Thursday, February 21, 2008
King of this Castle
Thank God the Celtics are not in the Western Conference. That much is abundantly clear just two games into this five-game West Coast trip. Golden State topped Boston, 119-117 last night on a buzzer-beater by Baron Davis.
Let this sink in: the Warriors (33-21) came into last night in ninth place in the West. With the same record, they'd be fourth in the East, thus earning home-court advantage for the playoffs. Only 5.5 games separated the top team in the West (the Hornets) from the Warriors. Dang.
Despite the loss, the C's (41-11) had a few great signs: Kevin Garnett played 31 minutes and scored 17 points, hauled in 15 rebounds, plus three steals, three blocks and two assists. After looking totally out of place on Tuesday vs. the Nuggets, KG took a big step forward 24 hours later, dominating on the glass. The other real positive for Boston was that Ray Allen (game-high 32 points, 6 assists) had one of his best games as a Celtic. He was 11 of 17 from the floor, including 6 of 8 from 3-point land. It was as efficient as he's been all season. Paul Pierce had 23 points, 5 boards and five assists.
As a converted Warriors fan (circa playoffs 2007), I watch them any chance I can and love their crazy brand of basketball. Davis (29 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) is rightfully the leader but his sidekick Monta Ellis (26 points, 9 assists) is quickly becoming one of the NBA's most unknown stars. Outside of Kobe and LeBron, Ellis might be the best driver in the league. He's unstoppable when he wants to get to the basket.
For the second night in a row, as predicted, defense was nowhere to be seen. The Warriors led 32-29 after the first quarter but the C's played a great second (28-18) to take a 57-50 halftime advantage.
Playing without Stephen Jackson, who all obvious and played out jokes aside is having a career year, Golden State had fine showings by Al Harrington (22 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists), Andris Biedrins (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Mickael Pietrus (12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals).
I think Oracle Arena has the most vocal fans in the league this season so not surprisingly, the Warriors came back in the second half. Golden State outscored Boston, 32-27 in the third and 37-33 in the fourth.
Since the Warriors are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, I had faith that the Celts had a good chance to win if they could just stop a few Warriors possessions, no dice.
It seemed like Golden State made a costly mistake when they were up two with 28 seconds left and had Matt Barnes drive to the hoop with 10 seconds left, throwing up a prayer that didn't even hit the rim. Boston got the rebound and called timeout. On the ensuing possession, Pierce drove to the basket and got the foul called. I almost couldn't watch since he can be a shaky free-throw shooter but he calmly made both (12 of 13 on the night). The game looked destined for overtime but Baron had something to say about that. He dribbled down the court and was isolated on Tony Allen (18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), who had one of his best games I can ever remember. With shades of the first Pistons game in my head (where Allen fouled Chauncey Billups with under a second left), Davis avoided Allen and drained a 20-foot jumper. Game over.
Boston shot 48.1% to Golden State's 47.2%. The C's made 11 threes (seven more than the Warriors) but the free-throw line is what killed them. Unlike in Denver, both teams got to the line a ton but the Celtics were a little worse (32 of 46) than the Warriors (31 of 43). The other surprising stat was that Golden State owned rebounds (49-37).
At the beginning of this trip, I was guessing the C's would finish 3-2. Now, I'm not even sure about that. They have to go to Phoenix tomorrow night and play a Suns team, who lost to the Lakers last night in Shaq's debut. Then they go to Portland, who is also dangerous although out of the playoffs at the moment before finally finishing with the garbage Clippers.
Boston can't come home soon enough, this year's Western Conference is absurd. It's going to go down as one of the most stacked conferences in NBA history.