Posted by Jesse Nunes
March 11, 2007 10:07 PM
Rather than put together a cohesive, coherent post on a single topic on the current state of the Celtics, I've decided to forego that and patch together a slightly less coherent and much more wandering conglomeration of thoughts and observances I've had over the past week of watching the Celtics (and about 295 college basketball games.) Let's get right to it:
It's been a month since the darkest period in Celtics history reached its apex with Bostonís 18th consecutive loss, and although it still hurts like it happened yesterday, the C's have actually played pretty respectable ball since then, Sunday night's thrashing at the hands of the Bulls notwithstanding. Following that Feb. 11th loss in Minnesota, the C's are 6-6, and they are 5-2 in their last seven games. Now, instead of focusing on the box scores of the Memphis Grizzlies, Celtic fans have their eyes focused on the Charlotte Bobcats, losers of eight straight and only 3 Ĺ games away from the Celtics and their claim to second-most ping pong balls. The Bobcats have found losing easier since Emeka Okafor's strained left calf has kept him out of the last seven games, with more DNPs likely to come. With 20 games left for the C's and 19 for the 'Cats, there's still plenty of time for the teams to swap positions in the draft pecking order. It will make the March 21 meeting between the two even more important.
Kendrick Perkins has really started moving better these last five or so games, and it's most evident in his block numbers. Perk has 9 rejections over the last five games, and 7 over the last three. At this point in his career, I think it's safe to say that Perk will never be an offensive force, and his rebounding numbers aren't quite what I would have liked to see from the fourth-year big man. But his defense really carries over to the rest of the team, and that's where he is going to continue to make his biggest impact for the C's of the future.
Perk's biggest progression this year has been in his passing. Last year, Perk was the teamís best outlet passer, always looking up the court immediately after corralling a defensive rebound, but this year, Perk's passing prowess has shown itself in the half-court game. He is the best high-low passer on the team, the role played so well by Antoine all those years in the getting Pierce three to four easy lay-ups a game. While Pierce and Gomes have been the chief recipients of Perk's passing, I think once defenders start fronting Al more often, Perk's soft lobs over the top of Al's defender could become a go-to play for the C's.
I am not giving up on Sebastian Telfair. I know he's been probably the teamís biggest disappointment so far this year (and that's a lot of disappointments), but in some sense I don't think it's all his doing. Telfair is the type of guy whose value is about 10 times higher if he's on the floor with shooters. In my opinion, he's better than Rondo at making that initial penetration into the middle of a defense and whipping pinpoint rocket passes to the wings. If he had Wally on one wing, Gerald on the other, and Pierce running baseline looking to come off a pick, you could run Telfair into the middle and end up with a great shooter taking a wide-open shot every time.
Anyway, I've been impressed with Telfair in his limited minutes lately. Although his box score didn't show it, he was pretty much the sole reason the C's beat the injured Rockets a couple weeks ago (also known as the ugliest game of basketball ever played). He completely changed the tempo of the game, slashed to the rim, and, even though he was missing some lay-ups, got his teammates great put-back opportunities. And, as Tommy pointed out in the Bulls game, Telfair has really improved his defense from the beginning of the year, mainly by moving his feet much better and not letting his man so easily get his shoulder by him on drives to the hoop.
There won't be many minutes for Telfair once Delonte comes back from his Mutombo-induced concussion, but I'd really like to see what he can show in the last 20 games of the season. At the very least, he should be showcased a bit to raise his offseason trade value, because if he continues to ride the pine the rest of the way, the C's will be unable to give him away.
The Bulls and, more specifically, Luol Deng, are Paul Pierce's Kryptonite. Dating back to last March, the C's and Bulls have played four times, and Pierce is averaging a measly 14.5 points a game on 28 percent shooting (18-65) in those games. Pierce has been held to eight points in both meetings so far this year, going 6 for 27 (22 percent) from the field. Maybe he should just take Tuesday's game in Chicago off. You know, sore elbow or something.
Leon Powe is my Waltah. I can't get enough of him. Now, I don't expect him to be anything more than an 8th or 9th man on a decent team, and even on this flawed Celtics team there aren't a whole lot of minutes for him, but he's the perfect energy-type guy that every team needs coming off their bench. The intensity under the boards ratchets up every time he's on the floor. He doesn't have the size to consistently score or defend many frontline NBA guys, but that never deters him even when it seems he's overmatched. He is never outdone by his opponents in pure effort, and he seems to ruffle the feathers of every guy who bangs with him down low. And even though he's undersized, he wins more battles on the boards than he should. Part of that is his physically sound boxing-out method, as he always has his backside on a man whenever a shot goes up, and he rarely gives any ground once he has that position. But he also has that knack for anticipating the kind of angle a shot is going to come off the rim, which is the type of innate anticipation that made Dennis Rodman such a great rebounder back in the day. Now, I doubt Powe will ever be a Rodman, but I expect that every time the C's need a big rebound in a game, Leon will be on the floor.
After watching every game of the Big Ten and Big 12 tournaments, I am now at the point where I'll be completely devastated if the C's don't land a top-two pick, or if either Durant or Oden decide to enjoy a sophomore year. These guys are so far and away better than anyone else that I don't think I can follow NBA basketball anymore if both of them are playing for teams other than the Celtics.
Sure, the Wright brothers (UNC's Brandan and Kansas' Julian, no relation) and the Florida frontline (Joakim Noah and Al Horford) would be solid additions and make the C's a better team, but none of them will bring what Durant and Oden will. It's not even close. (I know this is news to no one, but I just can't emphasize it enough). At this point, I don't even care which of Durant or Oden the C's get. I just want one of them. Watching them in their respective conference tournaments left me slack-jawed and drooling. Oden's defensive dominance. Guys wilt when they come into the lane. Durant's offensive genius. The amount of ways he can get shots off should be illegal. And no one that young and that tall should have that kind of range.
I am giddy in anticipation of the NCAA tournament, just for the opportunity to see them play one, two, three more times. I need my fix. This isn't healthy. God help me if the C's lose out in the lottery. God help us all.
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