If you feel like it's time to panic after watching this one, I don't blame you. While the Blazers came out hot, shooting almost 60% in the first quarter, it was a slow trudge the rest of the way. The Celtics very professionally dug themselves out of the early hole, pulling to a 7 point deficit at halftime, taking an 8 point lead at the third quarter split and pulling away for a relatively-easy 10 point victory when it was all said and done. Aside from the Celtics' playoff quality performance, there were two major storylines: the status of Brandon Roy and the lineup quirks that his absence produced.
Although Brandon played more than 25 minutes tonight, the time he spends on the court goes by much, much quicker than the time he doesn't. Not only does the team miss his scoring presence and basketball IQ, it misses his ability to matchup on defense. After Brandon left the game just after halftime with an aggravated ankle sprain, which he says has been bothering him since the All-Star break, Jarrett Jack was forced to match up with Ray Allen and Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster were left to deal with Paul Pierce. The result? Pierce finished with 30 points on 12-14 shooting; Allen had 19 on 7-8 shooting. In other words, Boston's pair of perimeter All-Stars were getting any shot they wanted and they were hitting them.
With Brandon sidelined, Nate gave more minutes than usual to Jack, Outlaw and Blake. Curiously, Channing Frye ended the night with the dreaded Did Not Play-Coach's Decision. Of course, Frye does not match up particularly well with the strength and bulk of Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis, but his DNP-CD was still curious given how shorthanded the team was tonight. This begged the obvious question: were there any extenuating circumstances around his absence? During the post-game session, Nate said only that he was looking for length and experience from Raef Lafrentz, who played 11 minutes, and didn't provide any specific reason for Frye's sit-down. Here's hoping Frye sees the court again soon.
Bizarrely, at the end of the coach's press conference, McMillan was asked why Sergio Rodriguez didn't see more than 8 minutes tonight and Jack struggling (he finished with five turnovers). Nate just smiled, not saying anything for perhaps 20 seconds, as if the idea to give Sergio burn down the stretch never crossed his mind. Choosing his words carefully, he said simply, "Jarrett has done some good things," and with that his postgame session was over.
It's fair to say that there were more questions raised than answers given tonight. With Brandon probably out 2-3 games, possibly a whole week, the team must face the Lakers, Clippers and then the Lakers again without their captain. Like I said, feel free to panic.
Nate McMillan on the result: "The game seemed very similar to the last time we played them. Defensively they were able to turn up the pressure. This time, Pierce was hot for most of the game as opposed to last game he didn't shoot the ball well. But when you have 3 all-stars like that, any one of those guys are capable of carrying a team. It's just a tough matchup."
Nate on Brandon's health: "I thought about pulling him early. He wasn't able to run, sprint. When we saw him getting back in transition we knew it was time to pull him. I haven't check but I think it's the right ankle, we knew it was sore before the game. I'll see where we are after this."
Nate on the Celtics: "That team knows how to mentally get themselves back in the game. First quarter, we come out hot, the next 3 quarters they score 30+ points. It's an experienced team, a mentally tough team, that's where we are trying to get to. This type of atmosphere, this type of pressure. That team is made for this time of the year."
Nate on his expectations for Brandon's recovery time: "I don't know. I haven't talked to [trainer] Jay [Jensen] or Brandon. You saw what he looked like tonight. I don't know."
Nate on his rotation: "We'll look at it. Even with Joel on the floor we are still getting pounded on the boards. The thing was to try to get length and get Raef out there. Get a little experience out there with Raef. And not just have perimeter guys. We'll move some pieces and see."
Nate on the second half: "I thought we started to rush. They're more physical, they're stronger than our guys. They were able to take us out of some things, forced us out and forced us to play some [isolation] basketball. Mentally and physically, [the Celtics] are just better."
Nate on using his bench: "If we go to a shorter bench we are going to burn out what we've got. Brandon is playing 40+ minutes, LaMarcus is playing big minutes. We've got to get a breather for these guys. It ain't like we have many options to go to. The bench wasn't shortened tonight, we just didn't play Frye."
Brandon Roy on his ankle: "It was too painful to continue to try to play through it... It's not badly swollen. It's really painful."
Brandon answering whether it's something worse than a sprain: "I've had sprained ankles before. Usually, when you're younger you're not playing as much. I just haven't had time to get off of it. I hope it's just a sprain."
Brandon on whether the ankle is getting better or worse: "It's being worse. Earlier I was taking some medicine and it was helping. But today it didn't do anything for me. When I was warming up, it felt bad. It felt bad the whole game. Rajon tripped over it and it was too painful to continue."
Brandon on the next steps for the ankle: "We'll see what the MRI says, hopefully it's just a sprain but it's pretty painful. We'll talk about it after the MRI."
Brandon on how long the ankle has been bothering him: "It's been bothering me since the All-star break. But that wasn't real basketball, but as soon as we got back to real basketball it was bothering me. Against Sacramento and both games against Seattle. It's been bothering me this last week and a half."
Brandon on the last time he felt 100% healthy: "I don't know. I can't even remember. It was just hurting. I couldn't stay in front of my man and offensively I couldn't do anything to get us some shots."
Brandon on not being able to play down the stretch tonight: "The guys played pretty good basketball throughout the game. I was upset the whole game even when we were up 16, I just knew there was nothing I could do out there and that Boston would eventually make a run."
Brandon on whether the injury is season-ending: "No, I don't think I'll have to shut it down the rest of the season. Maybe the next couple of games, if it feels this way, I couldn't play the next couple of games from what I felt today.
Brandon on his upcoming travel plans: "I'm going to take the MRI tonight. I think I will take the trip [to Los Angeles] though, I'll still be there."
Brandon responding to a question from Jason Quick as to whether the season is slipping away: "It feels that way. We've been struggling, lost some games we should have won. I don't know if the right word is `slipping way,' but with the West it doesn't get any easier."
LaMarcus Aldridge on the Celtics: "They had more of a sense of urgency. They picked up their defensive pressure. Teams will turn up the intensity and we've got to learn to do the same."
LaMarcus on playing without Brandon: "We have to have guys step up. We are going to miss him definitely. He is the main part of our offense but we've got to have other guys step up."
LaMarcus on getting more aggressive: "My focus has been more of a low-post guy. More of going to the basket, trying to get to the basket, being a low-post threat rather than pick and rolls."
LaMarcus on Nate's instructions to him: "Coach has been talking to me about running more plays to get me on the blocks. To try to fight for a better position. I think that's been our biggest emphasis lately: getting a post threat to try to start off the game to make things easier."
LaMarcus on Kevin Garnett: "That's what he does, he talks trash, tries to get into your head. I think for the most part he didn't but there was one play where he did, I took a bad shot and airballed it. I think after that, I can't play this game and I gotta keep playing team basketball."
Random Game Notes
-- University of Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar was at the game tonight and he received a warm welcome from teams and coaches on both teams tonight, particularly from Brandon (of course) and the Celtics, who have 4 former Pac-10 players on their roster.
-- Tonight's pregame and halftime shows included some incredible saxophoning. The saxophonist was rocking the brand new Jordan XX3s, now available in stores with employees dressed as referees nationwide.
-- The pregame music was Soulja Boy's irresistible "Shootout," chosen by Jarrett Jack--who seems to exclusively represent for the Dirty South.
-- Apparently it's not just Red Sox nation that's got a nationwide reach. There were tons of Celtics jerseys and fans in the stands--Pierce seemed to be the most popular, but there were a smattering of Garnett jerseys and also an old-school Bird.
-- Before the game, the "Black National Anthem" was played in honor of Black History Month.
-- You know how Eddie House has the reputation of jacking up a jumpshot every time he gets his hands on the ball? Well, during warmups, he couldn't even wait until the National Anthem was over before he broke away from the warm-up line and tossed up a jumper. Once a gunner, always a gunner I guess.
-- Today, Kendrick Perkins joined my all-hateable team, alongside the most recent nominee Luis Scola. Perkins fouls, whines, whines and fouls. Not much more to his game than that.
-- The Blazers' hot first half play drew not one but two rare standing ovations.
-- Travis going head-to-head with Big Baby was quite the sight.
-- Speaking of Big Baby, do you think he wears #11 under the theory that wide-bodied men look thinner wearing vertical stripes?
-- Blaze the Trail Cat broke out a new toy: a keg-shaped blasting device that shot off 10 t-shirts or so at a time into the crowd.
-- Cool new in-game feature: the "Adidas makeover," where two fans- a father and a son- were taken on a shopping spree through one of the Blazers' gift. Dad chose a Brandon Roy jersey while son got a Travis Outlaw jersey.
-- There was a double foul tonight and the unusual double lane violation on a free throw, both resulting in half-court jump balls.
-- My head hurts from banging it on the press table every time Eddie House and James Posey were left wide open for jumpers.
-- Sadly, fans started heading to the exits with about six minutes to play, the Blazers down 19. Those who stayed were treated to Chalupas thanks to Martell's garbage time three-pointer.
-- The Blazers distributed a note card on every other seat before the game, advertising season tickets for next year. Here's the copy: "BlazerMania is back. The Rose Garden is rocking, with more than 20 sellouts and still counting, an NBA All-Star, the most promising team in the NBA, and the anticipation of Oden's return, the time to buy season tickets is now. RISE WITH US." A great picture of Brandon, Travis and Martell celebrating was printed below the copy.
Coach Romar hobnobs with the Celtics' staff.