2003 Preseason game 3, Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers, October 11, 2003
The Celtics Beagle hard at work on another game reviewAfter the first two preseason games ran more like really intense practices, the C's started to get down to business.  After all, this was the Pacers--the team Boston dismantled in the playoffs last year.  Now, they were coached by former Celtics player Rick Carlisle, and Larry Bird was back in the basketball business as President of Basketball Operations.  This was a matter of pride for both teams.

As the preseason starts to look more like a real game, so I'll start whipping the ol' Celtics Beagle into season form, by doing a more detailed review.  It helps that this turned into an actual game.  :>)

The starting lineup was a little closer to what I think Coach O'Brien will be using by opening night.  Mike James and Paul Pierce at Guard, Antoine Walker and Kedrick Brown at Forward, and Tony Battie at Center. 

Jumaine Jones is still dealing with the strained hamstring and while Danny Ainge apparently is hoping he makes at least one of the last preseason games, the prevailing opinion is that he'll sit until the real season begins.

Indiana countered with Jamaal Tinsely and Reggie Miller at Guard, Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest at Forward, and Scot Pollard at Center.

Kenny Anderson, Jonathan Bender, Austin Croshere, and Anthony Johnson were unavailable for the Pacers tonight.  Any more injuries, and Larry might have to unretire.  (Paging Bob Cousy...)  :>)

First Quarter:

The Pacers came out looking fast and sharp, while the C's seemed to forget how to make an outlet pass.  this posed less problem than you might think, since they also seemed to forget how to run on the break.  from the beginning, it was clear that Rick Carlisle and company knew what it meant to beat Boston, ans set out to do just that.  Tony Battie showed a nice hook shot, and was moving more smoothly than he had in ages.

But the C's defense seemed to lack the smothering intensity it had become famous for in past seasons.  Antoine Walker was playing closer to the hoop at both ends, which was a good sign, though throughout the game, he had a tendency to take on too much of the offense. 

In fairness, he does have to unlearn several years of having to shoulder 99% of the offense with Pierce.  Paul seems to be getting the hang of passing out of trouble, while Walker seems to forget to check for the open man.  Part of the problem was that there was often no open man to pass to, as the C's were running very inconsistently throughout the game.

Kedrick Brown was hustling at both ends, notably tangling with Pollard at the defensive end.  Pierce had the "other" kind of game at first, landing in early foul trouble.  Some nights, you just can't catch a break.

There was one problem in trying to gauge the running/passing game: Fox Sports New England.  For several years, owing to the pervasive slowness of the Celtics' offense, they would often cut to a close up of a player after a made basket, foul, etc.  they knew that they could cut back and still have plenty of time to get to the play at the other end.  Now, they do the same thing, but you can't see if the C's are really running or not.  They need to cut down on all the closeups and go to more fullcourt shots.  I know, I know, it's not like anyone at FSNE is reading this.  But if anyone out there knows the director, maybe a whisper or two would be a nice thing, hm?  Thanks.

There was one play early in the quarter, where Antoine passed off the ball just over halfcourt, then motored down the side toward the hoop.  Another pass got the ball to Battie at the top of the key.  Now, there was NOBODY underneath as Walker sprinted from the strong side.  Battie had the ball in both hands, and fired the ball high and hard before Walker had even reached the lane.  The ball was thrown too far ahead of Walker, who had to lean over to catch it one-handed, flipping it up toward the hoop as he went by.  Had Battie waited one more second, he would have met Antoine in midair for a layup.  Instead, Pollard made the easy rebound, and eight seconds later, Jermaine O'Neal had two poionts.

This was the kind of thing that plauged the C's throughout the half.  Bad shooting, sometimes a result of bad passing, othertimes, just the result of bad shooting.  The decisionmaking was suspect for just about everyone. 

There were also more turnovers, one of which occured when Pierce, facing  a double team from the hoop, tried to pass out toward Walker--but Antoine was moving toward the hoop!  Yeah, I was surprised, too.  That may be part of the reason Walker backslides a bit--he's impatient, and wants stuff to work right away.

Meanwhile, Tinsley was increasing the Pacer lead, which was now in double digits.  The next trip down, Pierce tried to pass back to an open James in the corner--Indiana was really packing the hoop--but it was deflected.  I could see that Pierce, among others was TRYING to do the right thing, but the timing is still off.

Kedrick Brown decided to start taking charges, and while the first attempt was called against him, things worked better later on.

Tony Delk came in as Kedrick picked up another foul.  At last, a chance to see what Delk might do.

The C's were starting to play scrambling defense, and it was working--well, a little.  I realized a reason that the long pass might not be used here--Indiana was really moving on defense, and picking off passes at the offensive end.  If they started doing that at OUR end, it was going to be a massacre.  So I contented myself if the C's actually dribbled fast.

One thing I liked was that Walker DID keep going to the hoop, and on one occasion, Battie was right behind him for the cleanup rebound.  I've been noticing more an more that the C's are trying to do some work on cleanup, and if they get the timing right, there'll be a lot of quick, easy scores.

Pierce made a nice move, drawing the defense to the arc, then firing the ball into Tony Battie.  Tony ended up at the line.  Another example of how I see Pierce learning when to pass.  I'm hoping as a matter of pride, Walker will follow suit.

The Pacers kept capilalizing on the C's help defense, finding the open man, and frequently going to the line.  One thing I noticed was that while the C's weren't really running upcourt, once they GOT there, they did move and pass well.  The problem was, by that time, the defense was there.  The C's have to keep the pedal to the floor, end to end, for this running game to work.

But it was starting to look like a loooong night for the Good Guys.  With 4:57 left, Pierce got hit with his third foul, and was summoned to the bench.  Banks came in for James at the same time.

Eric Williams managed to disrupt Ron Artest a bit, which was nice to see.  For the most part, Artest--as usual--got away with felonious assault on Pierce, who will probably need a body-sized icepack tomorrow.

Then Vin Baker showed up.  He didn't take over the game or anything, but I began to realize that he was consistently involved in plays at both ends of the court, moving well, and generally making things a little better.  He immediately got a reboung, and O'Neal goaltended his shot.  He went to the line in the process, making the shot.  It was an amazing improvement.  He moved SO much, that he got caught on a defensive three seconds as he was covering two players from the lane.  To his credit, he was periodically sticking his arm out to check his distance, but zigged when he sould have zagged.

One thing that made me proud was to see that on offense, Baker was calling for the ball!  Blount ended up with the rebound, but Baker was right there with him to clean it up if needed.

Eric Williams was unable to contain Ron Artest one on one, and Artest took full advantage. With 2:32 left as timeout was called, Indiana led 27-15.

When time went back in, Tony Delk showed he was willing and able to run upcourt, and wasn't afraid to shoot the ball.  Mark Blount then began a series of trips to the free throw line, doing pretty well.

Banks still needs work recognizing the open man, but the C's did run faster in the last part of the quarter.

The first quarter ended with the Pacers ahead, 31-20.


Second Quarter:

The C's started by committing another turnover.  I know that in an uptempo game, there's going to be more of those, but it still hurts to see.

Then, Vin Baker showed his head as well as his feet were in the game, by scooping up a loose ball and immediately passing it upcourt to Banks, who took off.  Baker was moving so fast, that when Banks' jumper missed (due to a foul), Vin grabbed the rebound.

Delk sat in favor of Kedrick Brown, having accomplished little in his time on the floor.  Kedrick quickly put a body on Ron Artest.  I'm glad someone did!

Then, when Kedrick--on one of the few fast breaks--missed, Vinny was there to clean up for two.  After a timeout, he took the ball into a double team for a finger roll and a trip to the line, where he missed the free throw.  That's one of the few problems I see with Baker--as well as the rest of the team--is consistently making free throws.  Speaking of Vinnie, he finished with eight points, five rebounds, an assist and a steal.  His scoring average--in preseason--is steadily rising over his meager 5.2ppg last season.  Go, Vinny!

For some reason, Kedrick is not a considered target for the C's offense, even though he proved adept at scoring on several occasions during the game.  In general, the C's need to work on finding the open man.

Foster made a nice spin move for a basket--even though in the process, he spun Blount to the floor.  Well, it's preseason for the refs, too.  A timeout was called with 8:46 left in the half, with Indiana still leading, 35-26.

Following the timeout, Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn announced that Celtics Team Physician Dr. Arnold Scheller, with the team since 1987, was called back to active duty in the armed forces.  Best wishes to him and to all who serve, that they might come home safe and well.

Tony Delk came back in, and at least was noticable.  I'm not sure what he's going to do this season, after only one preseason appearance to date.  At least he looked like he was in shape.

Waltah came back in, and Tommy announced that Walter had told him that he had "a bum knee", some kind of water problem, heretofore unmentioned.  What this means for McCarty, I have no idea.  Walker came back in for Vin, while Pierce remained on the bench. 

The C's did show what their offense could do, as Battie smartly bopped the ball out to Banks, who fired it to Delk, who lobbed it back for an alley oop to Battie, who had zoomed hoopward while everyone expected Delk to launch a three.

This bears mentioning specifically--the Celtics were NOT forcing the three in this game.  While there were one or two attempts I would quibble with, overall, the team was much more restrained than in past seasons.  Be still my heart, we might be going to the hoop this year!

With 6:02 left after a timeout, the Celtics had closed to Pacer lead to 38-33, and began clamping down on the defense a bit.  Jermaine O'Neal elbowed Battie three times enroute to the hoop, but guess who went to the line? 

The C's shooting woes continued, as Walker missed a decent hook and Blounts rebound also failed to go in.  The Good Guys need to make those shots.

At this point, Antoine started forcing his offense a bit, but given the poor shooting performance overall, I can see why he might feel the burden.  But as mentioned previously, he NEEDS to look for the open man, not try to do it all himself.

Delk exited in favor of Eric Williams.  Neither player did a whole lot, though Ewill was a little more effective by comparasion.  With 3:40 left, the score was now 42-38, and the C's were coming alive.

In a reversal of last season, Blounnt picked up his third, and Baker came in to replace him.  I don't think Vin will be starting, but at least he's a solid player off the bench so far.

One complaint as an aside--shouldn't there be a rule against the sound system playing aggravating music during the game?  Yeek.

Waltah blew a pass to Baker by firing it somewhere between Vinnie's ankles and knees.  I like Waltah, but he's just not showing me the stuff he had last season.

As the quarter wound down, the Pacer lead opened up, heading back into double digits.  But the C's defense got a little better, forcing a 24-second violation.

If Mike James is such hot stuff as point guard, why isn't he moving the ball upcourt faster???

Halftime arrived with the Pacers maintaining their longtime lead at 54-45 as Miller hit another of his zillion free throws.


HALFTIME:

The halftime featured part one of an interview of Bill Walton by Tom Heinsohn during this year's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.  Bill is making up for all the years when he didn't speak by overelocution at every opportunity.  But it was interesting to hear him recount the fact that the very last time he played basketball was against new inductee Robert Parish.  It was a summer game at Hellenic College, and Walton Broke his finger trying to defend Parish.  While rehabbing on the exercycle, he suffered a stress fracture of his foot, and never played again.  He eloquently stated that the C's gave him not only his career back, but his very life.  He proclaimed himself a lifelong Celtics fan.

Walton, something of a "homer" predictably stated his belief that the C's were on the verge of a "Renaissance", and felt that "everything is in place".  If Tommy retires, Big Bill will be ready and waiting, and poor Mike Gorman will never get a word in edgewise on the air again.  :>)

Statswise, The C's shooting had improved dramatically, to 39%.  Yes, people that was, in fact, an improvement.  Too bad Indiana was shooting at 48%.  The Pacers took more free throws, though Boston made more of theirs percentagewise, 21-27 and 13-17 respectively.  Indiana held a slim 22-19 rebounding edge, but blew Boston away with an 11-4 edge on assists.  Boston had more bench points, but that was because Carlisle had gone with his starters most of the way.  The C's had only 5 transition points to Indy's 13.

Things would have to improve for Boston, or this game was a goner.  I was amazed that the score was this close, given how well the Pacers were playing.  They still have a tendency to throw the game away sometimes.


Third Quarter:

The Pacers tried a fast break, but Blount put a quick block to that idea.  The Pacers ended up taking a long three that rebounded to Kedrick Brown.  Pierce, who had just re-entered the game, took it to the hoop for two.  He then went to the free throw line, which he missed.

Blount then got a steal, and fired to Banks, who really ran toward the hoop.   He missed, but Pierce and Kedrick Brown jumped in tandem for the rebound.  Pierce got a nice rebound but his attempt to pass inside was poorly timed.  Again, the C's need to work on the timing of their passes.

 Pierce then made a mental mistake as Jermaine O'Neal rode him out of bounds with no call.  Pierce got tired of grinning and bearing it, drawing a "T" for his reasonable request that O'Neal might be prohibited from angling Pierce headfirst into the basket support.  Heinsohn commented about Artest's physical proclivities, but it was--this time--O'Neal who did the dirty deed, not Ronnie.

This energized Pierce, but then he tried to do too much, trying to take on Ron Artest one-on-one.  That's not a good idea, unless you hit him with a two-by-four first.  Pierce normally plays smarter, but his temper was obviously getting the better of his common sense for a bit here.  The Pacers used this to advantage, opening up their lead once more.

One thing helping the Pacers is they kept hitting threes at opportune moments, though I think they relied too much on outside shooting.  Had the C's been playing a little better, they would have destroyed the Pacers.

As it was, Antoine Walker also looked a bit foolish, trying to dribble into a triple team instead of out of it.  Things were looking worse and worse, as with 6:23, Walker hit a forced three to make it 68-50, Pacer lead.  The C's followed up with a 24 second violation.  It was looking really bad for Boston.

A short discussion later, the starters--who had been pulled en masse for ineffectiveness--came back and good things started to happen.  The C's defense picked up, and Pierce drew the defense and passed out.  Battie was fouled on his way to a dunk.  He made his free throw (YAY!), and the C's began clawing their way back.  There was still a problem as Pierce kept trying Artest straight up, which won't work.

But Kedrick Brown was wide open on consecutive plays for easy baskets.  Here's an idea--pass the ball to Kedrick. 

Jermaine O'Neal still takes several days to shoot a free throw.

The refs called a "T" on Antoine, probably for saying something untoward.

But for some unknown reason, Ron Artest was no longer guarding Pierce--Fred Jones was.  That is, Fred was trying to guard Pierce.  For all the good he did, I might as well have been guarding Pierce. 

Walker was still forcing his offense, but at least he was getting slightly better results.  The last minute was a series of free throws, before consecutive plays ensued without fouls called.  When the third quarter ended, the C's had cut the lead from 21 points to 8 points, as Indiana led 76-68.


Fourth Quarter:

The C's defense kicked up more, and Artest finally got called for a foul.  Pierce finally calmed down, and passed out of the defense to Banks, who showed he could hit a three in a timely manner.  Amazingly--and largely due to the surge at the end of the third quarter--the C's shooting had jumped to 44% over the course of the game.

Blount took yet another charge, and Pierce started playing smarter--and with better results.  The rest of the team moved better and set picks.  The Pacers were content to shoot from outside--the problem is, they were hitting pretty well.

Blount also showed me something offensively, going into the boards.  I was surprised to see Artest on the bench as Pierce played better.  I would have expected Artest to be glued to Pierce through the final quarter.

Pierce would have had a loud dunk, but for an uncalled foul.  By the way, Tommy Heinsohn was working himself into midseason form--or a coronary--over the refs.  Pierce was obviously dealing with a sore mouth by now, not the first time he's been clocked on the play, as we know.

James distributed the ball smartly, and the C's closed the score to 85-80 as timeout was called with 6:39 left in the game.

Walker had a funny moment, as he pelted toward the hoop, drawing the foul that sent him out of bounds, but Walker spun and ended up sitting in an empty seat under the hoop!  He went to the line, and made both,  (Yay!!)

The C's defense produced a fast break, when Walker kicked the ball out to Banks, who was open in the corner, and Marcus tied the game at 85.

Following a Pacer turnover, the C's nearly got a shot for Pierce, which didn't go in.  Harrington then threw the ball away, and Boston came back determined to do better, and Eric Williams gave the C's their first lead of the game (and, for all I know, of the preseason) with 4:52 left in the game at 88-85.

In a scene eerily reminiscent of last year's playoffs, Rick Carlisle did NOT bring the starters back in.  Win or lose, the guys on the court were in the game until the end, it seemed.

The C's did make one mistake as a team--they encouraged Pierce to shoulder all the offense.  They really should have given him some passing options, and their failure to do so allowed Indiana to focus all their attention on Paul.  This made it a lot tougher for him to get a decent shot.

Also, the C's did NOT run as a team in the closing minutes.  Too often, there were only one or two Celtic players on the break, and that wasn't enough against a coordinated Pacer defense.  Even though the Pacers committed more turnovers, the C's failed to properly capitalize on a consistent basis.  Eric Williams scored what would be the final points for the C's with 3:17 left in the game.  The annoying thing is that Indiana would only score two points in the final three minutes--on free throws.

The C's defense was working, but the offense was not up to snuff at the close of the game.  It's not like the Good Guys didn't get their chances, including a play where Blount was literally thrown to the floor while shooting with no call.  This set off Heinsohn at full volume, and while I agree with him, this wasn't the only opportunity Boston had.

Blount then took another charge, and at the offensive end, kept the ball alive by slapping it out to Walker.  Antoine was about to be triple teamed, and backed out a bit until he only faced Foster, ten went back in a bit and a good looking three.  He had a couple of passing options, but this shot looked decent when it started, and just missed off the back rim.

Eric Williams made a nice defensive play at the other end, Blount passed it up from the floor, and a fast pass up the sideline to Walker almost capped a brilliant play--but for one problem.  When Walker got the ball, there were no teammates to help him, and when he caught the ball, the defense had cut him off from the hoop, with a double team forming.  Only Pierce was anywhere near, but on the other side of the court with no chance to receive a pass.  Walker drove to the hoop, hoping to draw the charge, but it went the other way.  There was 1:16 left and with the score 91-90, there was still time for the C's to pull it out.

The C's defense forced Harrington into a bad shot, and with 55.3 seconds left, the C's had the ball.  They passed up to Pierce--the only one really moving up the floor--and he tried to sweep in from the side, but the entire Pacer team converged on him, and got the rebound. 

The C's rebounded a Pacer miss with 24.3 seconds left, and Pierce zoomed upcourt once more.  Banks DID keep up this time, and was open, but Pierce's passing angles were cut off.  He was able to reach Williams at the top of the key, who gave it back to Paul almost as fast.  It was clear that Pierce was being encouraged to shoot, though Banks was still wide open on the other side, and I was SURE that Pierce would fire it off to Marcus, who had made that shot several times tonight.

Pierce was hit several times as he tried to go to the hoop, and ended up taking an off-balance three that missed everything.  It might have been the chop to the shoulder he took in mid-shot.  Indiana took possession on the shot clock violation as the refs added a second to the clock, leaving 2.3 seconds left in the game. 

The C's tried to prevent the inbound pass, but the Pacers made it in, barely--I thought it was six seconds but my opinion, coming from Florida to the television set, was ignored.  The Pacers held on to win, 91-90.

Like I said, this was a winnable game for Boston.  There were some good things, like the play of Baker and Brown, and some bad things like the lack of running and the offensive breakdown.  The C's get time to correct some of their bad habits and rest up before going to Detroit to play the Pistons on Wednesday at 7:30pm.

And that's the view from the doghouse.