Thursday, May 30, 2002

Well, after covering Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston (warning, shameless promotion follows: see game write-ups below), I've also been collecting links over the past week or so. Unfortunately, the day job has kept me quite busy with things like actually working, so I haven't been able to post them until now. Well, enough excuses, and onto the links...

First of all, my "brush with fame" happened at the FleetCenter over the holiday weekend. Just a half hour prior to Game 4, Nets' executive Rod Thorn passed by and saw the sign my family had prepared. Shira Springer briefly interviewed me to get the details. Quite a few of the C's staff (including trainer Ed Lacerte and radio color analyst Cedric Maxwell) got a kick out of the sign. By the way, I guess by including this in her article, Shira exposed the shameless self-promotion in the notes section of my game write-up... Bill Simmons talks about how the Celts rose from the dead. Simmons also did this feature on the "13 levels of losing." Growing up in New England during the 80s and early 90s, I'd venture to say I experienced just about every one of them... Great Page 2 cartoons related to the NBA playoffs on ESPN.com... Steve Bulpett says the Eastern Conference Finals participants have resembled stand-up comedians more than NBA playoff combatants ("Take our transition defense. Please." and "Thank you, we'll be here all series.")

Yesterday, Gerry Callahan told us there's a reason behind the treatment he's received by the Boston fans. After being "shocked" by the things the crowd was chanting, Joumana Kidd had the nerve to liken the crowd to "Satan." Jason Kidd sounding so concerned about the "safety and well-being" of his wife is a bit ironic when you consider it was his criminal (and cowardly) behavior that has given opposing fans something to get on his case about. Gerry ends with "sometimes the truth hurts, Jason. Kind of like a punch in the mouth." George Kimball continued this theme today (some great jabs, no pun intended), in there. Kenyon Martin, in an amusing, if not absurd, attempt to play choir boy in all of this, called the Boston fans "ignorant," and, in the spirit of Shaquille O'Neal, used a curse word that starts with A and ends with E... The New York Daily News actually identified the classless loser who brought the "Will Someone Please Stab Paul Pierce?" sign as Chris Nieratko. The article notes that it wasn't until later that security actually removed the sign from the idiot's possession. His lame excuse? "Because they messed with Kidd's family, and that's not right." Say what? I fail to see what Pierce did to deserve that treatment. It's not like he stabbed anybody or did anything to provoke the incident that nearly cost him his life. On the other hand, Jason Kidd did something for which he can be rightfully scorned. I think taking verbal abuse from 18,000+ people is tame compared to what he probably should have got. Maybe Jason Williams should try and get Kidd's lawyer. By the way, lukereport.com (run by another New England-to-Philly transplant, ironically enough) has a great mug shot from Kidd's arrest last year, under the NBC-supplied heading "The Face of Coverage". Somebody should either blow up this picture and put it on a huge poster, or print it out on little flyers and hand them out before Game 6 at the FleetCenter. This needs to happen. OK, perhaps this all seems a bit vindictive, but it's highly disturbing to me when someone who commits a criminal act attempts to play the "victim." There's just something dead wrong about that. End of rant.

The Daily News ran this article last week about something that I believe has ruined "the game" today, corporate luxury boxes. For anybody that needs to be reminded that this is nothing but just another business, read on. The writer actually does a pretty good job at capturing details regarding "premium seating" customers. I'm somewhat familiar with the ins-and-outs of the industry myself, having worked on some technical projects (e.g. "e-commerce" websites) catering to these corporate big-whigs... Speaking of luxury boxes, for those with half a million to spend, you can catch a virtual tour of the Eagles' new stadium ("Just be careful. Don't spill that merlot.")

Peter Vescey talks about the masterful job Jim O'Brien has done in turning around the disaster left behind by Rick Pitino. Vescey gets in these great jabs: "I'd like to see Kobe Bryant finish transforming into Michael Jordan by playing with every single malady His Airness ever did - flu, food poisoning, ringworm, morning sickness, etc." and "I'd like to see Webber openly admit he and Tyra Banks are an item. If he won't, you know Mike Piazza will." Phil Mushnick hates everybody, especially WFAN employees... New York writers have joined telemarketers as my object of scorn this week. After saying that the Nets needed to visit with Dr. Heimlich after Game 3, Jay Greenberg jumped right back on the bandwagon after they won Game 5, and concluded that "it was all over but the shouting the Celtics fans will do at Mrs. Kidd tomorrow night." Lucious Harris continues to run his mouth in this series, this time saying of Pierce's missed free throws, "they talk about the ghosts in this building. Maybe the ghosts scared him." Fred Kerber, or the headline writer for the Post, shows extremely poor taste with their "Nets Slap Celts Around, Seize 3-2 Series Lead" headline. Gee, I guess the New York media is just going to continue to prostitute themselves until next year, in hopes that Kidd will stay with the Nets when his contract runs out... Kerber also reported that Kidd 'didn't deny cussing' at Boston fans following Game 4. I wonder why we haven't heard a peep out of the League's Injustice Department on that one? Pierce, on the verbal abuse he received in New Jersey, in retaliation for the abuse Kidd received at the FleetCenter: "I think the Philadelphia series really prepared us for it with what we heard down there."

Over the weekend, Bob Ryan had this humorous piece, which is a play on Bill Cosby's Noah-and-the-Lord sketch (good comedy here)... Ryan also said that after witnessing Game 3, "now maybe we have seen it all." Peter May speculates on Larry Bird's potential success at running an expansion franchise... Donnie Walsh says he has no doubt Bird would be successful in such a venture... Michael Gee wrote this (what is now a) foot-in-the-mouth piece after the Nets' historic 4th quarter collapse. After watching Game 4, Gee now thinks the C's are underrating the Nets, which could prove costly and lead to an early summer vacation... The Boston media aren't the only ones who jumped on the Nets-are-dead bandwagon after Game 3. Marty Burns boldly predicted "the Nets might not win another game." I'd by lying if I didn't say that's what I thought would happen... Phil Taylor doesn't want to hear Boston fans whining about their disappointments anymore. "There's only one group of people that tends to feel as sorry for themselves as you New Englanders do," at which point he ended the article by addressing Cubs fans... Wayne Drehs emits as many bad vibes as Dan Shaugnessy over Paul Pierce's missed free throws at the end of Game 3... Speaking of Shaugnessy and his air of negativity, Dan tells Pierce, "maybe it's time to lose the dumb headband." Yeah, like that's a major concern for the team... David Aldridge reminds us that Mitch Richmond is still at the end of the Lakers' bench, as was evidenced by his surprising appearance in Game 5. How many of you actually remember that Richmond signed with the Lakers in the off-season? OK, you can both put your hands down now.

For all the pessimists who believe the C's are done (and you know who you are), check out WhoWins.com. They've got every historical stat humanly possible when it comes to playoff series. Here's why I think Boston lives to see another day (at least til a Game 7 on Sunday): Teams holding a 3-2 lead are 35-46 when playing Game 6 on the road. What's more, in series that have played out exactly like this one (in terms of who wins, and where), the team with the 3-2 lead has gone 0-4 in Game 6. Speaking of historical trends, if there's anyone on the planet that has all of these trends in his head, it's Bob Ryan, who reminds us, "that's what we've got here. We got us a series." Ryan also rattles off this series of disturbing trends for the C's.

David Robinson says he will retire after next season. Hey wait a minute, I thought he retired last year, you know, right before the Lakers swept the Spurs? I certainly thought so, since he hasn't shown up to play since before that series started... Bobby Jackson, who was guarding Kobe Bryant during the last play of Game 5, admits what he was thinking during the play: "Please miss. Please, please miss." The Maloof brothers want instant replay before Samaki Walker sends the Sacramento Kings home for the summer on another shot that shouldn't count.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

BOSTON - Despite being the only team in NBA playoff history to have given up a 21-point fourth quarter lead, the New Jersey Nets still managed to get what they wanted: a split of the two games in Boston, which knotted the series at two games apiece. They became the first visiting team to ever win at the FleetCenter in the playoffs, doing so before a raucous crowd of 18,624, which watched their Celtics fall, 94-92.

On the game's final play, trailing by two points, with the ball and 6.6 seconds remaining, the Celtics got the ball into Paul Pierce, who is their main go-to guy and has been clutch throughout the playoffs thus far. He drove to the basket and was fouled by Van Horn with 1.1 seconds left on the clock, and had the opportunity to tie the game and possibly send it into overtime.

Nets coach Byron Scott called a timeout to ice Pierce, which appeared to work, as he was short on his first three throw. He was then forced to miss the second shot intentionally, hoping that one of his teammates would be able to gain control of the ball and tip it in to tie the game. The plan nearly worked, as the ball came off the front of the rim, Tony Battie grabbed his 9th rebound of the game, but missed the putback as the buzzer sounded and the Nets managed to hold on and win.

The Celtics missed a golden opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, which would have put New Jersey on the brink of elimination. Instead, the series is now tied, with the pivotal Game 5 scheduled for Wednesday night back at Continental Airlines Arena.

As they did in Game 3, the Nets came out strong in the opening quarter, and ran out to an early 31-17 lead. Boston, however, stormed back and scored 10 straight points, and the Nets lead was cut to four, with 9:40 left in the 2nd quarter. However, Antoine Walker, who had 13 points in the first half, would end up in early foul trouble and would have to sit for the last 4:34 of the half. After Tony Battie got a dunk with 35 seconds to go in the half, Boston cut the Nets lead to 48-42.

The Nets came out strong after the intermission, begining the third quarter on a 15-4 run, led by Kerry Kittles and Keith Van Horn, as they built their largest lead of the game, 61-46. Again, the Celtics responded with a 7-0 run of their own, narrowing the Nets' margin to 61-53. The teams would trade baskets for most of the third quarter. The Celtics mounted a furious rally to end the third, and when Antoine Walker hit a three pointer with :13 to go, the Nets narrowly led, 70-69. Lucious Harris drilled a three-pointer to end the third quarter, and the Nets took a 73-69 lead into the final period.

In the fourth, New Jersey managed to extend their lead to 80-71, and the Boston fans began to get nervous. The Celtics would not go away quietly however, a lesson the Nets learned all too painfully well in Game 3. New Jersey led 84-78 when Pierce was whistled for his fourth personal foul. Kenyon Martin could not capitalize from the free throw line, as he bricked both attempts. When Kittles hit from outside with 3:49 left, the lead was 86-80, and Jim O'Brien called a timeout to give instructions to his team.

They responded, as first Rodney Rogers hit a three, the Nets came up empty on their next possession, and Kidd was called for a foul against Rogers down the other end. Rogers hit 1 of 2 free throws, and Nets' precarious lead was now 86-84. The FleetCenter fans could sense another comeback in progress.

Again, the Nets were careless on their offensive end, and the Celtics came up with the ball. Trying to tie the game, Paul Pierce drove the lane, but was called for an offensive foul by Dick Bavetta. Van Horn was then fouled on the next play by Rodney Rogers. He hit 1 of 2 free throws, and so the Nets led 87-84 with 2:29 remaining. Pierce was then fouled by Aaron Williams, nailed both free throws, and the lead was trimmed to one, 87-86.

Keith Van Horn answered with a huge three, and Kenny Anderson answered right back with a key jumper, cutting the lead to 90-88. Van Horn hit another basket, and Kenny Anderson answered back again. The score was 92-90 with 1:15 remaining. The Celtics played tough defense down the stretch, to the delight of the crowd. Another turnover led to a Celtics' fast break, but en route to tying the game, yet another offensive foul was called on the Celtics. This time, Mike Callahan whistled Rodney Rogers for his fourth foul with 49 seconds to go.

Van Horn missed badly on the Nets' next possession, and the Celtics had the ball with a chance to tie once again. On this try, Pierce drove to the hoop and was fouled by Aaron Williams, who was whistled for his sixth personal foul with 17.6 seconds left on the clock. Stepping to the line with a chance to tie, Pierce nailed them both, and the score was tied for the first (and only) time of the game at 92 apiece.

The Nets intended to hold for the final shot, as Lucious Harris got the ball and drove to the basket. Tony Battie was whistled for a foul with 6.6 seconds left, giving Harris an opportunity to give the Nets a 2-point lead. He drained both free throws, and Boston called a timeout to set up the game's final play. This time however, Pierce would not make the clutch free throws as he had earlier in the quarter.

The Nets were determined to get the ball inside early, as they held a 12-4 advantage in points scored in the paint in the opening quarter. The Celtics reversed that trend for the remainder of the game, as they outscored Jersey 38-22 over the final three quarters.

The Nets were hot from outside, especially Kerry Kittles (22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists), who, after going 0-17 in the first three games of the series, connected on 4-for-7 from behind the arc. Similiarly, after going 10 for 57 from behind the arc in the first three games (17.5%), the Nets connected on 10 for 21 from beyond the arc in this game (47.6%). In contrast, the Celtics shot poorly from outside, connecting on only 5 of 20 (25%).

Jason Kidd nearly had his third triple double of the series, as he scored 19 points, handed out 9 assists, and grabbed 9 rebounds. Keith Van Horn made a signficant contribution to the winning effort as well, scoring 21 points and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.

Pierce, who otherwise had a great game (31 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists), was only 10 for 15 from the free throw line. His partner and co-captain, Antoine Walker, whose emotional pep-talk helped spark the Celtics huge rally in the 4th quarter in Game 3, had a good game as well (30 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists). Some of their teammates struggled, however. For example, Eric Williams, who had averaged nearly 9 points in the first three games, has seen his minutes decrease as the series has gone on, was 0-5 from the field, and was held scoreless. In the first four games of this series, Tony Battie has gathered a total of 41 rebounds, and has blocked 14 shots.

Both teams shot 32 for 78 (41%) from the field in the game. However, they both failed to take advantage of opportunities at the free throw line. The Nets were 20 for 29 (69.0%), and the Celtics were actually worse, 23 for 34 (67.6%). In a game that came down to two big free throws at the end, this certainly hurt the Celtics. Paul Pierce, in particular, has uncharacteristically struggled from the free throw line. When his star shot 11 for 20 in Game 2, Jim O'Brien said he was not worried, since he hit 5 out of 6 in the clutch. However, the numbers indicate that perhaps O'Brien should be somewhat concerned. After shooting 81% from the line during the season, he has hit only 40 of 63 (63%) in the Eastern Conference Finals so far. For someone who gets to the free throw line as much as Pierce does, he has to do a better job of making them count.

Indeed, the entire Celtics team will have to take advantage of their free throw opportunities if they hope to steal another game on the road in New Jersey. That is something they will now have to do if they hope to win the series, since they have now given home court advantage back to the Nets, after they had stole it in Game 2. They will also have to improve their shot selection, as their poor outside shooting has helped New Jersey get into their transition game, leading to easy baskets.

NOTES: The Celtics lost at the FleetCenter for the first time this post-season (they are now 6-1 at home in the playoffs), and for the first time since March 29, when they got blown out by the Dallas Mavericks. They had won 11 straight games (including the playoffs) after that loss, until tonight's game... The Celtics struggled from beyond the arc at home over the last two games, going a combined 8 for 36 (22.2%). Pierce seems to have struggled the most, going 1 for 9... Boston's loss guaranteed that the series will go at least six games. Game 6 is scheduled for Friday night at the FleetCenter at 7PM, and will be aired on NBC, followed by Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals at 9:30PM... Boston had been undefeated (4-0) before tonight's game when Paul Pierce attempted 15 or more free throws... On this date, May 27, 1997, the Celtics hired Chris Wallace as their new GM... Best sign seen in the stands: "FleetCenter Parking $19...Two Playoff Tickets $194...Seeing the look on Rod Thorn's face as his Nets choked...Priceless!"

Sunday, May 26, 2002

BOSTON - Paul Pierce had trouble getting into the game. The Boston fans had trouble getting into the FleetCenter on time. However, both showed up when it counted, as Paul Pierce led Celtics to the biggest comeback in NBA playoff history with 19 fourth quarter points.

Boston, which trailed by 26 points in the 3rd quarter, overcame the seemingly insurmountable deficit, and won Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 94-90, to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Nets must find a way to rebound from the demoralizing defeat and bounce back in Game 4, which will be Monday afternoon in Boston, if they are to avoid returning to New Jersey with a 3-1 deficit.

Early in the game, it appeared the Nets could do no wrong. They jumped on the home team early, and took an early 28-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. New Jersey played their transition game to perfection, and had 10 assists on their 13 first quarter field goals, shooting 65% in the process.

Boston, however, struggled early and often, and missed 13 of their first 14 shots. They didn't get much better early on, as they only hit 2 of their next 7, ending the first quarter shooting an abysmal 14%, prompting the restless Boston fans to revert to their regular season ways by booing the lack of defensive intensity.

Fans had some difficulty getting into the FleetCenter, due to new security measures in place for the conference finals, and there were hundreds of empty seats at tip-off time. However, by the second quarter, nearly all of the 18,624 of the sellout crowd were in their seats, and the Celtics began making a run, cutting the Nets lead to 32-26, prompting the fans to finally get into the game as Nets coach Byron Scott was forced to call a timeout. The "Jungle" began to rumble slowly.

The Celtics made their run with Jason Kidd sitting on the bench. When Kidd finally returned to the game midway through the second quarter, the Nets went back to dominating the game. They closed the half on a 22-8 run, and took a 20-point lead into the half, capped by a 3-pointer by Lucious Harris, prompting some more boos from the Boston faithful as the Celtics headed to the lockeroom trailing 54-34 at the half. The Nets shot at a 56% clip in the first half, compared to the Celtics' 27%, which helped to explain how the Nets built their huge lead. At halftime, the Nets held a 12-0 advantage in fast break points, had 18 assists on their 25 field goals, and their bench was outscoring Boston's 23-2. The only early warning sign for New Jersey was foul trouble, as Richard Jefferson, Aaron Williams, and Kenyon Martin, all had 3 personal fouls.

Just when it looked like things couldn't get worse for Boston, the Nets extended their lead to twenty-six early in the third quarter, taking a 65-39 lead with 8:30 left. The situation looked very bleak for Boston. They were getting outhustled, outshot, outworked, and, as the FleetCenter scoreboard clearly showed, outscored. The Celtics managed to close the gap to 21 points to take a 74-53 deficit into the final session.

And then, inexplicably, the unimaginable began to unfold. The Celtics chipped away at the once-insurmountable lead of 26 points. They scored 11 straight points, cutting the Nets lead to ten, 74-64, with 9:10 left in regulation. The teams then proceeded to exchange baskets for the next few minutes, and it appeared Boston's run would come up short. They were able to get the deficit to single digits when Williams committed his fourth foul, and Kenny Anderson (15 points) hit two free throws, shrinking the Nets' margin, 83-74. The Jungle" began to sound more like a jet engine, as the fans made so much noise, the Nets were not able to run their offensive sets. They were forced to take bad shots, as the Celtics defense began to put a stranglehold on them.

Boston took the ball to the whole, and the Nets continued to commit foolish fouls. Aaron Williams. Then Kenyon Martin. Then Martin again. Even Jason Kidd. When Pierce cut the lead to 90-85, you could sense that the Celtics were on the verge of pulling off the impossible. The Nets came up empty on yet another possession. Pierce (28 points, 12 of 15 from the free throw line) nailed a huge shot, and the score was 90-87. On their next possession, Lucious Harris was called for an offensive foul for charging into Rodney Rogers, as the Nets continued to come up short one possession after another. Kidd fouled Pierce as he was driving to the hoop. Pierce nailed both free throws, cutting the Nets lead to 1, forcing New Jersey to call a timeout. The "Jungle" continued to roar.

Continuing their implosion, the Nets came up empty yet again. Pierce drove the lane and was hammered by Kenyon Martin, who fouled out of the game with his sixth foul. Pierce calmly stepped to the charity stripe, nailed both, and gave the Celtics their first lead, 91-90, since the score was 1-0. The comeback was complete. Again, New Jersey called a timeout. Again, they failed to get anything done offensively. A poor pass was intercepted by Kenny Anderson, who streaked down the other end of the court and attempted a layup, which was goaltended. 93-90, in favor of the Celtics, with 29.8 seconds to play.

The Nets had several more chances, but as had been the case throughout the fourth quarter, they came up empty. Van Horn missed a 3 attempting to tie the game, Pierce grabbed the rebound, was grabbed by Williams, who also fouled out of the game on the play. Pierce nailed one of the two free throws to set the final margin, 94-90. Jason Kidd missed several attempts from behind the arc, but none were really close, and the celebration at the FleetCenter was already under way.

Despite having five players in double digits, outshooting their opponent (44% for the Nets versus 37% for the Celtics), holding a 26-point lead, they still found a way to blow the biggest game in the history of their franchise. They get to try again at the "Jungle" on Monday. At this point, they have to be wondering just what they have to do to beat the Gang from Causeway Street.

Fans spilled onto Causeway Street after the game, celebrating in the euphoria of what they had just witnessed. Some were already beginning to chant "Beat LA," while others loudly voiced their opinions regarding the Kings being a potential Finals opponent. Based on their play in Game 3, and the Nets inability to hold onto a lead by squandering a 26-point cushion, they just may get their wish.

NOTES: Boston is the only team left in the playoffs that has not yet lost at home. The Celtics are 6-0 at the FleetCenter in its inaugural playoff appearance... After shooting lights out for the first 3 quarters (53%), the Nets struggled mightily in the 4th, going 4-22 (18%), including 0-8 from behind the arc... Boston had a huge advantage at the free throw line, connecting on 33 of 39, compared to the Nets 11 for 18. The Celtics were 18 for 21 in the fourth quarter alone, mostly because they drove to the hoop on nearly every possession... Antoine Walker also played a solid game, getting his second straight double-double (23 points, 12 rebounds)... Paul Pierce bounced back yet again after a sub-par performance in the previous game. After scoring only 18 in Game 2, he finished Game 3 with 28. In addition, Pierce has scored in double figures in the fourth quarter 27 times this year. The Celtics are 19-8 in those games... The Celtics overcame a fourth quarter deficit for the 21st time this season. The largest deficit they had overcame during this year, prior to today's game, was against the Lakers back in February, when they trailed by 14 in the final quarter.