, saving them up to $10 million after this season; and with the expiring contract of Brandon Bass and Brooks’ team option after 2015, the Celtics could have an extra $7 million for Rajon Rondo as he will be simultaneously due for a new extension then as well.

It may not be a fun prospect to face being just five years removed from raising a championship banner, but the Celtics will likely be able to return to contention sooner than if they chose not rebuild and decided to make another run for the sixth seed instead. They’ll have Rondo, Avery Bradley, and some other decent pieces, but they will be terrible. Yet, if you’re going to be terrible you may as well do it just in time for the revered 2014 draft. Sometimes rebuilding isn’t so bad.

The Sound of One Hand Tanking

The fundamental point-counterpoint of the debate about tanking in the NBA goes something like this. Point: It is offensive to the spirit of competition and sportsmanship that teams would do anything less than do everything they can to win all the time. Counterpoint: The system is set up to reward tanking and therefore it’s only logical that teams will do what they can within the system they have to help them win. There are subpoints and follow-ups, of course. You can say the system should be changed, or you can argue that trying to win all the time simply breeds mediocrity, particularly for small market teams.

But at the heart of this debate—which has recently been stoked by the Boston Celtics’ decision to send cornerstone players Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn for draft picks and expiring contracts, plus their rumored desire to move Rajon Rondo as well—is a question that is largely moral versus practical. We value quality play and winning, and therefore we disdain tanking, unless we decide that practical considerations override moral ones. You rarely hear anyone make a moral defense of tanking, but that’s what I’m going to do.

To do so, we’re going to look to the East, and I don’t mean the Eastern Conference. We’re going to shift the paradigm and look at tanking through the prism of Buddhism and its views on suffering, impermanence and attachment.

At the core of Buddhist thought are the Four Noble Truths, which are (1) the truth of suffering, or dukkha in Pali; (2) the truth of the origin of suffering; (3) the truth of the end of suffering; (4) the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. Now, this might immediately ring true to fans of teams that have engaged in tanking, particularly with regards to the first two and maybe less to the last two. But hold up. Suffering in Buddhist thought arises from the endless cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth of every living thing—or saṃsāra—and our inability to see that cycle for what it is. Instead of understanding everything as temporary, as the dust of the world, we try to cling to things, to make them permanent.

Across the many schools of Buddhism—from Zen to Pure Land to Tibetan—there are many different ways to deal with this, but what they’re all fundamentally about is release from this cycle. This is where it gets a little tricky, though, because at first glance it might seem like this means eliminating bad things and focusing on good things, but that’s a more traditionally Western way of thinking about the perfection of the soul.

In Buddhism, you’re not trying to change the way the world works. You’re working towards an acceptance of the fact that change is the way the world works. Pain is impermanent, but so is happiness. Attachment to our desires—for success, for championships—is what causes suffering.

So if tanking means recognizing that attachment to certain star players or to out-of-reach ideas about championships is going to cause suffering, Buddhism would say let go. To be clear, I don’t think Buddhism endorses not giving it your all in any given game—not with its emphasis on mindfulness, on being completely present inside of whatever task you have before you. But that only means that it’s the ultimate process-oriented philosophy or way of life. If a team is working towards winning championships as the Celtics were for years, they should be mindful of that process and focused on it completely. But as soon as they’re not, it’s best to become completely focused on the next task, to not hold on to the things of the world. In this way, Danny Ainge has attained bodhisattva status; freed from the cycle of life and death, he can now engage in the work of the world without attachment.

If it’s not clear already, this is way harder than it looks. Sports are, especially in the offseason, all about trying to see the future by looking deeply into the past. The offseason is about the least Buddhist place you can be, especially for fans. There is no task to set before yourself, no clear present in which to live. This makes it an ideal time to focus on your meditative practice. Find a quiet place to work on following your breath in and out of your body. It may help to recite the following poem.

Breathing in, I see myself as cap space
Breathing out, I feel like a free agent

Kevin Garnett, the Clippers Trade and Some Inevitable Self-Reflection

Sometimes I write about things other than basketball.  It’s fiction; mostly short stories.  That’s a relative secret I keep close to the vest, only mentioning my creative dreams to family and close friends.

It’s extremely hard for me.  Five hundred words of fiction amounts to four times that much basketball material in terms hours and minutes, dissatisfaction and painstaking process.  And worse, I often doubt whether the stories are any good, but there’s no way to know for sure – I’m the only one allowed to read them.

There’s no reason for anyone to care about any of this but me.  The odds that I’m our next great story-teller are far, far longer than the odds I ever make a sustainable living out of writing at all, and the latter sometimes seem further from future reality than ever.  I’m not an author, I know it and that’s fine.  I’ll keep writing too familiar tales of male post-adolescence anyway.

But I won’t show it to anybody.  That’s a magnifying glass to the depths of me that I’m barely comfortable squinting through; there’s no chance in hell I give anyone else the opportunity to see what’s down there.

That’s embarrassingly dramatic but it’s the way I feel.  Writers are more arrogant and self-aggrandizing than even most assume.  It’s why I mostly avoid first-person in my blog posts.  I’m not now; is it obvious enough?

I’m no basketball sage.  I played highly competitive ball year-round until I was no longer good enough, then a few years of varsity in high school.  Not unlike many, many half-athletic kids that stopped growing at fourteen, probably.  I watched and thought the game more than most I knew, too, but that accounts for mostly nothing.

I’m pretty much just like anyone else that likes basketball, can form a coherent sentence or two and has a lot of time on his hands.  Just a blogger, basically.  If there is a difference between me and the rest of us, though, it’s this: I’m wholly and unapologetically objective with regard to analysis.  It’s a stupid point of pride for me, but it’s always there.

I grew up without a team to root for.  I prefer the style of some to others and generally cheer for what I consider ‘winning’ basketball from either side.  I have favorite players, but that’s more about method than anything else, too.  Essentially, I like the teams and players that emphasize process and play the way I would if I could: enthusiastically, selflessly and intelligently.  That’s it.

There’s one constant exception, and he’s the swinging pendulum between either side of this suddenly rambling internal – well, external now, I guess – conversation.

Kevin Garnett.

It’s not that I do and keep it to myself; I’ve literally never written about him.  It’s not by accident, either.

As KG and the hapless Celtics were on the brink of playoff elimination in April, I tried to change that.  His inspired, hardly surprising play and the increasingly cloudy skies of his NBA future deserved it.  If I don’t write about KG now, will I get another chance?

This is the progress I made before giving up:

We cling to innocence.

Age doesn’t change that, either. Our superficial selves shroud it from plain-view as we get older, eschewing outward sense of the unknown in favor of partially feigned knowledge and certainty. Adults are too socially aware to openly pontificate on subconscious thoughts of imagination, impracticality and sheer belief without reason. It’s a balancing act that plays out internally, how to weigh our perpetual childish enthusiasm against the way society dictates our actions and vice versa. And as dispiriting as it is to admit, the scale normally tips to the latter by our very choosing.

I’m projecting my own demoralizing reality, of course. There’s no information gleaned from a survey or focus group that confirm these sentiments, so I should clarify they’re simple assertions. But it’s heartening to assume there are others out there like me, that this sudden crisis of NBA conscience is easily identifiable by those with similar ambitions and who believe similar means are necessary to achieve them.

And should I ever do so, I’ll know my chosen path of resistance was worth it. But that doesn’t make this time lost any easier to comprehend or come to terms with.

I don’t know, either.  If fiction is a highly intensified lens to my soul, then what does that make this?

The diction is histrionic and the syntax is contrived, but the emotion conveyed is all too real.  I knew it was a road to nowhere when after several hundred words I’d yet to mention anything relating to basketball or Garnett at all.  Hardwood Paroxysm, after all, is not an alternative to the diary I don’t have or even my stream of conflicted twenty-something consciousness.  It’s about the NBA.

So I dropped it, saved the excerpt among my cavalcade of dying ideas stored in Google Docs and left it to rot for six weeks.  It didn’t cross my mind again until this past weekend, when talks of a trade sending KG and Doc Rivers to the Clippers reached their fever pitch.

I don’t know if the trade will happen.  On a very thin surface, it seems Boston could do better than DeAndre Jordan, cap flexibility and a couple late first-round picks for sacrificing the franchise as we’ve known it since 2007.  But there’s no foolproof way to rebuild a broken roster, and perhaps the notoriously cutthroat Danny Ainge wants his guys – including Paul Pierce, assuming an eventual buyout should the deal be completed – to ride off into the basketball sunset together.

But for once, this isn’t a time for me to analyze.  It just feels like a time to be thankful that I’ll have another opportunity to appreciate my favorite player’s relevance on a broad NBA scale before he hangs them up.

I want to be KG’s fan; I’ve missed out on that aspect of his twilight in lieu of unbiased and timely assessment over the last couple years, once I realized I might take basketball writing seriously.  Nobody likes a homer, I thought.  And it’s always hardest to write the things you really, really care about – if irrationally; he’s a goddamn athlete – and identify with, anyway.

So I want KG in a Clippers uniform, I want Doc roaming the sidelines, and I want Pierce, Paul and Griffin to be there, too.  If this postseason’s taught us anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as a surefire championship contender.  A team’s fortunes can change in the blink of an eye; injuries suck.  But this hypothetical Clippers group has the on-paper makings of a team capable of playing into June.

And when I really think about it, that’s all I want most: more time.  More time to make up for that which I lost.  More time to appreciate his seemingly subtle superstar influence.  More time to laugh at his post-game interviews.  More time to think he’s better than he actually is.  More time to be KG’s fan.

I may not write about him, and even if I do it surely won’t be published.  It would take too long because I care too much, and most importantly, it might not be too good, either.  But I want a chance to do so on the level KG deserves regardless, talking culture-change, playoff-seeding and championship aspirations; not his farewell tour on the suddenly sorry Celtics, or worse, a career retrospective before I knew it was over.

Get the deal done, guys.  Please.

Follow Jack Winter on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hold Them or Fold Them: The Van Halen/Guns n’ Roses Franchise Player Decision Matrix

Amidst the thunder of the playoffs (which, incidentally, sorry, Oklahoma City), there’s another storm brewing for several teams. As far as weather events go, it’s the kind of thing that rain-starved teams like Charlotte, New Orleans or Detroit would kill for, and it goes something like this: How long do you hold on to your franchise player?

I know, right? Fans of small market teams would KILL to have this problem, but it’s a very real one for teams like the Celtics and the Lakers. How do you wind down one era while spooling up for another? Rumblings have been issuing from Boston this week that Paul Pierce expects to either be traded or released, and the resolution of that situation will definitely have a bearing on what happens with Kevin Garnett. The team that was assembled to win a championship and did in 2008 seemed, at the time, to have a short shelf life, but has instead lasted far longer than anyone anticipated.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant and the $30.4 million of cap space room he takes up looms large over the Lakers. While fans and the media sometimes toss around amnesty as an option for Kobe, it doesn’t seem likely when Bryant has been the face of the franchise for over a decade.

But as it is with Pierce, many of the things that argue against moves like trade or amnesty are not strictly basketball decisions, but instead reside in the squishier, more sentimental side of the game. They involve questions of legacy, loyalty, the core cultural values of a team. Neither Pierce nor Bryant has ever played for another team. Pierce was the guy who got stabbed ELEVEN TIMES just a little over a month before the 2001 season and yet went on to be the only Celtic to start all 82 games that year. And as far as Bryant goes, it’s safe to say that are a lot of Laker “fans” out there who can’t name another player on the team.

There are plenty of examples to draw on from the NBA of teams that either quit on their stars too early or hung on to them too long. But that’s not very much fun. As I see it, teams like the Lakers and Celtics essentially have two models to draw on: the Van Halen model or the Guns n’ Roses model.

The Van Halen model says that it’s fine to get rid of the face of the franchise. When Van Halen fired David Lee Roth following the massive success of their album 1984, they’d already been a band for over a decade. Nobody was getting along, everyone was doing a lot of drugs, and Eddie Van Halen wanted to push their music in more complex directions while Roth was content to drop solo tracks like his covers of “California Girls” and “Just A Gigolo” and play the cad. The Van Halen dynasty as represented by their early success had—at least according to Eddie Van Halen—run its course, and rather than soldier through a rocky decline they opted to rebuild with Sammy Hagar.

And it sucked, right? Everyone knows that the original Van Halen is the GOOD Van Halen. Except people didn’t really react that way at the time. Yes, Van Halen with Sammy Hagar was not as much fun, but their next four albums (5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance) all went to #1 on Billboard—despite having some incredibly dreadful names. That song “Right Now” was EVERYWHERE from Crystal Pepsi to sporting events (where it still haunts the PA). It has to be the most uplifting song to ever come from an album with an expanded-curse-word-as-acronym title.

Sadly, in spite of this success, it seem like few people look on Hagar’s days with the band as the halcyon ones. Music fans are no less attached to ideas of authenticity than are sports fans, and there will always be something about the idea of the ORIGINAL lineup of a band that strikes a chord with us.

And so maybe Kobe and Pierce aren’t—technically—part of the original lineups of their respective teams. But for a generation of fans, those players are part of the emotional origin of those teams for those fans. More than production, more than efficiency, more even than the possibility of future rings, this emotional attachment is why even if these players are soon gone the future looks dimmer for fans.

But it’s not all bread and roses on the other side of the coin. In fact, it’s Guns n’ Roses. After what amounts to back-to-back championship with Use Your Illusion I and II in 1991, Guns n’ Roses were on top of the world. Their gritty, greasy hard rock had evolved into something cinematic and sometimes orchestral while retaining their hard edge and lawless image. It was like nothing could possiblye go wrong.

But instead of going wrong, it just sort of went nowhere. Never the most stable of bands—having gone through a drummer and a rhythm guitarist on the way to the mid-’90s—their lineup grew increasingly hazy over the next decade as the flow of music dwindled to a covers album, a few singles, and then nothing.

In the dystopian future that Guns n’ Roses is now living in, the face of the franchise has well overstayed his welcome. In attempting to fulfill his own vision of a band of which so many young fans felt themselves to be co-owners (which also happens in sports), Axl Rose has employed a guy with a bucket on his head and a guitarist who took his nickname from a bacterial infection. (An especially awesome sidenote: In 2010 this guy released a 15th Anniversary Edition of an album he recorded in his “parents’ basement” with a 200 page book of guitar transcriptions. This guy is absolutely the Sasha Vujacic of G’n’R.)

What Rose and his “band” show is how holding onto something doesn’t keep it from changing, nor does it keep the memories fresh or vivid. It just lets you watch as that thing rots away to nothing. Yes, that’s cold and no, Kobe Bryant—for example—isn’t done for, not even with a devastating Achilles injury to return from. But someday he will be. Do you just hope that day comes conveniently between seasons? Do you hope he knows when that happens? Michael Jordan certainly didn’t. It would be terrific if these ultra-competitive athletes could somehow blow past their own limitations right up until the exact moment when their bodies tell them enough is enough, but that’s sadly not usually how it happens.

It’s one thing for teams facing the prospect of building more or less from scratch, or even recovering from modest success. But it’s another thing entirely to shepherd a franchise from the heights of one or more championships and a roster with an all-time great player to whatever comes next.

The evolution of advanced stats may help teams develop better ways to understand player development and decline, but they can’t tell us anything about how to make this transition when it comes to the cultural, emotional and historical part of the game. How these teams handle these changes sends a message to their fanbase, other teams and the league’s players about who they are as organizations. To cop a line from The Terminator, the Lakers and Celtics are looking into the distance at dark clouds while a young Mexican boy says something in Spanish. Mitch Kupchak leans over and asks the gas station attendant, “What did he just say?” And the attendant says, “He said there’s a storm coming in.”

Danny Ainge sighs.

“I know.”

A Return to Normalcy

Photo: Werner Kunz | Flickr

Ed. Note: Evans Clinchy is a Bostonian and active member of the hoops blogosphere. He’s been covering the Celtics for nearly four years, with his writing appearing on CelticsBlog, NESN, and SI (among other places). You can follow him, his thoughts, and his writing on Twitter. He wrote this piece before the start of the Knicks-Celtics series this past weekend.

After taking a good, solid 96 hours or so to process all the thoughts and emotions brought about by the disaster that unfolded Monday afternoon in Copley Square, I was struck by an odd realization: The rhetoric we use to cope when tragedy strikes isn’t so terribly far removed from the basic sportswriting tropes that columnists fall back on when a deadline looms minutes away and they’re struggling to find meaning.

Grit. Grind. Perseverance. Resilience.

Especially in Boston, we’re no stranger to these buzzwords. Every time Rob Gronkowski plays through a nasty injury or Dustin Pedroia gets a little dirty breaking up a double play, we hear them. Sports journalism is a constant quest to assign narrative value to random, fluky, unpredictable events, and when we can’t really make sense of something, there are always easy lexical crutches to lean on.

Boston is tough. Boston has a will to survive. Boston can’t be defeated.

When you hear this stuff in a sports context, it’s no big deal. A little hacky and clichéd, sure, but it’s just sports and none of this really matters, so we’re able to let it slide.

But when you start applying these words to events like Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, which ended three lives and injured 183? Then it becomes a little difficult to swallow.

Everyone has been throwing around verbiage about the heart and determination of Boston. We’ve heard it from our athletes, our celebrities, our random Twitter friends — hell, even our president. Barack Obama came to Boston on Thursday and gave a stirring speech, one that many are calling the finest oratorical moment of his presidency, in which he talked about how the marathon bombers “picked the wrong city” and that Boston has the resolve to “finish the race.”

It sounds great in a figurative sense, until you realize that thousands of runners quite literally did not finish the race on Monday afternoon, and that since we’re all humans here, every city is the “wrong city.” Obama’s speech was great, but it was only that — a speech. Words are ultimately meaningless. They don’t bring back Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi or Martin Richard; they don’t keep criminals off the streets; they don’t undo history. What happened Monday happened, and no one can change it.

Speaking of empty gestures (and getting to the point, since this is a basketball blog and you’ve already read 400ish words that have very little to do with basketball), there’s been a growing sentiment that as the Celtics begin the NBA playoffs this weekend, fans will support their cause in a display of solidarity with the people of Boston. It’s even been suggested — by a New York media outlet, no less! — that the Celtics are now “America’s team,” that the nation will rally behind the C’s from now until the moment they’re eliminated.

To that, I say: Thanks, America, but no thanks.

Rooting for our sports teams won’t make a difference. It won’t erase what happened Monday. It will simply add to the never-ending pity party, and that’s the last thing this city needs.

Especially during playoff time.

The other great cliché here, besides the one about grit and grind and all that, is that sports are supposed to be a distraction. We watch the games because they’re not real life — they help us get our minds off of everything that really matters, if only for a couple of hours. So once the ball goes up and the Celtics open the Eastern Conference playoffs this weekend, why would we want any sympathy? The sympathy is exactly what we’re trying to forget.

Basketball is not life. It has no terrorists or bombs or manhunts. It’s a diversion. It’s entertainment. And why does it entertain us so? Because we all love friendly rivalry. We watch the games for the trash talk, and the hard fouls, and the guys dunking in each other’s faces. Basketball is war, but it’s fake war. At the end of the day, we’re watching adults play a kid’s game, and it’s OK when things get heated, because that only adds to the fun. No one has their limbs blown off on the Garden parquet.

What’s perfect about the Celtics’ playoff run is that it begins against the Knicks. Boston and New York have both been through tragedy, and thus they know some things are more important than basketball — but they’re also great rivals, so when they do happen to be engaged in a sporting event, it’s the best fake war you can ask for. The Sox and Yanks go back to the sale of the Bambino. Pats-Jets has been great since the start of the Rex Ryan era. Celtics-Knicks… well, there was that time Kevin Garnett said that thing about that breakfast cereal.

Jon Stewart this week referred to Boston and New York as a “sibling rivalry,” noting that “oftentimes the two cities are accusing each other of various levels of suckitude.” I can’t say it better myself, so I don’t know why I’m trying. But the point is this: The Knicks are a perfect opponent for this first-round series. New York will feel your pain, sympathize for your loss, then take the court and try to kick your ass. That’s exactly how it should be.

Here’s what should happen starting with Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. KG and Carmelo Anthony should take their trash talk to all-new, never-before-seen heights. The Knicks should foul Paul Pierce, hard, right in his sore left ankle, and the Celtics should respond with a healthy shove to the bulging disc in Tyson Chandler’s back. Jason Terry and J.R. Smith should trade monster 3-pointers all series long. These two teams should beat the living daylights out of each other for six games at the very least, preferably seven, and it should be fantastic theater from the opening tip to the final buzzer. We deserve that. It won’t make us forget that Monday ever happened, but it will certainly brighten our moods a little bit, if only for a couple of hours.

Doc Rivers responded to Monday’s disaster by telling reporters at practice, “You don’t stop the spirit of Boston.”  In a general sense, I’m not sure what that means. But in the sporting world, it’s clear — Boston plays hard, Boston fights dirty, and Boston loves to be hated. Even now.

The Celtics don’t need an entire country to unify behind them. Their own fans will band together, that’s for sure — but as for everyone else, screw ‘em. Let ‘em boo. In fact, I hope they boo louder than ever.

Lion Face Lemon Face 4/23/2013: Shooters Gon’ Shoot

Welcome to Lion Face Lemon Face, where we recap last night’s NBA action Ben and Matty style. In case you didn’t already know, Lion Face equals good and Lemon Face equals bad. At least that’s how I think this whole thing works.

Lion Face: Dwyane Wade’s monster put-back dunk

Wade may be 31 years old, a reluctant defender in transition for stretches during the playoffs and spending the majority of his time raising his eyebrows at Brandon Jennings but give the man his due: He hasn’t lost it yet, whatever “it” is.

Lemon Face: Norris Cole’s missed dunk

Norris Cole, on the other hand, is 24 years old. Here’s a general rule of thumb: if your name isn’t Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade or Blake Griffin and your running the floor beside LeBron James, the only thing that should be on your mind is “how do I get this flying death machine freight train superhuman machine basketball player the ball?”

Lion Face: Presented without comment, a real Lion Face.

lebronprimal

Lemon Face: Brandon Jennings

There’s nothing wrong with making sweeping declarations. In fact, I encourage them. They give me funny things to tweet about. The problem here is that Jennings is all shot and no substance. Here’s his shooting chart from last night:

jennings shooting

A whole lot of red and nothing in-between. Daryl Morey is only mildly impressed. Lucky for Jennings, the Bucks can technically still win this series in six games. That is, if LeBron James spontaneously combusts and Dwyane Wade is too emotionally shattered to continue playing. Even then, Chris Bosh and a healthy mix of shooters could get the Heat over the proverbial hump.

Lion Face: JR Smith

Your 6th Man of the Year, folks…

jrbomb

Lemon Face: The Celtics’ offense

I’m not really sure what happened here. All I know is that Knicks-Celtics felt a lot more like a first round series in the Eastern Conference than I thought it would. Here’s the Celtics’ shot chart from the second half:

celtics shot chart

That shouldn’t be allowed in the NBA. This looks like if a fifth grade version of me went on Microsoft Paint and decided that red was my favourite colour and that all basketball courts should be red because I said so! What’s worse is that the Celtics went the final nine minutes of the game without getting a single basket. Part of the issue was that the C’s just couldn’t capitalize on their open shots — especially the open threes Paul Pierce produced from the post — but I have to give kudos to the Knicks’ defense. They were absolutely suffocating. “Signing Kenyon Martin in the middle of the season sure made a difference for the Knicks” is close to number one on my list of things I never thought I’d say in 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 2.13.04 AM

 

Lion Face: The Knicks’ third quarter

This is the only scoreboard you need from the third quarter: Carmelo Anthony – 13, Boston Celtics – 11. I guess it’s an improvement from Boston’s fourth quarter performance in Game 1 when they were held to just eight points. One thing’s certain: it won’t matter that the Celtics are in the TD Garden for the next two games if they continue to score less than 13 points for multiple quarters.

Lion Face: America’s team. I think. Probably not.

Last night, the Golden State Warriors became the first team to score over 130 points in a playoff game since the Celtics eviscerated the Lakers in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals. Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson combined for 101 points on 63 shots. In completely unrelated news, Golden State’s small ball is awesome. Here’s the Warriors’ shot chart:

warriors shot chart

Notice the way that this one contrasts with Boston’s shot chart from the second half? Yeah, that’s an inherently good thing. Oh, and here’s an incoming super overreaction: The Warriors are kind of perfectly set up to be this year’s “they just went on a crazy shooting run and knocked off a few teams that they really shouldn’t have knocked off” team.

Lion Face: Harrison Barnes’ Reverse Slam, proceeding celebration

BarnesReverseWarriorsBench

Lemon Face: Denver’s defense

Here’s the thing about the Warrior’s small line up, which might end up being the ultimate “diamond in the rough” non-acquisition this Spring: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack are all capable and willing shooters. Per NBA.com, the trio shot 43.5 percent from 16-24 feet over the course of the regular season, miles ahead of the league average. The Nuggets, on the other hand, aren’t employed with big men that are adept at closing out on shooters off the pick and roll. As a result, they allow the league’s second worst opponent field goal percentage from that range. Unless George Karl is an even better coach than I think he is (likely), Denver’s going to be in a bit of a pickle.

All statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com

15-Footer 4/23/13: HAIKUS FOR TUES(day)

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat. 7:30 PM ET NBA TV. Miami leads, 1-0

LARRY SANDERS! Did

Not get Most Improved Player

No thumbs up for that

 

LeBron James will shoot

12 for 6. Not a typo.

eFG through roof.

 

Can the Bucks bounce back?

Unlikely. Heat are too good.

Will win this game easy.

 

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks. 8 PM TNT. Knicks lead, 1-0

Jeff Green played very well

In the first half of game one

Not in the second.

 

Oh, Jason Terry

Has not had a good season

Where did his shot go?

 

JR Smith, Sixth Man!

Shot well for the last three months

Clearly deserving

 

New York will win this

With veteran leadership

And Jared will cry

 

Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets. 10;30 PM TNT. Nuggets lead, 1-0

Moment of silence

For David Lee and his leg

Terrible to see

 

How will Warriors

Make up for his production?

Andris Biedrins, duh.

 

Curry and Thompson

Will have to score more, shoot more

Barnes must score as well

 

Will Andre Miller

Have another old man game

Or will he take a nap?

 

Denver’s adjustments

Won the game. But it was close.

Seven games, pretty please?

 

Never Down And Never Out

It’s the summer of 2011 and the Boston Celtics are at IKEA. Marquis Daniels is futzing with the coffee maker. Greg Stiemsma just set a hard screen on the Parisian floor lamp. Paul Pierce isn’t shaving over by the mirror. Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers look at their spare parts assemblage. “Here,” Ainge says. “I just bought these guys for next year. Put it together, okay? Make sure it doesn’t collapse on Red’s legacy.” These Boston Celtics somehow snuck into the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and nearly the NBA Finals. But this is the franchise’s mythic ethos – it’s not just the ratty championship banners. That, no matter how scattered and disjointed things appeared to be for them, you know they could win. It’s the looming threat of your pending victimization.

These 2012-2013 Boston Celtics are either fiercely loyal or brutally overmatched. Either way they’re lurking, and it’s making everyone uncomfortable. No one wants to face Boston. Even as the No. 7 seed, even without Rajon Rondo, even without Ray Allen. Even though they’ve been scotch-taped and paper-clipped and patched up to hide rusting edges. Every player to leave the team means another layer of crazy glue. Because more than that one championship in 2008 and a bunch of near misses in the ensuing seasons, the Big Three era Boston Celtics are a mentality that any team can be out-basketballed with just the right parts coaching and will and scheme and chest-puffing. It isn’t so much that you can’t count them out so much as you can always count them in. Striking range has no boundary.

As the playoffs roll in, it will be impossible to accommodate any kind of Celtics basketball discussion without at least mentioning Monday’s horrifying events and somewhat veering into a dialogue of sports’ place in the grander scheme of things. They’re somewhere – this, we know, and probably agree upon. But it ends there. There are jersey-wearing people yelling in bars and tattoos and dolts and indifference and other and varying levels of hysteria. Sports mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it’s always and definitely impossible to cramp these perspectives under a single banner. But if only to serve as a reprieve from the Marathon explosions, the Boston Celtics can and probably should be a symbol for falling into something bigger and happier. Not that the Larry O’Brien trophy is either doctor or therapist; Paul Pierce squirming towards the paint in slow motion won’t erase the devastation. But there’s something to be said for re-gathering and momentarily walking into distraction.

It’s impossible and unfair for me to speculate on the recovery mechanisms for Bostonians; I’m a New Yorker and only absorbed the horror through news-breaking tweets and solemn television broadcasters and graphic photos on the internet. But I’ll dare to say that most of us will heal, and probably quicker than we’d like to think. When the Celtics play the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, moments of silence won’t stop Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony from beefing and spewing pointed and not safe for work words. Someone’s going to foul someone else a bit too hard. Gesturing won’t be sympathetic. And this is a good thing. Any tempered or cautious tip-toeing around the basketball will only cheapen however you might choose to purpose it. Playoff basketball is only playoff basketball if it’s playoff basketball.

Still, when it comes to the Celtics, we’re left with scattered basketball pieces grafted onto two minutes-limited veterans. The Boston Celtics, as a whole, are not that good at basketball, or at least as good as they once were. And so despite their impending status as an escapist or redemptive beacon, this team is exactly that already. A first round series victory over New York will be nothing short of miraculous. A spot in the conference finals will pretty much send the entire internet into a riotous frenzy of told-you-so’s and crying LeBron James GIFs. Someone might as well light a match to Twitter should they win the NBA title. Yet no matter how longshot the Celtics appear to be, they’re never that. They’re a shot. A maybe. They’re the but (though, this season, sometimes butt) of every playoff conversation.

Statistical Anomaly: Cavaliers @ Celtics

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian the Celtics containing Kyrie Irving but still losing a home game to the Cavaliers.

Jeff Green has stepped into the primary scorer some nights for the Celtics, but I am more impressed with 26 year olds ability to fill it up in an efficient manner. He scored a team high 23 points against Cleveland, the sixth time he has tallied at least that many points. The power forward is shooting 66.3% from the field in those games while averaging nearly three made triples. In fact, this was the first such game in which Green failed to make multiple three pointers. Sure, the Celtics are have only earned a split in those six games, but if you consider that the majority of those have been played without Boston’s big names, it is evident that Green  is the scoring option of the future for the C’s.

If you bought a ticket for this game a while back, you were expecting to see the big three of Boston and arguably the games most promising point guard (if not player at any position) in Kyrie Irving. Instead, Boston’s Three Party all watched and Irving far short of 100%, paving the way for less heralded scoring options. Consider this nugget: the eight players who scored 10+ points in this game have totaled 36.9% fewer career points than Paul Pierce has alone (entering this game).

 pp bar

 

Or, if you prefer a circular view

pp pie

Fans may not have seen the names they know for Boston or the game they’ve come to know from Irving (4/20 from the field), but they caught glimpse of the future. The Cavaliers get 49 points per night from players 22 years of age or younger, giving them as high an offensive ceiling as anyone.

Jordan Crawford left Washington with a score first, second, and third reputation, with very few people considering him a nice all around player. But since joining Boston in late February, he has focused more on team points than personal points. For the fifth time in seven games, Crawford recorded at least as many assists as FGM. Not to shabby for a player who averages 60% more FGM than assists for his career. While scoring points is his calling card, the ability to distribute is an encouraging sign for his future value to Boston (or any NBA team for that matter) in the future.

The Cavaliers broke an eight game losing streak that lasted over two months in games against teams that have clinched a playoff berth when Tristan Thompson attempts at least 10 shots. That being said, increasing Thompson’s role in the offense (attempted 10+ shots in 21.7% of games last season and is doing so in  48% of games this year) figures to pay dividends sooner rather than later. His scoring has increased by 25.6% while shooting nearly 5% better from the field. His numbers have spiked without a healthy Anderson Varejao, but the skill set is there, and shouldn’t disappear when playing alongside the rebounding machine. If Cleveland can ever get all of its pieces on the court at the same time, this is a scary team that is only going to get better with time.

Kevin Jones struggled from the field but was very active on the glass, earning his 22 minutes by grabbing eight rebounds (three offensive). Jones has appeared in 25 games this season, but has tallied 37% of his rebounds in just two of those contests and 50% of them have come on a Friday. At 6’8” and 260 pounds, Jones is another young force around the rim that can serve as a stop gap when the starters are out of the game. Jones’ rebounding and positive impact was felt by the 14 point advantage held by the Cavaliers in the paint, a game changing stat given the fact that Cleveland won the game by six points. His body type gives him the potential to turn into a specialist, as he can  matchup physically with some of the elite scorers in the league.

Statistical Anomaly: Celtics @ Cavaliers

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Celtics last second win over the Cavaliers.

Since Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL, Paul Pierce has assumed the distributing role while continuing to be a viable scoring option. He recorded eight dimes and seven made baskets against Cleveland, increasing his percentage of games with at least as many AST as FGM to 59.3% since the Rondo injury. While he has made a strong effort to get his teammates involved, he has still managed to average over 15 points in those games. His ability to score opens up driving lanes for Jeff Green and mid range jump shots for Brandon Bass, two players who have emerged since Boston lost their floor general. In fact, they have scored at least 99 points in a winning effort more time (12) in less games (33) played without Rondo than they did with him (11 in 38). The Celtics are much more talented with Rondo in the lineup, but the playmaking ability combined with the scoring capabilities of Pierce has made them a more efficient team since January 25th.

Brandon Bass missed only his second free throw of the month and his first misfire in 12 games (335 minutes played). Oddly enough, the Celtics are 6-2 since January 17th when Bass misses at least one free throw but have lost three games in the past eight days when he makes all of his attempts (minimum one attempt). With Kevin Garnett’s health issues, the emergence of Bass has come at the most opportune of times. In March, Bass has been remarkably efficient, averaging 1.37 points per FGA (Garnett is averaging 1.18 points per FGA this season). The Celtics are a team no one wants to play this year, but I contend that the end of the KG/Pierce era will not signify the end of the Celtics competitive teams. Rondo (27 years old) and Avery Bradley (22) can hold their own against any backcourt and Jordan Crawford (24) provides a strong scoring punch. In the front court, Jeff Green (26) and Bass (27) have versatile styles that are tough to matchup against. They aren’t an old basketball team, it is simply the household names that are aging. The names won’t be the same, but the win totals aren’t going to change much as the Celtics roster turns over.

Celtics

Each quarter in this game was decided by at least five points. The Celtics won the first and fourth quarter by a total of 13 points (they are outscored by an average of 0.2 points in those two quarters) while the Cavs won the second and third quart by a total of 12 points (they are outscored by an average of 2.2 points in those two quarters). The strong late game performance by Boston is a welcomed site, as they are currently set up for a date with the Knicks in the postseason (the NBA’s second best fourth quarter team in terms of point differential). The subtraction of Rondo helps a bit in this category as well, taking a FT liability out of the game in favor of a player like Jason Terry (86%), Courtney Lee (85%), or Jordan Crawford (79%).

For his career, Daniel Gibson averages 4.2 points per assist, but against the Celtics since December of 2010, Gibson has the exact same number of assists as points. Gibson’s career trajectory has been trending downward ever since LeBron James left town. His percentage of games started, three point percentage, free throw percentage, points, and assists have decreased every single season since The Decision. Don’t be surprised if Gibson, as a unrestricted free agent, isn’t a Cavalier next season, as they’ve got five guards that are his age or younger (Kyrie Irving, Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, CJ Miles, and Shaun Livingston) that they seem to like more.

Tristan Thompson, however, is a player that is in the future plans of Cleveland. The 22 year old undersized forward grabbed nine rebounds, his 19th straight game with at least seven rebounds. He has produced seven double doubles over that stretch. The numbers are nice, but the fact that three of his double doubles this month have come against strong teams in the paint (Pacers, Grizzlies, and Jazz) is encouraging. He isn’t the ideal size for a NBA PF (227 pounds), but he is good around the basket and has a nose for the basketball. His statistics are up across the board from his rookie campaign, a trend that should continue as the young Cavs continue to improve.