Do you guys remember the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs? They’re still in the playoffs, I swear! That Heat-Bucks series was actually this season. I know — it seems like it might have been Miami’s first-round series last season, but it really was just a week ago the Heat wrapped up the most predictable sweep of this season’s first round.
The biggest story out of Miami since then has been Shane Battier’s decision to grow something like a Fu Manchu mustache. They may have also scheduled some exhibitions against the Generals, just to stay fresh. The Spurs have presumably been on a wine-tasting tour with Gregg Popovich, and rumor has it franchise higher-ups forced Pop to undergo a media-training refresher after he was strangely polite to sideline reporters during the Spurs’ first-round whitewashing of the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Minutes after Boston held on for a 92-86 win against the Knicks — nudging the series to 3-2 and squeezing out at least one more home game this season — the Celtics were back in the visitor’s locker room at MSG, breaking down a little dustup. At the end of the game, Jordan Crawford, who hadn’t played a minute, got into it with Carmelo Anthony; fellow DNP’er D.J. White held him back, more or less, while Raymond Felton popped up to slang some words as well. The Internet has already come to a conclusion as to what Crawford said, and, well, it’s not pretty. Let’s just say the comments are in line with, but lack the subtlety of, Kevin Garnett’s famed Honey Nut Cheerios monologue.
“My homeys already texted me like, ‘You ’bout to scrap!’” White said, pulling up his pants while checking his phone. Then, to Crawford in the locker over, good-naturedly: “You started it, and you dipped!” Terrence Williams, who played a surprisingly solid 17 minutes at point guard, piped up: “Q[uentin Richardson] always comin’ in. Where he come from?” And White, by way of cosigning Williams’s disapproval of Richardson’s behavior: “Yeah, with his E.T.-lookin’ ass.” Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo was off to the side eating Chinese takeout, and Avery Bradley just tried to stay moisturized: “Yo, J.C., let me fuck with that lotion.” Crawford didn’t notice, busy getting dressed. (His ensemble included, I swear to God, a different pair of weed socks than the ones he had on the other day. In his defense, Hot Topic does tend to sell novelty socks in pairs.) Williams tried to offer him some alternate lotion, but Bradley stayed firm. “Nah, I'ma fuck with that lotion right there.”
Tonight is a night for both rejoicing and sadness: Depending on the results of three crucial games, including two elimination games, this could be the last night featuring more than two games until next season opens. This is a bad thing for fans seeking a variety of entertainment options, especially on nights with one or two blowouts, but a good thing for the spouses and loved ones of us poor saps watching every single one of these first-round bad boys.
A lot is at stake in tonight’s tripleheader, obviously. A game-by-game look at some key questions on this busy Wednesday, in order of Most Intriguing to Least Intriguing:
That’s right — I’m giving Most Intriguing status to this season’s NBA TV/Illegal Streaming/Ratings Basement special. (It’s a league rule, by the way, that the NBA TV Special first-round series must include either Indiana or Atlanta every season. Seriously — I think it’s in the new collective bargaining agreement. Plenty of good seats still available on the cheap for tonight in Indy, by the way. Catch the fever!) After three boring blowouts, these two finally gave us a competitive contest in Game 4, albeit one in which the Hawks were in control after a blistering second-quarter run. Some key questions:
• Can Indiana figure out the Hawks' “big” lineups?
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Grantland’s own Jonah Keri talk about some Reds pitcher who had “lost velocity” on his fastball. As he spoke, I wondered what the NBA equivalent of this would be. Baseball has radar guns that reliably identify a downturn in pitching ability; we don’t have that instrument in the NBA. It’s not as easy to detect performance declines in basketball.
If there’s one theme that’s dominated the last few weeks in the NBA, perhaps it’s the immemorial relationship between age and decay. The NBA season is long, basketball is grueling, and old guys break down. The league is full of aging superstars who are always a tweak or aggravation away from street clothes.
The Boston Celtics were met with boos as they jogged onto the court for pregame warm-ups Saturday, which seemed about right. It didn’t matter that the Celtics were wearing commemorative shirts that would be auctioned off for The One Fund Boston or that they had scrawled messages of support on their sneakers. “Get outta here!” a Knicks fan in the not-exactly-cheap seats playfully hollered, over and over, and why hold back? The rivalry between New York's and Boston’s teams is constant and occasionally vicious. It’s not like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were medics or detectives or firemen, they just happened to work there. Pray for Boston, etc. — but down with the afternoon’s invaders.
I can’t imagine anyone impartial rooted for the Knicks on Saturday, not with the game happening in such close proximity to last week’s events in Boston. It feels good to witness magic and harmony and spontaneous proclamations of civic pride, even if these moments of coming together can’t turn anything back. But someone had to lose, and it’s not like Doc Rivers wanted New York’s pity anyway. Shut off from the sentiments prevailing elsewhere, the atmosphere in and around the Garden was lively enough, though nowhere near as raucous as one would expect in this post–Honey Nut Cheerios world. After members of the New York and Boston fire departments presented the flag, Carmelo Anthony and Pierce strode to the center circle to offer statements on behalf of each team. Some fans started booing as soon as Pierce spoke, but everyone else aggressively hissed them quiet. You could resume hating him in a few minutes.
In preparation for the NBA playoffs, this is the first of four entries breaking down one key play or action central to the success of each playoff-bound team. Check back later this week for the remaining 12 breakdowns.
New York Knicks: The Carmelo Anthony Iso
New York was considered a relative afterthought in the Eastern Conference before the season started, but thanks to a shift in its offensive philosophy, the Knicks now represent the biggest threat to Miami. Their explosive offensive scheme leans heavily on their star forward to create mismatches in isolation plays all over the floor.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson gets Anthony into these spots in two ways. The first is by using false action.
By using a loop cut or quick down screen, the Knicks give Anthony just a little separation in order to cleanly get to his spot and use his jab-attack game. But because the team has played a vast majority of the season with one lone big (or sometimes none at all), it's also been able to just let Anthony walk into isos without any help.
The key to Anthony’s success is the newfound space he has to operate. With shooters spread around him, teams are forced to pick between letting Anthony attack an overmatched defender one-on-one or leaving an open shooter on the perimeter.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Sleeping With the Lights On
netw3rk: The Boston Celtics exist in the minds of Eastern Conference playoff teams as something akin to the bogeyman. Even the Miami Heat — who certainly don't fear the Celtics — reach a pitch of intensity in their play against Boston, and a level of exaltation in their victories over them, that betrays a depth of hatred for the leprechauns unmatched by that for any other team.
When you put the bogeyman on his back, you stand over him and you do a dance. Every Eastern Conference team has a litany of Celtics grievances just waiting to be uncorked: the moving screens, the trash talk, the suffocating and gratingly physical defense that dared refs to blow the whistle every 10 seconds. And, yes, the winning. Because the KG-era Celtics didn’t just win; they stormed your arena, tore your relics out of their holy places, and gleefully salted your fields. That’s why, despite no longer being a truly elite team, the Celtics still have a sort of cultural hegemony over the Eastern Conference. The hatred they engender is the ultimate sign of respect.
The Celtics have one game left before the All-Star break, and you gotta imagine it can’t come soon enough. After playing the Bulls tonight, Kevin Garnett will head to Houston for the All-Star Game, Rajon Rondo will continue prepping for surgery, and Paul Pierce will drive home, where he’ll be enjoying a relaxing All-Star snubbee weekend by (presumably) playing a whole bunch of Just Dance 2 for Wii. Meanwhile, Danny Ainge will try and make sense of what was about as odd, heartbreaking, and bonkers a first half a team can have.
When Rondo went down, I wrote there wasn’t much of a silver lining: Any relief provided by an uptick in play and a corresponding rash of wins would be tempered by sad chatter that “maybe this team doesn’t need Rondo all that much anyway.” Well, this team, as it has an inclination toward, outdid itself. It wasn’t just an uptick; it was a blood-pumping, shots-fired, kill-’em-all, “is this your pen?”-esque annihilation spree. When the Celtics toppled Denver on Sunday night in triple OT, they muffed out the Nuggets' nine-game winning streak, stretched out their own seven-gamer, and coronated themselves as THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE [air horn] [air horn] [air horn].
The Celtics are 4-0 without Rajon Rondo and have scored 102.4 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, a mark that would rank 12th overall — about a dozen spots and 2.5 points better than what Boston’s putrid offense has done for the season, per NBA.com. This has resulted in a predictable rush of instant analysis and debate about whether the Celtics, a below-average offensive team for nearly four seasons, might be “better without Rondo.”
The Dunkin' Donuts Turkey Sausage Wake-Up Wraps are tasting a little bitter in Boston this week. Rajon Rondo’s out for the season, and out with him, in no particular order: all gorgeous, mind-boggling passes whose lanes could have only been spotted by no. 9, having briefly entered the fourth dimension; all team outings to the Roller World in Saugus; and, of course, all rational hopes for another Celtics title run.
Now usually, in this kind of general “elite player out” situation, there’s a silver lining. With the hobbled fellow a totem, the team rallies — all grit and heart and Michael Jordan’s secret stuff — and becomes a scruffy lovable underdog. (You know, like Varsity Blues). And on paper, there’s no reason why that can’t happen. Imagine: Pierce, pumped to still be in Boston despite trade talks, and KG, pumped to be anywhere at any time always ever, lock into a newly spirited level of basketball. Leandro Barbosa, enjoying newfound playing time, does it big for São Paulo. Jason Terry sells his soul to Satan and regains the ability to play basketball. The Celts squeeze into the playoffs, give someone a scare, maybe even win a series.
But this being Rajon Rondo we’re talking about, things can’t be quite that simple.
“You know it’s just a nickname, right?” That was Glenn "Doc" Rivers's response to a postgame reporter who had just asked him whether Rajon Rondo would be ready for the beginning of next season. The enigmatic point guard had a torn ACL and is out for a long time, but the exact schedule remains unclear, especially to a heartbroken basketball coach with a medical nickname. The Celtics had just recorded their biggest win of the year, but that now seemed unimportant.
Only a few hours earlier, the Celtics’ biggest problem (that they knew of) was a 7-game losing streak. The team was playing horribly. Following a key divisional loss against the Knicks on Thursday, Boston traveled to Atlanta, where they blew a 27-point lead and lost in double overtime. By Sunday morning, conversations about the Celtics included terms like “rock bottom” and “blow it up.” To make matters more urgent, the Heat were in town for a one o'clock nationally televised ABC game.
Just four days after their red, white, and blue football team was squeezed out of the NFL playoffs, Boston’s sports fans rose from the ashes and reassembled to hoot and holler once more. This time greenly clad underneath L.L Bean parkas and North Face fleeces, they converged upon their city’s train station gymnasium to watch their struggling basketball team. They came from Somerville and Worcester and Dorchester and Charlestown. Some scraped the ice off their windshields and drove down I-95 from Maine or New Hampshire; but most of them, unaware of their participation in an accidentally profound metaphor, arrived via an aged, rickety, and only somewhat reliable Green Line trolley car.
The Knicks were in town for what, under normal circumstances, would've been a key divisional game. But the circumstances were not normal, and although 22 men played on the parquet last night, the narrative was structured around just two of them. Rumor has it that two weeks ago, down in Manhattan, one of the men had said to the other that his woman tastes like a blend of whole grain oats, sugar, modified corn starch, honey, brown sugar syrup, salt, tripotassium phosphate, canola and/or rice bran oil, and natural almond flavor. These words provoked violent urges within the other man. It also provided last night’s giggly backstory and melodrama.
In case you were out waiting for your turn to sing “Manic Monday” at your local karaoke bar, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Alabama hammered Notre Dame, 42-14, in the BCS championship to secure their third college football championship in the past four years. It was reported that the amount of self-satisfied nodding by middle-aged men wearing crimson polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts skyrocketed to dangerous levels by the end of the first quarter. Observers feared that Alabama's exploits could lead to a superstorm of smugness in SEC country, but, fortunately, the thrashing Alabama delivered was so severe, the insufferable nodding quickly gave way to stoic close-lipped grinning, and potential disaster was averted as the Tide cruised to victory.
Despite their BCS Championship loss, Notre Dame fans had something to cheer about, as their men's basketball team topped Cincinnati, 66-60. "We're all just so happy to get a huge Big East win," said smiling Notre Dame sophomore Alison Whitner as her facial muscles started to twitch. "Sure, that football game wasn't the best, but my classmates and I are all totally satisfied getting one out of two. Football? Basketball? All the same to us here at Notre Dame. All the same to us All All " Whitner then fell deathly silent as a trickle of blood rolled down from her right nostril.
The Boston Celtics, led by a vintage performance from Paul Pierce, won a hard-fought battle with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-96. After the game, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who committed a technical foul in the fourth quarter in an altercation with Kevin Garnett, reportedly continued harassing Garnett in the bowels of the arena. Garnett, for his part, denied the altercation occurred, as he was embarrassed that he fell for the oldest trick in the book: the misdirection. See, while Anthony had Garnett distracted outside the locker room, former Celtic Rasheed Wallace, cannily disguised in his old uniform, snuck into the Boston locker room and stole Garnett's prized stuffed elephant, Trunky. Expect the situation to escalate the next time these two teams meet.