Sunday Notebook: Vintage Looks, Tanking, the Cooz Speaks, On Outliers
Posted by Zach Lowe on Apr 11, 2010
Did the C’s, in beating Milwaukee, effectively ensure they’ll face the Heat and not the Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs?
If the Heat win at New York today, they will be tied with the Bucks for 5th in the East at 45-35. The Bucks own the tie-breaker but have remaining games at home against the Hawks on Monday and at Boston on Tuesday.
The Heat have cupcakes at Philly and at home against the Nets.
So if the Hawks—who must win out to assure themselves the 3rd seed—beat Milwaukee tomorrow night, the Heat could move into sole possession of 5th.
Which raises the question: If the C’s prefer to face Milwaukee in the first round, should they kinda sorta tank the season finale against the Bucks, even if it might be too little, too late?
• The Herald’s Steve Bulpett raises that possibility today in discussing last night’s win:
Considering the circumstances, the C’s might have been wiser to drop this one to better assure a rematch in the first round of the playoffs.
• As for the Bucks, at least one key member of the C’s thought last night’s game had some meaning. Here’s the captain, via ESPNBoston.com:
“When you have a chance to play a team that you could possibly see in the playoffs, you don’t want to give them confidence or swagger,” said Pierce. “If you let them beat you consistently, then when you play that matchup, they think they have the advantage — it gives them confidence. Those type of things can win a series, I’ve seen that happen.”
• Speaking of Pierce, last night’s game marked the return of his missing mid-range game. As Brian Robb pointed out in a must-read post Friday, Pierce’s mid-range shooting—one of things that makes him The Truth—has been ineffective this season. Perhaps the Bucks noticed, because it seemed to Pierce they were conceding the mid-range shot in order to prevent him from getting to the rim. (Via ESPNBoston):
“Once I figured out in the first half that each time I drove, the defense would collapse on me. I started to stop short for my little pull-up jumper and I was able to knock it down.”
• We got a vintage Paul Pierce performance and a vintage defensive performance last night. After allowing more than 100 points in six straight games, the C’s finally looked something like the defensive powerhouse we saw in late 2009. Here’s a nice one-sentence summary of the game, via Paul Flannery at WEEI.com:
The Celtics held Milwaukee under 100 points, something they haven’t done against anyone in the last six games and under 40 percent field goal shooting, while only turning it over nine times.
Great Defense + Lack of Turnovers = Celtics have a great chance to beat anyone, anytime, in any arena. Of course, the former (the D) is far more likely to happen than the latter.
• Flannery also points out (via Hoopdata) that more of KG’s baskets come off of teammate assists, a development that is probably the result of both KG’s athletic decline and the fact that KG now plays with an elite point guard. It’s a trend we noticed in December, and Flannery’s work shows it has become even more pronounced as the season has gone on:
According to the invaluable website HoopData, 82 percent of Garnett’s makes have come off assists. That’s up from 74 percent last season, 67 percent in his first season with the Celtics and 59 percent in his last season with Minnesota.
• Age is the great equalizer, and no less an authority that Bob Cousy tells the Herald today that having three key players in their 30s is never ideal. The Cooz sounds as if he’s had the same sort of up-and-down reaction to the C’s play as we all have this season:
“I turned them off one game, and then I’m up out of my chair when they overachieve,” he said. “This is just part of the process. When you’ve got four guys in their 30s that you’re depending on, there are going to be problems. They play wonderfully in spurts, but they’ve got to sustain it longer than the other guy – and that’s when it becomes difficult to do.”
• The Cooz also sounds just fine with Rondo breaking his single-season assists record:
“As far as I’m concerned, he’s their most valuable player this year.”
And he also enjoys a certain flare Rajon brings to the game:
The “little something” to which Cousy refers are Rondo’s sleight-of-hoop moves that are both entertaining and effective.
“I saw him do that a couple of times, and I jumped out of my chair,” said Cooz with a smile.
Rondo certainly does some amazing things on the court, but over the last 10 games or so, his on-court tricks have at times crossed over to reckless showboating. I’m talking about the combo behind-the-back/through-the-legs lefty dribble he took twice in separate games against the Knicks as he dribbled the ball back out along the baseline. Even Walt Frazier got on him for that.
Or the time (also against New York) when he zipped a one-handed lefty pass to Marquis Daniels, who was out of bounds when Rajon tossed him the ball. Or a recent alley-oop try to Kendrick Perkins (not exactly a leaper) that was intercepted.
The Celtics have a turnover problem, and they do not need their otherwise wonderful point guard to compound it with wannabe highlight reel plays that have very little chance of succeeding. I trust Rajon enough to believe these will disappear during the post-season.
• Speaking of which, let’s get back to the Bucks for a second. Brandon Jennings continues to throw down some high-quality trash talk, even as Rajon Rondo runs circles around him every time the Bucks and C’s play. Via ESPNBoston.com:
“Boston is like big bullies from school,” barked Brandon Jennings. “A lot of teams don’t like that.”
I find it amusing that Jennings said this on the same night his coach, Scott Skiles, said this (via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel):
“Rondo has owned us in these games so far. He just goes wherever we wants to go. We have to do a much better job of getting him out of the paint.”
And people wonder why I wrote in my preview to Saturday’s game that Jennings doesn’t make me worry.
• The notion of playing small doesn’t quite make me worry, but it does make me think. And if the C’s do face the Bucks in the playoffs, it’s something we’ll all have to think about a lot. Without Andrew Bogut, the Bucks are going to play small (with Ersan Ilyasova at center) for long stretches. That will likely take Kendrick Perkins out of the game (as it did last night) and force the C’s to use KG or even Big Baby at center.
Doc doesn’t seem too concerned (via the Globe):
“They do play small a lot and we don’t,” Rivers said after the game. “That’s something we’re going to have to get used to.”
• Finally (via the same Globe piece), Ray Allen became the latest Celtic to bring up another of the NBA’s past champions who emerged from a mediocre off-season to win the title. We’ve seen many, many references to the ’69 Celtics, who finished 48-34 to earn the last seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs before getting hot in the post-season and winning the title in a seven-game thriller against the hated Lakers.
This time, Ray is channeling the ’95 Rockets:
“Believe me, I’ve thought about that. If you go back into the annals of NBA history, you will find so many different oddities and formulas for championships,’’ Allen said before the Celtics beat Milwaukee, 105-90. “Teams that won that shouldn’t have won. Teams that just dominated that should have won but didn’t win.”
I don’t want to put a damper on this line of thinking, but there’s a reason the ’95 Rockets and ’69 C’s get so much attention in this way: They are outliers, huge, huge outliers, examples of very rare seasons in the NBA in which mediocre regular-season teams won the title. In most years, the regular season has a pretty solid track record of telling you who the best teams are. There are exceptions, and the C’s have some superficial similarities to those exceptions—aging veterans, a past championship pedigree, a season-long focus on the playoffs.
But we shouldn’t ignore the differences or the other idiosyncrasies from those seasons. Things like:
• The fact that the ’95 Rockets made a huge in-season trade (Otis Thorpe for Clyde Drexler) that shook up their regular-season roster but made them more dangerous in the playoffs;
• The ’95 Rockets had the best player in the league in his prime;
• The ’69 Celtics had to go through three rounds of playoffs, not four;
• Jerry West suffered an injury in the middle of the ’69 Finals;
• It took not one, but two insanely lucky shots for the C’s to win the ’69 Finals (one by Sam Jones, one by Don Nelson);
• The ’69 Lakers were quietly dysfunctional, with Wilt Chamberlain and coach Butch Van Breda Kolff nearly coming to blows at least twice during the season. The dysfunction bubbled up in Game 7 of the Finals, when Chamberlain banged his shin hard on the floor in the 4th quarter and infuriated Van Breda Kolff by taking himself out of the game as LA staged a monster comeback. When Wilt asked back in, Van Breda Kolff refused. The Lakers lost.
I’m not saying the outliers are irrelevant or that they don’t apply at all to this Boston season. But it’s dangerous to simplify the narrative of how those teams won the title.