Referees: Ken Mauer, Kevin Cutler, Courtney Kirkland
This game begins a 4 game road trip for the Celtics and is the first of a back to back set. This is the second and final meeting between these two teams this season. The Celtics won a close game in Boston 96-93 in which they came back from 9 points down in the 3rd behind 18 second half points from Paul Pierce. This was in the good old days when Rondo actually ran the team and he finished with 16 assists and hit 2 key jumpers down the stretch. KG missed that first meeting with the calf strain and Kevin Love may miss this game with a groin injury.
The Celtics enter this game 2.5 games behind Chicago for the top seed in the East and just half a game ahead of Miami for the 2nd seed. They have also fallen behind the Lakers in the standings. The Celtics don't seem to have any intensity or sense of urgency and have been going away from the things that have made them so tough in the past.
Doc called the team soft at halftime against the Knicks and that gave them enough incentive to come out in the second half and pull out a win after playing a very soft first half. After their loss to the Bobcats, Doc called out the team as being selfish. I don't recall ever seeing Doc so frustrated with the team since he has been here.. Even the team that lost 18 in a row showed the desire to win and gave a good effort every night. This team seems to be doing neither. Hopefully they have gotten the message and will turn it around and get back to playing Celtics team ball in this game.
The Celtics are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 21-13 on the road. They have lost 2 in a row and hopefully they will put out the effort in this game to avoid a 3 game losing streak. The Timberwolves are coming off a loss to Perk and the Thunder and are 2-8 in their last 10 games and they are 12-24 at home. They have lost their last 6 games. They have lost 8 games in a row to the Celtics but 8 of the last 14 games between these two teams have been decided by 3 points or less.
With frustrations rising with both the team and Doc, the Celtics need to turn it around and focus on getting back to what has made them one of the top teams this season. They need to remember ubuntu and that team ball and defense wins games. If they can do that, they should be fine in this game and beyond.
PG: Rajon Rondo 10.2 PPG 11.5 APG 2.4 SPG
SG: Ray Allen 17.2 PPG 2.7 APG .459 3P%
SF: Paul Pierce 18.6 PPG 5.1 RPG 3.3 APG
PF: Kevin Garnett 15.0 PPG 9.0 RPG 0.8 BPG
C: Nenad Krstic 8.2 PPG 4.8 RPG 0.3 BPG
Shaquille O'Neal (Achilles) out
Jermaine O'Neal (knee) out
Von Wafer (calf) day to day
Troy Murphy (ankle) day to day
Delonte West (ankle) questionable but says he will play
PG SG SF PF C
PG: Luke Ridnour 11.8 PPG 5.3 APG 1.2 SPG
SG: Wesley Johnson 9.2 PPG 1.9 APG .354 3P%
SF: Michael Beasley 18.9 PPG 5.5 RPG 2.1 APG
PF: Anthony Randolph 5.3 PPG 3.2 RPG 0.,5 BPG
C: Darko Milicic 8.8 PPG 5.3 RPG 2.1 BPG
Kevin Love (groin) day to day
Nikola Pekovic (hip) doubtful
Paul Pierce vs Michael Beasley
Beasley has been playing very well at the small forward position for the Wolves. He has both an athletic and a height advantage over Pierce. Pierce will need to play well and smart to get the best of this matchup.
Rajon Rondo vs Luke Ridnour
Anyone who has watched Rondo play over the last couple of weeks know that there is something wrong, either mentally or physically. And as I have said many times, as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. The Celtics need Rondo to get focused and back on track to lead the offense. Rondo had just 5 assists in his last game and none in the first half. Rondo should be able to get the best of this matchup if he gets back to being himself, but that's a big if at this point.
Kevin Garnett vs Anthony Randolph (or Kevin Love)
KG will have a tough matchup whether Love or Randolph plays. Love is a double double machine and Randolph has been playing well recently. In Randolph's 2 starts with Love out, Randolph put up 31 points with 11 rebounds against Dallas and then 24 and 15 against Oklahoma City's imposing front line. I expect KG to take Doc's criticism to heart and come out strong in this game, whether he faces Love or Randolph.
Keys to the Game
1. Defense - The Celtics must defend. They've been playing defense in spurts and that just isn't enough. They have struggled to get stops against teams like the Bobcats and that isn't good. The offense feeds off of the defense and if the Celtics can't get stops they struggle on the other end as well.
2. Rebound - The Celtics must get rebounds to prevent second chance points and fast breaks. Rebounding takes effort and desire and the Celtics have shown very little of either lately. When they put out the effort on the boards, it translates to all other areas of the game as well. In their last game Kevin Love alone had 24 rebounds while the Celtics as a team only pulled down 30. They need to put out a better effort on the boards.
3. Work the Offense - Unselfishness and ball movement have been hallmarks of the Celtics offense. Doc called the Celtics out for being selfish after their loss to the Bobcats. They have been playing too much one on one and hero ball and not enough team ball. They had 1 assist in the first half of Friday's game and only 15 assists for the game. That is not Celtics basketball. They have to get back to moving the ball, making the extra pass, and finding the open man.
4. Play 48 Minutes - the Celtics have either gotten off to a good start and then collapsed down the stretch, as they did against the Bobcats, or they have started slow and had to turn it on late to come back from a big deficit. They have to give a solid effort for 48 minutes. The starters must play better and get off to a strong start and they also have to finish the game strong. Doc said that he never should have put the starters back into the game on Friday and that is sad.
5. Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be aggressive in going after loose balls and rebounds and in taking the ball to the basket. They also have to be aggressive on defense. They have been playing very passively and have had no intensity. They have to get their intensity and urgency back and be the more aggressive team.
Mauer has been a referee since the 1986-87 season and has officiated over 1,200+ regular season games, 70+ play-off games and 4 NBA Finals games. Mauer is very quick to call technicals and in one game, once ejected Doc less than 3 minutes into a game, and that was before the new "Respect the Game" rules. In a recent Timberwolves game he might have set the record by calling 5 technicals in a 10 second span. Mauer was one of the refs charged with tax evasion and obstructing federal tax laws for receiving substantial taxable income from 1989 through 1994 and failing to declare it. He was one of the refs in the controversial Miami/Dallas Finals where the foul calls were totally lopsided, giving the Heat the title. For the most part the games he has called this season for the Celtics have been well officiated. The Celtics are 5-1 this season and 8-2 in their last 10 games with Mauer officiating. The Wolves are 0-3 this season and 2-8 with Mauer in their last 10. His home W/L record is 35-21.
This is Cutler's first full season as an NBA referee. He was part of a program last season where D-League officials were brought in to call a few games for evaluation purposes. Cutler stands out among his peers for one thing, and that is his size. He is the tallest referee in the league, standing 6'8" tall and weighing 270 lbs. He played power forward for two years at Long Beach State, from 1989 to 1991, and was a teammate of NBA players Bryon Russell and Lucious Harris and was their enforcer. It would be nice to have a referee sympathetic to the plight of the big guys on the team who are playing the role of enforcer. The Celtics are 2-0 this season with Cutler calling the game and those games were well officiated. The Wolves are 3-0 this season with Cutler. His home W/L record is 30-20.
Kirkland's debut year in the NBA was in 2000 when he was 26. His achievements in the league so far are 400+ regular season games and 3 playoff games officiated. He worked 2 years in the WNBA, 3 seasons in the CBA, 3 seasons in collegiate level and 4 years as a high school official before coming to the NBA. The Celtics are 4-0 this season and 9-1 in their last 10 games that Kirkland officiated. In the Hornets game, the officiating was bad all around and Kirkland ignored the Hornets trying to commit intentional fouls on both Paul and Ray at the end of the game before they finally were able to get a call as they mugged Big Baby. The Wolves are 1-5 this season and 1-9 in their last 10 games with Kirkland. His home W/L record of 40-21 but has officiated 9 straight losses for the home team.
Focus and Desire
The Celtics haven't been playing with either. They say the right things but once they get on the court, they just haven't shown it. They have to focus on what has made them so good and that is playing team ball. They have to want it more than the Wolves and not allow yet another team that they should easily beat grab the win away from them.