Since Wednesday, the Celtics came up with two convincing victories at home (Min, Phi), and lost a brutal, grind-it-out affair in overtime (@ Phi). The loss in Philadelphia kept the Celtics from establishing a long-awaited winning streak, but we have to be happy with the efforts they’ve given over the last two weeks. Since getting man-handled at home by San Antonio on November 21, the Celtics have played eight games, going 5-3. However, in those eight contests, only one has been a decisive loss (@ Brooklyn). The Celtics were lucky once (overcoming a sloppy game to beat Orlando in OT), and lost two close games (in Milwaukee without Rondo, by 3, and Friday’s OT loss to Philadelphia, no thanks to Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young). In other words, we could easily be looking at a 7-1 stretch, and a 13-7 record. Instead, we sit at 11-9, and continue to sit in the middle of the Atlantic pack, tied with the 76ers, trailing Brooklyn by 1/2 game and New York by 4 games in the Atlantic standings.
Jeff Green’s averages over the last five games: 16 points, 4.2 rebounds on 54% from the field and 57% from long-distance. in 24 minutes. The early season slump seems to be over. Greg Payne, for ESPN Boston, has more.
Upcoming Celtics games: vs Dallas on Wednesday, then on the road for three: @ Houston on Friday, @ San Antonio on Saturday, then @ Chicago on Tuesday. At least the Celtics get two days off before they meet the Bulls.
Winning in San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back is going to take serious moxie. I’m thinking Garnett has to get at least one rebound in that game for the Celtics to have a chance. Did you hear KG’s post-game interview: pretty hilarious.
Atlantic Division Update
New York 15-5, Brooklyn 11-8, Philadelphia 11-9, Boston 11-9, Toronto 4-17
The Knicks have played inspired basketball early in the season, taking (29.3) and hitting (11.9) more three-pointers than anyone else in the NBA, 3rd in 3-PT % at 40.5% (behind only OKC and MIA). On the defensive end, New York has held opponents to 94.5 ppg, good for eighth in the NBA, while being heavily out-rebounded (4 per game). The decision to move Carmelo to power forward is working brilliantly. How are they doing it? They lead the NBA in turnover differential (-5.3 turnovers/game compared to their opponents). When you settle for three-pointers, you have a much easier time avoiding turnovers. When Carmelo is taking 20 shots/game, and hitting 43% of his three-pointers, and you play two pure shooters (Novak and J.R. Smith), you don’t have to mess with passing the ball into the paint, where deflections happen. The staggering amount of threes attempted (29) leads the league by far. Only Houston, at 27/game (but only 34.7%) is in the vicinity. Every other NBA team is at 23.1 or fewer. Let’s look at the Knicks shooters this season in detail.
Carmelo Anthony: a correction is in order.
2.4 / 5.6 = 43%. Career: 32.8%.
Strangely enough, Carmelo shot 42% in the 27 games following the trade from Denver to New York in 2011. Last year, he was back to 33.5%. Take Amare out of the equation, and replace D’Antoni with Woodson, and Carmelo is on-fire. The passing of Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, and the presence of other outside weapons (Novak and Smith) are both enabling Carmelo to shoot more open and corner threes than in his Denver career. What will happen to that freedom once Amare returns in two weeks to clog up the motion offense that is resulting in so many open shots?
Raymond Felton: a correction will come.
1.9 / 4.6 = 40.7%. Career: 33.4%.
For the first six years of his NBA career, Felton was Antoine Walker 2.0, shooting 33% or under from distance in four of those six years. After a rookie season at 35.8, Felton found himself on some terrible offenses in Charlotte, where he was forced to shoot hundreds of shot-clock-expiring heaves, resulting in two years of abysmal shooting (28.0 and 28.5%). He clearly worked on his shot in the summer of 2009, coming back to hit at a respectable 38.5% clip in 09-10. During his first stint in New York, he may as well have worked for Habitat for Humanity, as he could have built houses with all those bricks (1.6 made in 5.0 attempts) in 54 games. On the other end of the Carmelo trade, Felton found new life in George Karl’s offense, knocking down 46% in those 21 Denver games. Portland took a chance on Felton and were hugely disappointed to find he forgot to pack his stroke with him on the trip from Denver. Last year, Felton hit only 30.5% of his long-range jumpers. This tumultuous shooting leads us the this season, where Felton is smoking the jumper at nearly 41%, including an unconscious evening in Miami this past Thursday, where he picked up the slack in Carmelo’s absence, knocking down 6 of 10 threes, en route to a Knicks rout of the stunned Heat. Where will Felton go from here? It’s safe to say he’s never been known for his consistency. The phrase “Live by the Three, Die by the Three” was apropos when describing our beloved Antoine Walker. Celtics fans can rest assured that the Felton will do his share of shooting New York out of a few games as the season wears on.
J.R. Smith: in line with career average.
1.5 / 3.9 = 37%. Career: 36.9%.
J.R. Smith has always been tantalizingly athletic and notoriously streaky. During his up-and-down run in Denver, George Karl was always hoping to find a middle ground between those 15-point quarters that Smith could toss in, and those empty stretches where turnovers were more common than made threes or speedy transition buckets. Smith is right around his career average, a solid 37%. What has changed is he’s getting to the line and hitting his free-throws. A career 74% shooter at the line, Smith had dipped to 70% in two of the past four years. This year, he’s at 81.4% on 3 attempts per game.
Jason Kidd: a correction is most likely coming.
2.0 / 3.9 = 50.8%. Career: 35%. Last five years: 35.6, 46.1, 42.5, 34, 35.4%
Jason Kidd developed a strange, flat-footed three-pointer late in his career, enabling him to play for another five years longer than most expected. A poor shooter throughout his early, athletic 20’s, Kidd had his best shooting season in his 15th year (46.1%). Despite that late-blooming rise in percentage, Kidd has trailed off recently, at 34 and 35.4% over the last couple seasons. This year, he is shooting a mind-boggling 51% from distance through 16 games (back spasms forced him out of 4 already). Kidd, who turns 40 in March, seems determined to prove he can still play, and is enjoying the attention of New York City the way he did in his heyday with the Nets (2001-2008). The Darko Index is here to say that this will not continue. With a back issue that will linger throughout the regular season, Kidd will regress back to somewhere around 40% by the end of the year.
Steve Novak: a legit marksman, in line with career average.
2.4 / 5.5 = 42.7%. Career: 43.5%
Steve Novak is a specialist. If not for the three, Novak would be a very tall NBA fan. At 6’10” and 225 lbs, Novak has made a living on the perimeter, shooting 43.5% for his career. Given playing time with the Knicks last year, he blossomed into a legit role-player, knocking down 47% of his 5.2 attempts/game. Sadly, the 1.9 rebounds over 24 min/game show the flipside of this one-dimensional wonder.
Ronnie Brewer: a correction is coming.
0.9 / 2.4 = 38%. Career: 26%
Brewer, a defensive-minded role-player signed in the off-season, has never been a long-range shooter in the past. Perhaps he worked hard in the offseason to extend his range, and he’s showing the signs. More likely, he’s on a roll and the ball-movement is getting him great corner looks that he hasn’t seen before. Will those continue?
Glancing through the Knicks’ 15 wins, it’s hard to discount two victories against Miami (the recent one on the road without ‘Melo), another road win at San Antonio, and a road win in Philly. On the other hand, the Knicks have been beatable on the road (losing to mediocre teams Dallas and Houston) earlier in the month. In addition, they have yet to deal with Amare’s return, and how the offense will function with him on the floor. Assuming Amare plays 25-30 minutes, it’s safe to assume Ronnie Brewer and Steve Novak will lose minutes. The hot shooting will continue from Novak, with occasional scorching games from J.R. Smith, but the rest of the cast will have their bumps along the way. If Kidd can stay healthy and Amare can fit it, the Knicks will certainly be fighting for the top spot.
They will see the Celtics twice in January (1/7, 1/24) and twice in late March (3/26, 3/31). Avery Bradley and his pestering defense will be back by the end of December. Those four Celtics-Knicks contests may determine home-court in the playoffs. The Nets and Sixers will make things complicated, but without Bynum and with Brook Lopez already limping and Deron Williams playing through ankle pain, my gut says it’s the Celtics and the Knicks fighting it out come April.
End of Season (Biased) Prediction:
New York 50-32
At ESPN’s Daily Dime, Marc Stein gives us a great view of the league from the perspectives of several NBA scouts.
Simmons has an article on Kobe’s legacy, and talks to Bill Russell himself in this piece.