Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Slump busters: Duke, Celts snap skids

Let me start out by saying Happy Valentine's day to all the ladies and thank God it's over to all the men out there. Nothing like an artificial "holiday" sponsored by Hallmark & Whitman's chocolates to let your significant other know how much you truly love them. And I can't begin to tell you how special this "holiday" is to me coming on the heels of Christmas and the Bermuda Triangle of birthdays (mine, my wife's & my son's are all within the first 10 days of Feb.)

I would also like to tell my snowed-in family members in New York, Boston & Ohio "good luck, hang in there, and don't worry, it'll be warm in like 11-12 weeks."

As a late winter storm pelted the Northeast New England's two major hoop teams hosted games that held great importance for the participants.

Celtics drop Bucks to end 18-game slide, 117-97

The Celtics (13-38) dragged an 18-game losing skid into their game against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks (19-34) at the TD BankNorth Bank Garden Center, and seeing as they embark on a brutal 5-game West Coast trip following this weekend's All Star Game, it was win now or possibly match the all-time consecutive loss record of 24 games.

Luckily for the C's they had two things going for them tonight: Paul Pierce and the Milwaukee Yucks. Pierce returned Sunday from a 24 game absence caused by a foot injury, but despite his 29 points Boston still lost to the T-Wolves on a last-second shot by former teammate Ricky Davis. But the mere presence of Pierce sparked the team in that close road loss and his performance tonight led the team to a slump-busting home blowout against a team that came in at 8-23 on the road; the win also snapped Boston's 12-game home losing streak (I blame the building's idiotic names-call it the friggin' Garden already and be done with it.)

The Celt's captain poured in 32 points on 12-19 shooting, including 5-8 threes, as the Green waxed the Bucks by 20, 117-97. Phenom-in-training Gerald Green chipped in with 21 points in just 20 minutes of action, and 5 Celtics scored in double figures. Boston dished out 26 assists, grabbed 11 steals, blocked 5 shots and only turned the ball over 9 times in what was an impressive all-around team effort. Granted it was against the Bucks, but if ever there was a team in need of a walkover win, this was it.

"We are never going to get the No.1 pick with this guy playing like that!"

Other notable contributions included Al Jefferson's double-double (17 pts, 10 boards); rookie point guard Rajon Rondo's career-high 11 assists (the kid could be the steal of the draft; he's averaging 10 ppg & 7 apg in February); and Where's Wally Sczcerbiak scoring 17 points after sitting out the past 2 games with yet another ailment (sprained ankle.)


Sadly after the break a new streak could rapidly begin- the first 5 games the C's play after the break are at Sacramento, Phoenix, the Lakers, Utah and Houston. Combined records: 159-100.


Blue Devils get back on track, 78-70 over BC

Meanwhile, just about 8 miles away in Chestnut Hill, the 21st ranked Boston College Eagles were playing host to the reeling Duke Blue Devils(19-7), losers of 4 games in a row for the first time since 1995. BC (18-7) stood in a place Duke is used to occupying- atop the ACC with a 9-2 mark- while the Devils' skid had left them in the middle of the ACC pack and sub-.500 at 5-6.

Unlike sparsely-attended game at The Garden, Conte Forum was packed with gold-clad Eagle fans hoping to witness the home team extend the Dukies' run of misery. When the game started out 7-4 in favor of BC and with Duke tossing the ball away as it had many times in the 4 previous losses, it looked like tonight would be more of the same for the most hated college hoop team in America.

But suddenly the Duke offense woke from its slumber and the defense stepped up and began playing D like the standout Duke teams of old. Led by mercurial forward Josh McRoberts (18 pts, 11 rebs) the Devils quickly tied the contest at 9, and the teams traded scores for a while until Duke took control of the contest right before the half. That's when their suffocating defense and dominating paint play turned a 29-29 game into an 11-point halftime lead, 43-32, with most of the damage being done by McRoberts; the enigmatic big man nearly had a double-double at the break (12 pts, 8 rebs), and his post presence could not be matched by the helpless Eagle team.

I've said all along that what Duke needed to be successful was to get McRoberts off the perimeter, where he loves to set up and control the offense like a point forward but he is useless as a serious rebounder/post player. Evidently Coach K must have said the same thing to him after the their blowout loss at Maryland Sunday because McRoberts was living in the paint, capitalizing on BC turnovers and his teammates' precision passes to hit an array of layups and dunks. While he was doing his damage the Duke defense was holding Eagles star forward Jared Sean Paul Dudley to just 2 points in the half; he came in averaging an ACC-best 20 ppg (he finished with 11.)

The Devils combined their 18-5 run to close the first half with a 22-9 run to open the second and the lead quickly ballooned to 22 points, 65-43 with just under 13:00 to go in the game. It was reminiscent of many Duke games, from the easy baskets to the numerous steals (Duke had 10 steals and forced 19 turnovers resulting in 49 points) to the defeated attitude of their opponent. Even the announcers, Dukie V and Mike Patrick, kept commenting how it looked as if the Eagles were giving up on plays and not putting forth their best effort.

But something happened on the way to blowout city- the Devils went conservative with about 8:00 to play, trying to milk the clock because they wanted the win so badly, that they let BC right back in the game. The healthy lead was cut to a scary 8 points, 74-66, with just 3 minutes left to play and all Duke fans could think was "if they blow this game the season is shot." But a couple of key plays late, including a terrific slashing, Grant Hill-like layup from Gerald Henderson and a clutch 3-pointer from Greg Paulus (15 pts, 7 ass, 3 stls) kept the Eagles at bay and the Dukies snapped their mini-streak at four games.

So everything is over- the Celtics losing streak, the Blue Devil's losing streak, Valentine's Day.

Well, not everything is finished; looks like there will be plenty more of the uglier-by-the-minute Anna Nicole saga and also snow.

Good luck, Northerners. It was a balmy 75 again here today (not to rub it in or anything.)

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