2003-04 season Game 5, Celtics vs. New Jersey Nets, Friday, Nov 7, 2003
The Celtics Beagle, working hard on his next review.
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 now...".

Bob Cousy joined Mike Gorman 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 Baker 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 as a 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 blame squarely on the Point Guards, none of whom, he stated, had assumed a leadership role.  He reported that people he talked to "in the street" loved the (relatively) up-tempo game and found it more exciting to watch.


First Quarter
:

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 work.

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.


Second Quarter:

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 commentary.

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.

HALFTIME:

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 Mark Blount.

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.


Third Quarter:

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 three. 

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 this?"

"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 points.

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.


Fourth Quarter:

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 biased??  Hmph.

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 fall.

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 a display.

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 later.

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 offense.

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 hearing about.

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 wrong time.

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 was needed.

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 Sunday.

And that's the view from the doghouse.