Wednesday, May 21, 2008


If Rajon Rondo is to Jacoby Ellsbury, as Sam Cassell is to Coco Crisp?

Where does Ray Allen fit in?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Down 12 with 0:05 left

Yesterday on CNN Hillary Clinton said that she would stay in the Democratic race until the end. "You don't walk off the court before the buzzer sounds. You never know, you might get a three-point shot at the end."

A three-pointer? Try hitting one, stealing the inbounds, hitting another, and then a steal...

Or perhaps just try to channel UCLA's Kevin Love:

Hat-tip: BM

Never a Doubt 2

Three thousand miles away, the Lakers were also lucky to stay on serve, with a closer-than-the-score-indicated 111 to 104 win over Utah.

While the Lakers have no doubt about who their crunch-time go-to guy is (one of the major flaws with the Celtic team built by NBA Executive of the Year Danny Ainge), they survived despite no field goals from Kobe during the fourth quarter. Instead, Bryant (who rested for the first few minutes of the fourth), was content to distribute the ball to teammates and they -- led by Jordan Farmar's driving 3-point play to push the lead from +1 to +4, and Pau Gausol -- did the rest. (Bryant did ice the game with 3 of 4 FTs in the last 10 seconds, but as important he did not force any shots during the 4th. His confidence in his teammates is noticeable.)

For Utah, who has not yet won at Staples this year, it was a crushing defeat. They now return home, hoping to get one more chance at the Lakers on Sunday.

"Did I Hit Something?"

With the John Edwards and NARAL (insert your own ironic expression here) endorsements yesterday, here's what the current state of the Democratic race looks like, as imagined by Martin Scorsese in 1:55:

Never a Doubt

(a) a slow start in a 'must-win' game (the Celtics scored 18 points in the first quarter, and went the first 4 minutes of the second quarter with only 2 points, meaning that they had played -- including the fourth quarter on Monday -- 28 minutes with just 32 points);

(b) letting the 'Ace of Spades' out the box he had been for the first four games of the Series (LBJ had 23 points in the first 20 minutes last night, finishing with 35);

(c) a quiet crowd that was potentially watching the last home game of the season;

the Celtics responded with a kick in the second quarter and the first half of the third, and despite a brutal last 90 seconds, held on to win a tight 96-89 game.

Doc Rivers, who has become a (the?) focal point of fans' with the "Big 3", earns some credit for last night as well:
(a) playing Rajon Rondo 42 minutes -- meaning that Sam-I-Am Cassell played just five. Although Eddie House is the proverbial scoring-guard-in-a-point-guard's-body, Cassell has become such a liability at both ends of the floor that Doc has to find a way to get House back in the rotation. Failing that, leaving Rondo out there until he collapses is a good second choice.

(b) getting quality minutes out of Glen Davis (6 points). Although Davis was just +2 on the +/- rating, he brought some energy and enthusiasm to the court during his 11+ minutes. His attitude seems contagious on the bench and with the crowd.

Now, it's on to Cleveland, and (with luck) a finish to a very dangerous series.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The End of the Beginning?

Democrats hoping that the primary race will end soon would do well to focus on this map:

(Courtesy: Jay Cost and Sean Oxendine.)

The area outlined is "Appalachia", which will vote today (in West Virginia) and in one week (in Kentucky).

Fill in the remainder of the outline in dark blue, and one might expect +30 point wins tonight and next Tuesday. And if those wins materialize, is that likely to allow Hillary to make a graceful exit (as some suggest) from the race, or only embolden her and her core supporters to make the argument that the Democratic "base" -- personified in Appalachia -- is not supporting the presumptive nominee?

While Obama is already moving (based on his campaign schedule) to a national calendar (he's in Cape Girardeau, MO, today), how does he explain the drubbing that he seems likely to receive as the end of the primary calendar draws near?

Obama is still in position to win the nomination, but it seems likely that there will be at least one more plot turn before it's all over.

No Easy Buckets

What's wrong with the Celtics?

For the second series in a row, the Cs have left Boston with a 2-0 lead, only to return five days later facing a must-win Game 5 to retain home court advantage. The difference with the Atlanta series is that unlike Joe Johnson, who is a quality player with a chip on his shoulder when he plays Boston, LeBron James is the NBA's 'Ace of Spades' -- the best athlete on the floor who can dominate a game (and quite frankly, dominate the man trying to guard him -- Paul Pierce) even as he has shooting nights of 2-18, 6-24, 5-16, and 7-20.

Charles Barkley said it best, a few minutes after Game Four ended -- the Celtics can't get any easy baskets, and the Trio of KG, Pierce and Allen are all jump shooters. (Allen, after getting to the rim several times -- especially early in Game 7 -- has been an 'easy cover' so far this series for the defensively-challenged Wally Szczerbiak; and Wally has hurt the Celts at the offensive end, chipping in with points last night and answering Allen's 15.)

While the Celts are doing a good job stopping the Cleveland transition game, Boston's fast break points are few and far between; and with no fast break buckets, there are few chances for easy points or foul trouble for the opposition.

The trend lines are all bad right now for the Celtics: one of the oldest teams in the league, they have already logged 11 playoff games, and will need at least two more to get out of the second round. The rotation off the bench seems to be in disarray, with Doc Rivers going with Glen Davis, James Posey, Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, and Pierce for the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter last night. (That combination probably didn't play together all season, as Brown played only 208 total minutes for the Cs in 18 games; the combination was not among the 50 most efficient 5-man combos for the Celtics, according to By means of comparision, Cassell and Pierce played only 93 minutes -- about two full games -- together all season, and were +19 on the +/- rating.)

Could it all change with a resounding win at home on Wednesday and a stolen game in Cleveland on Friday night? Sure.

But right now, the Cs feel like a middle-of-the-road 52-win team that will do well do push the Pistons to six games in the Eastern Conference finals.

Everyone's favorite current Celt -- Kevin Garnett -- has pulled the franchise back to respectability with his effort on every possession of every game. But like another beloved player -- Ernie Banks -- right now, he seems destined never to play in his game's biggest stage, and to never raise a championship trophy.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Crunch Time 2

The Answer? James Posey plus (surprise) Kendrick Perkins playing free safety in the last 12 seconds of a 2-point game.

But while the coverage "worked" last night -- in the sense that LeBron (on his way to a 2-18 shooting 'performance') -- missed the driving layup, the fact remains that LBJ got by Posey (who was actually trying to 'give' a foul) fairly easily. Don't expect many more blown layups at crunch time from James.

Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodou may have felt that KG is more valuable to scoop up a defensive rebound, rather than send him on the double team. But nothing that was seen last night should give Celtics fans any consolation that Posey-plus-Perkins can keep James in check.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Nothing is Over...Until We Decide It Is

For the third straight Primary Day, the press (and to some extent the Obama campaign), are buying into the construct: "If he can just win ________ [Ohio/Pennsylvania/Indiana/West Virginia] then this race will be over."

Unfortunately, such wishful thinking has prevented the Campaign from thinking strategically over the past six weeks (since Ohio/Texas on March 4th).

Obama's campaign needs to confront the unstated truth: Hillary is likely to stay in until the only vote that matters -- the one in Denver at the DNC (traditionally, in 'uncontested' conventions, this vote would be choreographed for Wednesday night; this year, with both candidates likely to arrive in Denver looking for the nomination.)

If the Clintons want to fight past June 3rd -- and don't forget, Bill Clinton popularized the concept of fighting "until the last dog dies" -- who's going to stop them? DNC Chair Howard Dean? Speaker Nancy Pelosi? Leader Harry Reid?

And what if Hillary listens politely and say, "No"?

Then what?

But if you assume she's in until August 28th -- the last day of the DNC Convention -- and work backwards, you might make different choices than spending a day in Altoona bowling a 37.

Meanwhile, John McCain -- despite the difficulties that any Republican would have in being elected at a time when the two-term incumbent's popularity is in the low 30s -- has open field in front of him as he tacks to the center.

Former DNC Chair Joe Andrews -- an erstwhile Hillary supporter -- wrote last week as he announced his switch from Hillary to Obama:
I ask the leaders of our Party to come together after this Tuesday's primary to heal wounds and unite us around a single nominee. While I was hopeful that a long, contested primary season would invigorate our Party, the polls show that the tone and temperature of the race is now hurting us. John McCain, without doing much of anything, is now competitive against both of our remaining candidates. We are doing his work for him and distracting Americans from the issues that really affect all of our lives.
How does the process end?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Covering the 'Ace of Spades' at Crunch Time

Back in the good old days -- on April 10th before the Playoffs began -- Doc Rivers joked on WEEI that:
Whatever team has the 'Ace of Spades' is a tough team to play...meaning THE single best player in the series.(8:00 mark)
But what seemed like light banter in early April had become a gaping hole by May 1st, as the Celtics had a difficult time controlling a "Ace of Hearts" (a.k.a. Joe Johnson) in the Atlanta series.

Now, as the Cleveland series begins, the Cs have the challenge of neutralizing the single best player in the NBA: LeBron. A true "Ace of Spades."

Although Rivers and his staff will undoubtedly be stressing a team approach -- albeit with a double team undoubtedly part of the mix -- the fact is that whether its Paul Pierce or James Posey (the two most likely defensive matchups, given the current roster), LBJ has a huge physical (size and/or speed) advantage. In addition, with Pierce there is the added problem of losing his scoring, both because of fatigue and/or fouls, as occurred at the end of Game Six with Atlanta.

The other options: Ray or Tony Allen? Ray looked overmatched one-on-one against Johnson, and Tony played a total of 27 minutes in 6 games (one DNP-CD) against the Hawks.

So here's an unsolicited suggestion: rather than 'run' Garnett at LBJ on the double at crunch time, let KG play him. Not all the time, and not for 48 minutes.

But at crunch time. At the end of the game. When everyone in the building knows that LBJ will get the ball.

Can Garnett defend 25 feet from the basket? Will LeBron blow by him and get to the rim? Or will LBJ draw the other defenders and find an open man?

All of these are legitimate questions. But right now the Cs need answers. And throwing the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year on the league's best scorer (with all respect to Kobe) -- with a trip to the Conference finals on the line -- may be just what the Doc(tor) ordered.


The Celts advanced past the Hawks yesterday afternoon, in a smoky, raucous Garden that brought back memories of the Forum, if not the old Boston Madison Square Gahh-den.

If you watched only the games in Boston, you would think that the Hawks might play 100 games without winning one; the margins of victory were 23 (Game 1), 19 (Game 2), 25 (Game 5), and 34 (Game 7). As impressive, the Hawks shooting percentages were 38.2%, 38.3%, 40.6%, and yesterday, an unbelievable 29.3%.

But of course, not all the games were played in Boston. And the Hawks -- at home -- proved that the Cs have vulnerability, especially to a slasher (like Joe Johnson).

Nor were the legs of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett helped by the 114 minutes (Allen and KG both went 40) on Friday and the 90 extra minutes (+/-30 each, even with resting almost all of the fourth quarter yesterday).

But with the ultimate slasher/scorer -- LeBron James -- looming on the horizon, and with a scant 48 hours between the win yesterday and Game One of the Cleveland series tomorrow, things won't get easier for the Celtics.

With the difficulties this team has had on the road so far, they had best stay 'on serve' at home this week.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Bye-Bye in Big D

For the second year in a row, the Dallas Mavericks were eliminated in the first round. But unlike a year ago, when Golden State shocked the Mavs, this year it was a quiet 4-1 loss to the resurgent New Orleans Hornets.

The immediate casualty was, as predicted here, Coach Avery Johnson; but GM Donn Nelson may also be feeling the heat.

Just before the trading deadline, the main Western Conference contenders all 'armed up' by acquiring missing pieces: Kyle Korver to the Jazz (12/29/2007), Pau Gausol to the Lakers (2/1/2008), and Shaq Fu to PHX (2/7/2008).

Dallas was the last to 'respond', and had a lot of trouble getting the Jason Kidd deal done; in the end, Kidd was not the piece that Nelson (and others) felt that he would be, and the Mavs now have to rethink their future.

53 weeks ago, the Mavs were coming off an NBA Finals appearance (where they might have won), had the best record in the League (67-15), and were a leading contender for the NBA title. The leading question was whether Mark Cuban could keep a straight face as David Stern was handing him the Lawrence O'Brien trophy.

Today, after a mediocre 51-31 season, with another first round exit and the salary cap a distant memory, the Mavs may be out of options.