2003-04 season game 3, Celtics vs. New Orleans Hornets, Saturday, Nov 1, 2003
The Celtics Beagle working hard on the next review.
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.

First Quarter:

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 players.

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 the baseline. 

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 running game.

Oops.

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.

Uh-oh.

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.
 

Second Quarter:

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 potential disaster.

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 leading, 36-33.

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 often.

The half ended with the Hornets leading it, 56-46.

HALFTIME:

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.

Third Quarter:

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.


Fourth Quarter:

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 teammates.

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 the game.

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 shooting night.

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.