Game Notes: Celtics at Nets
Move to BK, for public transport’s sake!
by Sherman Johnson
I got a headache from watching this game and not just because the Nets are the worst team in the League so short into the season. It’s a pain getting out to the Meadowlands these days because the transit system is in disrepair seemingly every single weekend I have to hop around town. Last weekend was a nightmare because of the holiday and the trains running up and down the east side were only running local, and I had to get on and off with substantial downtime between my waits.
Thank God for PSP because I have to get off my Brooklyn-bound 4 at Grand Central and catch a shuttle cross town to 5th Avenue for the B, D or F to Penn Station. What should be a 15- to 20-minute ride turns into an hour ordeal. The Nets aren’t the worst team on my PSP. Maybe because I have an outdated version? In that version of fantasy is reality Devin Harris isn’t hurt and Vince Carter is still on the squad.
What’s encouraging on the way out is what seems like a huge fan turnout. It’s relatively thick; every shuttle bus from the junction is packed to the gills lined up four to five deep at any given time. And no one seems as annoyed by the long delays as I am, even though I just about to stick a fork in the Celtics with a couple of minutes left in my ’09 version of virtual reality.
In my world Yi and Douglas-Roberts are in the game and taking care of business but in the real world those two didn’t even dress and Alston, Hassell, Simmons, Boone and Lopez are the starters and they look pretty good. Probably because the Celtics were run rough, rugged and raw by the Suns the night before and are sluggish early on trailing the Nets by a couple. Which turns out to be the story of the night. The Celtics taking a night off until the end when Ray Allen starts to pour it on like back in the day when he was fresh off his stint in that Spike Lee joint.
The Celtics never really get into their set and struggle to find a flow to their offense but their zone defense keeps them in range because Rondo is hova-ring like a center-fielder and picking off all the Nets fly balls crises-crossing half court. Overall, their team play is uncharacteristically one-dimensional and Garnett jogs a little to gingerly on that repaired knee. His first couples of touches are weak side shots off staggered picks-and-rolls that thud off the front of the rim. At first, I think it’s me because this is the first I’ve seen of the mean green live this season but Russ assures me it’s because KG is getting old. Just like Alston who doesn’t skip to the lou so quickly anymore. Rondo fakes him out so bad on one break that he loses the ball out of bounds.
Rondo’s flashing all over the Nets and Garnett isn’t attacking the block like his usual self. On one series, Brook Lopez snuffs KG’s usually unblockable baseline jumper then beats him in a footrace down to the other end for a tip in. Lopez is one of the Net’s few bright spots, picking and choosing his spots with precision. He doesn’t put the ball on the floor much but when he does, the pump-fake, jab-step and drive down the lane is enough to get KG off his feet, it’s so impeccably sold and executed.
When KG’s out, Rasheed is in, jawing with the referees from the first whistle, collecting Ts during timeouts and ice-grilling Boone from the free-throw line. Sheed is more active on the block than I can recall over the last few years. He posts up his opponent and ducks under on a couple of possessions but misses both attempts because he’s surprised to find himself so close to the basket I think. He’s looks as light on his feet as Kendrick Perkins high-stepping in transition. So he reverts to his long-range game where he becomes the least effective.
At the end of the half with both teams nearly neck-and-neck, Russ and a few others in the peanut gallery think the home crowd is actually shook because the Nets are actually close to winning and I think I agree.
The only time the crowd looks alive is when free shit is being shot out the front end of a gun. In this instance it’s Dan Marino, Shannon Sharpe, Bill Cowher and James Brown a few seats in front of us underneath the basket. Dan Marino’s still as quick on the draw as Jesus Shuttlesworth. Shannon Sharpe still looks like he’s on the juice and Bill Cowher seems just as pissed.
At the half the New England Clam Chowder I had at the beginning of the game is officially a repeat. Thankfully, the refills on soda are unlimited. As is Paul Pierce’s trips to the charity stripe. Now, I’m of the opinion that there is no such thing as a “free” throw. Every trip to the line counts as mileage and Pierce has certainly built up his fare share. If the Nets really had a chance, I’d have taken exception to some of Pierce’s stunts thus far.
On one fast break that unravels seemingly in slow motion he initiates contact like he always does by throwing himself into a clutch of defenders and locking arms with Lopez before crashing to the floor and then gets up crying about the injustice of a no-call. If it was Sheed, he probably would’ve collected a quick technical and Doc Rivers would’ve been hopping mad gesticulating wildly along the sideline in pantomime of genuine outrage. But it’s Pierce who’s having a fit, and on the very next play off yet another Rondo theft, has a clear path to the hole on a breakaway to the basket. But instead of taking it hard for the cram and flourish he waits up for Josh Boone to let him try to block his shot and sticks out his back foot for contact before rolling to the floor for the and one.
As clear as a “C’mon, son!” as I’ve ever seen and I’m not the only one. The replay is also harping on the inevitable: Pierce always getting his and then some. I figured Terrence Williams would’ve had a hard time sticking with Pierce but the newcomer is kinda holding his own. He’d be dangerously effective if he could actually finish after fighting his way to the basket. He’s certainly quick enough, probably quicker than Pierce and a lot of the other Celtics out there but his lack of consistency from the perimeter makes him force a lot of shots inside. On the other hand, his defense frustrates Pierce enough to make him force a lot of ugly haphazard shots that drive Doc insane on the sideline along with a few passes from Ray Allen that stray in his direction when he gets caught in the air.
Late in the game, KG starts to look alive hoisting up shots from the perimeter without hesitation only he isn’t hitting. At all. He holds his own on defense along with his teammates but at this point the Nets aren’t anywhere nearer to executing consistently and they fizzle down the stretch like their cross-town rivals under a withering assault by Allen who all of a sudden looks fresh.
In the locker room afterward the Celts look relieved that the road trip is over. The win is just what the Doctor ordered: keeping the Nets close and letting them do the work up till the end and then getting on top and taking over for the last minute win. They don’t look any more impressive than they did during any of their preseason wins.
Out in the hallway Lawrence Frank said his strategy was to keep the Celtics within reach in an attempt to steal one in the end. Like if all the usual suspects would’ve been in the lineup the outcome would have been any different. Looking down the schedule Nets might not get any wins. Maybe over Philly but they just lost to them a couple night ago in a deplorably predictable fashion. Like teams know they can toy with them for 36 minutes before getting serious for the last 12. Or 47 and 1.
Even if the Nets would’ve eked it out at the end, the return to the NYC would’ve been any better. One of the more disappointing aspects of contests at the IZ Center is that the shuttle buses back to the city leave 30 minutes after the buzzer. By the time the mean green’s big three emerged from wherever they hole up immediately after the game I have to head back and Russ gets to ask them all the good stuff while I’m left to wonder what Sheed was gazing so intently at on his laptop all secretive in the corner. The scene in the Nets’ locker room was even shallower with nearly everyone on the team still in the shower breaking down the game in ways far too intelligible for me to decipher.
The trip back to the city was even worse coming out because of a missed connection on the transfer at the junction. The automated announcement says the train isn’t on time and that the connection is on track 2 when in fact it’s on track 3 where hordes of slightly disappointed fans are stacked up shivering in the cold. But nobody’s really complaining. But I wonder how’d it be if it were Newark.
I for one can’t wait until the Nets move to Brooklyn.