After losing in miserable fashion in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals to fall into an 0-2 hole against the Miami Heat, the Celtics rebounded last night with an impressive Game 3 win that keeps their hopes alive of making it to the NBA Finals.
The biggest reasons for the 101-91 win was the play of Kevin Garnett (24 points and 11 rebounds), Rajon Rondo (21 points, 10 assists, and 6 rebounds), and Paul Pierce (23 points). The C's also received important contributions from Marquis Daniels (9 points in 17 inspired minutes), Ray Allen (10 points, 2-of-5 from 3-point land), and Keyon Dooling (7 points). It was the kind of gritty performance this team has become associated with when their backs are up against the wall and the win does give them a fighting chance against this joint LeBron James-Dwyane Wade effort.
Doc Rivers deserves a lot of credit as well. He altered his game plan to establish Garnett in the post, for which Miami had no answer, and for going with Daniels, who not only added some much needed offense but also played some solid defense on James.
Game 4 now becomes another "must win" for the Celtics. If they can tie the series tomorrow night, the pressure on the Heat will build and that has not been a recipe for success on South Beach. The key will be to slow down either James or Wade and then to continue their Game 3 plan of pounding the ball inside to Garnett.
Sticking with professional hoops, the NBA draft lottery was held the other night and the Anthony Davis sweepstakes was won by the New Orleans Hornets.
The Hornets, who were recently sold by the NBA to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, now have a chance to build something successful in NOLA. Davis should be a cornerstone for them for the next decade and his presence, along with about $20-million in salary cap space and the 10th pick in the draft, should help the team retain free agent guard Eric Gordon and bring in a player or two who can make a positive impact.
The Celtics have the 21st and 22nd (thanks to the Kendrick Perkins trade) picks in the first round. While they can't expect to draft replacements for Garnett, Pierce, or Allen at that point of the draft, they should be able to add two players that can come in and contribute. Some of the names being thrown around for the Celtics in the first wave of post-Lottery mock drafts include Syracuse center Fab Melo, Iowa State forward Royce White, St. Bonaventure forward Andrew Nicholson, Duke guard Austin Rivers (son of coach Doc Rivers), Illinois center Meyers Leonard, and French swingman Evan Fournier.
If Danny Ainge can add two rotation players in this draft and use the salary cap space that will be created from the expiring deals of Garnett, Allen, and Jermaine O'Neal to add a player or two of significance, the anticipated rebuilding process might not take so long.
Let's say that Garnett comes back on a slight discount ($15-million a year instead of the $22-million he's currently making) to give the team a top three of KG, Pierce, and Rondo. Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass, if he exercises his player option or works out a new deal, would also help fill out the rotation. If the C's draft Melo as a development project who can play back-up center and a wing forward such as White or Fournier they would be adding young pieces in areas of need. The Celtics won't strike gold in free agency but it's not outside the realm of possibility that they could use their salary cap space to retain Bass, add a player like O.J. Mayo, and then fill out their bench. They also have 2011 draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore.
Although it's strictly hypothetical at this point, if this were the 2012-2013 Celtics roster, I would like their chances. Players in bold are predicted to re-sign with the team, players in italics are predicted to sign as free agents, and players in bold italics are predicted draft picks.
5: Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma, Fab Melo
4: Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, JaJuan Johnson
3: Paul Pierce, Royce White
2: O.J. Mayo, Avery Bradley, E'Twaun Moore
1: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Keyon Dooling
With so much promise for the 2012 season, let's hope that the Patriots and Wes Welker can come to a contract agreement that is fair for both sides so there are no distractions when camp opens in July.
Yes, that is the Boston Red Sox who are finally over .500 and are within three games of the leaders in the A.L. East.
Enjoy Tim Duncan tonight.