Preseason game 7, Celtics vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, Wednesday, Oct 22, 2003
The Celtics Beagle hard at work typing the reviewJust 48 hours after The Trade that sent Walker and Delk to Dallas for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills, and whomever the 2004 first round draft pick from Dallas turns out to be, the Celtics had to make their first appearance in the Fleet Center since the playoffs.

Some of the fans were thrilled Antoine was gone, others expected the worst, especially after late physicals meant that the new guys only had this morning's shootaround to be introduced to the C's way of doing things.

Prior to the game, everyone was trying to emphasize the upside, and minimize the fact that one of our best players was gone, and many people, fans and experts alike, believed that Danny Ainge got taken to the cleaners.

On the other side of the court, Minnesota Coach Flip Saunders was turning up the heat on a few of his injury-prone players, not to mention dealing with a bevy of new players himself.  It looked to be an interesting game, if nothing else.


First Quarter:

The Good Guys went with a starting lineup of Mike James and Paul Pierce at Forward, Vin Baker and Kedrick Brown at Guard, and Mark Blount at Center.  The nearly-unrecognizable starting linueup for the Timberwolves consisted of Sam Cassell and Latrell Spreewell at Guard, Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak at Forward, and Ervin Johnson at Center.

Blount easily won the tip, and Pierce got the first of many assists as Vin Baker got an easy dunk just 15 seconds into the game.  This was a precursor of things to come for the Celtics.  Things started out VERY slowly on the offensive end for both teams, though for vastly different reasons.  Boston looked a little shaky on their offense at first, missing a few shots they really should have gotten.  Minnesota was either running into a Celtics defensive wall, or just taking really bad shots.  The C's forced two shot clock violations in the first quarter.

Vin Baker was showing his stuff on the boards, and Pierce was getting ridiculously easy looks at the hoop.  James was pushing the floor, and Kedrick Brown was getting offensive as well.  The C's were moving smoothly on defense, helped considerably by the Wolves going one-and-done on offense.  Their offense was SO bad, I was starting to think they'd fail to get ten points in the quarter!

The only problem the C's really had in the opening quarter was that their offense was nothing to write home about either.  Notably, Pierce threw a pass well behind Vin Baker for what would have been an easy hoop.  Something I did notice about Baker--especially in light of some of the criticism about Walker--is that Vin never takes a low-percentage shot if he can help it.  He seems to have a clear idea of when he should shoot and when to pass the ball.  I do wish he'd pass a little faster, instead of holding the ball above his head, but at least he's unlikely to make a bad pass.  He has, however received a few bad passes that could have been easy hoops.  The C's need to learn how he likes the ball.

The quarter--and the game as a whole--was summed up for Minnesota as with 6:10 left, Spreewell was absolutely wide open on the break, and blew the shot.  I'm not fond of that attempted murderer, and think he should be in jail, but alas, they never pressed charges for trying to kill his former coach.  So I settle for him looking like an idiot and hopefully never getting anywhere near an NBA championship.  But with half the quarter gone, the Wolves had 4 points--2 on free throws.

As the period wound down, the C's began to get their offense on track.  While it was sloppy, at least the C's were going inside for their shots, not stopping and popping at the three point line all night.  With 5:14 left, Raef LaFrentz came in, and Vin left the floor to an appreciative crowd.  He immediately went to work on the defensive boards, helping force a shot clock violation.  At the offensive end, his first shot was an easy two off a pass from Mike James.  I'll give James the benefit of the doubt that he was trying for Raef and didn't blow the pass to Battie.

While the scoring for Boston was low, five different players had scored, which was a huge difference from the Antoine Era.  If this continues, it could bode well for the Good Guys.  Another potential benefit was shown as Pierce went to the middle and the defense was working the pass.  This left Pierce's path to the hoop wide open.  Paul is going to enjoy playing if that continues.  Raef took a charge for his new team, endearing him to the defense-minded O'Brien.

Meanwhile, the Wolves couldn't buy a hoop, no matter WHO shot the ball.  The next trip up, Pierce was blocked on the shot, and passed to Raef, who went to the line for two.  Raef needs to work on his free throws.  But he went to the floor for a rebound of his own miss, and nearly came up with it.  The score by this time, with 3:03 left, was 12-4 in favor of Boston.

Only a few fortuitous bounces allowed the Wolves to make the score look marginally respectable, and the C's were running well.  Just not breaking well at first.  I personally like a pedal to the floor fast break as often as possible, but the C's are doing well by moving quickly on a consistent basis.

Raef drew a favorable comparison to Kevin McHale by keeping the ball above his shoulders on the boards, leading to a couple of quick and easy shots.  I have to agree with Tommy on this, it was a wonderful change of pace to see a big man who evidently didn't care about the dunk.

The quarter ended with the C's leading it, 14-12 in a remarkably low-scoring start for both teams.


Second Quarter:

The second quarter was interesting to watch--and listen to--as Danny Ainge joined Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn throughout the quarter. 

Quoth Danny on when the trade was first mentioned:  "In August...we started talking in August.  Although the elements of the trade were not what it started out.  But we were off and on...I was on with Donnie Nelson Jr., a lot throughout the summer.  Three team trades, four team trades, a lot of different possibilities, a lot of names being bandied about, but ultimately this deal came about in the last week...where Jiri Welsch was involved, and Raef LaFrentz, and the first round pick...all those things just came in recently.

On the timing: "You always have to weigh "is this the right time?", and obviously, a week before the season is not the ideal time...this was the best trade we had on the table."

As Danny was speaking, Marcus Banks  made a nice cut to the hoop from the side for two.

Danny made it clear he is NOT looking toward a championship for Boston THIS year, saying "I don't feel that we're close enough to do that.",  and in how he described the benefits for Boston as being more long term.  He obviously thinks Dallas has a shot at the title this season, and Boston doesn't.

When asked "Do you think you would have been able to Sign Antoine?", Danny replied, " No. I think it would have been a battle."  He pointed out that Antoine was "very upset" about not being signed to an extension this past summer.

For some reason, Danny still likes Jumaine Jones, despite that Jones reinjured his hamstring.  He feels that Vin Baker was the second best in training camp.

As he said this, Pierce passed out to Battie at the free throw line for another easy shot.  At the first part of the quarter, Minnesota kept up, but then the game fell totally apart as the Celtics began to score, and score.  And score some more.

Danny praised Raef once more, leavening his low point scoring expectation with emphasis that he's a "complete basketball player".  As he did so, Pierce made an outlet pass to Kedrick Brown for another easy hoop.

When Gorman asked point blank if Danny had talked to Pierce about the trade beforehand, Ainge--for the first time in the discussion--equivocated, saying "If I answer that--Paul is a friend to both of these guys...um..." and ultimately declined to answer.  Coincidentally, at that moment, friendly Paul Pierce was looking rather annoyed at Wally S., who had grabbed Pierce's ankle from the ground to keep him from chasing a loose ball.  Banks led Pierce away before things could get ugly, and a timeout was called with 8:36 and the C's leading with the score 21-16.

Following the timeout, Danny was praising Jiri Welsch, yet to appear in the game.  Boston had outdone the Wolves in paint points, 14-zip.  Raef took ANOTHER charge, then went to the other end, hitting a three.  This was the beginning of the end for Minnesota.

Pierce stole the ball for a two-handed dunk to open a double-digit lead.  FSNE kept cutting away from the action to show the bench, replays, and Danny.  I've complained about this before, they HAVE to stop missing the plays on this much faster Celtics team.

Kedrick jumped over everyone for a defensive rebound, it's just amazing how high up he goes!  Then, as if to emphasize it, he took a pass from Banks for a two handed slam.  The C's were off and running as Minnesota kept going one-and-done, as Banks went end-to-end, beating four defenders for a layup.

Vin Baker got a good defensive rebound and made the outlet pass, which led to a flurry of offensive activity on Boston's part, with better--and faster--movement that has been regularly seen for many moons.  The next trip up, Pierce got it to Baker for a flush.  The C's outscored the Wolves 22-zip in Paint points, and it just kept getting better.  With 5:27 left in the half, Boston was up 33-18.

Following the timeout, Danny opined that "Vocal leadership is overrated", and was "so impressed" at how Pierce led by example, especially of work ethic.  He looks to Eric Williams, Walter McCarty and even Vin Baker to step up in leadership roles.

Danny said that Red's first response to the trade was "What?".  after explaining it to him in detail, he reported that Red said it was a great deal.  He also quoted Red as saying "I don't understand this luxury cap...we just traded a player for a player, it didn't matter how much money they made, we just did it."

Then, Pierce once more sent the pumpkin to Baker, who sent it through the hoop for two more.  It was getting silly, realizing just how easy it was for the C's to score at will against a team that normally gives them all kinds of trouble.

Danny feels the EC is stronger this year, and said that if the C's win 45 games this season, the team will be "improved".

Waltah made his presence known with a three from the corner.  He looks a lot smoother now than in previous games.  James then hit a three from the other side, off a pass from Pierce.  Pierce got a nice pass to Battie on the next trip up, but Tony's shot missed.  I've been on Pierce a bit to know when to pass the ball, and tonight, he showed what he can do.

Danny also complimented Jim O'Brien (along with Pierce), saying he hopes the team takes on the work ethic and personality of Pierce and Obie, calling them "two excellent leaders on our team and in the locker room."  He also stated that he thinks "Jim has coached a lot of up-tempo basketball".

Ainge paused a moment to admire James hitting another three, and emphasized that the team expected a lot of production from the point guards.  Raef got a nice pass to Pierce, but Paul had one of his few misses, right under the hoop.

Halftime arrived with the Celtics firmly in control of the game, leading 44-26.

HALFTIME:

At this point, the only reason to miss Antoine was to see the Walker Wiggle.  Everything was going Boston's way.  The C's were shooting 41% to Minnesota's 25%.  Boston was 4-8 from the arc, whilst the Wolves were 0-3.  The Good Guys held the edge in rebounding, 28-24, paint points, 24-2, fast break points, 7-2, and had only 7 turnovers to Minnesota's 10.

The Wolves had fallen apart totally at both ends, only barely keeping it from becoming an epic loss.  To the fans' credit, nobody made fun of the Wolves.

It was that kind of night.  The only thing that worried me was that the C's might give up the run--and the lead--in much the fashion as they did last season when handed a significant lead at the half.  I devoutly hoped that Boston would keep up the ferocity in the third and fourth quarter.


Third and Fourth Quarters:

Simply put, it was more of the same.  Pierce flirted with a triple double, and the Celtics did, in fact, keep the pressure on, even getting a layup after the first shot missed!  Baker was working hard at both ends, and was the only source of annoyance all night, getting called for cheap fouls.

No matter what combination the C's put out there, they were consistently playing well.  Blount made his mark offensively, and the Celtics ran steadily, if not quite as fast as I'd like.  By the end of the game, There were only 4 points difference between the starters and the bench.  The C's were only using the three when it was a good shot--or once or twice on a shot clock.  But otherwise, everything was inside.

Things were going so well, Tommy Heinsohn could only muster a slight growl when the refs called cheapies on Baker.

I think that Raef meshed quite well with the C's style of play, while Jiri Welsh occasionally looked a bit lost.  Given they had maybe three hours to learn it, that's not bad.

There's not a whole lot to say in detail after this point.  The C's remained in total control of this game.  Not once did the Wolves muster any kind of threat to the Boston lead.  Rusty LaRue came in and actually looked good out there.  Kendrick Perkins is, as has been said, "one huge human", and is playing with more confidence,  Brandon hunter got a few minutes, and is coming along a bit more realistically now.

The only major question in the third quarter was if the C's would make it a thirty-point lead.

I do think the C's need to practice free throws, as I believe they're going to spend more time there than in past seasons.

Vin Baker is playing just a few too many minutes.  He looks a bit tired near the end of games lately.  I think they need to ease up on him a little.  He's doing well, but let's not kill him.

Welsch did rattle in a jumper off a Banks pass.  There was one scary moment when Banks was hit where no one likes to be hit.  He needed a moment, understandably, to recover.

After three quarters, the C's led 73-54, were outshooting the Wolves 46% to 34%, outrebounded them 35-31, and had only 11 turnovers to Minnesota's 16.

By the fourth quarter, Eric Williams made it clear he wanted to join in the fun as well.  With a little over nine minutes left in the final quarter, Pierce sat down to enjoy the win.  The bench emptied soon after, and kept things up at both ends.  When the game was officially over, the C's had won by a final score of 96-80.  They looked like they had a great time, and stomped on the Timberwolves, leading wire to wire.

Cookies and Crumbs:

Are you KIDDING???  Cookies for EVERYONE!

Also, cookies for Antoine Walker and Tony Delk, as no one should have to travel without chocolate chip cookies.

This was, hopefully a glimpse of the present and future of the Boston Celtics.  The next game is Friday night at 7:30pm against the New Jersey Nets.

And that's the view from the doghouse.