2003-04 season game 3,
Celtics vs. New Orleans Hornets, Saturday, Nov 1, 2003
Ok, it was bound to happen. Nobody goes 82-0. But why did
it have to be THIS game, which the C's had every chance to win?
Tonight's game came less than 22 hours after they finished the last
game, in Tennessee, where the Grizzlies lost their home opener to the
Good Guys. Vin Baker had a great game, the C's were pumped, Mike
James felt like James Cameron, and life was good.
Tim Floyd and his 51-190 record had replaced Paul Silas as coach of the
Hornets. His assistant was Jan Van Breda Koff, son of Butch, who
coached that memorable balloon playoff game for the Lakers, where the
Celtics stuck a giant green pin in the Laker's plans. If that
wasn't Celtics karma, then what would be?
Both teams had played and won the night before, though at least the
Hornets were at home. So things stood as the Celtics laced up the
black sneaks and took the long road once more.
The Good Guys knew not to Mess With What Worked, starting with Vin
Baker and Kedrick Brown at Forward, Mike James and Paul Pierce at
Guard, and Mark Blount at Center. The Hornets went with PJ Brown
and George Lynch at Forward, Baron Davis and David Wesley at Guard, and
Jamaal Magliore at Center. New Orleans were without Jamal
Mashburn and Courtney Alexander; and the C's were now without the
services of Eric Williams as well as Jumaine Jones, in addition to IL
residents Brandon Hunter and Kendrick Perkins. I was concerned
about Eric's injury as that meant the C's were now down to 10 available
Eric is scheduled for an MRI when they return to Boston. He had
developed swelling in the knee earlier in the day, and it was revealed
he'd actually injured the knee back during the season opener against
Miami, and banged it again the night before.
The tipoff was taken by the Hornets--and it was a really bad toss,
furthering the argument that they need a more equitable way to start
the game. Or a ref with a better throwing arm. But winning
the tip did not serve them as the C's stuffed Magliore's shot and Mike
James found Vin Baker, who put up a jump shot that was right where he
left it the night before. That made me feel good, if the C's were
going to play like this all night.
Then, Mark Blount made his first basket of the season, three games
in. It was a jumper from almost exactly the same spot on the
court where Baker had made his shot the last trip up. Baron Davis
nearly stole the outlet pass on the next trip, but slid to the floor as
he went for the ball. Like Memphis the night before, the Hornets
were determined to overplay the passing lanes. The Hornets were
also running better than the Grizz had.
In another echo of last night's game, the Hornets started taking
outside jumpers and they were going in. But Tommy pointed out
that at the pace the game was played at this time, the Hornets, like
the Grizz before them, would soon be missing those outside shots.
Mark Blount sank a deep two, and this opened up real possibilities for
destroying the New Orleans defense. Kedrick Brown tried a deep
three, and got nowhere. Then, another C's weakness was exploited
by the Hornets. Pierce tried to pass the ball across the court to
Mike James, and the Hornets were just waiting for that one. Two
points later, a chastised Celtics team made sure James got the ball at
This was going to be a mirror of a problem for Boston all night
long. They had a flashback to last season, where they expected
Pierce to do everything, and they were treating Mike James like Antoine
Walker. It worked, too. James didn't use the outlet pass
very much tonight.
Pierce and James teamed up for a nice defensive stop, but the futility
of the C's outlet passing was symbolically epitomized when the pass to
Kedrick Brown bounced off his back as he ran upcourt. He never
even knew where the ball was. Fortunately, Pierce was trailing
the play and snagged the ball. But this forced the C's into a
halfcourt game, which would have been fine but for one thing.
The C's don't HAVE a halfcourt game. They gave that up for the
And tonight would end up a halfcourt night. Not the kind of
halfcourt where the C's passed the ball crisply around the floor until
the open man got a shot. This was the "dribble up the floor while
the defense walks into position long before you get there" kind.
And yet, there were moments, like after the made basket when Mike James
went strong to the hoop and drew a foul as he made the shot.
But after a few minutes it was time to bring in Raef LaFrentz for Vin
Baker. Vin has been great, but it was unrealistic to expect him
to do it back to back three games into the season. But Raef
seemed to have been paying attention to Vin and picked right up using
many of the same plays.
But the Hornets were hot from the outside and they were staking their
offense on the jumper, even as Raef was piling up baskets. The
first quarter was proving to be a high-scoring, hotly contested affair.
But the C's were playing with less and less ability and smarts.
Maybe the pace of the games was too much, maybe they just weren't
paying attention. But Kedrick Brown was NOT running with the
breakneck speed he'd shown just a week ago; and Mike James seemed to be
channeling Walker in his shot selection, popping up threes like they
were free throws. I wouldn't have minded if more of them had
actually gone anywhere near the hoop.
The C's defense was pretty solid, but every time the forced the Hornets
to an outside shot, they inevitably made the shot. Timeout was
called with 4:55 left in the quarter, and the Hornets having regained
the lead at 21-18.
Following the timeout, Waltah! and Marcus Banks came in. At
first, Pierce started to heat up, but the Hornets kept the outside
barrage up. Tommy didn't mind, as he still insisted that at this
pace, "their legs will melt by the second quarter."
The only problem with that plan was that Marcus was totally incapable
of beating the fullcourt pressure that the Hornets brought to bear on
him. This would reduce the breakneck speed to something more
horrifically resembling last season.
The bench--including Jiri Welsch--came in, hoping to provide the same
spark they'd had last night. But save for Raef, it wasn't
happening. The New Orleans offense was generally kept out of the
middle, but they didn't need to penetrate so long as the outside
shots--especially the threes--were falling. Give Obie credit for
defensive discipline. He knew the moment the C's tried coming out
to challenge those long-range bombs, there'd be some lightning fast
drives to the hoop.
The score was still close, in fact, there were several lead changes;
but the Hornets were keeping the edge due to often getting three points
for every two by Boston. Raef was the steadying influence on
offense at this juncture, much as Vin Baker had been the night before.
Jiri Welsch got his first Celtics hoop, on a nice drive around his man,
then made a good defensive move at the other end. The quarter
ended with a weird event. The C's had the ball and were moving
upcourt with 4 seconds left. They were at midcourt, preparing a
heave toward the hoop, when the end of the quarter horn sounded.
The problem is, there was still 1.5 seconds on the clock at the time it
sounded! No one seemed to notice or care, but the C's did end the
quarter holding a 33-31 lead.
Both teams were nearly even after the quarter, with Boston shooting
13-21, and New Orleans shooting 13-20. The difference was in the
threes, as the Hornets were 5-10, whilst Boston was 3-6. Boston
had a 17-2 lead in bench points, but that was partly because the
Hornets left their starters out there a very long time.
So far, so good, but the C's were forcing their shots in ways they had
not previously. There were small things that were combining to a
For some reason, Kedrick was trying hard, but couldn't do anything
right. I can't figure it out. He's been a fast, explosive
player. But tonight, he was just not getting it done. Not
thinking, not playing well or smart. Maybe he was just having
"one of those days". Normally not a problem, but the Hornets were
piling on the threes. The Celtics had to work twice as hard to
keep up. Timeout was called with 9:47 left in the half and the Hornets
Also, the C's were falling back into bad habits, shooting outside shots
that weren't falling. At least the bench had tried going
inside. The Starters were having some problems. After the
last couple of games, if Obie was serious about his flexible starting
lineup, there may be some changes on Wednesday. Even Vin Baker
tried an injudicious outside shot.
There was a scary moment when Pierce went down with 7:29 left off a
hard foul. But he got up and while he was a bit ginger at first,
he seemed ok afterwards.
Mike James had come back in for Banks and the Hornets were letting him
dribble his way into trouble. Obie kept inserting different
players, looking for someone to key a run. Kedrick plowed into a
man, picking up his third foul.
Waltah! made a bad pass that was picked off, then Pierce got hammered
again, and seemed to be holding his left knee after getting hit on the
play. He sat for a bit to reorient all the parts of his body to
the proper manner.
James wasn't looking for open man upcourt. At least Welsch found
Battie for a dunk. With 5:33 left, time was called with the score
tied at 40. Banks had come back in, and promptly got entangled
just over halfcourt. The resulting jump ball was won by the
Hornets, and the play ended with the Hornets going to the line when
Pierce was called for a foul.
Tommy and Mike Gorman put it bluntly, when Tommy said that Banks should
be able to blow right by his man. Mike replied, "Why doesn't he?"
Yeah--why doesn't he?
If anyone has the answer, let me know. Better yet, tell Coach
O'Brien. Yes, Banks is a rookie, and he has a lot to learn.
But this was basic stuff--make the blasted outlet pass, already.
THAT'S how to beat the fullcourt pressure. And if his teammates
aren't making themselves available for a pass, he needs to get on
them. That's his job!
The C's defense, at least was functional for the most part. But
they couldn't be expected to do it all, and the offense was not
working. Vin Baker was wide open on several plays, and got
nothing for his trouble. Baker was having to come out wide to the
arc to even get a sniff at the ball. Raef was getting the ball more
The half ended with the Hornets leading it, 56-46.
There was a prerecorded interview with Paul Pierce, in which he held
forth on a variety of subjects. He said he wants to be a more
well-rounded passer, and has been working on that aspect of his
game. Pierce also admitted he read the publications that had low
expectations for the C's this season. He uses that as
motivation. Gee, he must get REALLY motivated if he ever reads
posts on the Celtics list!
He said he's been reading the books on leadership over the summer as
part of an ongoing attempt to be a better person, and that if he
becomes a better leader, that's a byproduct. He mentioned once
more that he preferred to lead by example.
When asked how close he thought the C's were to their 17th banner, he
felt the team was "taking steps in the right direction". He sees
a championship "in the near future".
In the shorter term, the C's were shooting a respectable 45% in the
first half, but the Hornets were at 57%. The threes were
benefiting New Orleans as they hit on 8-15, while Boston was back to
the bad old days, going 4-11. The C's did hold an 18-14
rebounding edge, and 14-8 in paint points. but the Hornets had a
15-9 lead in assists, and had 14 transition points to Boston's 5.
The needs were obvious. The C's had to run more and maybe start
playing to stop the three.
Unfortunately, things picked up pretty much where they left off.
The C's would play decent defense, only to see the Hornets hit another
outside shot. Kedrick went all the way to the basket, then missed
the shot. There were flashes of good thing, as Blount did good
defensive work, and Pierce made some nice offensive moves. But
the passing game was gone by this time. The outlet pass was
discarded in favor of driving up the court. The C's had just
enough offense so far to keep the game close.
There was even a short span of time where the C's retook the
lead. With 7:24 left, the C's were up 65-58. The C's had a
10-4 edge in layups. Had the Hornets not been so energetic about
hitting deep shots and clogging the passing lanes until Boston gave up,
the C's would have been in firm control of this game.
I admit--the movement was faster than the shambling, mind-numbing pace
of last season. But it was just not fast enough. Then,
Battie dropped a missed Hornet free throw, resulting in a New Orleans
three. With 2:53 left in the third, Boston's lead was now 72-70,
and fading fast. By the time the quarter ended, New Orleans had
the lead with 80-79. After the first three quarters, Boston's
shooting percentage was actually higher than New Orleans--50% to
47%. Boston was actually ahead on free throws, making 14-16,
while the Hornets were only 12-21. The C's bench had outscored
the Hornets' bench 34-12. Yet the Hornets were ahead.
The C's were continuing their missed opportunities as Vin was guarded
by David Wesley, yet got no looks at the ball. Boston took way
too many outside shots, perhaps trying to one-up the Hornets. The
first time Baker got a real handle on the ball, he was outside the arc,
and we all know he doesn't have a three point shot in him.
The Hornets played off the C's predictability on offense, overplaying
Pierce for the pass coming and going. New Orleans took advantage
of the opportunity to run up the score a bit, in case the C's woke up
and started running.
James even had the ball upcourt and Vin was ahead and open, yet the
ball never left James' hands until he'd committed an offensive
foul. Kedrick fouled out on a defensive play with 7:40 left in
the game. The C's defense wasn't bad, but the Hornets just kept
finding the open man and converting.
The Celtics spent the rest of the game trying to catch up, but every
time they got close, the Hornets pulled away again. For a brief
moment, Pierce brought them within 1 point, when it was 88-87 with 4:48
left. Then Davis converted a three from deep outside. The
C's offense pretty much stalled completely by this time, and the
Hornets kept attacking until the end. Boston tried a gambit by
sending the Hornets to the free throw line, but they even started
making those as Raef fouled out.
Mark Blount would score the last Celtic point of the night as he went
1-2 at the line. The Hornets also went to the line and pushed up
their final score to 97-90.
Cookies and Crumbs:
Cookies go to:
Oddly enough, the Celtics defense. They did a lot better then the
game might indicate, even though there was room for improvement in a
number of places.
Vin Baker: He wasn't as effective as last night, but he was
generally where he was supposed to be. He can't score if he
doesn't get the ball.
Raef LaFrentz: his offense picked up where Vin's left off.
Paul Pierce: I wasn't going to give him a cookie for 9-25
shooting before I realized he was actually better than most of his
Jim O'Brien: I know he'll take a lot of heat for not making the
team run, but let's face it--NO ONE ran consistently, and if he benched
everyone who didn't run, they would have had to put Eric Williams into
Free throws: 16-19 for 84%. That's more like it.
Crumbs go to:
The Celts taking all those silly threes. WHAP!
Kedrick Brown: I really liked him--what happened???
Mike James and Marcus Banks: I'm willing to cut Banks SOME slack as a
rookie, but doesn't common sense tell you if you can't dribble the ball
up, you should try passing it? James needs to read the court
better. James' 6 assists doesn't make up for an inadequate
The Celtics now get a break before their next game, on Wednesday in
Detroit. They apparently need it.
And that's the view from the doghouse.