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Doc Rivers: ‘We’ve got a long way to go but we’re getting better’

12.01.12 at 1:48 am ET
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Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said his team showed signs of getting back on the right track in a 96-78 win over the Trail Blazers Friday night at TD Garden. Rivers called his team soft after Wednesday night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Rivers said his team is showing signs of doing what it takes to turn things around.

“It was good,” Rivers said. “Obviously it’s one game and it was great. Our defense was fantastic. We did a couple things different, trapping, it was great. And then the ball movement was terrific as well in the first half. I thought, second half was, you know how that goes with the score, but overall I just like our focus and how we approached the game.”

And the answer for no Rajon Rondo?

“We just basically played through the bigs,” Rivers said. “We took all the pressure off the guards; all they had to do is bring it up and then throw it to Kevin (Garnett) at the elbow or Jared (Sullinger) at the elbow and then cut and move. That way there’s no dribbling; it was easier for them that way. And that’s what I meant before the game when I said I told everybody he’s going to be the point guard. Basically what I was saying: our bigs were the point guards today.”

Having Jeff Green lead the team with 19 points off the bench didn’t hurt either.

“We’ve just got to keep doing it,” Rivers said. “One game, it was great. What we’re trying to get him to see is when he’s at the three he’s a power player; when he’s at the four he’s a speed player. And that’s how he has to look at himself. And our guys did a good job of getting him the ball as well.”

There was no need to call his team soft after Friday night’s game.

“Well, I didn’t do anything,” Rivers said. “I mean, we went pretty hard yesterday for short and we actually went hard today for the shoot-around. Because we’ve got to get our culture right in that way. And we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re getting better. You can see it, for sure.”

As for the defense, Rivers said they mixed things up slightly.

“We trapped pick-and-rolls, which we don’t do much anymore,” he said. “We’re bringing it back, because I think it’s coming back. So we did that and our guys stayed with it. Usually we show and get out. We just decided, you know, (Damian) Lillard is terrific but he’s a rookie and young, and probably hadn’t seen a lot of traps that stayed with the ball. And basically that’s what we did.”

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Courtney Lee: Doc Rivers ‘can continue to call us soft … if it wakes us up’

12.01.12 at 1:29 am ET
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Courtney Lee

Jeff Green might have scored 19 points and Jason Terry might have had 17 in 31 minutes but it was Courtney Lee who was the key player in Boston’s 96-78 win over the Trail Blazers Friday night at TD Garden, as the Celtics played the first of two straight games without the suspended Rajon Rondo.

Lee said the team responded well to Doc Rivers calling them soft after a loss to the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night at home.

“He can continue to call us soft,” Lee said afterward. “If we’re going to respond like this and play, I guess we need to be told that for us to wake up.”

What really hit home with Lee was when Rivers rolled the film of Wednesday’s game, showing the team how many easy baskets they were giving up.

“We got called soft the other day and we didn’t like that,” Lee said. “When you watch the tape, you see those guys [Nets] coming down, running their offense, setting hard screens, getting layups and dunks and wide open shots. We took that personally.”

No shock that the turnaround began on the defensive end, where the Celtics held the Blazers to 23 percent shooting in the first half.

“Yeah, definitely after that loss last game, we wanted to come out and just focus on the defensive end make sure we got stops,” Lee said. “Make sure we didn’t give up any easy buckets and so I think we started off and threw the first punch.”

Rivers gave Lee credit for stepping up and showing his play-making ability in the absence of Rondo.

“Courtney was great,” Rivers said. “You could see Courtney is getting better and better at what we’re asking him to do. He’s bought in completely, which you can see that. His shots will fall. I feel like him, with Avery (Avery Bradley) last year, where I kept telling you guys ‘Avery can shoot’ and you guys were looking at me like I was a Martian. And then he started making them. And Courtney is proving he can. He’s getting wide open ones, and eventually they’ll fall.”

“I mean that’s what you gotta do,” Lee said of his ball-handling skills. “Rondo is a great playmaker, the guy’s gonna rack up a lot of assists, so we just have to play within the offense, move the ball around, and you see the assists were spread out throughout the whole team. Without him we had to move the ball a lot more.

“I mean it shows good character for our team. We got beat bad on our own court then we went to practice, had a real tough practice. Doc was on us the whole time so we wanted to come in and protect home court, because we cant keep letting teams come in and beat us on our home court. We wanted to bounce back and we did that today.”

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Kevin Garnett doesn’t like to be called soft

11.30.12 at 11:11 pm ET
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After Wednesday’s Rajon Rondo-Kris Humphries fiasco and the ensuing 95-83 loss to the Nets on their homecourt, Celtics coach Doc Rivers called his team soft.

“If I’m Brooklyn and the league, you’ve got to think we’re pretty soft the way we’re playing,” Rivers said in Wednesday’s aftermath. “We’re a soft team right now; we have no toughness.”

Apparently, Kevin Garnett doesn’t like to be called soft. Who knew?

“I don’t know any man who likes to be called soft; maybe some women,” he said after dropping a 10-5-4 in 23 efficient minutes of Friday’s 96-78 blowout of the Blazers. “Where I’m from, not most men like that. I think collectively he’s talking about our style. … I don’t think he’s coming at us as men, but he’s definitely talking about our style as a whole. Collectively, we all have to do that together; the onus falls on each and every last one of us, not just one or two guys. But, yeah, that was disturbing. Who likes to be called soft in anything, if you’re a man?”

Count Courtney Lee among those men KG knows who don’t like being called soft. He amassed 10 points, 7 rebounds, five assists and three steals in 37 minutes, starting in place of the suspended Rondo.

“He can continue to call us soft,” said Lee following what might have been his best game of the season. “If we’re going to respond like this and play, I guess we need to be told that for us to wake up. … We got called soft the other day, and we didn’t like that. When you watch the tape, you see those guys [Nets] coming down, running their offense, setting hard screens, getting layups and dunks and wide open shots. We took that personally.”

Rivers got the results he was looking for on Friday, but he hopes he lingers beyond just the one game.

“Well, I didn’t do anything,” the coach said postgame. “I mean, we went pretty hard [Thursday in practice] for short, and we actually went hard [Friday] for the shootaround, because we’ve got to get our culture right in that way. And we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re getting better. You can see it, for sure.”

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Fast Break: No Rajon Rondo, no problem; Celtics smoke Blazers

11.30.12 at 10:04 pm ET
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As Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo sat the first of his two-game suspension, five of his teammates reached double figures, led by Jeff Green‘s 19 points, and just about every member of the Blazers not named LaMarcus Aldridge (23 points, 8 rebounds) didn’t bother to show up in a 96-78 blowout at the Garden.

Jason Terry (17 points), Paul Pierce (12 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 turnovers), Kevin Garnett (10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) and Courtney Lee all joined Green in double digits. Here’s what else transpired.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Portlandia: The Celtics put away the Blazers early. They started 10-of-15 from the field, and by first quarter’s end the C’s owned a 25-18 advantage on 57.1 percent shooting as all five starters scored between 4-6 points. By halftime, three Celtics had already reached double figures, they shot 56.8 percent as a group and took a 56-33 lead into the break. In the meantime, Portland shot 5-of-16 (31.3 FG%) in the opening quarter and somehow managed worse in the second (2-14, 14.3 FG%).

GreenLee: As Twitter follower @EricJsaint noted, Green and Lee each probably played their best game of the season (with the possible exception of Green’s 17-point night against the Thunder). On a sprained right knee, Green shot 6-of-13 (2-4 3P) to go along with four steals, three rebounds, two assists and a block in 23 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, starting in Rondo’s absence, Lee amassed 10 points (4-10 FG), seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Rest home: Given the fact they led by as many as 25 points in the first half, elder Celtics statesman Garnett and Pierce played just 23 and 27 minutes, respectively. An unexpected bonus with Rondo out of the lineup, for sure, considering the C’s head to Milwaukee for the second night of a back-to-back against the Bucks on Saturday night.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Depth perception: Prior to the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers claimed he would only break the Chris Wilcox glass in case of emergency. Well, when backup center Jason Collins picked up his third personal foul in a span of 5:36, Rivers turned to Wilcox — with a minute left in the first quarter.

Lone star: The Celtics appeared content letting LaMarcus Aldridge try to beat them, as long as he had to do it all by himself. At halftime, the 2012 NBA All-Star had 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting. His teammates? 16 on 2-of-19.

Running afoul: Portland attempted 27 free throws in the first 24 minutes (37 in all). Blazers bigs Aldridge and J.J. Hickson combined for 17 by the break while the C’s had just 12. Just a guess: Tommy Heinsohn wasn’t pleased.

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Doc Rivers really feels for Gregg Popovich and the $250,000 fine

11.30.12 at 7:06 pm ET
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Doc Rivers admitted before Friday’s game with the Blazers that he didn’t like the $250,000 fine handed down by NBA Commissioner David Stern Friday night against the Spurs for sitting four of their stars and sending them home for Thursday night’s game against the Heat in Miami.

Gregg Popovich, a close friend of Rivers, did not dress Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green for the game on national TV Thurday night, sending them home on a Southwest Airlines flight. Popovich said he did what he needed to in the best interest of his team, which was playing a brutal stretch of four road games in five nights and finishing up a road trip.

Stern said in a statement announcing the fine that the Spurs did a “disservice to the league and its fans.”

Rivers said he understood but sympathized more with Popovich.

“I don’t like it,” Rivers said. “I do get the other side of it, but it’s a tough one. You’ve got to coach your team to win in the long run.”

Rivers said Stern and the league made a big deal of it when it happened right away, when the league issued a statement Thursday night.

“I apologize to all NBA fans,” Stern said in his statement Thursday. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

Rivers thought that was a bad move.

“I think it was an action and a reaction personally, and I think the reaction was probably overdone [Thursday], and then all of a sudden you have to have an action,” Rivers said.

Rivers was asked if he’d consider a similar move to rest veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

“We’ll do it when we want to do it and we should be able to do it,” Rivers said.

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Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett’s Secret Santa

11.30.12 at 1:05 pm ET
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WEEI’s Mut & Merloni show featured Kevin Garnett as the weekly Celtics Thursday guest, and the guys relayed a fan question about what he planned on getting Ray Allen for Christmas.

After an audible pause, Garnett said: “Absolutely nothing.”

“Nothing at all,” Merloni responded. “Not even a card. Nothing?”

“You know what?” said Garnett. “That whole situation kind of came and went. I wish Ray the best. I wish his family the best. But we have Secret Santas around here, and I want to focus on my Secret Santa.”

In terms of Quote of the Year, it’s going to be hard to top KG’s “I want to focus on my Secret Santa.” I picture Garnett picking a Celtics teammate’s name out of a hat (held extremely high by Fab Melo), guarding that secret with his life and constantly surfing his iPad while wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and sipping hot cocoa in front of a crackling fire. Since we’ll never know whose name he picked from the hat, here’s a suggestion for everyone.

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Opinion: Appreciate Rajon Rondo while you can

11.30.12 at 7:37 am ET
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I went to the Celtics game Wednesday night eager to watch Rajon Rondo.

Rajon Rondo's ejection Wednesday night reignited the discussion about the mercurial point guard's importance to the team. (AP)

No Celtics player has been the topic of more discussion this season. The man with the assist streak has been a lightning rod for Boston sports fans. Reading the blogs and listening to talk radio before the game, one heard that Rondo either was the best point guard in the NBA or a mercurial, self-serving diva who never could be the centerpiece of a championship team.

Then the game started. These days, at the Garden, a fan’s attention is locked in two places. The first is the video scoreboard, where the fan cam runs on an endless loop. The second is Rajon Rondo.

Like any special player in the NBA, Rondo captivates an audience. He sees the court differently, and plays with a style completely unique to the NBA. For each of Rondo’s strengths — his handle, his ability to get to wherever he wants on the floor, his vision, and his passing — he has a weakness. Both the strengths and weaknesses are discussed with equal enthusiasm.

In the first half, the best and worst of Rondo was on full display. He had no trouble getting deep into the lane on a Brooklyn team that had Brook Lopez at center and Kris Humphries at power forward. On one fast-break sequence, Rondo went coast-to-coast before leaving his feet for a layup under the basket, only to wrap the ball around a defender to an unsuspecting Brandon Bass. A potential dunk ended up as a turnover, and talk of Rondo’s predisposition to pass rather than shoot could be heard throughout the arena. On another possession, Rondo attempted to beat the shot clock by driving the lane, only to get his shot blocked by Humphries. On a later defensive possession, Rondo played his typical turnstile man-to-man defense as Deron Williams drove the lane. Rondo slapped at the opposing point guard’s hands after he was beat, putting Williams on the line.

The tough part for Rondo was the entire first half played out that way. He set up teammates for shots, and they missed. He struggled on the defensive end. With about four minutes left in the half, Rondo had three assists. He was off pace in his quest for his 38th consecutive game with 10 or more assists.

Then Humphries fouled Kevin Garnett under the basket. Then Rondo snapped.

There is no bigger disparity in the opinions of Rondo than in the people who attend Celtics games and those who watch on TV — or perhaps don’t watch at all.

When Rondo pushed Humphries under the basket and the confrontation spilled into the seats, the arena erupted. It wasn’t much of a fight, but it was the first time a Celtic had pushed back all night. As tough as Garnett has been throughout his career, he now is a veteran who gets calls by absorbing contact and jerking away suddenly. For much of the first half, the Nets initiated contact, and the Celtics got the calls. Often, Nets players shook their heads, almost surprised that this is how the Celtics want to play now.

But Rondo woke up the crowd. At the conclusion of the scuffle, fans rose to their feet and started a “Let’s go Celtics” chant. They cheered when Humphries and Gerald Wallace were ejected. They booed when Rondo was ejected. There wasn’t a whole lot of discussion about Rondo’s maturity. Until the next day.
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