Boston started off the month strong going 9-2, with a record of 1-1 on the road and 8-1 at home. They lost to Houston at home 108-102 and Chicago on the road 90-79. The home victories included a 119-95 drubbing of the Kings back on January 12th.
The Kings were on the 3rd game of their 6-game East Coast road trip and still without Tyreke who missed the first 3 games with ankle problems. It was the 3rd game in 4 nights and the day after the Kings lost to Washington by 3 in overtime. Coach Westphal had settled on his starting lineup of Beno, Tyreke, Cisco, JT and DeMarcus just prior to the road trip but with Evans injured he had to experiment again. Jermaine Taylor started for Tyreke in the Toronto game, Luther Head in the Washington game, and Pooh Jeter started against Boston and played 40 minutes.
Some might say the game was still in question at half time with Boston winning the 1st quarter by 6 and the 2nd quarter by 2, but after winning the 3rd quarter 33-18, PW started looking ahead to the next back-to-back just one day away and pulled his starters. Taylor, Jeter, Jackson, Dalembert and Casspi finished out the 4th quarter. So, you might say that the Celtics haven’t seen the real Kings team yet.
Of course the same could be said about the Kings, who have yet to see the Celtics with Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins. Garnett returned, two games after the Kings game, from a leg injury suffered while coming down after a dunk against the Piston on December 29th. Perkins hadn't yet returned after tearing knee ligaments during the NBA Finals and actually only returned 4 games ago.
The Kings shot extremely well, shooting 75% at the rim and 50% on their short, mid, and long range jumpers, but were only 2-12 from 3pt range. And, they shot 75% on their FT’s outscoring the Celtic by 14 at the charity stripe. But, it was rebounding, turnovers and interior defense that doomed the Kings. They turned the ball over 23 times to Boston’s 14, and they were outrebounded 12 to 6 on the offensive boards leading to a 16 FGA advantage for the Celtics. They ended up hitting 50 of 96 from the field and 12 of 20 from beyond the arc. They attacked the basket and were 22 of 38 on 11 assists at the rim, while the Kings were 15 of 20 on 4 assisted baskets. Of Rondo’s 13 assists, 6 were in the paint which was 1 more than the entire King’s team had. If the Kings hope to beat the Celtics, they can’t let them beat us in Attempts and Made Baskets in the Paint.
Since the 9-2 start, Boston has gone 2-2 on the road and 1-0 at home. With road losses to Washington 85-83 and Phoenix 88-71, and road wins at Portland 88-78 and the Lakers 109-96. Tuesdays game against the Kings, is the 4th and final game of the current road trip, and Boston needs to win it to go back home with a winning record for the trip.
Even though Jermaine O'Neal is out another month with an injured left knee, Perkins, Shaq, Big Baby, Semih Erden, and Garnett give the Celtics size down low that could give the Kings trouble especially if JT is out with his ankle sprain. Perkins looks like one of those walking trees from the Lord of the Rings when he’s moving up and down the floor, but he is averaging 5pt and 6 rebs since his return. Shaq is still mobile for a 350+ lb. 38 year old, and with a good up fake he can even be tricked into leaving his feet to try and block a shot. Davis is quite mobile and knows how to finish around the basket and averages 12 pts and 5 rebs. Erden had some decent starts filling in for Shaq and Jermaine while they were injured. The real monster around the basket is Garnett whose length and leaping ability makes him the leading rebounder at almost 9 per game and their 3rd leading scorer at 15 ppg. But, after saying all that, I look back to last week’s Suns game when Marcin Gortat went for 19pts / 17 rebs against them, and have to believe that DeMarcus is capable of having a similar game.
The biggest challenge for the Kings is defending 6-7 Paul Pierce, their leading scorer at 19 pts / 5 rebs on 51% field and 42% from three. What makes him really dangerous is his ability to create off the dribble and drive and finish at the rim. If you body up on him he’ll drive past you and if you play off he’ll shot over the top of you. Ray Allen is their other big weapon, averaging 17pts on 50% field and 45% from three. Allen is the opposite of Pierce, in that he seldom creates his own shot, 72% of all his shots are assisted. He will run you off screens and if you go under or try to split the screen, he’ll drop back to the 3pt line and bury it. If you keep in his face and get help from your man so you can fight over the screen, you can make it tough on him. But, you won’t stop him completely because he’s still going to make shots even against the best defense.
Rajon Rondo is the heart of the Celtics offense. Not for his 10 ppg but for his 12.9 assists per game. Only 6 of those assists come off the long 2’s or three point shots, even with great outside shooters like Pierce, Allen, Nate Robinson and Delonte West. No, 50% of Rondo’s assists come in the paint as does the majority of his made baskets. It’s not that he’s a bad shooter because he actually averages 46% in eFG% on his long 2’s and 3’s. It’s that he just doesn’t take that many long jumpers. But instead, prefers to penetrate and either take it to the rim or dish off to one of his bigs for an easy basket.
And, there’s where the dilemma lies. Since he’s not likely to take the long jumper and you don’t want to have him drive past you, most people play off of him. But, that’s like the Bears defense not getting to Rogers, giving him time to survey the field. If he’s got no one in his face, Rondo can see the whole court and have open lanes to pass thru. So, I think the proper way to defend Rondo, is to play him tight but shade him toward your defensive help. You’ll defend the outside shoot and take away some of his passing ability. And, under pressure Rondo is prone to turn over the ball. He actually averages 3.8 TO’s per game. And, Boston has the 5th highest turnover rate in the NBA.
So, that’s how I would play the Celtics. Face guard Allen and climb into his jersey if you can, play up tight on Rondo and shade him to the baseline so you can take away half of his passing lanes, and play off Pierce and hope he has an off shooting day. Protect the paint by sending help on Rondo and Pierce but not with Garnett’s man. I assume Dalembert will defend Garnett if JT is unavailable. Garnett is a little too long and will go right over the top of Carl. The Celtics are the best FG shooting team in the league at 50%, so we’ll need every rebound we can get. And, no cross court passes, the Celtics are 4th in Steals. Plus they know that they are going to score, and that their defense can keep them in games. So, expect them to gamble and leak out after every shot, so someone from the Kings needs to get back on defense as soon as we put up a shot.
I’m sure Tyreke watched the Lakers/Celtics game, so he should realize that one player, even the best player, can’t beat the Celtics on his own. We are the younger team with younger legs, playing at home in front of what should be a near sellout crowd, we’ve had 2 days’ rest, and the Celtics are playing in their 4th game in six days on the road. Does that mean we have a good chance of beating last year’s Eastern Conference Champion? Probably not, but it does mean we have no excuse for not working our arse’s off and making Boston work for the win. Go Kings!!