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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Celtics Cruise Past Timberwolves, 92-81

Ray Allen stole the show in Kevin Garnett's first game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring 28 points in 27 minutes on blistering 11-14 shooting as the Boston Celtics won 92-81. This NBA Europe Live Tour game was played in London, England. Garnett had nine points, six rebounds, three blocked shots and six turnovers in 29 minutes. Paul Pierce had a subpar performance, finishing with eight points, five rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes. While his floor game was adequate, he shot just 1-6 from the field and 6-11 from the free throw line. Kendrick Perkins added 11 points and five rebounds. As ESPN2 analyst Hubie Brown noted, due to the extra defensive attention that Garnett, Pierce and Allen will draw, Perkins should be able to score double figures this season just by cutting to the hoop and finishing plays. Point guard Rajon Rondo had a solid game with four points, six assists, four steals and two turnovers. Ricky Davis led Minnesota with 18 points on 7-12 shooting. Rashad McCants (11 points) was the only other Minnesota player to score at least 10 points. Al Jefferson, who will surely be a starter during the regular season, came off the bench and had just five points and six rebounds; he looked sluggish for most of the game, perhaps the after effects of an ankle injury (Brown and play by play man Mark Jones said before the game that Jefferson was not going to play at all).

In Boston's first NBA Europe Live Tour game, an 89-85 victory over Toronto, Paul Pierce made a strong drive to the hoop right after the jump ball and earned two free throws. Against Minnesota, Boston posted Pierce up on the left block right after the opening tip and Pierce again made a good drive. He was fouled but the Celtics were awarded the ball out of bounds. Starting the game with Pierce attacking the hoop is a good idea for several reasons. One, it increases the chance of getting Boston in the bonus (and the other team in foul trouble) early in the quarter. Two, it sets an aggressive tone. Three, I think that his scoring average is a little more important to Pierce than it may be to Garnett or Allen, so it is good to get Pierce involved in the offense very early in the game.

Ricky Davis singlehandedly kept Minnesota in the game in the first quarter, scoring 16 of the Timberwolves' 22 points. Allen countered with nine for the Celtics, who led by one going into the second period. Davis did his damage from all angles but he was particularly deadly from beyond the three point arc. Of course, he did all of this shooting with Jefferson on the bench. It will be interesting to observe Minnesota's shot distribution during the regular season. Brown noted throughout the telecast that Minnesota did a poor job of passing the ball, missing numerous open cutters, and after Jefferson checked into the game Brown felt that the team did not work hard enough to get him the ball down low. Brown also offered a possible explanation for Juwan Howard and Theo Ratliff being in Minnesota's starting lineup: "Are we showcasing two veteran guys for the rest of the NBA?" Howard arrived in Minnesota before Garnett was traded and he has made no secret of the fact that he wants out; in fact, he would like to be dealt to Boston to play with Garnett, but Brown and Jones noted that salary cap considerations make that just a pipe dream.

Minnesota took a 30-25 lead early in the second quarter after Gerald Green scored four straight points but Boston then went on a 7-0 run that was capped off by the highly unlikely sight of shooter Eddie House delivering a no-look pass to a cutting Esteban Batista. Two Rashad McCants free throws enabled Minnesota to tie the score at 39 with 4:14 left but Boston closed the quarter with an 11-4 run to take a 50-43 halftime lead. Brown made a very interesting observation during the quarter, pointing out that young players do not want to pass the ball ahead on the fast break, preferring to dribble the ball themselves. If they would give the ball up, Brown added, the defense would have to react and they would get a return pass for a layup. Ironically, two players who were guilty of not making such passes during this game were not young players but rather veterans Pierce and James Posey. Overall, though, Boston has looked like a good passing team during the first two NBA Europe Live Tour games.

Brown and Jones, like all of the other NBA Europe Live Tour broadcasters, were not actually at the game in London; they were in a studio in the United States. At halftime, ESPN2 showed some highlights from other preseason games and Jones asked for Brown's take on various matters. One question that Brown addressed is whether or not Kobe Bryant's earlier trade request will be a distraction for the Lakers. Brown rejected that notion, declaring, "Kobe Bryant is the number one player in the league. We know that he is the best two guard. This is a true assassin. He proved to people in the Olympic qualifying (the FIBA Americas tournament) that he not only can score the basketball but he can defend any perimeter player in the game. He is one of the great competitors we have in the game and he will lead from day one." Brown is cautiously optimistic about the experiment of moving Kevin Durant to shooting guard, saying that Durant will be able to shoot face up jumpers over other shooting guards and that when he gets a little stronger he will also be able to use his height to post them up. Brown called Durant a good ballhandler--which I disagree with based on what I have seen--and noted that the big challenge will be whether or not Durant can keep up with shooting guards defensively; that is an understatement and I think that the answer will be proven to be an emphatic "no."

The Celtics are playing their top players a little bit more than other NBA teams are during the preseason, either trying to develop chemistry among the newly assembled "Big Three" or trying to set a tone by winning early. While Minnesota spent most of the game shuffling various combinations of players into the game, the Celtics had their starters in the game deep into the third quarter, going up by as many as 17 points before settling for a 75-63 lead by the end of the quarter. In the fourth quarter both teams went with their reserves for the most part. A three point play by Craig Smith pulled Minnesota to within 80-75 with 6:53 remaining but Boston answered with an 8-0 run to put the game away.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:23 AM

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