Gameday Dish: Celtics vs. Nets

The five-time defending Atlantic Division Champion Boston Celtics come to Brooklyn tonight to take on the Nets in the first regular season game between these two franchises.

Coach Doc Rivers’ guys beat the Utah Jazz in Boston last night, 98-93, taking their record to 5-3. PG Rajon Rondo left the contest in the third quarter with a right ankle injury and is listed as day-to-day.

Rondo still managed to dish 10 dimes in his 32nd straight game with at least 10 or more assists, and he currently leads the NBA with 12.5 apg.

First-year Celtic and 2007 6th Man of The Year combo-guard Leandro Barbosa stepped in for Rondo and scored 16 points in the victory. Both the Celts’ and Nets’ coaching staffs are still trying to figure out their starting units and how to use the bench players in their rotations.

Boston has a deep, veteran roster including Jeff Green, who’s back from heart surgery and added 16 points in Wednesday’s win. Bench play will have a significant impact on tonight’s results as well.

The 4-2 Brooklyn squad last played on Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They prevailed 114-101 with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams both scoring season highs of 25 and 26 respectively. First-year Net Johnson had his best game yet of the early season and will continue to improve as he adjusts to his new teammates, especially D-Will.

The C’s beat the Nets in all three matchups last season and have won 18 of the last 20 games. However, this Brooklyn incarnation is very different than the 2011-2012 NJ version.

Fifth-year center Brook Lopez is healthy, and he’s averaging 17.5 ppg and 2.3 bpg so far after missing 61 of 66 games last year due to various injuries. Unfortunately, do-everything forward Gerald Wallace will miss his sixth straight game due to a sprained left ankle.

Though it’s early in the season, tonight’s matchup could be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals. Join me, Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Craig Sager at 8PM ET on TNT to watch two top teams in the East ignite what is sure to be a long rivalry between these division foes.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Heat vs. Celtics Game 3

The ECF resume tonight in Boston for Game 3, and the one certainty is that the 17-banner Celtics must win. No NBA team has ever come back to capture a playoff series after being down 0-3.

On Wednesday night in Miami the Heat bested the C’s 115-111 in OT. PG Rajon Rondo had perhaps the best game of his career going for 44 points, 10 dimes and 8 boards while playing every second of the 53-minute playoff classic. He also scored all of the Celtics’ 12 points in overtime.

Boston’s Big 4 combined for 96 points (the most they’ve ever totaled as a group), but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the Heat. 2012 MVP LeBron James had 34, 10 and 7 and got to the charity stripe 24 times. Dwyane Wade scored 23 points, and PG Mario Chalmers chipped in 22 points including several lethal 3-point daggers.

A lot of the postgame talk centered on the officiating. The Heat took 47 free throws to the C’s 29 attempts. Notable were two instances in the extra period. First, Rondo drove to the basket hard with a mismatched Udonis Haslem checking him, and when Wade came over to help he clearly hit the Boston 1-guard in the head. At that point the score was tied at 105 and the no-call made Rondo furious.

Then with 59 seconds to go, Wade attacked the rim, scored and drew a foul from Kevin Garnett. It appeared on the replay that Wade actually kicked KG while in the air to create space for his shot. The Green Team fandom was upset and felt the zebras affected the outcome of the pivotal contest.

However, the Celts find themselves down 0-2 due to multiple other factors. The Heat grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and made ten 3-bombs, while their bench outscored Boston’s 28 to 7. In addition, the Miami subs had 17 boards and 6 assists to the C’s 5 and 1. The Heat totaled 24 assists to Boston’s 15 and also tallied more blocks and steals.

Both Miami and Boston will look to improve on areas of weakness tonight. The Heat missed 16 of their 47 free throw attempts on Wednesday. The Celtics have had trouble in these playoffs protecting big leads. They led by 15 in the first half in Game 2 and let Miami erase that hole rather quickly.

These two sides know one another well and are very familiar with each other’s sets and objectives. So the winner of tonight’s game will be determined by poise and execution. Doc Rivers’ guys have their backs against the wall, and Erik Spoelstra’s squad would love to get this game to effectively secure a return trip to the Finals. The Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics Game 3 will tip off at 8:30 PM ET on TNT.

Czar Star: Rajon Rondo

The Boston Celtics’ mercurial 6th-year PG Rajon Rondo has been the object of much debate and discussion throughout the 2011-2012 season. The former Kentucky Wildcat was the subject of multiple trade rumors (Chris Paul swap?) prior to the regular season and then again at the trade deadline in March.

Rondo played it cool as the talk and speculation swirled in sports-obsessed Boston. He can be aloof, and in this instance it served him well. GM Danny Ainge kept the veteran-laden Celtics team intact, and now they will attempt to make a third trip to the NBA Finals with Rondo at the 1.

The 3X All-Star has appeared in 78 postseason games in his brief career. Rondo excels in the playoffs both offensively and on the defensive end. In Boston’s first-round series victory over Atlanta, Rondo bettered his production in every significant stat when compared to the regular season. Rondo’s scoring output is up significantly from 11.9 ppg to 16.8 ppg, and his averages in FG%, 3pt FG% and rebounding all improved during the 16-squad test of toughness, endurance, nerves and will.

For all playoff teams, the core guys and stars spend more time on the court now that every minute of the 48 is critical. Rondo’s minutes are up 14%, but his turnovers and personal fouls are down. Rondo leads the NBA this postseason in dimes and swipes with 11.8 and 3.4 respectively. In the first round he had game highs of 20 points (twice), 16 dimes and 5 steals.

Rondo does sometimes make bad decisions in the heat of the moment. He was suspended for Game 2 for intentionally bumping a referee in Game 1 of the Hawks series. But when he came back for the third game, Rondo posted 17 points, 12 assists, 14 rebounds and 4 steals in the C’s win, bringing his career total of playoff triple-doubles to seven.

The Celtics have three future HOF’ers on their roster, but Rondo is the engine for their success and the catalyst in former PG Doc Rivers’ game plan. His penetration, distribution and clamp-down D give Boston a dynamic weapon against opponents of various styles and strengths. Look for him to elevate his already explosive game in the next round against historical foe Philly.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Hawks vs. Celtics Game 6

The Atlanta Hawks return to Boston tonight to take on the Celtics in Game 6 of their first round 4 vs. 5 Eastern Conference series. On Tuesday the Hawks staved off elimination with a gutsy 87-86 victory in the ATL.

Both sides had five players score in double figures, and the 48 wasn’t decided until the final moments as Rajon Rondo stole Josh Smith’s inbounds pass with 10 tics on the clock and raced down the court. Unfortunately for the Green Teamers, the Boston PG got caught up along the sideline with Al Horford and threw the ball away as time expired.

Speaking of Horford, the Hawks center returned to Larry Drew’s starting lineup for the first time since January 11th when he tore his left pectoral muscle. The 5th-year big man and 2X NBA All-Star had 19 points, 11 boards, 3 steals and 3 blocks in an unexpected 41 minutes of run.

The insertion of Horford into the first 5 was accompanied by another tactical rotation decision. Instead of veteran 6’4” Kirk Hinrich, the Hawks moved the 6’9” Marvin Williams into the starting five, which allowed Joe Johnson to switch to the 2-guard spot.

This forced coach Doc Rivers’ hand in that his backcourt of 6’1” Rondo and 6’2”, 2nd-year Avery Bradley were less effective on both ends. Bradley ended up playing only 18 minutes with 2 shots and 2 points as the C’s utilized the taller Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus to counter the Hawks’ length on the wings.

The Celts won both games played on their homecourt in this series. In Game 3, with Josh Smith out with a tweaked knee and rugged Horford not yet available, Atlanta took Boston to overtime before losing 90-84. The Hawks full roster was available in Game 4 at the TD Garden, but the C’s annihilated them 101-79. And it wasn’t really that close. The largest Boston lead was 37 before Doc Rivers pulled his core guys and let the bench finish the rout.

The Celtics posted a strong 24-9 home record during the regular season. However, the Hawks were one of only seven teams in the league with a winning record on the road. In addition, both Boston starters captain Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley are dinged-up. The 14th-year Pierce has a sprained MCL in his left knee, and a strained left rotator cuff has slowed the defensive savant Bradley. Both are expected to play tonight in their diminished capacities.

The Hawks would love to send this series back to Hotlanta for a home-cooked Game 7, so look for this young, anything-can-happen roster to battle all night with their backs up against the elimination wall. Tune in this evening at 8PM ET to TNT as the 17-banner Celtics try to finish off the Hawks in Titletown.

Fratello Telestrator

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