Preseason game 8: Celtics vs. New Jersey Nets, Friday, October 24, 2003
The Celtics Beagle hard at work typing his next review
Ok, after the Celtics' last game, there were a host of questions to be answered.  Was it a fluke?  Will Pierce REALLY pass the ball consistently?  Can the C's bench keep pace with the starters?  Will Vin Baker keep this up?  Is Walker really gone?

After watching tonight's game, the answer is no, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

I know that some fans will discount this game, saying that the C's had too easy a time with Jason Kidd deliberately held out--he didn't even dress for the game--and Kenyon Martin having "injured" his thumb last night.

Every time I think Nets coach Byron Scott, that son of a malformed Muppet, can't sink lower, he finds a way, grant him consistency if nothing else.  He gave up on his team, and this game, long before it started.  He had decided that it was beyond pointless.  Hey, Byron--if you're not going to "show up" for the game, then don't show up at all, and don't waste the airfare, the fan's time, and the C's practice session, which would frankly have produced a more competitive game had they played bench vs. starters.  We already know you're an embarrassment to the NBA, don't keep trying to prove it.

Earlier today, Coach Jim O'Brien named Mike James and Vin Baker (did anyone think it wasn't a  universal certainty that Paul Pierce would also start?) as part of his starting lineup for opening night next Wednesday, with Vin getting formal recognition of his incredible turnaround in the time following his suspension last February.

First Quarter:

Reflecting Obie's announcement this morning, the C's put in a starting lineup of  Vin Baker and Kedrick Brown at Forward, Mike James and Paul Pierce at Guard, and Mark Blount at Center.  New Jersey punished Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson at Forward, Zoran Planinic and Kerry Kittles at Guard and Alonzo Mourning at Center by making them play against Boston without Jason Kidd or Kenyon Martin.

The game opened inauspiciously as the C's won the tip, then Baker lost the ball when fouled him and generated a fast break for two points by Kittles.  This would prove to be a Jersey highlight of the first half.

The Good Guys recovered as Pierce lost his lone defender for an easy two.  On the defensive end, Blount was knocked down under the hoop while trying to take a charge, and knocked the ball to Pierce from a nearly prone position.  The C's were off and running as Baker got a good look that didn't go, but wait!  Mark Blount flew down the lane, trailing the play, and got the cleanup rebound!  YAY!

Alonzo Mourning was almost useless, as he had zero lift.  Without Kidd zipping up and down the court, the Nets were mostly playing halfcourt on offense.  The C's really, really liked that.  New Jersey was one and done, if they even got a shot off. 

Pierce once more used his new favorite play of drawing a nervous defense toward him, and passing the ball, this time to Vin Baker, who elevated for the one-handed slam.  Baker was once more looking strong and athletic.

The C's were looking for the outlet pass early on, and there were a few miscues.  Boston needs to run some passing drills, as sometimes the pass was mishandled, other times the wrong pass was made.  But the fact that they're looking for it at all is positive, and it often worked well.

One thing Tommy Heinsohn pointed out is that the C's have a tendency, after a made basket or free throw, to have a specific person take the ball in from out of bounds.  He stated--and I agree--that the person nearest the ball should not let it hit the floor, but take it out themselves, and push the tempo immediately.  Most of the C's can handle an inbound pass to start the break.  Waiting for a specific player just gives the opposition time to get back on defense.

Throughout the first quarter, the scoring was spread out between all players, as the box score at the end confirms.  There wasn't one single player being the total focus of the Celtic offense--which makes that player a focus of the other team's defense.  The Nets had to play everyone straight up, which was the dawn of a new day for Pierce.

Boston was shooting beautifully through most of the first quarter, whilst the Nets were having trouble doing anything with the ball.  Except turn it over.  They had no trouble with that.  Pierce dumped the ball to Kedrick for a two handed jam.  Blount tried to take ANOTHER charge, but got called for the blocking foul.  The refs are having a preseason too, and tonight was not among their best nights.  Not their worst, but nothing to write home about.

Mike James was running rings around his alleged defender, hitting an easy shot.  Vin Baker took a charge from Mourning, but then made one of his few mistakes when he travelled with the ball at the other end.

Pierce then came up with a steal on good defense, and Baker showed he can hit an 18 foot jump shot, as the Good Guys ran up the score to 16-5 with 6:27 left in the first.

The Nets did harass the passers more than anyone with the Timberwolves did the other night, and that exposed some of the C's slight carelessness with the kind of passes they make.  The passes need to be faster, and more varied. Too often the passes are low enough for a defender to get a paw on the ball as it goes by.

Over the last half of the quarter, the C's hit a small dry spell offensively.  There were shots taken in the flow of the game that just didn't drop.  Last season, this would have been a disaster.  Tonight, the C's simply kept up the defensive pressure so the Nets couldn't take advantage.  Baker in particular was evident on the defensive end.

With 4:22 left, Kedrick sat in favor of Eric Williams.  Raef also came in, and got a good look at a three that missed.  Those of you who miss Rodney Rogers will be heartened to hear that Rodney went 4-13 from the floor, doing the majority of his damage from the line.  Did I mention that the Nets went to the free throw line 40 times to the Celtics 16?  It's revolting, I tell you, revolting!!!

A minute later, Waltah! and Marcus Banks came in.  Marcus is starting to get a better feel for how to do his job, and is at times faster than James.  Waltah! quickly his a deep two to show that his knee is in fact getting slowly better.  I have to say that given his noticeable improvement in the last couple of games over the first few that the knee seems to have been a significant problem for him.

The C's then forced the Nets into a bad shot clock shot.  Their defense was tight throughout the quarter.  Raef got stuffed when he assumed that he'd get an easy two.  That'll wake him up!  :>)

The refs seem to be calling things a lot tighter in preparation for the regular season.  The Celtics better be prepared to play in foul trouble until things settle down.

Banks made a one-handed scoop pass to Battie for an easy two, which was as elegant as it was effective.  Then he recovered the ball after making a bad pass to get the ball back and literally drive his defender around in circles.

The quarter ended with the Celtics leading by a score of 20-12, and the Good Guys were on their way!

Second Quarter:

Things were definitely going Boston's way, as they shot 53% to the Nets' 25%, had an 8-2 edge in paint points, and only 6 turnovers to New Jersey's 11.  And we have better fans, too.

Eric Williams got a good rebound, though he didn't convert.  Not to worry, though--Raef was there to take the miss and get the pumpkin out to Battie, who made the shot.  that was good patience and looking for the open man.

Waltah! made the same one-handed scoop pass to Eric that Banks had made in the previous quarter.  But Eric tried to do the same thing to Battie and the Nets were waiting for it this time.  But Banks took a charge to stop the Nets offensive attempt on the other end.  He then made a deep two trailing the play after recovering.

The Nets' offensive woes continued as the C's went quickly into a double digit lead, and Raef took and made a shot clock three off a broken play.  Eric Williams took a charge of his own and nearly stole the ball in the process.

During a timeout they showed footage of the fundraiser for the Boston Celtics Charitable Foundation held a few days ago (which raised $750,000), and while it was a quick pan, I'd swear Bill Walton was growing a beard!

When play came back in, The C's were passing the ball crisply and getting open looks.  Because of the high-speed offense, they were getting lots of looks.  By the end of the game, the C's had taken 76 shots and hit 35 of them. 

Their defense looked fast too, as Eric Williams zoomed down the lane to strip the ball from an opponent lining up a slam.  It worked so well, he did it again moments later, and would have had an easy two but for Rodney Rogers committing a deliberate foul.

Then Banks made such a smooth fast handoff to Baker on a break I had to go frame by frame to figure out how Baker ended up with the Ball when it was clearly Banks bringing it upcourt!  Need I add that Vin made the shot? 

With 6:03 left in the half, the C's had opened up a 36-19 lead.

Boston was leaping and contesting shots, and running on offense.  Waltah! had a beautiful look on the break that only an outstanding defensive play kept from being an easy two.

Mark Blount was doing his thing on the defensive board, and Baker made two successive blocks on the same play to hinder the Nets' offense further.  Not that they needed help there.  New Jersey was now 6-25, whilst the Good Guys were 16-30.

Pierce then "ran up his charge card" to help the defensive cause.

The Bat-Man made a nice upfake to get the basket and the foul.  This is something the C's rarely did last season, and I like to see the good habits being established.

This pattern continued through the end of the half, which ended with the Good Guys ahead 48-26.


Oh, where to begin?  Leading 48-26, shooting 51% to New Jersey's 25%, outrebounding the Nets 21-15, holding a 13-4 lead in assists, having a 16-4 edge in paint points, only committing 9 turnovers--which the Nets were only able to convert to 9 points--while the Nets had 17, which the Good Guys turned into 23 points.  No matter where you begin, it looks great.  This is almost identical to where the C's were with the Timberwolves the other night, with the same challenge facing them: hold the lead and keep playing the way that got them here.

But things would get much tougher as the game progressed...

Third Quarter:

As things opened in the second half, Boston was still frustrating the New Jersey offense, but Baker was being watched more closely now, and getting called on fouls. 

But with 11:04 left, something happened that would completely change the game and give the C's their biggest challenge in the preseason.  Pierce was coming around to double against the ballhandler, when he came down badly on his foot--it looked like his foot rolled off Banks'--and hurt his ankle.   He had trouble getting up, and  was limping when he did.  He tried to walk it off, but went to the bench with a timeout.  Thank goodness, his ankles were taped.  When  time came back in, Pierce was in, too.

At first, the C's kept right on running, with Kedrick Brown getting an easy two off the break.  Boston also kept up the defensive pressure, and I thought that this might be an easy game yet.  Boston was up 52-27 at this point.  All they really had to do was bear down on defense and let the offense come in the flow of the game as they ran. 

Vin Baker took a gorgeous pass from James for yet another easy basket.  James tried a similar pass to Raef, but the pass went awry.  Pierce went back to the bench at this point, where he would remain for the remainder of the game, a bag of ice tied to his foot.

Vin got called for a foul and sat in favor of Blount.  I should point out that these weren't the kind of fouls he picked up last season, pushing because he missed his defensive assignment.  They were just fouls, and he got called for aggressive play.  It's going to happen, and overall, Vin has been playing very smart.  It's just going to take a bit to figure out what the refs will--or won't-- call this season.

But as the middle of the third quarter approached, the C's began to slow down a bit.  New Jersey began spending an inordinate amount of time at the free throw line.  This was a very bad combination of events for Boston.  The Nets began extending defensive pressure and the C's started playing more of a halfcourt game.  the discombobulation became evident as the C's took the ball away from the Nets on a break, ran a break of their own, only to see Kedrick blow the monster dunk, as the ball caromed off the backboard just horizontal to the rim.  Raef couldn't corral the errant ball and the Nets would have had two of their own but for the C's defense.

Because they weren't moving as fast, the baskets became harder to make, and the Nets had a chance to get back into the game.  Remember, a couple of minutes into the third quarter, the Nets had scored only 27 points.  By the end of the third, they had scored 47 points overall.  Boston would only put up 17 points in the third quarter.  Byron Scott was smiling.  The score was now 65-47, and Boston's large lead was becoming a distant memory.

Fourth Quarter:

The Celtics continued to slow down.  I have no reason to justify or excuse it.  They were playing their second game in three days, both at home.  Everyone was rested.  They were probably bothered with Pierce having to take the bench, but better that than risk a more devastating injury.  It was a preseason game.  Everything favored the C's taking this as a chance to show their ability to maintain the lead under adversity when there was nothing on the line but pride.

But the Nets smelled a win in the offing with all the really good players for both teams on the bench.  No Pierce.  No Walker.  No running.  The Nets had a chance, and they threw themselves into taking it.

The C's were simply not clicking like they had been through the first half.  Nothing worked, though they brought most of their problems on themselves by no longer running on offense.  Obie tried several combinations to try to jump start the running, but nothing worked.

In a way--an odd way, I admit--this was good for the Celtics, if wrenching for us fans.  The C's needed to know if they could face down a serious challenge by a team they had down early on.  Could they win close games when things weren't going right?  We were all about to find out.

Vin Baker got called foul--his fifth, on a clean block--by the ref who did NOT have a clear view of the play.  The ref who DID had no problem, but didn't overrule. 

On one the few nice offensive plays from Boston early on in the final quarter, Eric Williams made a kind of windmill shot that somehow ended up in the hoop.  Kind of the reverse motion of Pete Townshend on the guitar.  (as all the Backstreet Boys fans say, "Pete Who?", and we say, "Yes.")

But the joy was short-lived as Vin Baker proceeded to foul out with 6:37 left--necessarily, to prevent an easy hoop.  He got a standing ovation from several fans.  It's a testament to his renewed ability that I was nervous about not having him available.

The Nets continued their offensive assault with official help, and practiced their free throws.  This would become relevant to Boston later in the game, but with 5:44 left, the lead had shortened considerably, to 73-63.

Following a timeout, the Nets used free throws to make it a single-digit spread.  Boston continued to slow the ball down on offense, apparently hoping there wouldn't be enough time for the Nets to come all the way back.  Bad idea.  The Nets were the ones running now.  For a moment I was encouraged as Banks made a steal and a fast hoop for two, but the offensive movement stagnated once more after that.

New Jersey also extended it's pressure on the C's, trying to force a turnover.  I was starting to have nightmares of last season, as with 3:00 left, the score was now 77-70.

To add to my deepening gloom, Marcus Banks was called for a technical foul--for no apparent reason--as the camera panned to show a dejected Paul Pierce on the bench, a large bandage and ice pack obscuring his right foot.

After a timeout, the Nets made the "T" throw to make it a 6 point game.  They proceeded to add another basket, and now the score was 77-73 as the C's halfcourt offense got them zip.  New Jersey had the ball with less than two minutes left, but the C's took down the miss and snuck the ball to Eric Williams for two.

Sad to say, moments later, the Nets got it back.  79-75 with 1:10 left.  Tony Battie added a hoop to make it 81-79 with 1:05 left as Byron Scott called time.

Moments after the timeout ended, New jersey got much too easy a hoop as the C's defense fell apart on the play.  It was now 81-77 with 50 seconds left.  A Celtic miss gave the ball back to the Nets with 25.3 seconds left as they added another two points.  Kedrick Brown was instantly fouled, with the score now 81-79 with 24.3 seconds left.  Kedrick went to the line to shoot two.  He made them both smoothly.  Timeout was called with 24.3 seconds left, and the score now 83-79.

After the timeout, the Nets had the ball once more and this time the C's defense made them waste time, and forced a turnover with 14.6 seconds left.  Mike James was quickly sent to the line to shoot two.  His first shot was no good, bouncing high off the back of the rim.  The second went through the hoop cleanly.  New Jersey called another timeout with 14.6 seconds left and the score now 84-79.

Time came back in, and the Nets got the ball inbound fairly easily, and hit a quick three to make it 84-82.  They fouled Mike James once again, and he stepped to the line for two.  This time, his free throws went cleanly through the net.  With the score now 86-82 and the final 10 seconds ticking down, the Nets had no more timeouts, running the length of the court.  This time, the Celtics defense held them off, and the Good Guys pulled it out at the last, winning their final preseason game 86-82, and making their preseason record a 4-4 tie.

Cookies and Crumbs:

Cookies go to:

The Celtics of the first half for their running game and solid defensive effort across the board.

Mike James and Kedrick Brown for making crucial free throws.

Crumbs go to:

The Celtics of the SECOND half for NOT running like they did in the first half.

Byron Scott, for refusing to play the game like he wanted to win--until Pierce got hurt.

While it was good to know that the C's could pull it together without Pierce, they should have done it with much less difficulty.  They need to work on their passing and, apparently, Obie needs to have another extra-long practice to emphasize running in the second half.  I saw some good things, and some stuff that needs work.  The percentage of good shots is way up.  I'd like to see the C's convert even more of them.

They play for real next Wednesday at 7pm, against the Miami Heat.  It's going to be an interesting season, no doubt about it.

And that's the view from the doghouse.