At least, Tom Hanneman referred to Boston as "another elite team from the East". Mychal kept hunting similies and coming up empty--"If Pierce were a missile, he'd be a Tomahawk missile". If I were going to try a military analogy, I'd at least call Pierce the long range targeting system of the Celtics. Sigh.
Then, Mychal denigrated the Celtics defense, their offense, and insulted Antoine Walker. During the game he declared that Vin Baker needed to play his way into shape, apparently ignorant of the fact that Baker reported to camp having lost weight and spent the summer continuing his progress.
Note to Mychal: Read the #%^^O%& scouting report, willya?
By the time the game started, I would have cheerfully dropped Mychal from a Sopwith Camel just to shut him up. I was wondering if playing for the Lakers made him an arrogant fool, or if he started out that way. I was also devoutly hoping that 1. Walker would have a great game, and 2. the Celtics Defense as a whole would enable a Celtics win.
...And 3. Mychal dropped off the face of the Earth.
Soon. And quietly.
The game opened up as Minnesota used Kevin Garnett's height to great advantage, and opened up inside. Even when the defense was there, Garnett just went over it. The Wolves moved the ball fast and well on offense and the Celtics just weren't getting anything much from outside. Pierce was, alas, still having trouble getting his shots to fall. Walker showed signs that he was getting it back in scoring gear, though.
Throughout the first, the Timberwolves outrebounded
15-11, outhustled on the break 13-2, outscored 54%-32%, and generally outplayed
Boston. I hate to say it, but the Wolves were really rolling at this
point, and it looked bad for the Good Guys. What kept the C's close
was the three. Live or die, that was the only effective weapon against
the Wolves defense. They gambled that the Celtics would continue
shooting 29% on threes. Heh, heh, heh. :>) The
First quarter ended with Minnesota enjoying a 31-24 lead.
Shammond Williams opened the quarter by being aggressive to the hoop on offense. It was a sign that the Celtics weren't giving up. But things were still a little disorganized for the Celtics, and they needed to get working together. They did so, tying the game at 31 two and a half minutes into the quarter. It was ironic that the Minnesota Midget Minds were harping on the Celtics prediliction on shooting the three--considering that The Wolves were also firing away from outside--of course, with no negative comment from the announcers. I wonder if Mychal's disdain came from the fact that he went 1-10 on threes in a decade in the NBA?
Throughout the quarter, the Wolves just couldn't
pull away. Boston kept within striking distance as time progressed,
though Pierce was looking worse and worse from the field. I noticed
a lot of his shots looked off-balance and rushed, like he was afraid Garnett
would stuff the ball down his throat. Still, the Celtics kept working
on defense, primarily Battie and Eric Williams. It wasn't always
effective--let's face it, how often can you defend Garnett one on one and
not have him shoot over you. In addition, the Wolves--for all Mychal's
barbs about the Celtics doing so--were making a good living from outside.
They hit some tough shots. Unfortunately, they also got some really
good open looks--far too many for my taste. This allowed the Wolves
to go into halftime with a lead at 57-48.
Ok, up to now, things did not look either great or terrible for Boston. My concern was the third quarter. I shuddered with the memory of the Detestable Ones from the West Coast erasing a 17 point deficit with the ease of a hurricane wind erasing a blackboard.
I saw some good attempts at defense, but was puzzled that Coach O'Brien kept to the man to man, and there was very little help defense on Garnett. I was a little upset about some of the lack of foul calls aginst Minnesota at both ends (though nothing like the one-sided effort that was to come in the third). I felt that the C's offense was sputtering a bit for Pierce, but that he was finally seeking the open man a little more. I know, I know, there's a few people out there who think Pierce's middle name is "Hogtheball", but let's face it--he wasn't drafted for his defense.
Even so--Shammond and Walker were in double figures by halftime, and Delk had 5 points by then, too. The percentages weren't so hot--Boston at 37% to Minnesota's 47%. But the C's kept in it by hitting the three--frankly, hitting it better than I thought at 5-12. The free throws were actually a little in favor of Boston (Boy was THAT about to change...) going 11-12 vs. the Wolves' 10-10. Considering the presense of Garnett, being outrebounded 29-20 wasn't so bad. The turnovers were even at 6, but the Wolves killed us on the fast break points: 21-2. The paint points also favored them, 24-18. Thank Garnett. Seriously, he made the inside happen for them. Why couldn't Sundov do some of that for US? Plus, Nesterovic was having a really, really good night on offense.
All in all, a 9 point deficit wasn't bad, considering what the Good Guys were contending with.
The period began with the Wolves stretching their lead, when the Celtics started the rainstorm--the rain of threes. Well, there are days Jim O'Brien looks like a genius, ok? A lot of teams couldn't have made up the deficit against Minnesota. And no, it wasn't Paul Pierce--it was Antoine Walker, who frankly was taking better shots than Pierce tonight. Walker looked in the flow and smooth, while Pierce was off-balance.
But then, the Wolves added three guys to their team--the refs. The calls got so one-sided, I was surprised Tom Heinsohn didn't get himself a technical from wherever he was sitting. Some OBVIOUS Minnesota flops sent them to the line, while out and out knockdowns in the lane of Celtics players had no sound of a whistle to be heard. It was disgraceful. But the C's, by and large, didn't take more than reasonable offense, the played on. In fact, surprisingly, even the Minnesota Announcers--well, Tom Hanneman, anyway--admitted there were some clear non-calls going on against Boston. I give him credit for standing up to his pseudo-intellectual cohort.
With just 2:34 to go, the score stood at 72-63
favoring the Wolves. Less than two minutes later, thanks to Walker,
it was 74-69. Then Pierce pulled an offensive play even the refs
couldn't get him called an offensive foul for, as he scored a beautiful
breakaway basket off a steal with 49 seconds to go. Then after a
miss, the Wolves made the mistake of leaving Walker alone at the arc.
He tied it at 74. With the next posession, the Wolves went for two
at the line leaving 6 seconds to go. Walker passed the ball inbounds,
then took it back, heaving a shot as he crossed halfcourt with 1.6 to go.
It went in, and like that, the Celtics ended the third quarter with the
lead, 77-76. Yes, after that shot, he was ENTITLED to the "Walker
Wiggle". :>) Though he wisely waited until the quarter ended,
lest he pick up a "T". :>)
The fourth began a seesaw battle between the teams as they alternated stiff defense with stenotorian shooting. The Wolves finally had to respect the C's outside shooting, and that FINALLY opened up the lane for Boston. Also, Battie and Williams let Garnett and Company know they were NOT imtimidated, and at one point Garnett had the ball ripped out of his hands. Vin Baker, also introduced himself to Garnett, body blocking him a few times inside. Loren Woods was still occasionally flashing in for a close shot, but that kid is FAST. Give him the right pass, and there's no one fast enough to stop him without powers beyond those of mortal men.
With 4:30 to go, the Celtics regained the lead at 93-92, and this began what I consider some very smart clock management by Walker. He steadied the offensive sets, and encouraged passes for open shots. The Celtics defense clamped down with finality, combined with poor shooting decisions by Minnesota. Pierce also got his shooting back on track, going double-double in points AND assists. Walker hit a record NINE threes.
At the 3 minute mark, the score 96-92, Walker kept the offense from getting overexcited, and Pierce went in for a close shot that drew a foul. He made both free throws, and extended the Boston lead. The Wolves kept eating up clock looking for a shot, and Eric Williams took the rebound. The C's got three more from Pierce. The only drawback was the refs seemed determined to give Minnesota a last chance, calling a cheap foul on the next trip up. Then they repeated that action, and the Wolves cut the lead to 4 at 100-96 with 1:50 to go.
Boston moved the ball well, and Walker had an open three. He missed, but not by much. It was, honestly, a good shot. I would have taken it, anyway. Hudson then went into the hoop, but Pierce rejected it--and bounced the ball off Battie's head in the process, but Battie grabbed the pumpkin and held on for the rebound. Walker then called to slow things down--after all, there was 1:21 to go, adn the C's had the ball and a 4 point lead. Minnesota had VERY good defense, but the C's moved the ball well, and got Pierce a good open look. The shot missed--it went halfway down then hopped out--but it would have been a dagger had it gone in, and it was a good shot.
The Celtics then played OUTSTANDING DEFENSE, as Walker saved the ball inbounds to create a footrace between Shammond and Troy Hudson. Shammond stripped him and went in for a dunk. That made it 102-96 with 36.1 seconds to go. After a timeout, the Wolves shot an airball that was recovered by Shammond, who was immediately fouled. Since the Wolves had one to give, it was taken in from the side, whereupon the Wolves promptly fouled again, sending Shammond to the line with 28.8 left.
He hit both, and the Wolves took the ball up quickly
as Garnett nailed a three to close the gap, and the Wolves sent boston
back to the line, this time Paul Pierce shooting, hitting one of two.
With 22.6 left, the score was 105-99, adn the Wolves went on offense.
Despite an OBVIOUS offensive foul that was NOT called, they missed their
shot and Tony Battie took the rebound, dishing off to Pierce, who sent
it over halfcourt to Shammond, who dribbled out the clock. The Celtics
had won it, by a score of 105-99.
This game showed me something that I realized the C's were doing de facto anyway, but I think they should try it seriously.
Play Antoine Walker at Point Guard.
Stop laughing, I'm serious. Let's face it, on the Celtics, Coach O'Brien wants his Point Guard shooting anyway, so Walker isn't a liability there. Walker showed poise and control as the game drew to a close, and demonstrated sound clock management. We know he can pass the ball when he wants, so why not make it official. 'Toine, you're the Celtics Point Guard. Congratulations.
This was a really good win--in some ways fundamentally better than the Lakers win. The C's never had a lead worth squandering and though Garnett gave them fits, they were never out of it even when things went poorly from the field. It's not often you beat a team that clearly outclasses you in the first half.
I think this will give the C's the boost they need to shore up the defense the way they should. The fourth quarter showed that they could, when necessary, at least slow Garnett down, if not stop him completely. The offense lives and dies by the three, but something became painfully obvious right now. Last season, I trusted Pierce's shot selection more than Walker's. Right now, I have to admit, it's the other way around. Not that I wouldn't be thrilled to see BOTH of them go inside more, but that's the Coach's call, not mine.
This bodes well for the Good Guys IF they keep up the work on improving defense. I saw that there were fewer turnovers tonight, and Vin Baker didn't look lost at either end, he just stayed aggressive. I think that Pierce needs to pace his shots better and think a little more about the pass in the meantime. In the second half, the rebounding was dead even--the 9 rebound deficit was from the first half.
I saw some good inside passed to Battie, but I think the timing needs to work a little tighter--too often, he has to drop and then go back up to shoot. I'd like to see a pass that enables him to shoot it while he's in the air--that'll beat the defense and force them to respect Battie when he's inder the basket. All in all a good, if nervous, win. The next game is Monday against the Utah Jazz.
And that's the view from the doghouse.
Scoring by quarters:
|1st quarter||2nd quarter||3rd quarter||4th quarter||Final|