Patterns develop when you play in the GPP (Guaranteed Prize Pool) contests every day. Whether the entry fee is $2, $5, $11 or higher, if you enter just one team or the maximum three, certain outcomes become familiar with experience.
Tweet of the Night went to Greg Stiemsma, who thanked former teammate Avery Bradley for congratulating him on his new one-year, $3 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Stiemsma had the chance to re-sign with the Boston Celtics, but it would have forced the journeyman to take about $2 million less, which obviously made no sense from a business perspective. He will now go back to the first NBA team that signed him to a contract back in April of 2010. The gritty center never had the chance to suit up for the Timberwolves then, but his defensive presence could compliment Kevin Love’s game very well and is likely to carve out a meaningful role for the team in the upcoming season.
Here is a little more on Stiemsma’s decision, from Mark Murphy: “Stiemsma added that Minnesota’s proximity to his home was also a plus. “Minnesota was not too hard a sell for me,” he said. “It’s very close to my family and home.” But Stiemsma will never forget the role the Celtics played in not only giving the young big man his first NBA chance, but also his development. “Nobody was really sure, myself included, of what would happen going into training camp last year,” Stiemsma said. “But I got some great opportunities to play, and (Kevin Garnett) and Doc (Rivers) were great with me right from the start. Everyone was willing to teach, and they genuinely wanted me to do well. “Confidence has always been a big part of my game — when I feel comfortable on the floor everything flows from there — and playing for the Celtics really gave me that confidence,” he said. “I’m grateful for what Boston did for me. I just hope I can use this last year as a springboard.”
The two biggest names in this game we love remain Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
And as free agency slows to a crawl after three frenetic weeks, the basketball world’s focus is on Barcelona, Spain, where Bryant, James and the rest of Team USA practiced and held court with the international media, one day before their “friendly” vs. Argentina on Sunday.
In terms of popularity, Bryant is the unquestioned king. His jersey is the top seller internationally, while James is third, trailing Derrick Rose. And in another impromptu study without empirical data, he remains the king as well.
From Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press: “They carry cameras and microphones, sprinting toward Kobe Bryant like Christmas shoppers who just spotted the “it” gift sitting on shelves. Their questions come quickly, some in English, many in Spanish, and Bryant gives the perfect answer every time. Yes, Spain is an incredible team that can pose problems for the U.S. No, Pau Gasol isn’t getting traded from the Lakers as long as he is there. The only thing Bryant can’t seem to explain to reporters is why he’s so much more popular than his teammates on the Olympic basketball team. “I don’t know. I don’t know where it comes from or how that happens,” he said Saturday with a laugh. “It all started with the Dream Team in terms of basketball becoming so global. When I came into the NBA, I kind of inherited kind of the globalization of the game, and then having grown up overseas they really kind of laid claim to me because this is where I learned how to play the game, is overseas.”
Most of Bryant’s interview session was genial. He removed the edge he normally reserves for American media, left out the occasional swear words he drops here and there, and acknowledged the history of the moment – that Team USA was back in Barcelona, 20 years after the Dream Team put its indelible stamp on the international game at the 1992 Olympics.
Earlier this month, Bryant boasted that this current crop of Americans could beat the Dream Team. Members of that squad such as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird laughed it off.
The setting almost required Bryant to be asked again. And when he was, Bryant adopted his on-court persona and refused to back down.
From Marc Stein of ESPN.com: “People who think we can’t beat that team for one game, they’re crazy,” Bryant said. “To sit there and say we can’t, it’s ludicrous.” Asked if that’s a viewpoint he plans to share directly with Jordan next time they cross paths — after MJ opined that opening up this back and forth was “not one of the smarter things [Bryant] ever could have done” — Kobe answered: “He knows. They got beaten by a college select team once. Doesn’t mean we’re a better team than them, but s—, we can beat them one time.” The trouble, of course, is not only that we’ll never know the truth, but also the reality that Team USA’s many injury casualties in 2012 (starting with Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh) have drained much of the passion out of the debate. USA Basketball will not be taking to the London Olympics anything close to the best team it could have fielded. Combine that with the fact the original Dreamers had an untouchable cultural impact that changed the face of the game forever — or the fact the competition is so much better two decades later compared to an awestruck field that conceded the gold to the glittering Dream Team before anyone even reached Barcelona — and you have too many complicated variables to process to spend too much time on this particular hypothetical. “Those are things I think about during the summer when I’m at the beach with my family,” Team USA boss Mike Krzyzewski said Saturday. “Not when I’m coaching the USA team.”
And Bryant no longer is alone on his island well off the shores of conventional wisdom. His Robinson Crusoe now has a Friday in the form of Chris Paul, who told Stein, “In all honestly, what’s he supposed to say if you guys ask him? Tell me what everybody would have said if Kobe said, ‘We can’t beat ‘em.’ We respect that team, believe me. I was 7 at the time. Even though I don’t remember all the games, I used to collect all the [basketball] cards. But let me tell you something: As long as you know me, as long as I’m playing this game, you’ll never hear me say that I think any man can beat me.”
James didn’t attract quite the crowd that Bryant did, not even with his newly minted status as NBA champion. But he did get a visit from our Chris Sheridan, who noted that although Bryant may be the more popular player, James is Team USA’s leader in both action and words.
From our embedded editor-in-chief: “It has taken years and years for the words LeBron James and NBA champion to be used together in the same sentence without a pejorative disclaimer, and I wanted to get a reading from James one month after the NBA Finals concluded as to how that fulfillment has changed him. We already know he is proud of himself, which he has let everyone know through tweets such as this one. Anyone who watched him closely on the night of Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder can attest to the unabashed joy and sense of fulfillment he was feeling as the final minutes of that blowout victory ticked away. And now, an ocean away and a month removed, the simplest of questions needed to be asked: How ya’ feeling, champ? “It hasn’t changed me at all. I was able to accomplish a goal of mine, I’m very excited about that, but it hasn’t changed my personality or anything like that,” James told SheridanHoops.com. Moments earlier, a member of the USA Basketball staff had told me exactly the opposite – that James was carrying himself with the pride of a champion, and the other players on the team were treating him with a new level of respect – the type of props earned among your peers only when you have a ring (or have one coming, to be pequito mas accurate). But James was having none of it. “I don’t know, not really. I don’t really seek out how people look at me or view me or treat me differently. I just be myself, and it doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “It’s always great when you can set out a goal and you can achieve it through hard work, and the best thing about it is you cut no corners, you don’t take every day off, and you just try to make your best effort. There’s always a fulfillment for that. You feel good about it.”
On Sunday, Argentina will be trying to figure out a way to slow down the hard-charging James, something that the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Britain were unable to do. That puts them in a club with 29 NBA teams.
In fact, the James freight train apparently caught the eye of a coach over a decade ago who wanted to put it to use in another sport.
From Ethan Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: “(Ohio State coach Urban) Meyer has a connection to LeBron James, too, one that goes beyond James’ fondness for the Buckeyes. “I offered him a scholarship when he was a sophomore in high school at St. Vincent St. Mary’s,” Meyer said. “I was at Notre Dame. He was a receiver, and I was a receiver’s coach.” How good was he? “Great.”
We now return to our regular programming, also known as the Dwight Howard saga.
It was a relatively quiet day on the Dwight front. There were no reports of trades, no reports of new trades, no denials of reported trades. The declarations from Howard’s agent (Dan Fegan) and Andrew Bynum’s agent (David Lee) that their clients would not commit to signing long-term with their prospective new teams have the rumor mill churning very slowly.
Slowly, but churning nonetheless.
From Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Byron Scott was as surprised as anyone to read that he has a close relationship with Lakers center Andrew Bynum. “I don’t know who wrote that, but I’ve read that as well,” Scott said Friday in a telephone interview from Las Vegas, where the Cavaliers finished summer league with a 3-2 record after a 98-64 victory over New York. “No, we’re not very close. We’re not very close at all.” With rumors swirling about Bynum coming to Cleveland as part of a three-way deal that would send Dwight Howard to the Lakers and Anderson Varejao and draft picks to Orlando, one of the reasons Bynum supposedly was interested in joining the Cavs was his close relationship to Scott. That relationship was news to Scott and more proof that the trade is more rumor than fact.”
Or perhaps it’s cold feet. It’s not every day you become the league’s youngest GM and your first assignment is to trade a top-five player and franchise cornerstone in a way that doesn’t bury you in eternal irrelevance. Pulling the trigger on that sort of transaction might give one cause for pause.
From Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio: “Mostly, what seems to be the sticking point in this deal is not an agent or player, but the indecisiveness of the Magic — and their new GM, Rob Hennigan. According to sources, the Magic have frustrated potential trading partners by continuously changing terms at the last minute. This supposedly dates back to their dealings with the Nets a few weeks back, when Nets GM Billy King felt an agreement that would send Howard to Brooklyn had been finalized, sources said. Instead, the Nets re-signed their own free-agent center, Brook Lopez, eliminating themselves from landing Howard. The Magic, meanwhile, have for the time being moved on to the Lakers, Cavs and possibly Rockets, and are said to be acting equally as difficult — with the Magic’s thinking seeming to be there’s no need to rush when they possess the big asset everyone wants. Makes sense, but as one opposing GM noted, there’s no way the Magic can bring Howard to camp in late September, and the clock is ticking. So the pressure soon will be on Hennigan, if it’s not already. As for the Cavs and Lakers, both teams reportedly have been determined in their pursuit of Howard and Bynum, respectively, with one source saying the Cavs are acting “cautious, but aggressive.”
There was some minor business done Saturday by the Timberwolves, who reportedly signed restricted free agent center Greg Stiemsma to a one-year, $3 million offer sheet that the Celtics cannot match because they only have the $1.9 million bi-annual exception available. More on this later.
There was also some other pretty cool stuff:
Rookie Harrison Barnes knows that Warriors executive Jerry West is the league logo and already is picking his brain.
In a touching acknowledgement of the tragedy in Aurora, CO, the Nuggets wore black headbands during their summer league game.
Eric Freeman of Ball Don’t Lie has some sponsor suggestions for NBA jerseys. Among the better ones: Orlando Magic: Excedrin. Because this Dwight Howard headache isn’t going to end anytime soon.
So the Sixers and Celtics will resume hostilities in Game 7 at Boston on Saturday.
The Celtics have a badly needed extra day of rest. They have the advantage of playing on their home floor. They have plenty of postseason experience. And they also have better players, which always helps.
The Sixers were supposed to have started their offseason two weeks ago. They nudged their way into the playoffs as an eighth seed that had been playing poorly for six weeks. They were expected to bow out meekly to the top- seeded Chicago Bulls, even after Derrick Rose went down in the opener.
They were dismissed as a mere speed bump in the path of the Celtics, who were going to take advantage of a gaping bracket to return to the NBA Finals. And they have now come to the expected end of an unexpected postseason run.
Or have they?
Because in addition to extra rest, home-court advantage, big-game experience and a locker room full of All Stars, do you know what else the Celtics have?
All of the pressure.
All of the pressure of meeting expectations. All of the pressure of winning at home. All of the pressure of their championship pedigree. All of the pressure of averting a loss that could only be categorized as unacceptable.
And if you look at their recent history, it is not a situation the Celtics have handled well.
“It’s nice to have it at home, but you have to still go get it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “At the end of the day you have to go play.”
Let’s start with Rivers, who is 3-4 all-time in Game 7. One of those came during his days in Orlando, when Tracy McGrady opened his big mouth and said he was “finally out of the first round” after the Magic grabbed a 3-1 lead. But the other six have been with the Celtics.
The first of those came in 2005, when Rivers and the Celtics capped an absolutely awful series with their third home loss. After winning in overtime at Indiana in Game 6, Boston was run off its home floor in the second half of a 97-70 loss that was as bad as the score suggests.
Celtics Nation will quickly point out that loss came before the formation of the current core, which was put together in 2008 – and hasn’t exactly been sparkling in Game 7, either.
In their 2008 championship season, the Celtics won 66 games but somehow were pushed to a seventh game by both 37- win Atlanta and 45-win Cleveland in the first two rounds.
Against the overmatched Hawks, the Celtics snapped out of it and raced to a 99-65 win. Against the one-man Cavs, Paul Pierce scored 41 points to offset 45 by LeBron James and got just enough help from P.J. Brown, who scored 10 points off the bench to cover for Ray Allen (4 points) and Rajon Rondo (8).
The Celtics had two more Game 7 affairs in 2009, when they were without the injured Kevin Garnett.
In the first round, they again were pushed to the limit by the seventh-seeded Chicago Bulls and hotshot rookie Derrick Rose before being rescued by Eddie House, who scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter of a 109-99 win.
In the conference semifinals, the Celtics squandered a 3-2 lead over the Orlando Magic, ultimately losing Game 7 at home in a no-show. They led for all of 36 seconds, spent most of the game trying to cut into a double-digit deficit and collapsed in the fourth quarter, allowing the first 11 points.
Pierce, who carried the Celtics in the same spot a year earlier, made just 4-of-10 shots. The bench managed just 12 points, led by four from Stephon Marbury. Worst of all, the Celtics let the Magic to develop a comfort level, even while Dwight Howard managed just 12 points.
Boston’s most recent Game 7 was its most excruciating loss, an 83-79 road setback to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 Finals. The Celtics were without Kendrick Perkins but nevertheless opened a 13-point lead in the third quarter. But Pierce and Allen shot a combined 8-of-29 and the bench managed just six points, all by Glen Davis.
Yes, the personnel has changed from year to year. But the “Core Four” has been in place for Boston’s last five Game 7′s, and some trends are worth watching.
When the Celtics have been relatively healthy, they have reached the NBA Finals. When they have been missing a key player, their playoff run ended prematurely.
Right now, Boston is without Avery Bradley, who provides overall quickness, strong defense, spot-up shooting and the luxury of bringing the clearly hobbled Allen off the bench. Without Bradley, the Celtics have struggled to keep the quicker Sixers out of the paint and to score with their studs off the floor.
When the Celtics have won Game 7, the reserves made a contribution. When they have lost, the bench was invisible. In Game 6 vs. Philadelphia, they had five bench points – all from Mickael Pietrus – while Pierce, Rondo and Garnett all played 40-plus minutes. Someone on the bench is going to have to step up Saturday and fill the role previously played by Brown, House, Davis and James Posey.
Who is that player? Pietrus seems like the most likely candidate. But if he’s launching bricks, can Keyon Dooling or Ryan Hollins or Marquis Daniels or Greg Stiemsma contribute something other than fouls? It seems unlikely.
And when the Celtics lost Game 7 to the Magic, their normally stout defense disappeared. At home against the Sixers, they made a stand late in Game 1 and in the second half of Game 5. But for the most part, Philadelphia has not had trouble using its quickness, getting its drive-and-kick game going and taking advantage of Boston’s lack of a shot-blocker.
After losing Game 6, Rivers said, “I do like that we have an extra day. I think that helps us a little bit.” And the Celtics are 2-0 this postseason with the additional off day.
But that alone is not going to get it done. Neither is the home court, which the Sixers have solved already. And the experience will help only if the Celtics can call upon it; at times it has been fleeting, as it was Wednesday night.
The Celtics need to play more through Garnett, who cannot shoot 3-of-12 as he did in Game 4. They need the 22 points Pierce has averaged in the last four games, not the 21 combined he had in Games 1 and 2 at home. They need Rondo to be both a scorer and playmaker, not one or the other. They need Allen to provide timely shooting and something more than matador defense. And they need someone – anyone – on the bench to do more than resemble a statue.
And the Celtics have to do this against the Sixers, who already know they can win in TD Garden, currently own the momentum, are playing much closer to their potential and have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
No pressure, guys.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.
The other day, I was stuck behind the Boston Celtics on the highway.
I was in the left lane and I wanted to go considerably faster than the car in front of me, who was doing about 60. Against my better judgment, I got up on his tail and applied some pressure, but he refused to go any faster or move into the right lane.
Somewhat annoyed, I drove right behind him for about a quarter-mile before a gap opened in the right lane. As I went around the slower car, I took a peek into its front seat and saw a driver considerably older than the speed limit, tenaciously clutching the steering wheel, looking only straight ahead.
This is who the Celtics have become.
In a league that quickly is becoming no country for old men, they are too something – determined, proud, stubborn, entitled – to simply move aside and let the young whippersnappers blow past them. Instead, they are trying to get everyone else to slow the heck down so they can keep up.
You know that old adage about enjoying the journey? That’s not the Celtics, who are just trying to survive the trek in one piece and get to their destination. They don’t give a rat’s asterisk whom they inconvenience, annoy or aggravate along the way.
And you know what? They’re pretty good at it. But you have to wonder how long they can keep it up.
The Celtics are nearing the end of an unforgiving road trip – 13 days, eight games, four time zones, three back-to-backs – that has clearly illustrated how they must play to be successful. When they are able to keep the tempo at a manageable speed, they can beat nearly anybody. When the opponent is able to push the pace, they look older than platform shoes.
Boston is 3-3 on its trip. Wins over the LA Clippers and Atlanta were grinders, with plenty of chippy play and all the flow of tree sap. In losses to Sacramento and Denver, the Celtics looked like the Red Auerbach statue in Faneuil Hall.
“I don’t know why we look like we’re running in mud these days,” Kevin Garnett said. “But our fight’s there, man.”
During Monday’s win over Atlanta, Celtics analyst Donny Marshall stopped gushing and cheerleading long enough to make an interesting point: The Celtics seem to have an easier time keeping their focus and executing better on both ends when the pace is slower. When the game quickens, they give away possessions on offense and let down their guard on defense, mistakenly believing that the increased number of opportunities will allow them to make up for their miscues.
After the 25-point loss at Sacramento, Pierce admitted, “We got caught up in what they like to do, the running game.”
Tempering the tempo doesn’t assure victory for the Celtics, as they found out with a last-minute loss to the LA Lakers that opened the trip. Conversely, playing at pace isn’t necessarily a recipe for failure, either, as a last-second win over ADD-afflicated Golden State three nights later proved.
But to a man, the Celtics know they are better off when they are dictating speed and flow. It is evident in their half-court offense, where they run their sets to precision and almost always make the extra pass. It is even more obvious in their defense, which blitzes, fronts, chips, jams, grabs – anything to make things miserable for their foes.
“We have to understand who we are – we’re a defensive group,” Paul Pierce said.
The conventional numbers bear that out. The Celtics are 26th in scoring at just 91.1 points per game. Only Toronto, Detroit, New Orleans and Charlotte – combined star players: zero – average less.
Part of the issue is Boston’s inability to get to the line. The Celtics rank 27th at 20.1 free throws per game, and Pierce (5.7) is their only player in the top 50.
And with a pace ranking 22nd in the league, Boston appears to be maximizing its touches. Despite their low scoring average, the Celtics are seventh in shooting (.455), eighth in 3-point shooting (.364) and second in assists (23.3). So when they have the ball, they know what to do to get it in the basket.
But it’s that whole “having the ball” thing that is presenting problems.
Boston is dead last in the NBA at 38.1 rebounds per game. More meaningful is rebound percentage, and the Celtics are 24th defensively, last offensively and 29th overall, ahead of only league-worst Charlotte.
Rebounding completes stops and offers the opportunity to run. The Celtics are wasting valuable energy making multiple stops while being unable to get easy transition baskets or second-chance points.
This extra expenditure of effort is taking its toll on the current rotation. Even at full strength, no one would describe the Celtics as spry. Without big men Jeff Green, Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox, the effect on the rotation is evident. Boston is 1-7 when the second of back-to-back games is on the road.
Garnett is playing out of position at center and is being spelled by rookie Greg Stiemsma, a shaky postseason notion. Pierce and Mickael Pietrus are taking occasional turns at power forward because Rivers has only three bigs he truly trusts. Backup guards Keyon Dooling and Avery Bradley are good defenders but don’t contribute at the other end.
There has been a lot of talk about Boston adding a big man released or bought out by Friday’s deadline. But former Celtic stringbean Chris Johnson already has been waived by Portland and claimed by New Orleans. Ronny Turiaf is taking his talents to South Beach. J.J. Hickson went to Portland. Boris Diaw may be headed to San Antonio. And Ryan Hollins doesn’t have the defensive discipline.
Also keep in mind that the Celtics already have 15 players and would have to cut a guaranteed contract to add a player. When your payroll is a league-high $87 million –$17 million above the projected luxury tax threshold, adding salary is cause for pause.
In other words, Robert Parish is not walking through that door.
Boston’s trip mercifully ends this week with huge back-to-back games at Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Celts are three games ahead of the surging Bucks and 1 1/2 behind the scrappy Sixers, who ran them out of the Broad Street gym the last time Gang Green started sniffing around first place.
And just in case you were wondering, these are Boston’s first seven games in April, played over 11 days with three back-to-backs: vs. Miami, vs. San Antonio, at Chicago, at Indiana, vs. Philadelphia, at Miami, vs. Atlanta. That is followed by three road games in three nights, a day off, and a visit to New York.
As Tony Montana once said, that’s no duckwalk.
The Celtics believe they can be a factor in the postseason, and anyone who dismisses an experienced team with a strong championship pedigree is kidding themselves. But they have to get there first, and it appears the only way is under the caution flag. Any faster and they might lose control and crash.
Or as Rivers put it, “I’m trying to get our team to understand we don’t have a margin for error.”
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.