Preseason game 5: Celtics vs. New Jersey Nets, October 17, 2003
The Celtics Beagle typing the reviewTonight was an interesting game, to say the least.  New Jersey Nets coach Byron "I'm still an idiot" Scott was quoted as saying he didn't really need to play Jason Kidd against the Celtics, but was doing so because Jason specifically asked to play.

Sure, Byron.  You must be the only person in the NBA who doesn't know that without Jason Kidd, you'd be hard pressed to beat Cleveland with LeBron staying on the bench.  Even Kidd knows without him the Nets are nothing.

And, I'm sure the Celtics just loved hearing that a no-talent, third rate team coached by a self-centered egomaniac who acts like he's still a member of a championship team--which is what the Nets are without Kidd on the floor--was sufficient to wipe the floor with Boston.

Still, it's hard to blame the Nets for having SOME confidence--after all, the C's did suffer several trips to the preseason woodshed, most recently a loss so irritating that Coach O'Brien ran--and I do mean RAN--the C's through a three hour practice that began with the explanation that letting the other team shoot over 60% means you're not playing defense.  And we all know how Obie gets annoyed at defensive lapses.

Evidently, he kicked sufficient butts that the message sank in, at least tonight.  The Celtics played defense, ran hard, played good offense, and generally convinced sports fans that all hope was not lost with the end of baseball season. (See?  I do pay attention.  Sometimes.  Still have no idea why the next guy who deliberately whizzes a baseball past someone's face at 90+ MPH isn't thrown in jail until his aim improves.)

For Byron's bluster, you don't have Alonzo Mourning and Jason Kidd play their first preseason game when you aren't serious about winning it.  Or maybe they're being punished for refusing to go house hunting on Long Island.  :>)

First Quarter:

First off, Tommy Heinsohn was right.  New Jersey did steal the opening tap, which led to two and a foul, and gave the Nets a quick 3-0 lead.  I ran the tape frame by frame to be sure.  There was an interesting jump 16 seconds later, as Kedrick Brown and Kenyon Martin tied it up at the other end.  Martin jumped sooner than Brown--but Brown JUST missed taking it away, as he leaped fast and high.  If Kedrick had been up maybe a half-second sooner, he would have taken the jump. 

Sad to say, he did not--and that was one of the few drawbacks of his time on the court tonight.  But at the other end, the Nets were off and zooming as they went to offensive play #1.  Get the ball to Kidd.  That's pretty much what they do.  Kidd ran a perfect alley-oop pass to Martin for a dunk, making the score 5-0, and making me a nervous beagle.  This was exactly the kind of offensive play that Detroit had used to destroy the Celtics the other night, and if the C's couldn't stop the Nets, they'd lose by a record margin.

I got even more nervous as the next offensive possession for Boston ended with a missed three from Mike James.  The Nets ran back and I was having deja vu and considering cutting and pasting the last review for this game, since it looked like it might end up the same way.

Then, something good happened.  the C's defense forced New Jersey into a halfcourt set, and Jefferson missed an outside shot.  Walker and Battie were both there for the rebound.  The C's passed the ball well on offense and Pierce ran into traffic.  He proceeded to pass back OUT of traffic and the C's ended up with a decent shot.  It didn't go in, but still, it was the kind of offense I like to see.

Next trip up, Pierce made a nice jump shot from just inside the free throw line.  Battie was RIGHT THERE in case it missed, and that was great to see also.  He also "tried" to pick up the ball after the made basket, but it ended up going out the side off his foot.  Oops, there goes New Jersey's chance of a fast break from a made basket.  Nice moves, Tony!

So, once more the Nets came up on the halfcourt, and a light went off in the Boston defense.  A neon sign was displayed, saying that the Nets were not playing good halfcourt ball.  If you stop the Nets from running and put a stranglehold on Kidd, you're halfway to the win.  They did so, and ran some transition offense, concluding with a nice pass from Pierce to Kedrick after drawing in the defense.  Two points later, Boston was quickly back on defense.

Battie had a nice rejection, and it brought up one thing that the C's need to work on--well, one OF them--and that's getting some of those loose rebounds.  They DID rebound well, but could have done better.  Pierce made one of his not so smart plays, trying to force a pass through the defense when Banks was open in the corner.  However, off that turnover, Walker and Battie were back quickly on defense to stop the break.  The Nets made a pass that Pierce read before the intended recipient, and when his man tried to pass back in, James tipped the pumpkin to Walker, who uncorked his zoom, and had a layup three seconds later.  This gave the C's something they hadn't had in two games--a transition basket and the lead.

The next few possessions were fast and a bit ragged.  The C's were running, but sometimes failed to complete the easy play.  Passes were sometimes dropped, or the open man missed.  But it just pointed up the overall positive fact that the C's ARE RUNNING.

Pierce began his trips to the free throw line, where he would be giving a clinic this evening.

Still, whenever the Nets ran the fast back door pass, they generally scored.  That was worrisome, though less so, as long as the C's were playing hard, fast, and smart.

The phrase is "Pierce at the line--he makes it."  Copy this 18 times for 18 trips.  That was gratifying to see.

Kedrick Brown proved he was willing to run, and caught up to a bad outlet pass.  If only someone else had run on that trip.  Alas, one of the few minuses.

Kidd tried to stuff it at the other end, only to get stuffed by the Bat-Man, Tony Battie.

Halfway through the first quarter, the score was tied at 11, and this looked more like playoff intensity that preseason idleness.

After a timeout, Marcus Banks came in to get a taste of real NBA action by guarding Jason Kidd.  Walker was once more going to the hoop, which was really nice to see.  So when you see Antoine's poor shooting night, keep in mind some of those were inside.

Alonzo Mourning came in the game at this time, to applause from the fans.  He responded by quickly fouling Tony Battie needlessly.  Kedrick Brown showed quick thinking and quicker passing as he turned a blocked shot by Walker into an assist for a Walker basket.

Walker passed the largesse along by setting up Pierce with a nice pass inside.  Piece went to the line and--well you know the rest.

Kedrick Brown showed Kerry Kittles who was faster up and down the court. Very heartening to see.  The Nets were falling victim to the C's defense, which forced them into bad outside shots.  The C's were looking more and more dominant as the quarter rolled along.

Vin Baker and Waltah came into the game at this time, and Vin showed continued hard work with positive results.  When you see Baker's 1-5 from the field (apart from his 6-8 from the line) keep in mind that he was absolutely wide open for several possible layups that nobody passed to him for.  The shots he missed were generally blocks that sent him to the line.  Vin did hit a nice up and under move, though.  He ran fast and worked hard at both ends of the court, even trying to take a charge on defense.  I do think Obie left him in a little TOO long,as he looked tired when he finally did sit down.

Waltah, sad to say, was the other end of the spectrum.  Most of his effectiveness was in rebounds,and he did make one nice shot, but he also passed up several shots he should have taken.  More on that later.  He also got beat by Martin, and made a silly foul.

But the Celtics closed out the first quarter leading it, 21-15, holding the Nets to 26% shooting, and looking GOOD!!!


Second Quarter:

Things did not, unfortunately, pick up where they left off.  The C's did not mount any serious offense throughout the quarter, with Vin Baker being one of the few offensive bright spots.  But the Nets were making up lost ground as their shooting percentage improved over the miserable (for them, not me) first quarter.

The C's kept working hard on defense, and generally did well, but missed several offensive opportunities.  New Jersey was taking better shots than in the first quarter, and the C's kept having problems running down the shot clock. 

Alonzo Mourning then made a real stupid move.  With 7:32 left in the half, he took down a rebound and drew the foul.  With that, he started strutting for the crowd like he'd just won the Finals singlehandedly, inciting them.  Had he even SLIGHTLY faced anyone on the Celtics when he did this, he would absolutely have been called for taunting.  Too bad he couldn't convert the free throws.  The C's were probably so shocked at his display of immaturity (God knows, Zo better never say word one about the Walker Wiggle) that's why the Nets easily rebounded the miss for a quick hoop.

Then, Pierce was hit with a hard foul.  The surprising thing is, they CALLED the hard foul.  I was glad to see it happen.  May they be so consistent in the regular season.

James and Baker fought hard together on a series of defensive rebounds that got them an A for effort, even if the ball simply wouldn't drop.  Again, keep that in mind when looking at Baker's offensive stats tonight--and remember that his 8 points tonight is still over last season's average of 5.2 ppg.

A timeout was called with 5:32 left in the half, and Boston up one, 29-28.  Following the timeout, Eric Williams went in for an offensive foul.  Eric tried hard--maybe too hard--and really didn't accomplish much.  Neither did the Celtics offense, by and large--they were 2-15 for the quarter, while the Nets were 6-10.  That 60% shooting was ominous, with 4:35 left in the first half.

But as the quarter wound down, the C's finally warmed up a little and the game closed tighter again.  Baker closed out the quarter by picking off the Nets, and halftime arrived with the C's holding a narrow 42-41 lead.

HALFTIME:

So far, so good.  The C's held the Nets to 36% shooting in the first half, though their OWN shooting dropped in the second quarter, averaging out to 33%.  Absent Kidd, the Nets were struggling against the Celtics, something no other team could really say this preseason. 

Boston was shooting more threes than I really liked, but less than last season at any rate.  The C's had a 10-6 edge in assists, though it should have been more.  The Celtics need to work on offensive coordination more.  They did outrebound the Nets 23-22 in the half, though the Nets did better in paint points, 20-18, and in layups, 9-3.

Again, some of this would have been resolved more in Boston's favor with a more controlled offense, and tightening up some of those occasional defensive lapses that let the Nets break for a basket.


Third Quarter:

Kedrick came back in and immediately got a nice offensive rebound.  Then, the C's caught a break on a called kicked ball against the Nets.  I couldn't see clearly, but I think the ball just bounced off his leg.  I didn't see the leg move.  But the Celtics are the Good Guys and we SHOULD get the calls.  :>)  Even better, Martin was called for goaltending on the next play.   That time, it was close--but it WAS a goaltend.

The third quarter was a close battle throughout, as the Celtics tried to keep up the pressure even as the Nets regained the lead, which they would hold throughout the quarter.  The C's kept getting close, then falling back, generally hovering between 2-4 points back.

Pierce was often the instigator of the running by Boston, but the other guys seemed to be gradually getting the idea.There was a significant defensive lapse as the Nets hit back to back threes off Kittles trailing the play.  Obie called a timeout to remind the C's that they could run back on defense, or run  back to New Hampshire for tomorrow's game.

Seeing how fast they moved after the timeout, I'd say they chose wisely.

But they still had trouble running the clock down on possessions.  I think once they straighten out the defense and the running game, they need to address the halfcourt offense.

Mike James seems to be hitting passes better and better, and people like Kedrick Brown are taking full advantage.  Every so often, Walker felt the urge to launch a three.  Well, to be fair, I suppose he needs a little time to work it out of his system completely.

Pierce was passing better, but still waits too long at times, and everyone knows where he's going with it.

Note to Marcus Banks: don't let Kidd pass you on his way to the hoop.  He's pretty good with the ball.  Then again, one could say the reverse, as Banks zipped past Kidd on the open court on the next play.

Waltah came back in, and made another needless foul.  I don't know how bad his knee is, but if it's affecting him THIS much, he should get surgery and go on the injured list.

The third quarter ended on a really bad play, as with the shot clock winding down, Waltah ended up with the ball and was open for a shot--which he refused to take, instead passing the ball as the clock ran out.  Things moved to the final quarter with the Nets leading, 71-68.


Fourth Quarter:

Baker opened things up going aggressively to the hoop, only to be fouled by Zo.  The C's were taking better shots, but still needed to start converting.  The seriousness of this game was evident by the fact that people like Rusty LaRue and Kendrick Perkins were so far absent from the court.  For all intents and purposes, this was--at the least--being treated like a regular season game.

But though the Nets held on to the lead at first, remember this was a considerable improvement over last year's playoffs, when the C's were confounded at every turn.  This time, the game was up for grabs, with neither team demonstrating wire-to-wire dominance. 

As the quarter progressed, the Celtics closed the gap, and worked toward getting a lead.They still sometimes missed the open man, but the good part is that the man was open because he was running!  Kedrick got a dunk off a pass from Walker, who this night, was a far better passer than scorer.

New Jersey tried Harris and Slay on Pierce, which Pierce found amusing, not to mention offensively restful.  So much so, he took a few more trips to the free throw line.

Kedrick tried to take a charge, but he slid a little too far for the refs to take it seriously that time.  He worked harder on the offensive boards, instead, along with Vin Baker.  Vin went to the line once more.  It was nice to see Vin on the floor near the end of the game, even in preseason.  It reflects his hard work with positive results.

After a timeout with 5:59 to go, Boston had the lead back, 77-75.  Pierce was at the line adding to the lead. While he was doing so, Mike Gorman related that a "New York based writer" had commented that the Nets could "sleepwalk to 55 wins" this season.  Guess he must have seen Byron Scott's offensive playbook. 

Pierce was making hay at the line, going yet again, to open the C's lead a bit.  Brown made some nice fakes to get the ball moved around, where Banks looped it behind the back to Walker for an open three.  The C's defense kept the Nets on the outside again, and Boston was poised to really put this game away.  Pierce did try to force his offense, but at least he hit the free throws on the play.

James blew a good outlet pass from Walker, which would have been a chance to set up Baker for an easy two.  Again, take the positive that the fast break was there to begin with.  Pierce got a hoop in the flow, and the C's opened up an 11 point lead with 3:29 left.

Waltah came in for Pierce, and the bench disgorged Perkins and Hunter with 3:03 left as a timeout was called, and the C's holding the 88-77 lead.  In one of my few second-guesses, I think that Obie lit the cigar too soon, so to speak, but maybe he wanted to see if the bench could handle things.  Over the next minute, things didn't look good.

Both benches were on the court and one of them was going to win the game.  For a terrifying minute, it looked like the Nets bench would duplicate the Pacer's victory, albeit against the C's bench this time.

But Obie steadfastly refused to put the starters back in.  The bench created the mess, and they were expected to fix it.  The Nets managed to close the gap, and with 26.8 seconds left, it was a three point game, 90-87.  The Nets decided to challenge the C's to win it at the free throw line, gambling that only Pierce was that consistent--and Pierce was on the bench. 

Mike James, Brandon Hunter, and Marcus Banks went to the line and did what they needed to do, as the C's held on for the 95-90 win, their first of the preseason.  Life for the C's is good once more!

All in all, a tremendous improvement for the Celtics, and much more indicative of what the Good Guys can do when they pay attention.

Cookies and Crumbs:

Cookies go to:

Vin Baker, for just digging in every single game this preseason.  Especially tonight, during that poor offensive stretch in the second quarter, Vinnie was the only real daylight at the hoop.  He's worked hard and effectively.  May he continue to do so.

Mike James, as he improved his passing and gained confidence running the team.

Marcus Banks, just for the look on Kidd's face when Banks blew by him.

Paul Pierce, for going 18-18 from the line.

Kedrick Brown, who is showing us what we've been waiting two years to see.


Crumbs left for:

Antoine Walker, because while he did run the court well, and made good moves inside, he has to lay off the unnecessary threes.

Eric Williams, who tried hard, but accomplished little.

Waltah! McCarty, who has no love tonight after passing up an open shot at the end of the third quarter.  He's actively hurting the team right now, and I LIKE the guy.

Alonzo Mourning, for his showboating without even really DOING anything to back it up.

Byron Scott, 'cause he's still copping a Laker attitude, has no clue how his team works, and is just ripe to be fired the day Kidd gets fed up with his arrogance.

Next up, the Pacers, Saturday night, 7:30pm.  Remember, as Elton and Bernie said, "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)".

And that's the view from the doghouse.