Preseason game 8: Celtics vs.
New Jersey Nets, Friday, October 24, 2003
Ok, after the
Celtics' last game, there were a host of questions to be
answered. Was it a fluke? Will Pierce REALLY pass the ball
consistently? Can the C's bench keep pace with the
starters? Will Vin Baker keep this up? Is Walker really
After watching tonight's game, the answer is no, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
I know that some fans will discount this game, saying that the C's had
too easy a time with Jason Kidd deliberately held out--he didn't even
dress for the game--and Kenyon Martin having "injured" his thumb last
Every time I think Nets coach Byron Scott, that son of a malformed
Muppet, can't sink lower, he finds a way, grant him consistency if
nothing else. He gave up on his team, and this game, long before
it started. He had decided that it was beyond pointless.
Hey, Byron--if you're not going to "show up" for the game, then don't
show up at all, and don't waste the airfare, the fan's time, and the
C's practice session, which would frankly have produced a more
competitive game had they played bench vs. starters. We already
know you're an embarrassment to the NBA, don't keep trying to prove it.
Earlier today, Coach Jim O'Brien named Mike James and Vin Baker (did
anyone think it wasn't a universal certainty that Paul Pierce
would also start?) as part of his starting lineup for opening night
next Wednesday, with Vin getting formal recognition of his incredible
turnaround in the time following his suspension last February.
Reflecting Obie's announcement this morning, the C's put in a starting
lineup of Vin Baker and Kedrick Brown at Forward, Mike James and
Paul Pierce at Guard, and Mark Blount at Center. New Jersey
punished Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson at Forward, Zoran Planinic
and Kerry Kittles at Guard and Alonzo Mourning at Center by making them
play against Boston without Jason Kidd or Kenyon Martin.
The game opened inauspiciously as the C's won the tip, then Baker lost
the ball when fouled him and generated a fast break for two points by
Kittles. This would prove to be a Jersey highlight of the first
The Good Guys recovered as Pierce lost his lone defender for an easy
two. On the defensive end, Blount was knocked down under the hoop
while trying to take a charge, and knocked the ball to Pierce from a
nearly prone position. The C's were off and running as Baker got
a good look that didn't go, but wait! Mark Blount flew down the
lane, trailing the play, and got the cleanup rebound! YAY!
Alonzo Mourning was almost useless, as he had zero lift. Without
Kidd zipping up and down the court, the Nets were mostly playing
halfcourt on offense. The C's really, really liked that.
New Jersey was one and done, if they even got a shot off.
Pierce once more used his new favorite play of drawing a nervous
defense toward him, and passing the ball, this time to Vin Baker, who
elevated for the one-handed slam. Baker was once more looking
strong and athletic.
The C's were looking for the outlet pass early on, and there were a few
miscues. Boston needs to run some passing drills, as sometimes
the pass was mishandled, other times the wrong pass was made. But
the fact that they're looking for it at all is positive, and it often
One thing Tommy Heinsohn pointed out is that the C's have a tendency,
after a made basket or free throw, to have a specific person take the
ball in from out of bounds. He stated--and I agree--that the
person nearest the ball should not let it hit the floor, but take it
out themselves, and push the tempo immediately. Most of the C's
can handle an inbound pass to start the break. Waiting for a
specific player just gives the opposition time to get back on defense.
Throughout the first quarter, the scoring was spread out between all
players, as the box score at the end confirms. There wasn't one
single player being the total focus of the Celtic offense--which makes
that player a focus of the other team's defense. The Nets had to
play everyone straight up, which was the dawn of a new day for Pierce.
Boston was shooting beautifully through most of the first quarter,
whilst the Nets were having trouble doing anything with the ball.
Except turn it over. They had no trouble with that. Pierce
dumped the ball to Kedrick for a two handed jam. Blount tried to
take ANOTHER charge, but got called for the blocking foul. The
refs are having a preseason too, and tonight was not among their best
nights. Not their worst, but nothing to write home about.
Mike James was running rings around his alleged defender, hitting an
easy shot. Vin Baker took a charge from Mourning, but then made
one of his few mistakes when he travelled with the ball at the other
Pierce then came up with a steal on good defense, and Baker showed he
can hit an 18 foot jump shot, as the Good Guys ran up the score to 16-5
with 6:27 left in the first.
The Nets did harass the passers more than anyone with the Timberwolves
did the other night, and that exposed some of the C's slight
carelessness with the kind of passes they make. The passes need
to be faster, and more varied. Too often the passes are low enough for
a defender to get a paw on the ball as it goes by.
Over the last half of the quarter, the C's hit a small dry spell
offensively. There were shots taken in the flow of the game that
just didn't drop. Last season, this would have been a
disaster. Tonight, the C's simply kept up the defensive pressure
so the Nets couldn't take advantage. Baker in particular was
evident on the defensive end.
With 4:22 left, Kedrick sat in favor of Eric Williams. Raef also
came in, and got a good look at a three that missed. Those of you
who miss Rodney Rogers will be heartened to hear that Rodney went 4-13
from the floor, doing the majority of his damage from the line.
Did I mention that the Nets went to the free throw line 40 times to the
Celtics 16? It's revolting, I tell you, revolting!!!
A minute later, Waltah! and Marcus Banks came in. Marcus is
starting to get a better feel for how to do his job, and is at times
faster than James. Waltah! quickly his a deep two to show that
his knee is in fact getting slowly better. I have to say that
given his noticeable improvement in the last couple of games over the
first few that the knee seems to have been a significant problem for
The C's then forced the Nets into a bad shot clock shot. Their
defense was tight throughout the quarter. Raef got stuffed when
he assumed that he'd get an easy two. That'll wake him up!
The refs seem to be calling things a lot tighter in preparation for the
regular season. The Celtics better be prepared to play in foul
trouble until things settle down.
Banks made a one-handed scoop pass to Battie for an easy two, which was
as elegant as it was effective. Then he recovered the ball after
making a bad pass to get the ball back and literally drive his defender
around in circles.
The quarter ended with the Celtics leading by a score of 20-12, and the
Good Guys were on their way!
Things were definitely going Boston's way, as they shot 53% to the
Nets' 25%, had an 8-2 edge in paint points, and only 6 turnovers to New
Jersey's 11. And we have better fans, too.
Eric Williams got a good rebound, though he didn't convert. Not
to worry, though--Raef was there to take the miss and get the pumpkin
out to Battie, who made the shot. that was good patience and
looking for the open man.
Waltah! made the same one-handed scoop pass to Eric that Banks had made
in the previous quarter. But Eric tried to do the same thing to
Battie and the Nets were waiting for it this time. But Banks took
a charge to stop the Nets offensive attempt on the other end. He
then made a deep two trailing the play after recovering.
The Nets' offensive woes continued as the C's went quickly into a
double digit lead, and Raef took and made a shot clock three off a
broken play. Eric Williams took a charge of his own and nearly
stole the ball in the process.
During a timeout they showed footage of the fundraiser for the Boston
Celtics Charitable Foundation held a few days ago (which raised
$750,000), and while it was a quick pan, I'd swear Bill Walton was
growing a beard!
When play came back in, The C's were passing the ball crisply and
getting open looks. Because of the high-speed offense, they were
getting lots of looks. By the end of the game, the C's had taken
76 shots and hit 35 of them.
Their defense looked fast too, as Eric Williams zoomed down the lane to
strip the ball from an opponent lining up a slam. It worked so
well, he did it again moments later, and would have had an easy two but
for Rodney Rogers committing a deliberate foul.
Then Banks made such a smooth fast handoff to Baker on a break I had to
go frame by frame to figure out how Baker ended up with the Ball when
it was clearly Banks bringing it upcourt! Need I add that Vin
made the shot?
With 6:03 left in the half, the C's had opened up a 36-19 lead.
Boston was leaping and contesting shots, and running on offense.
Waltah! had a beautiful look on the break that only an outstanding
defensive play kept from being an easy two.
Mark Blount was doing his thing on the defensive board, and Baker made
two successive blocks on the same play to hinder the Nets' offense
further. Not that they needed help there. New Jersey was
now 6-25, whilst the Good Guys were 16-30.
Pierce then "ran up his charge card" to help the defensive cause.
The Bat-Man made a nice upfake to get the basket and the foul.
This is something the C's rarely did last season, and I like to see the
good habits being established.
This pattern continued through the end of the half, which ended with
the Good Guys ahead 48-26.
Oh, where to begin? Leading 48-26, shooting 51% to New Jersey's
25%, outrebounding the Nets 21-15, holding a 13-4 lead in assists,
having a 16-4 edge in paint points, only committing 9 turnovers--which
the Nets were only able to convert to 9 points--while the Nets had 17,
which the Good Guys turned into 23 points. No matter where you
begin, it looks great. This is almost identical to where the C's
were with the Timberwolves the other night, with the same challenge
facing them: hold the lead and keep playing the way that got them here.
But things would get much tougher as the game progressed...
As things opened in the second half, Boston was still frustrating the
New Jersey offense, but Baker was being watched more closely now, and
getting called on fouls.
But with 11:04 left, something happened that would completely change
the game and give the C's their biggest challenge in the
preseason. Pierce was coming around to double against the
ballhandler, when he came down badly on his foot--it looked like his
foot rolled off Banks'--and hurt his ankle. He had trouble
getting up, and was limping when he did. He tried to walk
it off, but went to the bench with a timeout. Thank goodness, his
ankles were taped. When time came back in, Pierce was in,
At first, the C's kept right on running, with Kedrick Brown getting an
easy two off the break. Boston also kept up the defensive
pressure, and I thought that this might be an easy game yet.
Boston was up 52-27 at this point. All they really had to do was
bear down on defense and let the offense come in the flow of the game
as they ran.
Vin Baker took a gorgeous pass from James for yet another easy
basket. James tried a similar pass to Raef, but the pass went
awry. Pierce went back to the bench at this point, where he would
remain for the remainder of the game, a bag of ice tied to his foot.
Vin got called for a foul and sat in favor of Blount. I should
point out that these weren't the kind of fouls he picked up last
season, pushing because he missed his defensive assignment. They
were just fouls, and he got called for aggressive play. It's
going to happen, and overall, Vin has been playing very smart.
It's just going to take a bit to figure out what the refs will--or
won't-- call this season.
But as the middle of the third quarter approached, the C's began to
slow down a bit. New Jersey began spending an inordinate amount
of time at the free throw line. This was a very bad combination
of events for Boston. The Nets began extending defensive pressure
and the C's started playing more of a halfcourt game. the
discombobulation became evident as the C's took the ball away from the
Nets on a break, ran a break of their own, only to see Kedrick blow the
monster dunk, as the ball caromed off the backboard just horizontal to
the rim. Raef couldn't corral the errant ball and the Nets would
have had two of their own but for the C's defense.
Because they weren't moving as fast, the baskets became harder to make,
and the Nets had a chance to get back into the game. Remember, a
couple of minutes into the third quarter, the Nets had scored only 27
points. By the end of the third, they had scored 47 points
overall. Boston would only put up 17 points in the third
quarter. Byron Scott was smiling. The score was now 65-47,
and Boston's large lead was becoming a distant memory.
The Celtics continued to slow down. I have no reason to justify
or excuse it. They were playing their second game in three days,
both at home. Everyone was rested. They were probably
bothered with Pierce having to take the bench, but better that than
risk a more devastating injury. It was a preseason game.
Everything favored the C's taking this as a chance to show their
ability to maintain the lead under adversity when there was nothing on
the line but pride.
But the Nets smelled a win in the offing with all the really good
players for both teams on the bench. No Pierce. No
Walker. No running. The Nets had a chance, and they threw
themselves into taking it.
The C's were simply not clicking like they had been through the first
half. Nothing worked, though they brought most of their problems
on themselves by no longer running on offense. Obie tried several
combinations to try to jump start the running, but nothing worked.
In a way--an odd way, I admit--this was good for the Celtics, if
wrenching for us fans. The C's needed to know if they could face
down a serious challenge by a team they had down early on. Could
they win close games when things weren't going right? We were all
about to find out.
Vin Baker got called foul--his fifth, on a clean block--by the ref who
did NOT have a clear view of the play. The ref who DID had no
problem, but didn't overrule.
On one the few nice offensive plays from Boston early on in the final
quarter, Eric Williams made a kind of windmill shot that somehow ended
up in the hoop. Kind of the reverse motion of Pete Townshend on
the guitar. (as all the Backstreet Boys fans say, "Pete Who?",
and we say, "Yes.")
But the joy was short-lived as Vin Baker proceeded to foul out with
6:37 left--necessarily, to prevent an easy hoop. He got a
standing ovation from several fans. It's a testament to his
renewed ability that I was nervous about not having him available.
The Nets continued their offensive assault with official help, and
practiced their free throws. This would become relevant to Boston
later in the game, but with 5:44 left, the lead had shortened
considerably, to 73-63.
Following a timeout, the Nets used free throws to make it a
single-digit spread. Boston continued to slow the ball down on
offense, apparently hoping there wouldn't be enough time for the Nets
to come all the way back. Bad idea. The Nets were the ones
running now. For a moment I was encouraged as Banks made a steal
and a fast hoop for two, but the offensive movement stagnated once more
New Jersey also extended it's pressure on the C's, trying to force a
turnover. I was starting to have nightmares of last season, as
with 3:00 left, the score was now 77-70.
To add to my deepening gloom, Marcus Banks was called for a technical
foul--for no apparent reason--as the camera panned to show a dejected
Paul Pierce on the bench, a large bandage and ice pack obscuring his
After a timeout, the Nets made the "T" throw to make it a 6 point
game. They proceeded to add another basket, and now the score was
77-73 as the C's halfcourt offense got them zip. New Jersey had
the ball with less than two minutes left, but the C's took down the
miss and snuck the ball to Eric Williams for two.
Sad to say, moments later, the Nets got it back. 79-75 with 1:10
left. Tony Battie added a hoop to make it 81-79 with 1:05 left as
Byron Scott called time.
Moments after the timeout ended, New jersey got much too easy a hoop as
the C's defense fell apart on the play. It was now 81-77 with 50
seconds left. A Celtic miss gave the ball back to the Nets with
25.3 seconds left as they added another two points. Kedrick Brown
was instantly fouled, with the score now 81-79 with 24.3 seconds
left. Kedrick went to the line to shoot two. He made them
both smoothly. Timeout was called with 24.3 seconds left, and the
score now 83-79.
After the timeout, the Nets had the ball once more and this time the
C's defense made them waste time, and forced a turnover with 14.6
seconds left. Mike James was quickly sent to the line to shoot
two. His first shot was no good, bouncing high off the back of
the rim. The second went through the hoop cleanly. New
Jersey called another timeout with 14.6 seconds left and the score now
Time came back in, and the Nets got the ball inbound fairly easily, and
hit a quick three to make it 84-82. They fouled Mike James once
again, and he stepped to the line for two. This time, his free
throws went cleanly through the net. With the score now 86-82 and
the final 10 seconds ticking down, the Nets had no more timeouts,
running the length of the court. This time, the Celtics defense
held them off, and the Good Guys pulled it out at the last, winning
their final preseason game 86-82, and making their preseason record a
Cookies and Crumbs:
Cookies go to:
The Celtics of the first half for their running game and solid
defensive effort across the board.
Mike James and Kedrick Brown for making crucial free throws.
Crumbs go to:
The Celtics of the SECOND half for NOT running like they did in the
Byron Scott, for refusing to play the game like he wanted to win--until
Pierce got hurt.
While it was good to know that the C's could pull it together without
Pierce, they should have done it with much less difficulty. They
need to work on their passing and, apparently, Obie needs to have
another extra-long practice to emphasize running in the second
half. I saw some good things, and some stuff that needs
work. The percentage of good shots is way up. I'd like to
see the C's convert even more of them.
They play for real next Wednesday at 7pm, against the Miami Heat.
It's going to be an interesting season, no doubt about it.
And that's the view from the doghouse.