By Andy Roth
New York, NY (Sports Network) -
Two former Celtics are making their mark with their new teams, while Boston may be "Green" with envy. I've got those stories and more in my latest take on the NBA.
Despite losing Rudy Gay (19.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) for the season in mid-February to a partially dislocated left shoulder, Memphis appears to be headed to its first post-season appearance since the 2005-2006 campaign. The Grizzlies and Hornets currently occupy the final two playoff spots in the West at 44-33 and are three games up on the Rockets with only five games left to the regular season.
The Grizzlies were 31-26 (54% winning percentage) when they lost their leading scorer, but have actually played at a better clip since his injury, going 13-7 (65% winning percentage). One of the big reasons for their success has been the play of Tony Allen, who was a key contributor off the bench for the Celtics in their 2008 championship run.
Since replacing Gay in the starting lineup he's gotten it done on both ends of the floor. The Grizzlies knew they were getting a high-energy, defensive- minded player when they signed Allen as a free agent last summer, but surprisingly, he's provided some offensive punch too. In the 20 games he's started since Gay went down, Allen is averaging 14.1 points, while shooting a whopping 56% from the field, and has scored 20 or more points on six different occasions.
For Allen, all it took was more time on the court for him to make more of an impact. "The biggest difference is just the minutes. When I played more minutes in Boston, I think I played well," said Allen. "I had good numbers there as well if you look back at the history of my career. The more I played, the better my numbers were all around. But it's not just about scoring with me. I want to make that clear. I try to do a lot of things that help my team win games and I just take what the defense gives me."
Allen suffered a torn ACL in 2007, and for the first time since that injury he feels completely healthy without any side effects.
"I feel like I'm back where I was before I hurt myself," said Allen. "If you look at my production before I tore my ACL in Boston, I was in a groove before the injury. "I just think I'm back to being healthy again and that's the key right now."
And another key to the Grizzlies playoff run has been Zach Randolph. His play can get lost among the plethora of so many great power forwards in the league, but you can make an argument he's playing even better than last season when he was an All-Star.
During Gay's absence he's taken his game up a notch. Randolph's field goal percentage is 56%, up 7% prior to his teammate going down, and he's averaging 3.1 assists, compared to just 1.7 before losing Gay.
Another former Celtic is having a big impact on his new club. The Thunder weren't a very good defensive team prior to acquiring Kendrick Perkins from Boston, but since he has stepped on the floor in Oklahoma City, they're making a habit of shutting their opponents down.
In the 11 games Perkins has played since the trade, the Thunder have allowed an average of just 95.1 points, compared to the very porous 101.9 they were giving up without their new addition.
With Perkins manning the middle and Serge Ibaka at the four, replacing Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green, respectively, who went to Boston in the big trade, OKC now has the interior defense and muscle to be a more legitimate threat in the playoffs.
Ibaka has made a smooth transition into the starting line up ,and the Thunder have benefited from the move, going 14-6 since that time. The second-year power forward is averaging 11.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks in his new role.
The Thunder's revamped frontline may be the toughest road block the Lakers will face in their quest for a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
"We think we did pretty well. Red (Auerbach) would always say, whatever the single-best player in the trade is, try to get it. But whether that's Jeff Green or 'Perk,' we don't know that."
Those were the words of Celtics coach Doc Rivers following the deal with the Thunder that had Kendrick Perkins and Jeff Green switching uniforms. I wonder what Rivers would have to say about the trade now since he's gotten a good look at Green.
What I see is a "tweener", who won't really excel at either position he plays. At 6-9, 230 lbs, it's inexcusable the type of rebounding numbers he's put up in Boston (2.5 per game). The low point came in last Friday's loss in Atlanta when Green failed to pull down a rebound in 23 minutes of action.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs snapped their six-game losing streak with Sunday's rout of the Phoenix Suns, and increased their lead over the Lakers to 2 1/2 games in the battle for the top seed in the West.
San Antonio's slide coincided with injuries to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but I think a change in the starting lineup prior to that has had a negative impact on the team.
Despite a league-best 51-12 record, and less than a week-removed from a 30- point annihilation of the Heat in Miami, coach Gregg Popovich put Antonio McDyess in the starting lineup and sent DeJuan Blair to the bench.
And my question is why mess with success? Blair was coming off his best month of the year, when he averaged a season-high 26.6 minutes 11.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in February as the Spurs went 9-3.
I think his physical presence both defending in the post and off the boards, along with his very active hands has a real impact on the game. And even though his minutes aren't that much different since his began his new role, his production is down and he hasn't been the same player.
The bottom line for any team is results, and Popovich and the Spurs were doing just fine with Blair as a starter. It's a move he may very well regret down the line.
Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and
was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered
many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA
Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.