Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Rocky Mountain High
The Celtics returned from the All-Star break last night in Denver and began their toughest road trip of the season-five games in seven nights against five Western Conference teams. Despite the return of Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis, the Nuggets (33-20) had too much firepower for the Celtics (41-10), winning 124-118. It was Boston's first loss of the season (16-1) against the West.
Let me preface this by saying that I love Allen Iverson, or maybe loved is the proper tense these days. Watching last night's game was a quick refresher course on many of the problems that plague the NBA product (too many fouls called, especially for stars, choppy play and no team basketball). I have noted these elements the last few years but since the Celts are finally good again, they've been put on the backburner for now.
Iverson (28 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds) played well but he also was 14 of 20 from the free throw line. If that wasn't bad enough, Carmelo Anthony (game-high 29 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) was 12 of 13 from the line. Those two guys shot more free throws than the whole Celtics team (19 of 28). Denver was 34 of 49. It was an absolute joke. I'll admit that Paul Pierce gets a ton of calls in his favor but AI and Melo are unbelievable actors. Any time they drive to the basket, they yell, scream and whine about getting fouled and usually reap the rewards.
Garnett (4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 4 turnovers) started but only played 21 minutes. He was 2 of 7 from the floor and it was clear that his stamina is not there yet after missing the past nine games. Pierce (team-high 24 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds), Ray Allen (20 points, 5 assists) and Rajon Rondo (22 points, 4 rebounds, 6 turnovers) provided enough offense, the C's defense just couldn't get anything done. And the few times they would seemingly get a stop, a late whistle would bail the home team out.
Leon Powe had a double-double off the bench with 13 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, James Posey was great (13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals) while Tony Allen and Eddie House each had nine points.
Denver outscored Boston, 36-31 in the first as Iverson and Anthony were unstoppable but Ray Allen kept Boston close with 14 first quarter points. The C's evened it at 62 going into the half by taking the second quarter (31-26). Rondo hit a ridiculous floater from the free throw line, over Marcus Camby (11 points, 13 rebounds, 9 blocks, 3 assists, 3 steals) right before the buzzer. He got fouled too but missed the And-1.
The Nuggets won the third, 26-22 as their role players like Kenyon Martin (19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals), Anthony Carter (14 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds) and Linas Kleiza (11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) all made key plays.
The fourth quarter had the intensity of a playoff game as the sold-out Pepsi Center crowd finally woke up and was rewarded with some amazing basketball. Kleiza hit back-to-back threes to put Denver up 10 before Boston clawed its way back. Both Rondo and KG had putback dunks for the Celtics. Camby hit a shot-clock beating step back three, Iverson hit a jumper and K-Mart got a basket. Boston had a chance to get it down to three with under a minute but Ray Allen missed a 3-pointer. Denver missed a few foul shots while Boston kept making baskets but it was too late. Denver edged Boston in the fourth, 36-34 to take the game.
All the numbers not surprisingly were absurd from such a high-scoring game. Denver shot 51.3% to Boston's 44.4%. The Celts had three more 3's (11-8) but Denver had 10 more assists (29-19) and six more blocks (12-6). How the Celtics kept it close despite all the free-throws is a mystery. The Nuggets had the early-season blowout to the Celtics in mind as they wanted to pay them back and knock off the top team in the NBA in the process.
No rest for Boston as they flew to Golden State last night and will take on the Warriors tonight. The defensive numbers of the C's (the top defensive team in the league) should continue to get worse as they play three run and gun teams in a row (Denver, Golden State, Phoenix). Boston dominated Golden State earlier in the season and the Warriors also lost last night (to the Jazz) so it should be a good game.