Poor Shooting Dooms Celtics in Atlanta

Hawks 93, Celtics 85. Well, that wasn’t a very good showing. The Hawks are slowly becoming a thorn in the Celtics side. They’re a decent team, to be sure, but they raise their game so much every time they play Boston that they usually wind up winning. The C’s should be able to handle teams like this, and they usually do, except when they’re playing Atlanta. It’s frustrating to watch your team play down to their opponents, and that’s what we saw last night. The Hawks are to the Celtics what the Kansas City Royals are to the Red Sox: the bad team that always manages to beat us, despite losing to everybody else.

Statistically, it’s hard to look at this game and point out the main reason why Boston lost Friday night. They were about even with the Hawks for rebounds, assists, turnover, points in the paint, fast break points, points off of turnovers, and three-point success. The only statistic where there is much separation is shooting percentage, where the Hawks shot nearly 10% better than the Celtics did. All of this points to the Celtics just getting flat out beat. They shot the ball poorly and they lost because of it.

We can’t look at the starters and say they did not hold up their end of the bargain. Once again, all of them scored in the double digits. They actually outscored Atlanta’s starters by a couple of points. Where there was a big difference in scoring was in the benches of both teams. The Celtics bench only managed to put up 12 points. The Hawks nearly doubled that, scoring 22 points. Jamal Crawford scored 18 off the bench, making him the highest scorer on Atlanta and second only to Paul Pierce’s 21 overall. This meant that tonight the Hawks were the lengthier team by far. Their starters held their own against ours, then when we had to go to the bench they were able to build up leads.

The Celtics are a team clearly trying to hang on as they try to weather the storm of injuries and illnesses that have been plaguing them for the last week or so. As they get healthier, they will start returning to form. Until then, however, you’re going to see the occasional game like this. The Celtics didn’t really do any one thing so badly that it cost them the game. The starters played well, they defended the three-ball decently (or at least gave up fewer treys than they scored), and they paced the Hawks in most statistically important categories. But they shot a bit worse than Atlanta did, and their bench struggled a bit, and that’s the ballgame. It’s disappointing, but in every season you’ll have games like this once in awhile. The best thing to do is remember that it’s just one loss, and that they Celtics are capable of playing much better than they did Friday night. 93 is usually a beatable score for them, so any night when you can hold a team to that low a score is a game you know the C’s will have at least a chance of winning. Last night, they didn’t. Next Monday, when they see Atlanta again (after a Sunday game against Toronto), perhaps they will.

Celtics Piece Together Victory in Miami

Boston 112, Miami 106. What an exciting game that was! As I watched it, at no point did I feel like one team was pulling away from the other. There was only one lead in the double digits (11, Miami), but it came midway into the fourth quarter, and the C’s came back and tied it up almost immediately. Dwyane Wade put the Heat up by two with 0.6 seconds to play, but Doc Rivers drew up a fantastic alley-oop play from Pierce to Rondo to tie the game. In overtime, Rondo and Ray Allen took over, scoring most of the points and powering the Celtics to a thrilling victory. In a game without Kevin Garnett or Eddie House, not to mention weakened players in Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo (almost our entire starting 5 was hurt or hampered!) and Glen Davis, the team managed to put enough points on the board to come away with the win. While they gave up 44 points to Wade, they managed to weather his scoring explosion and contain the rest of the team.

First off, the negatives. The two big ones were turnovers and rebounding. The Celtics committed 26 turnovers, 15 more than the Heat. Additionally, the Heat converted those turnovers into 26 points, well above the 4 scored by the Celtics off Miami turnovers. And Ray Allen’s turnover at the end of regulation nearly cost the Celtics the game (in fact, if Wade had just held the ball a split second longer, it WOULD have cost them the game). I understand this team is still finding its rhythm with Rasheed Wallace replacing Kevin Garnett, but you can’t turn the ball over like that and expect to win games in the NBA.

Rebounding was the other big issue for this team. Miami out-rebounded Boston 44-42, which is not all that big a difference. However, on the offensive boards the Heat won by a wide margin: 17-5. The Celtics have the bodies to bang up against the glass, but I’m not sure their big men have quite the good enough hands necessary to come away with a lot of rebounds. Too many times did I see a ball get tipped when it should have been corralled. I’m seeing this a lot in recent games, and it’s beginning to become a worrisome trend. Giving up second-chance shots and offensive rebounds is a quick way to tire your team out and give up unnecessary points to the opposition. Boston has the potential to rebound much better, they just haven’t yet.

Offensively, the Celtics played exceptionally well. All 5 starters had more than 15 points. Three of them- Perkins, Allen and Rondo- went over 20 points. Perk even had a double-double, adding 10 rebounds to his 20 points. The Celtics moved the ball in and out, penetrated well and shot well from the perimeter, putting up more three-pointers than Miami (7-6). And in overtime, the athleticism of the Celtics really came into focus, as Ray Allen and Rondo especially slashed into the paint over and over again. Once this team solidifies its rotation and gets healthy, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Overall, this was a great way to start a road trip. It was a huge win that came via a team that was hurting at pretty much every position. To come out and beat a good team in Miami, at home, in overtime, says a lot about the heart of this team (not to mention its conditioning). Next up will be the always exciting Atlanta Hawks. It will take as big an effort as it took tonight to beat the ever-tenacious Hawks. Hopefully the C’s will be up for the challenge.

Predicting the Playoffs

So here we go: Wild Card weekend. 4 games to see who gets to lose (maybe) to the 4 teams who had byes this week when they play in the divisional championships next week. I thought I’d take this time to put my two cents in on each matchup and predict its outcome. So without further ado:

Jets vs. Bengals: We saw this exact match-up last week, and it didn’t go too well for Cincinnati. A pass-heavy team like the Bengals is going to have a lot of trouble when facing the talented cornerbacks of the New York Jets, especially Darrelle Revis. Then again, the Jets don’t really have the big-name offensive players necessary to put up points against the Bengals, either. I don’t trust Mark Sanchez, a rookie, to be able to out-duel Carson Palmer, a veteran with playoff experience (albeit not much). This will be compounded by the Jets having to take their game on the road, where the Jets have played well (5-3), but not as well as the Bengals have played at home. I think all of this favors a close game going in the home team’s favor. My pick: Cincinnati.

Eagles vs. Cowboys: I’ll admit this is the game I know the least about. I have no love for Donovan McNabb (I tend to dislike quarterbacks the Pats have faced in past Super Bowls), but I hate the Cowboys and Tony Romo. So I honestly have no care how this game goes. The Eagles seemed to be building momentum for the postseason two weeks ago when they tied the Vikings for second in the NFC. But their loss to the Cowboys set them up with this wild card rematch. The edge goes to Dallas, though, because Philadelphia will have to play on the road, where the record is not as good as Dallas’s home record (just like the Jets). I think the home-field advantage of the new Cowboys stadium (in all its monstrosity), combined with Tony Romo’s desire to prove he’s not a playoff choke-artist, powers Dallas past Philadelphia. I don’t think it will matter though, because neither team is getting past the second round. My pick: Dallas.

Packers vs. Cardinals: Oddly enough, this is the third game that will feature a repeat match-up of the previous week’s game. Now, if you’ve been following my blog you can probably guess who I’m going with before I give my analysis. But for the rest of you, I look at last Sunday’s game between Green Bay and Arizona and find it very telling. Green Bay smoked Arizona 33-7. Neither team had much to play for, so it wasn’t as if one team was going to roll over and play dead for the other team. Therefore, this match-up is more telling of how things might go next week. I don’t like any of Arizona’s quarterbacks, and think Aaron Rodgers could outplay any of them. Additionally, I think the Packers have improved and have built momentum in the last few weeks approaching the playoffs, whereas Arizona has been set to just kind of rest on their laurels. Add to the fact that all 4 home teams rarely win, and you have the makings of an upset here. My pick: Green Bay.

Ravens vs. Patriots: The Patriots are going to have a tough time winning this game, that’s for sure. Losing Wes Welker was a tremendous loss to an offense that doesn’t have too many other options at its disposal. Still, there are multiple things to be excited about for this game. The first is that it’s at Gillette, where the Pats haven’t lost this season. The second is that it’s against the Ravens, who the Patriots already beat once this season, a game where Welker was not the primary target. So we know we can beat them. And last week we saw the breakout of Julian Edelman as a possible replacement for Welker. He moves like Wes does, he has the same agility and open-field cutting ability, and he’s got great quickness (though not necessarily speed). With any luck, he can be inserted into that slot position seamlessly. All in all, this is not the defense-centric Baltimore of previous years, which makes them more exploitable. If it comes down to a battle of offenses, I’ll take Tom Brady and a rested Laurence Maroney over Joe Flacco and Ray Rice any day of the week. My pick: New England.

So there you have it. Three home victories and one road victory. Pretty standard fare for Wildcard Weekend. I can’t wait!

Welker Hurt in Patriots’ Loss to Texans

The New England Patriots faced off against the Houston Texans Sunday afternoon at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The Patriots were looking to build momentum for their trip to the playoffs and take steps towards clinching the 3-seed. The Patriots played well for three quarters, but succumbed to what has been a consistent problem all year: holding onto leads in the fourth quarter while playing on the road. The Patriots gave up 21 unanswered points in the fourth and wound up losing, 34-27. Even worse than the loss, however, was the loss of Wes Welker to a left knee injury midway through the first quarter. His knee bent the wrong way on an in-and-out rout and he went down, writhing in pain. He did not return for the rest of the game, prompting coach Belichick to pull most of his other starters for at least part of the game.

New England on Offense

It’s hard to judge the Patriots offense, because they rested quarterback Tom Brady for periods of the game in favor of backup Brian Hoyer. Hoyer played well, going 8/12 with 71 yards in his limited time on the field. He was unable, however, to orchestrate a last-possession comeback late in the 4th quarter. He is competent, to be sure, but he lacks the maturity and leadership qualities necessary to run a football team. He may develop those skills with time, however, although to get enough playing time he may have to go to another team.

Because the Patriots rested starters (especially running backs) and split time between two quarterbacks, they never really got into an offensive groove, and it might have affected their ability to score late in the game. The Patriots offense could not score in the second half, and they looked terrible in general. The offensive line did not protect Brady well in the late stages of the game, and it led to errant passes, one of which was picked off and returned by Houston into New England’s territory. It led to what turned out to be the game winning touchdown by the Texans.

New England on Defense

For three quarters, the defense played phenomenally well. They allowed just 7 points in the first half and returned an interception for a touchdown (Darius Butler) in the third quarter. They got excellent pressure on Texans QB Matt Schaub and looked like they were going to make a final-game statement about their capabilities going into the playoffs. However, a lack of consistent offense in the 4th kept the defense on the field too long, and they quickly tired out. By the end of the game, they were getting beat at the line of scrimmage on every play, leading to two touchdowns from running back Arian Foster and a second scoring pass from Matt Schaub. Simply put, the defense was out there too long and they got beat because of it.

Looking Ahead: The Playoffs

New England went undefeated at home this season, so it’s quite likely that the Pats will put up a win next week at Gillette. However, this game did nothing to ease our worries about their ability to play on the road. Once again they had a lead going into the fourth, and once again they blew it and lost. The road to the Super Bowl for New England will most likely go through two tough road games: at Indianapolis and at San Diego. In order to win those games, New England will need to play with a poise they have not shown all season during road games. If they cannot win on the road, they have no chance to win it all this year.