The Fast Break: Celtics Capitalizing with Experience
Posted Apr 28 2011 12:26PM
"The Fast Break" is a weekly NBA notebook column that features interviews, insight, international news and more. New every Thursday on NBA.com/fastbreak.
New York, N.Y. – Paul Pierce stood inside the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden surrounded by 20 or so members of the media last Friday. Minutes before he posted a season-high 38 points in the Boston Celtics’ Game 3 win over the New York Knicks. Pierce talked about the performance from a team and personal perspective, then began looking towards the future.
“We get the job done Sunday,” Pierce said. “it gives an old veteran team like us some rest going into the second round which is always great.”
Boston did emerge victorious Sunday, pulling out their broom and sweeping the Knicks straight out of the playoffs. They were the only team to end their series in perfect fashion. This could prove valuable to last year’s Eastern Conference champions, who are set to take on a much younger Miami Heat squad.
One of those old veterans Pierce is referring to is center Shaquille O’Neal, who missed all of Boston’s first-round series with a calf injury. The Celtics would love a big body like O’Neal in the paint against a drive-heavy team like the Heat, but they have to be careful. O’Neal’s April 3 return after a two-month absence lasted just five minutes. He hasn’t taken the floor since.
“He’s doing everything he can,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s doing whatever is required to get on the floor; he’s doing that and probably more than that.”
Rivers’ concern in the middle is primarily defense. If O’Neal can’t go, Jermaine O’Neal, who performed well against the Knicks, will once again be called upon. Since the Heat don’t have a top-tier center either, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas starting in South Beach, this could be a push position in the series.
What the Celtics do have going for them is offense. Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Pierce all averaged more than 15 points in round one. Rondo was the main facilitator with about 12 assists in each game. The familiarity of playing together for four years could be the big factor in getting them to their third Finals since 2008, when they won the title.
“The only edge we have is that our guys have been together,” Rivers said. “It’s easier for them to trust. Teams that have been together, the balls finds the right place. Teams that haven’t you just don’t trust as much. I don’t think there’s anything deeper than that.”
Despite Miami having a better regular season record than Boston, the Celtics finished 3-1 against them. That doesn’t mean the Celtics will cruise past LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“I always tell my guys, ‘winning is hard.’ It is,” Rivers said. “Winning a game is hard in the regular season, winning games in the playoffs is just hard. That’s the way it is and the way it should be.”
Reports out of Milwaukee says the Bucks will pick up Carlos Delfino's (Argentina) option. The guard-forward averaged 11.5 points and 4.1 assists in 49 games...Teammate Andrew Bogut (Australia) told reporters he's feeling good after having surgery to remove bone fragments from his arm earlier this month...Nene (Brazil) had 10 points and nine rebounds and Danilo Gallinari (Italy) 18 and six in the Denver Nuggets' 104-101 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. The Nuggets needed the win as they were down 3-0 in the series...San Antonio Spurs rookie center Tiago Splitter (Brazil) made his postseason debut on Monday. The 25-year-old dropped 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds in nearly 22 minutes...OKC center Serge Ibaka (Congo) is having quite the playoffs thus far. The second-year star is averaging a double-double (10.2 ppg, 11 rpg, 4.8 bpg) in the team's five games...San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (France) had 19 first-half points in Monday's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Parker finished the game with 23 points...Atlanta Hawks forward-center Zaza Pachulia (Georgia) was suspended for Game 4 against the Orlando Magic after tussling with Jason Richardson...Chicago Bulls center Luol Deng (Great Britain) was named the Syd Lipski International Player of the Year by the UK Basketball Journalists Association....Portland Trail Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez (Spain) is averaging just 2.8 points and 0.6 assists in five playoff games. Fernandez averaged 8.6 and 2.5 during the regular season...The Gasol Brother Playoff Stats: Marc - 15.5 ppg, 11 rpg; Pau - 13 ppg, 6.6 rpg...Bulls forward-center Omer Asik (Turkey) averaged over 12 minutes a night during the regular season. During the playoffs, however, he’s totaled just 11. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been going with veteran Kurt Thomas instead…Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey) is struggling this postseason. In five starts, he's just 15-for-55 from the field for 40 points.
Fire & Ice
• Kevin Love: The big man took home the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last week. The honor, which might have been the easiest to call of all, was a worthy one for Love, who averaged 20.2 points and a league-best 15.2 rebounds. He’s best known this season for 53 straight double-doubles.
• Brandon Roy: What a performance by the former All-Star and current Blazers reserve on Saturday. Roy put up 18 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3 against Dallas to bring his team back from 23 down. The effort resulted in an 84-82 win. Roy becomes the first player to go from ice to fire in one week.
• Chris Paul: The New Orleans Hornets point guard has been outstanding against the Lakers. He’s posting nightly numbers of 24.4 points, 11.6 assists and 6.4 rebounds in his team’s five games so far. Those are all up over his season averages of 15.8, 9.8 and 4.1.
• New York Knicks: There will always be questions whether the deal that nabbed them Carmelo Anthony actually hurt their chances of advancing in the playoffs. The only way to dull the memories of being swept in their first postseason visit in seven years is a series win in 2011-12.
• Carlos Boozer: The great news is the Bulls won their series. The bad news is Boozer struggled offensively in all but one of the games. Boozer averaged 10 points in the five games, two of which he scored four and two. Foul trouble also limited him to 26 minutes in Game 1 and 16 in Game 5.
• Mike Bibby: Any offense Heat starters not named LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh contribute is a bonus. For Bibby, however, there hasn’t been much of that this postseason. Bibby is averaging under four points in five starts for the Heat.
NBA StatsCube Cruncher
1- The number of 3-point shots Spurs guard Gary Neal took in the game’s final minute this season. He missed. In the last five minutes, Neal was 2-for-9 from behind the arc. The rookie’s 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left Wednesday sent Game 5 to overtime, where they won 110-103. Memphis still holds a 3-2 series lead. (StatsCube Index)