Celtics Still Evolving
January 11, 2004
WALTHAM - If the Celtics have not already done so, they should permanently affix the label "work in progress" to this season. Coming off his team's biggest win of the season (statistically speaking), coach Jim O'Brien is all about the work ahead and the improvements that must be made. Fewer turnovers and more rebounds would be much appreciated. Then there is the passing game. The Celtics simply need time to get all the rotation players comfortable with each other on offense.
"If there's one area where the newer guys - and I would even include Jumaine [Jones] because he was banged up - have really struggled is in the passing game," said O'Brien, whose team routed Cleveland, 107-82, at the FleetCenter Friday. "Chris [Mihm] doesn't know what he wants to do and what he needs to do. And Ricky [Davis] doesn't, either, at this point in time. It took us until the middle of December to get it clicking. Then we went with a new group."There's a reason why we're getting off to big leads, because the guys that are used to doing it do it very well. The problem is that we can't keep them on the court for 48 minutes. Jiri [Welsch] and Paul [Pierce] and Mike [James] and Mark [Blount] really know how to get each other open and how to create for one another."
Still, the Celtics will take the floor at the Toyota Center tonight in Houston believing they have made significant strides. They are on a winning streak (albeit two games) for the first time since Dec. 15, the day director of basketball operations Danny Ainge made a six-player deal with the Cavaliers. Recent performances have been more consistent, especially on defense.
"I feel confident," said Pierce. "We've got a great mix of young guys and veterans. Things are really starting to turn around. I see it as probably around the All-Star break when we're really going to start coming together.
"We have to continue to move the ball and concentrate on the little things that are going to get us wins, especially on defense. But the new guys are starting to pick up things faster than I thought. Hopefully, before the All-Star break, we can make a run before we go out West."
Added Walter McCarty, "We're starting to find out that when we play good defensively, we're hard to stop offensively. Now, we're getting a lot of energy at the beginning of games and at the beginning of the third quarter when we would usually hit lulls. We are getting a lot of assists. We're passing the ball and getting great shots. I think a lot of times we may over-pass sometimes. Our biggest thing is taking the best shot. This team is coming around."
Yao Ming, Steve Francis, and Cuttino Mobley will have something to say about the Celtics extending their winning streak. Last season, the Rockets swept the two games. The Celtics have never won a game in Texas under O'Brien. Houston has defeated Boston six in a row at home, five straight overall.
"We just have to try and create some kind of tempo against a team that twice this week has held teams under 70," said O'Brien. "We just have to find a way to move them and get our passing game going so we get some looks. We hope one of the advantages we have is that we're not a gigantic post-up team. So we'll try to make them chase it and get quality jump-shot looks and quality drives."
. . .
Jones reinjured his right shoulder during practice yesterday and is considered questionable for tonight's game. Rockets thumbnails
* When, where: Tonight at 8:30 at the Toyota Center, Houston. * TV, radio: FSNE, WWZN (1510 AM). * Records: Houston is 20-15 (tied for fourth in the Midwest Division); Boston is 19-19 (second in the Atlantic Division). * Scoring: Steve Francis 17.0, Yao Ming 15.5, Cuttino Mobley 15.5. * Rebounds: Yao 8.9, Kelvin Cato 8.3, Jim Jackson 5.9. * Assists: Francis 5.6, Mobley 3.0, Jackson 2.7. * Head to head: This is the first of two meetings. The Rockets swept the two-game series last season. * Miscellany: Francis had a combined 61 points and 18 assists in the two wins over the Celtics last season . . . Yao's .512 field goal percentage is seventh in the NBA . . . The Rockets are 10-3 against Eastern opponents . . . Houston holds opponents to a .387 field goal percentage, lowest in the NBA . . . Francis is fourth in the league with 3.5 turnovers per game. Paul Pierce is second with 4.3.
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