2003-04 season Game 5,
Celtics vs. New Jersey Nets, Friday, Nov 7, 2003
Ok, this was a
toughie. I'm starting to feel like a prerecorded beagle.
Like the last two games the C's played prior to tonight, Boston played
well enough to win, "except".
You couldn't really ask for a better time to face the Nets. They
had just played the night before and lost. Several of their
players were out with injuries and the rest played long minutes the
previous night. Everyone knew that the Nets were a lousy
halfcourt team on offense and would be beside themselves trying to stop
a running team.
Boston was well rested, had the kind of defensive ability to make the
Nets nervous, and had theoretically instituted a running game.
The C's had played the Nets twice in the preseason and won--only to
have Byron Scott dismiss that as a fluke.
So, the Good Guys had the motive and the opportunity to send New
Jersey--not to mention the rest of the NBA--a message.
Unfortunately, the message ended up being, "We're not here right
Bob Cousy joined Mike
and Tom Heinsohn for tonight's game, which was like getting a chocolate
chip cookie as a reward after the indigestible "wabbit food"
Pistons broadcast team a couple of days back. Cooz described Vin
as "a big plus", whom, I was shocked to learn was leading the league in
FG percentage at 63.6%. He was of the opinion that Kedrick Brown
starter wasn't really working out. He was, I think,being
charitable. The fact is, Kedrick hadn't been so hot lately.
Cousy's impression of the uptempo game
was " I read about it, but I don't see it...I don't see the full
commitment on the part of the Celtics." He placed part of the
squarely on the Point Guards, none of whom, he stated, had assumed a
leadership role. He reported that people he talked to "in the
loved the (relatively) up-tempo game and found it more exciting to
The Celtics went with a starting lineup of Vin Baker and Kedrick Brown
at Forward, Mike James and Paul Pierce at Guard, and Tony Battie at
Center. Mike Gorman opined that there was no special significance
to Battie's starting tonight, believing that he and Blount will share
the starter's spot at Center. Eric Williams was still out, with
Eric figuring to be back sometime in "the middle of next week", per
Mike Gorman's pregame conversation with him. I'm under the
impression that Coach O'Brien is not amenable to the timeframe and
wants him back sooner. Jumaine Jones was present and dressed, and
was reported feeling about "90%", and apparently eager to get back to
New Jersey sent forth Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson at Forward,
Jason Kidd and Kerry Kittles at Guard, and Aaron Williams at
Center. The Nets were without the services of players Kenyon
Martin, Rodney Rogers, Lucious Harris, and Brian Scalabrinie.
This shortened the Nets' rotation, but everyone in Basketball knows as
long as Kidd shows up and plays well, the Nets are a serious
team. If Jason ever goes down with an injury, the team might as
well forfeit games until he comes back.
The C's won the opening jump, and when the Nets disdained to double up
on Pierce, he rose and hit a jumper. But Jefferson, backed up
deep by the C's defense, hit a jumper of his own. The game
quickly developed a problem, as the teams worked better on offense than
defense, generally trading baskets through the quarter.
Then, Kedrick Brown came back. The fast guy with the Road Runner
feet and the Tigger bounce. He took the pumpkin away from the
Nets and finished with a two-handed slam. Nice to see him again.
Boston wasn't really running, and the halfcourt game played right into
the Nets' collective hands. But within the fact that the C's
weren't running, they WERE passing, at least as the game started.
Banks took the ball up hard, then fired it back to Pierce, who
convincingly faked a three. As his defender flew past, Pierce
launched the pumpkin got Battie, just beneath the free throw
line. Battie split his unsuspecting defenders, who were just
realizing that Pierce hadn't taken a three, and flushed the ball for
two. What was even cooler was that Vinnie was RIGHT THERE for the
cleanup rebound if necessary, blocking out Battie's back.
But Tommy pointed out quite accurately that the C's were not trying to
get in front of the ball. They were letting the ball lead the
offense, instead of the reverse. You won't get any fast breaks
that way. On the positive side, while they needed to run faster,
at least they were a good deal faster than last season.
The Nets were scoring far too often on rebounded shots. The C's
were not rebounding well at all. Pierce had a really bad
offensive trip, where he got the ball all alone on one side of the
court, where the entire Nets team was ready and waiting to converge on
him. Paul had no pass, and no shot open. No one came back
out to help him. With less than ten seconds on the shot clock, he
had to do SOMETHING, so he tried to get past his defender. He did
beat the double, but the third guy blocked him off, and the ball was
stripped as Pierce went up for the shot. This led to a Nets fast
break for two.
This is a symptom of what he C's do far too often. They don't
have a quick shot or pass, and the defense is set. So they all
eagerly get rid of the ball to Pierce. The problem is, the
defense knows this is coming and knows that Pierce is the only player
on the team who expects to bail himself out of trouble. All they
have to do is collapse, and make him put the ball on the floor.
Pierce does not have the greatest ballhandling in basketball history,
to be sure.
The C's need to get him the ball either out at the arc where he can
take a good three, or hit him as he's moving toward the hoop so he can
beat the defense. But more importantly, they need to first have
the confidence to help each other, and second, be available to take the
ball back if the defense smothers Pierce. The reason Paul forces
his offense is because there's still at least a subconscious
expectation that he's supposed to do just that. Everyone's head
needs to re-learn and realize there HAVE to be other options, otherwise
they become the Timberwolves.
Vin Baker and Aaron Williams traded hoops. Neither team was
playing strong defense. Fortunately, the C's were shooting almost
as well as New Jersey. But there were mental mistakes
still. Pierce received a good pass from Baker, and had he spun
clockwise--away from the defender--he had an open shot. But he
went the other way, and gave a second man time to get in his way.
And although the defender was clearly outside the circle--and still
moving--Pierce was called for the offensive foul.
But the C's kept giving up second chances on those rare occasions when
the Nets missed the first shot. New Jersey rarely needed a third
try. FSNE has added cameras situated directly above the hoop to
get better angles on plays close in. Great. We have another
way to see the C's give up another rebound.
Jefferson showed how to push off Kedrick with two hands in the open
court without getting a foul called. Nice work if you can get
it. Baker was doing well under the hoop, but he could use a
little help. Pierce made a nice feed to Vin for two. The
next trip up, they did it again, and Baker drew the foul as the shot
went in. The free throw went in, too.
I realize that the C's didn't really draw up plays for Vin, for obvious
reasons. But now that he's in the starting lineup, they need to
deliberately focus more on him as an offensive option. He's
handling things well so far.
Once more, the C's walked the ball up the floor. That's silly,
against a team that is ready to drop from extended effort. Make
the Nets run everywhere, including to the bathroom between
periods. Halfcourt is not good for the C's,
Vin got called for hooking, but it looked to me like his defender
simply moved in front of Baker's off arm, and the ref bought it.
Vin had his man beat--he didn't need to hook, and that's not one of his
moves, anyway. Partly as a vestige of last season, I think, Vin
tends to get called for cheapies.
Jiri Welsch came in (along with Raef), and had a nice break, where he
faked a pass to Banks at the free throw line, then made the shot when
the defender committed to the pass. then Jiri went up and
actually made the pass to Mark Blount for two more when the defenders
went for the shot.
Raef then made a pass to Blount. It was a bit behind him,
otherwise it would have been a layup. So Blount took a dribble to get
set, then put the ball up over the defender for two. Jumaine
Jones was there for the cleanup had it been needed.
Boston was fighting for rebounds, but New Jersey kept winning the
fights. The C's inexplicably relied on a moderately effective
halfcourt offense instead of running the feet off the Nets
players. New Jersey wasn't taking markedly better shots, it's
just they were going in. Marcus Banks ducked and ran in for a
quick hoop in the final minute. Then LaFrentz actually made a
long pass to the accelerating Kedrick Brown, who might as well have
been yelling "Beep, Beep" he was going so fast. One two fisted
dunk later, the C's closed out the scoring of the first quarter, with
the Nets leading 28-26. The funny thing was, the C's were scoring
more efficiently than the Nets, going 12-18, while the Nets were
12-24. The Nets had a 10-7 rebounding edge, and there were the
free throws New Jersey was taking. That was the frustrating
part--had the C's been running and rebounding, and playing tough
defense--Boston might have exploded on the tired Nets.
The C's opened up the second quarter with great defense that prevented
the Nets from inbounding the ball before the five second call was
made. That's more like what I wanted to see on defense. Jim
O'Brien seems reluctant to use the press--probably for fear of
triggering flashbacks to Rick Pitino.
Blount and Kedrick both worked hard on the offensive boards, and Blount
eventually went to the line for two, making both. Cousy was taken
aback by how fast Kedrick got to the boards. Tommy was bragging
on Kedrick's speed like he'd been the one who gave him his first pair
of sneakers. Blount stuffed Mourning, but the ball caromed
straight to the Nets, and Armstrong made the next shot.
Then Banks fired a pass inside to Kedrick for an easy two. Cousy
remarked that he liked everything Banks had done to this
juncture. And in truth, Banks looked a LOT better than he has in
previous games. The passes are much better, and his speed is
starting to work for him. He's not there yet, but he's noticeably
closer than he was to being a good PG last week.
The C's were pushing the Nets outside on defense, but they were still
hitting most of their shots. The C's were still not running
consistently, but they passed well and moved the ball once they got
past halfcourt. Then, Mark Blount dusted off a running hook shot,
to the astonishment of Tommy Heinsohn and Bob Cousy, who remarked,
"We've gotta take Mark out of the starting lineup more often!"
They're right. If Blount can make that shot on a regular basis,
that's going to be extremely frustrating for opposing players.
Cousy ststed that Kidd was not a good outside shooter, and recommended
rushing him on the shot. Jumaine Jones got fouled on what was a
gimme two, as timeout was called with the C's up, 34-32 with 8:42 left
in the half.
Following the timeout, Jones went to the line, making one of two.
Jiri came back in for Jones then, as Jumaine still shouldn't play too
much until he's a) fully recovered and b) more familiar with the C's
style of play from a physical standpoint.
The C's had a great offensive stand, where Blount and Raef both had
offensive rebounds to keep the drive alive. This gave Pierce an
opening for the dunk. That was an emotional boost for the C's and
the fans. But Kidd came right back with a three. Banks made
one of his few mistakes, as he looked to the bench for instructions and
missed a potential outlet pass. A pass to who, I don't know,
since the FSNE cameras weren't looking up, either.
It looked like Pierce was being used to draw the defense on a fake
isolation play, which worked. But the Nets kicked back to hit
another three. Cousy realized that the C's plan was to give up
the outside shot to prevent a back door play, but since teams seemed to
be actually hitting those shots, that Boston might need to extend the
defense a bit to shake those threes.
The Nets were on another break when Jefferson pulled up just as the
ball was being passed his way. The pass was caught by Jim
O'Brien, who held the ball a moment and was looking upcourt before
remembering he's not allowed to start the break, and turned and fired a
pass to the ref. Pierce was looking at the ref as he was hit on
the arm while shooting with no call.
The C's crashed the defensive boards and came up with the ball.
Pierce took the ball from Banks and made a spinning basket off single
defense. The C's defense had toned up considerably, and were
getting good results. Then Vin took a charge. He was open
at the other end, but the C's just aren't yet in the habit of getting
him the ball.
Yet, every time the C's played good defense, the Nets came up with a
deep shot. Kidd was running faster than anyone on the C's and
certainly more consistently. As Kidd was missing a couple of free
throws, a lady in the stands had a handwritten sign saying, "Hey,
Tommy--I've loved Walter!" Gorman wisely refrained from detailed
Banks did make an error when he took a too-quick three when there was a
three on three situation and Pierce was open. Not glaring, but
indicative that Marcus still needs to work at his game. Waltah!
made a nice spin move down the lane, but the shot didn't go.
But the Nets had worked the lead up as the quarter wound down, partly
their offense, and partly the C's playing halfcourt isolation instead
of a running game. The half ended with the Nets stealing the ball
off a lazy pass from Jumaine Jones to make it 54-43, Nets leading it.
The stats showed pretty clearly what was going wrong for he C's.
Boston shot 46%, NJ went 48%. The C's were 1-6 from the arc, and
the Nets were 3-9. The Nets had a 24-18 rebounding edge, and a
13-4 lead in 2nd chance points. Boston had the edge in paint
points, 24-14, but New Jersey had a 15-6 lead in fast break points.
Simply put, Boston was playing well, but they weren't doing anything to
stop the Nets from playing better. The C's were not running, not
rebounding and not contesting the New Jersey shots. A small part
of this could be attributed to the Nets making more than their fair
share of deep twos and threes. But there were too many stretches
where there was only one Celtic player on the boards, like Vin Baker or
Also, Boston kept going away from their successful offense--where they
at least move the ball well--and went back to just dumping the ball to
Pierce and standing around. Yes, Pierce is the primary offensive
option, and with good reason, but they're not using him properly.
Making Pierce constantly dribble through the teeth of the defense and
hope to get to the line is not the way to go. Pierce should be
getting the ball only at certain times and in certain ways,
normally. When he's got single defense on the break, or when he
can pass the ball quickly inside to someone like Baker--that's when to
hand him the ball.
Pierce is not blameless, though. He needs to drill it into the
guys heads how to bail themselves out every so often. Make the
defense guess who's going to get the ball, so there aren't 3-4 people
hanging off Pierce.
Given this, it was obvious what the C's had to do--play faster on
offense, and contest the Nets at the defensive end. I know I
sound negative about the C's play in the first half. And no, it
wasn't great, not compared with what we've come to expect this
season. But it's still light years better than what they had
going last season, especially on offense. We just need to see
more of it, and on a consistent basis.
The opening possession by Boston was a microcosm of what they shouldn't
be doing. banks did run, but nobody else did. Banks then
dumped the ball back to Pierce. Vin Baker had to leave a good
position under the hoop to come out and take the ball for a tougher
shot which missed.
Cousy likes Kedrick's potential, but realizes he needs time to let his
game mature. Having said this, we watched Kedrick knock down a
Cooz also firmly stated that the C's should "gamble on the back door
layups" and go after the outside shooters. To make the point, the
C's did so, and stopped the inside move. Baker got mugged at the
other end, preventing a layup as Vin was inexplicably called for a foul.
The C's were individually working the defense--like Battie--but the
Nets were pulling away with the halfcourt game. The C's couldn't
seem to breathe on the Nets without being called for a foul.
Pierce got called for basket interference on his own shot
attempt. The replay showed the call was good. Then Baker
got a defensive rebound at one end, then worked to get the offensive
rebound of Kedrick's miss, which ended up a jump ball. THAT
replay clearly showed two Nets players either fouling Baker or giving
him extreme hugs. I don't Vinny's that kind of guy, y'know?
Whistle a foul? In Boston's favor? You ARE kidding, right?
Vin took the jump, but the whistle blew--at last. The re-jump was
also won by Vin, so justice prevailed. But as they prepared to
re-jump, Tommy growled, "I'm too old for this. Am I too old for
"Yes", replied Cousy, "We both are."
As always, Cooz gives you an honest answer. :>)))
James finally looked up and saw Kedrick. Brown had to take a
dribble when he finally got the pass, but somehow made the shot.
James then fed Blount for two more, prompting a Nets time out with 6:55
left in the third, and the Nets up by 10, 62-52.
Boston finally started moving the ball, resulting in an open three for
Kedrick, prompting Cousy to wryly remark, "Let's keep Kedrick in the
starting lineup a little longer."
Blount got a much-needed defensive rebound, then was up the other end,
just missing on a good shot near the hoop. But Super Vin was
there, tipping it home. Vin then got a rebound, and started the
break with a pass, which ended when Pierce was left wide open for a
made three, and a 13-2 run for the Good Guys.
Then Super Vin made another defensive rebound, and the C's crashed the
boards at the offensive end. They didn't get the score this time,
but it was the kind of effort we hadn't seen on the boards much this
game, and it was welcome.
Then Blount took a rebound, but the C's walked it up. The problem
is, it worked this time, as they worked a back door to Pierce, who
sneaked through the defense for two at the hoop. Then Jefferson
was stripped as he took it to Banks. Marcus motored upcourt and
for once, the C's were all off and running ahead of him, a three on one
break against a long Nets defender. Banks committed the defender
to the shot, then left the ball back for Blount, who tried to make the
ball two-dimensional as he slammed it through the net. Kedrick
Brown was there for the cleanup if it hadn't gone. Byron Scott
called timeout as the Nets double digit lead evaporated with a tie game
at 64 with 2:59 left in the third quarter.
Following the timeout, things looked good for Boston. All they
had to do was keep doing what they had for the previous few
minutes. The crowd was screaming it's unconditional support for
the Good Guys. But the Nets picked up a rebound and Kidd did it
to them again. Pierce fired uncontested from the free throw line
and got it back.
Then Banks stuffed Mourning, but Blount couldn't convert the pass at
the other end. The C's hadn't run on that play at all. But
they did the next time up, as Pierce went behind the back in midair and
got fouled on the shot. His trip to the line yielded two more
Cousy praised the C's shooting, but commented that defense and boards
separates the men from the boys in the NBA. Raef tried to snag a
board, but while he missed, the effort was positive, and so for the C's
in general. Yet at the defensive end, the Nets were getting to
the ball. The fact that some uncalled fouls might have been part
of that was perhaps relevant.
Pierce put an exclamation on the quarter with another three, as the C's
ended the third with the lead, 70-69. Boston had shot over 50% in
the quarter, going 9-16, while the Nets were 6-24. The C's had
outrebounded the Nets in the quarter, 14-8, and had a 6-2 edge in
assists. Despite the slow start to the third, it ended with the
C's playing a lot more like we need them to.
Pierce was rightly a tad put out when he got literally run over by
Kerry Kittles--but Pierce was called for a foul. And they call ME
Marcus seems to be suffering from "rookie reserve" and looking for
instructions instead of simply blowing past his guy and going to the
hoop. Jiri Welsch knew better and tried it, but the shot didn't
Mike Gorman commented that Vin appeared to be even thinner now than at
the start of training camp. Looking closely, I think he might be
right. He looks almost gaunt, especially compared to last
season. Meanwhile, the C's let Kedrick zip down the baseline for
an easy two. But Slay hit back for a three. Banks came
right back with a drive to the hoop for two. NJ called time with
9:15 left in the game and the score tied at 74.
At this point, the announcers mentioned Cousy's sale of his personal
collection of sports memorabilia. I went to the auction site at www.sportscardsplus.com and
this is incredible stuff. Cooz is holding the auction to pay for
his grandkids' education. If I had the money, I'd win all the
items and give them back to Cooz with a thank you note. I wish
the NBA Hall of Fame would look into permanently leasing some of it for
Marcus Banks gave Kidd windburn as he blew by when time was back in,
and Williams had to foul to prevent the layup. He made
both. Then he made another nice shot from the free throw
line. This tied the score at 78 with 7:20 left in the game.
The Nets started really smothering Pierce, and the other Celtic players
were faced with having to work without him, but Pierce got free, and
tied the game at 80 with 6 minuted left. Boston nearly blew a
golden opportunity when Kidd missed a shot clock three and Pierce fired
the outlet pass. Banks had the ball and Raef moving under the
hoop, with Blount zooming close behind. But instead of pushing
the ball, Marcus pulled back at the arc, and waited for everyone else
to arrive. Aaugh! But Pierce and Raef crashed the boards
and Raef got the hoop.
Sadly, the Nets came right back with an alley-oop play nine seconds
Banks redeemed himself at the defensive end by outrunning his man to a
loose ball and running back up with it. The C's couldn't convert,
and the Nets came back, but Blount stuffed Zo. Then Banks got
blew by two defenders and went to the hoop, but the shot was just short
with. I would have said he was fouled, but the refs would
apparently have disagreed. Kidd thought he had the rebound free
and clear when Raef flew--and I do mean FLEW--in front of him to snag
the ball. He drew the defense and fed he ball to Banks, who was
fouled on the attempt with no call once more. Still, great
Time was called with 4:09 left and the Nets ahead, 84-82.
But the C's stopped running. At first, it looked like Pierce
might pull it out, but the Nets gambled everything on defending him,
even as Kidd seemed unstoppable. The Nets started pulling
away. The C's were determined to pass the ball to Pierce no
matter where he was on the court. Kedrick was wide open and
couldn't wait to hand off the ball to Pierce. But even though the
offense was close, the C's defense wasn't able to stop the Nets at all
as time wound down.
Banks did try to push the NJ defense, and went to the line, but picked
a bad time to start missing free throws, as the score was 92-86 with
1:01 left. He made the second shot.
But the Nets, as predictably as Boston, went to Kidd. Banks
managed to hold him off, but the C's break ended with a strip of the
ball. But in the end, the Nets were just out of Boston's reach,
and the game ended as the Nets won it, 94-87.
Cookies and Crumbs:
Cookies go to:
Vin Baker: Super Vin just looks better and better. He
didn't have a lot of attempts, but that's not his fault, they need to
pass him the ball more often. When he had the ball, he made good
use of it.
Marcus Banks: when he ran, he was able to beat everyone, including
Kidd. He still needs work, but there's definite improvement.
Kedrick Brown: This is the kind of explosive athleticism we've been
The C's passing game: when they passed, they did a good job,
until the very end.
Crumbs go to:
Paul Pierce: Yes, lots of points, but not enough assists and too
many turnovers--many due to having the ball in the wrong place at the
Mike James: James had good moments, but Banks played better tonight.
The C's rebounding and running: too often it wasn't there when it
Obie was looking decidedly annoyed at losing the third straight game
that the C's had a chance to win, had they only done whet he keeps
telling them to do. I have a feeling he's going to be tinkering
with the lineup if people don't start running more consistently.
The next game is on Sunday, against the Sacramento Kings at 6pm on
And that's the view from the doghouse.