A Trot in the Garden
Paul Pierce hits a near walk-off, while we analyze Semih Erden.
The celebration was familiar. This time, though, the shot that it followed carried real significance.
Almost two months to the day after Paul Pierce hit a game-winning 22-footer in a pre-season game in Madison Square Garden, almost two months to the day after he Pierce celebrated that shot by running around the court as if he were rounding the bases at Fenway Park, PP one-upped himself.
With less than a second left in a tie game (it’s debatable exactly how much less), Pierce sized up Amar’e Stoudemire and drilled a fadeaway jumper to give the Boston Celtics a 118-116 win over the New York Knicks. Excitedly, Paul completed the déjà vu, mimicking his home run trot of months ago.
Carrying an 11-game win streak and a 20-4 record, the Celtics proved that they are still the team to beat in the East. Meanwhile, in a hard-fought loss that snapped their eight-game winning streak, the Knicks announced their official arrival.
Following his 39-point, 10-rebound effort that was literally a tenth of a second away from including three more points and a buzzer-beating game-winner, Amar’e Stoudemire had one thing on his mind
“We definitely earned our respect,” said New York’s $100 million man. “I guarantee you that Boston respects us. We are not slouches. We are going to play every single night until the horn goes off and Boston knows it.”
While the streaking New York Suns Knicks certainly earned more than a modicum of respect from the Celtics and the rest of the League last night, the final margin of the game needs to be taken in context. After all, Boston was missing Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins—three of their top four frontcourt players.
Instead of battling with the O’Neal brothers (no relation) and the beastly Perkins, Amar’e had the pleasure of playing against the 24-year-old rookie, Semih Erden.
Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett: By now it’s well known what each of these four brings to the table. Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e Stoudemire: More or less, it’s also known what these five can do on the court. Clearly, the wildcard in this game is Semih Erden, the 6-11 Turkish Center We Know Little About.
So, for those of you seeking to learn more about Erden, here’s a breakdown of the former 60th overall selection’s third career start.
: Lined up at center, Erden gets out-jumped by the shorter, more athletic Amar’e on the opening tap. (Luckily, Paul Pierce steps in front of the double-tapped ball and coasts to the basket for an uncontested game-opening lay in.)
: On defense, Kevin Garnett is not lined up with Stoudemire. Instead, Erden is. Immediately recognizing the mismatch, Raymond Felton dribbles at the top of the key long enough for Amar’e to rub off a screen, get a step on Erden and deposit an and one. A decidedly inauspicious start for the rookie.
: With Amar’e abandoning him to patrol the middle of the paint, Erden silently sneaks behind him and sits their until he gets the ball from Rajon Rondo and scores on an easy dunk. Not necessarily fluid, but very sly.
: Twenty ticks later, Amar’e gets the ball at the top of the key, sizes Erden up and swishes an easy 12-footer. So far, Semih is bumping Stoudemire at the three-point line before letting him settle in uncontested around the free-throw line.
: On offense, Erden ambles along the weakside baseline, invisible to New York’s defense. As he slowly toes the line toward the basket, Rondo flips him a quick sidearm pass. The center is moving in a straight line, the pass is spinning away from him perpendicularly. The ball ends up out of bounds, well wide of the center’s reach. Not the big’s fault.
: Displaying a true point guard’s instincts, Felton continues to attack the Amar’e-Semih mismatch. On this occasion, the guard and center run a high pick-and-roll. Erden falls a half step behind Stoudemire. One pass and two dribbles later, the 6-9 jumping jack hammers one home. 15-9, Knicks.
: To his credit, Erden’s not displaying any stage fright, as he takes a feed and tries posting Amar’e up. Through the first 23 games of the season the rook has yet to display much postgame. That’s still the case, as he misses a bunny after a series of awkward moves on the right block. One thing he has shown off, though, is hustle, and Erden keeps that going here, tipping in the loose-ball rebound.
: Pick-and-roll. This is becoming somewhat of an early theme. Felton and Amar’e combine to lose Erden in no man’s land. The laboring big ends up picking up the foul when Ray gets the ball to Amar’e with a running start toward the cup. There’s 7:17 left in the first quarter, and Erden’s exiting the game. Glen “Big Baby” Davis replaces him. 16-13, Knicks.
: While play continues, the backup-turned-emergency-starter takes a seat at the end of the bench. Gulping down vast quantities of liquids, Erden and trainer Ed Lacerte exchange a few minute’s worth of words. Can’t help but wondering if they’re discussing the health of big Erden’s shoulder. According to Doc Rivers, it’s something that’s been bothering him all season and may very well require off-season surgery.
: With 1:53 left in the quarter, Erden checks back into the game. While SE was on the bench, the Knicks’ lead expanded from 3 to 8 points. But on his first play back in, Amar’e takes it directly at him. STAT buckets the easy deuce. On the bright side, Erden avoids picking up his third foul.
: Erden’s covering Ronny Turiaf now, but because of a switch he’s stuck on Wil Chandler for a moment. And though he swats Ill Wil’s first look at the basket, Wil beats Erden to the free rock and scores on the putback.
: With the clock winding down on the quarter, SE picks up Turiaf at the FT line. Like he was doing with Amar’e, Felton partners up with Ronny and sets up a pick-and-roll. Instead of hitting a rolling Turiaf, though, because of Erden’s positionally solid D, Felton is forced to kick it cross-court to Toney Douglas at the three-point line. Douglas misses; Erden grabs the board. 32-24, Knicks at the end of one.
: Semih starts out on Turiaf. Sticking with what’s worked, Felton sets yet another pick-and-roll up. On this occasion, the little guard pulls up for a long jumper. The ball ricochets high off the rim, and Erden, who is in good rebounding position underneath the basket, slaps at the ball, knocking it to a Knick. Some players seem to have this gravitational pull, where every ball that enters their orbit seems to stick to their hands. Not Erden. He’s active; he gets his fingers on a lot of balls near the basket, but he’s rarely able to corral rebounds that he should. His gravitational pull is just kind of weak.
: For at least a play, the 6-9 Shawne Williams is guarding Erden. In a situation where he should be looking to borrow himself a nice bunker in the post, with little resistance SE allows Williams to push him away from where he needs to be. The lumbering big can not let that happen.
: Same pick-and-roll; different result. On the Felton-Turiaf attack, Erden, for maybe the first time this contest, fully commits to switching on the pick. Felton dribbles baseline. Erden hangs with him step for step. Ray runs out of real estate and throws a bad pass. Nice play by Semih.
: The Turk finally seems to be getting comfortable. Still covering Turiaf — KG is now watching Amar’e — Erden plays a step or two off the Frenchman. Not respecting Turiaf’s J is one of the smartest things Semih’s done so far.
: The ball comes off the rim after a Gallinari missed freebie. It caroms off of Erden’s open palms. It’s not that the rookie has terrible hands, it’s that he’s slowing at getting them up and into rebounding position.
: JO, Shaq, Perk: their interior defense is respected, even, in the case of Shaq, if it shouldn’t be. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Erden, and the lack of respect he garners. The Knicks continuously attack the rim.
: Semih Erden checks out of the game at the 8:01 mark. This stretch of ball was much better than the first.
: On the half, Erden played 10.5 minutes, scoring 4 points, grabbing 3 boards and blocking a shot.
: Semih starts the half out on Amar’e, who is trying to post up. When he does finally get the ball near the elbow, STAT drives toward the hoop. Moving his feet nicely, Erden shuts off Amar’e’s lane and forces him into throwing a bad pass.
: Next possession: Erden picks up STAT about 15 feet from the hoop. Playing him physically off the ball, Semih tips an entry pass intended for Stoudemire. Two solid defensive plays in succession.
: There are plenty of big men in the League who run slower than Erden, but not many have more awkward of a gait. I’ve heard of knock-kneed, but he seems knock-elbowed, hands swing high and tight at his side.
: Erden is on a defensive role now. On this play, despite Amar’e beating him to the spot, Semih recovers enough to knock the ball out of Stoudemire’s hands as he rises for the shot. The refs whistle him for a foul, but good play none the less.
: Maybe it’s because he’s not familiar with the offense, maybe it’s because his teammates aren’t familiar with him, no matter the cause — Erden is not touching the ball much on offense. The real shocker? Semih doesn’t seem to upset by this.
: OK, you’ve seen the highlight of Gallo dunking on him, but did you notice that Erden wasn’t covering the Italian on that play? He was merely helping out. Yes, he was too slow to help, but there’s something positive to take out of the play. Semih is not scared to get posterized — a rare and admirable trait (not pointing this out in jest, either).
: Oh, a skilled offensive play from Erden? Off of a nice feed, Semih shows some solid footwork while maneuvering underneath the basket. The result? Two points off of a high degree of difficulty shot.
: Shortly thereafter, Amar’e catches the rock by the left elbow. Takes one dribble into a backpedaling Erden and draws contact. Hearing the ref’s whistle, STAT lofts a floater. It drops, and one. Erden’s guilty of his third foul. Doc signals for Big Baby Davis to take his place on the court. Semih leaves the court for the final time at the 6:49 mark.
: Erden ends his third start of the season with 6 points on 3-4 shooting in 15 minutes and 46 seconds. He also has 3 boards, a steal and a block.
: Summing his game up: Erden is rawer than a freshly slaughtered chicken. But he has certain tools — ferocity, height, V6 motor — that you can’t teach. With some seasoning, he could be an impact substitute in the League. But he’ll never be able to match up with a player as skilled as Amar’e Stoudemire. Never. Ever. But, then, how many forwards/centers can?