The Rumor Vortex
The last week or so has been filled with the predictable trade rumors involving Pierce, Garnett, Bass and even Jeff Green. The noise of speculation and trade-machine gossip is at maximum volume and each fan either: a) takes part in the universe of make believe GM and offers heavy criticism of their team’s GM for not making the make believe move they “know” will save their team or improve their team’s future; b) reads the reports that indicate the future of the team is at stake and any moment could signal the last time that two of the team’s cornerstones put on the Celtics uniform; c) lusts after the younger, high-upside players that might arrive in return; or d) attempts to ignore all of it in the belief that the team as currently constituted has a legitimate shot to win again this year.
I lean about 60% toward option d (try to ignore), and about 30% toward option b (read the occasional report), while 10% goes toward option c, because DeAndre Jordan is a true defensive center who would be ideal to build around.
What gets lost in all of this is an appreciation for what the team currently has. And what we have is a re-energized collection of players who seem to be hungry to make one more playoff push. The threat of pushing the “detonate” button on what we have outweighs any dreams of 2015 success. Let’s remind ourselves that we have a very solid young nucleus when healthy. Regardless of how Rondo’s game might frustrate some, there is no reason the team can’t learn to play with this same cohesion when he comes back next year. It’s easier to learn from your mistakes and change your frame of mind when you watch your teammates have success without you. I have little doubt Rondo will adapt in ways that allow Jeff Green to continue to thrive the way he has been over the last 10 games. Rondo, Bradley, Green, and Sullinger are a great young quartet. Adding a perimeter shooting big-man would be ideal. That group with DeAndre Jordan at the 5 would be great defensively, but would have serious issues from the outside. Fab Melo might be useful in 2016, but if you’ve been paying attention, Chris Wilcox is rounding into shape and appears to be useful right now. Ainge’s confidence in this group is founded on the fact that this team has shown serious resolve over the last month, and they deserve the opportunity to stay intact and let the dust settle in June. Speaking of dust:
Tuesday’s loss to Denver: The Dusty Truth
Paul Pierce’s 2 of 14 shooting from the field cost the Celtics a great road win on Tuesday. It’s likely the rumors have taken their toll on Pierce. It’s also likely the the All-Star break allowed Pierce’s body to tell him how much it needed a rest. Unfortunately, Pierce has to ignite his engine quickly and get back into the groove he found just before the break. Garnett had a solid first three quarters, but ran out of gas in the fourth. With the game on the line, KG shot 1 of 4, missed both of his free-throws, turned it over once and goal-tended a three-pointer.
The Nuggets are an astounding 23-3 at home (only the Spurs have fewer home losses), and have two of the most exciting young players in the Association, lightning-quick point guard Ty Lawson and Faried!@! Lawson and Tony Parker may be the two least-containable little guys in the NBA. Lawson’s ability to penetrate is unparalleled. (for more on Lawson, click here). Last night, Lawson finished with 26 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds, but most impressive was his ratio of points to attempts, 26 to 13. Not surprisingly, the Nuggets success has been tied to Lawson’s improved play since January. Without a shot-blocker protecting the rim, Lawson drove at will, getting to the free-throw line 10 times. In addition, Kenneth Faried, coming off a “How Ya Like Me Now” 40-point performance in the rookie-sophomore game, was his usual ferocious self, collecting 16 rebounds. The aggressiveness and three-point shooting of Danilo Gallinari hurt the Celtics early in the game and again in the 4th quarter. Denver takes advantage of the altitude by pushing the pace with Lawson and Faried and finding Gallinari in transition. When the Celtics were able to control the tempo, they began to control the game.
Perhaps more frustrating than Pierce’s performance was the electrifying show put on by Jeff Green. In arguably his best 4th quarter as a Celtic, Green was dazzling. For the game, Green shot 8 of 12 from the field, knocking down 2 of 4 from distance, but it was in the final quarter that he made his mark with two huge defensive plays. did everything he could to propel Boston to a win. With the Nuggets holding a 78-72 lead early in the final quarter, they isolated Lawson once Green had switched to defend him. After a series of hesitation dribbles, spins and up-fakes, Green kept his balance, stayed in front of the lightning bug and blocked his shot, which was followed by two Pierce free-throws, closing the gap to 4. One Green nickname possibility is Mr. Versatile (who else can defend both LeBron and Ty Lawson). Green followed by knocking down a long jumper and then a triple, resulting in a Denver timeout. When the Nuggets re-inserted Faried!@%! and Gallinari, Denver regained its composure and fought back to take an 89-84 lead.
One last note: Doc insists on playing Jason Collins against big teams. The problem with this is that Jason Collins should not be in the NBA. Why does Chris Wilcox get 10 minutes while Collins gets 12? With Wilcox on the court, the Celtics played about even, at negative 2. With Collins, they were negative 12 points. I know plus/minus has its limitations, but the Celtics desperately need to either: a) play Wilcox more or b) add a reserve big man.
Next up: Wed @LAL (ESPN), Fri @PHX, Sun @POR, Mon @UTAH (NBA TV)
By Thursday, we’ll be breathing easier with the knowledge that this team will remain intact.
By Monday, the Celtics will be coming home with three more wins out of these four games. Terrence Williams will make his debut in one of these games (Phoenix or Utah, I’d assume). Hopefully, T-Will shows something and earns Doc’s trust.