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Fast Break: Lucky 13 for Celtics

12.19.10 at 3:28 pm ET
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After beating the Pacers 99-88 Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, the Celtics have now won 13 straight games. They didn’t play particularly well or efficient and it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but in order to keep that streak going, they’re going to have to do the kinds of things they did Sunday.

Yes, they gave up way too many offensive rebounds and the bench is woefully thin behind Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels, but the Celtics have figured out a formula for winning regular season games. Get a lead with the starters and then turn it on defensively in the fourth quarter.

Three different players scored 18 points, including Davis off the bench and Ray Allen added 17. They were balanced and they made the plays when they had to make them.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce gave the game what it needed: That’s the phrase the Celtics captain likes to use to describe his contributions and in recording a triple-double he pretty much gave the Celtics everything they needed. Pierce didn’t do much scoring (18 points on just eight shots), but he was a distributor (12 assists) and helped Kevin Garnett work the glass with 10 rebounds.

Pierce is playing some of the most responsible basketball of his career. That shouldn’t be viewed as faint praise. Garnett and Rondo have secured the headlines, and rightfully so, but Pierce remains the Celtics on-court leader.

Shaquille O’Neal returned: Foul trouble limited Shaq’s time on the court, but after finishing Thursday’s game with just nine players, the Celtics welcomed the return of any player, let alone the big fella. Shaq wasted little time making his presence felt with 11 points in five minutes including an obscene posterization of Jeff Foster on an alley-oop.

Shaq played 22 minutes, which is right in line with the amount he had been playing and the Celtics needed it as Semih Erden was limited with a groin injury.

Nate Robinson had a Nate Robinson game: With Rajon Rondo out for the foreseeable future, it falls on Robinson to handle major minutes at the point. Robinson is not going to be Rondo. Not now, not ever. They are completely different players with different skill sets, but the one thing Robinson can do is provide instant offense and he was able to score 18 points.

Robinson also provided athletic, hustling plays all over the court and for that the Celtics will indulge him the occasional pull-up 3-pointer on the break.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Defensive rebounding: The Pacers shredded the Celtics on the boards in the first quarter, racking up six offensive rebounds. The Celtics were able to tighten up in the second, but the Pacers got up 50 shots in the first half, which allowed them to stay in the game despite shooting just 40 percent.

The problems returned in the third quarter. As is usually the case, the Celtics problems on the glass started before the shot attempt …

Dribble penetration: This is where the Celtics really miss Rondo, or at least the healthy version of Rondo. Darren Collison and T.J. Ford were both able to breakdown the Celtics defense, which not only allowed the to combine for 31 points and 24 shot attempts, but also caused the Celtics help defense to leave rebounding gaps on the boards.

The bench is thin: Davis and Daniels have been fantastic. Erden has given the Celtics a boost. But right now, with all the injuries, the Celtics need to get something out of either Avery Bradley or Von Wafer. It hasn’t happened yet.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Pacers,

Big Papi talks basketball

12.19.10 at 12:09 pm ET
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David Ortiz sat down with Scoop Jackson to talk basketball for a Jim Beam promotion. Wrap your head around that. Among other things, Big Papi said, “If you can play basketball, every other sport is easy.” There are a ton of other short videos, including more on Papi in addition to Larry Izzo and Kevin Faulk on football. NBA players Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Danny Granger, Kevin Love and Jordan Farmar also took part in the ad campaign.

Read More: Boston Celtics, David Ortiz, NBA,

What the Orlando moves mean for the Celtics

12.18.10 at 10:31 pm ET
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In two separate trades over the course of one day, the Orlando Magic turned over almost half of their rotation for an upgrade at the scoring guard position (Jason Richardson) and high-priced gambles on two of the league’s worst contracts (Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas). In doing so, they ditched the services of two former All-Star wing players whose production has plummeted (Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis) and two well-paid role players (Mikael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat).

There are a lot of moving parts for the Magic, who over the last two and half weeks have lost six of seven games and watched as the Celtics asserted themselves as the favorites in the East and the Heat established themselves as the best team in their division.

The Celtics have always considered the Magic their toughest conference challenger and many of their offseason moves have been done with the Magic in mind. Orlando general manager Otis Smith clearly felt that his team needed an overhaul to try and keep pace.

The particulars are as follows:

Orlando gets: Gilbert Arenas from Washington and Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkulgu and Earl Clark from Phoenix.

Orlando gives up: Rashard Lewis to Washington and Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mikael Pietrus, a 2011 No. 1 pick and $3 million to Phoenix.

Phoenix and Washington’s motivations are clear. The Suns, who are going nowhere fast, shed Turkoglu’s onerous contract, which still has two years remaining after this season and get an intriguing big man with potential in Gortat along with a serviceable player in Pietrus. The cash will help the inevitable $4 million buyout on the last year of Carter’s contract. The Wizards obviously get rid of Arenas, who still has three years, $60 million and just as much baggage next to his name.

But these trades are all about the Magic, or more specifically, Dwight Howard, who as Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer points out, can opt out after the 2012 season. If this team had reached its limit, then it does them no good to continue playing out the string until Howard becomes a free agent.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the personalities of the new players will mesh with coach Stan Van Gundy, which is the huge blinking neon light of an X-factor in this discussion, the Magic have gotten better offensively. They have shooters everywhere to put around Howard and in Arenas they have a scoring guard who can create his own shot.

That is particularly important against the Celtics, who are one of the few teams capable of playing Howard straight-up. Without the double-teams, the Magic had trouble getting their shooters open for shots against the Celtics in the playoffs until they switched to a constant pick-and-roll attack. Carter was supposed to be that player, but he wasn’t able to do it.

The Magic should also play faster, an obvious adjustment for a team with so many perimeter players, a dominant rebounder and a lack of size beyond Howard. All of this makes it even more important that Delonte West is able to return from his broken wrist because Van Gundy now has a number of different lineup combinations he can use and the Celtics could use West’s defensive versatility.

Here are five essential realities of the deal from Orlando’s perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dwight Howard, gilbert arenas, Jason Richardson, Orlando Magic

The education of Avery Bradley

12.17.10 at 3:25 pm ET
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Avery Bradley is a good listener. That may not seem that important, but to the veteran Celtics it is a very big deal. They have a tendency to notice things about the young players who join the team. Not so much on the court, although that is obviously an important part of the equation, but about how they conduct themselves.

Do they pay attention during the huddle, even though they have less of a chance of getting in the game than Lucky the mascot? Do they ask questions when they don’t understand something? Do they listen?

It’s telling that such famously hard-to-please veterans as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have praised Bradley’s approach in his first season for exactly those reasons.

“I really like the kid, actually,” Pierce said after the Celtics beat the Hawks Thursday night. “I see how he works and soaks up so much in practice and you can see him wanting to get better. He’s always asking questions and he’s always in the huddle.”

For Bradley, this is a no-brainer. When the vets talk, he listens and tries to absorb whatever lesson he can.

“Seeing their success, I would feel dumb if I didn’€™t listen to those guys,” Bradley said. “They know what they’€™re talking about. When they tell me those things I want to listen so I can become a better player. They’€™re trying to help me all the time. When I do something wrong, they pull me aside and that just shows that they care about me and want the best for me.”

For the first time in his career, Rajon Rondo is the elder statesman at his position. In past years the Celtics brought in vets like Sam Cassell and Stephon Marbury to play behind him. It’s the endless circle of life in the NBA and now Rondo is the mentor. It’s a role he has taken an interest in with Bradley, often staying after practice to watch carefully as he plays in 2-on-2 games with fellow rookie Luke Harangody, Von Wafer and assistant coach Ty Lue.

Those games happen after every practice and it’s a way for them to stay active. Bradley, in particular, seems to use those runs as a way to test out in-game situations. Rondo will usually watch intently from the sidelines and then offer his wisdom in private.

“He’€™s a great listener,” Rondo said back in November. “That might not sound like much, but that’€™s big for a young guy to come in. He’€™s very humble. He works extremely hard. He’€™s going to be a great player in this league someday when he gets his opportunity. I always tell him to stay ready.”

With Rondo out for a few weeks, his opportunity is coming sooner than anyone imagined, and truthfully a little sooner than Doc Rivers had envisioned. But with only 10 healthy bodies, opportunity is here.

“You don’€™t try to put too much in his head,” Rondo said. “You just try to let him learn for himself, but he can always ask me or Nate [Robinson] or coach Rivers. So he has some good guys in front of him who are willing to teach him the game.”

Those lessons come the hard way in the NBA. Take Thursday night’s game when Hawks guard Jeff Teague went off on Bradley. Bradley had barely checked in when Teague stripped him and soared in for a dunk.

“You have to have a short memory,” Bradley said. “People make mistakes, you’€™re going to make mistakes, especially at this level. You got to go to the next play.”

Things didn’t get much better for Bradley as Teague continued to dominate him. But late in the first quarter, Bradley dove into a scrum and came up with a loose ball leading to points for the Celtics on the other end. It wasn’t much, but it was something positive for Bradley to take into the next game and validation that he wasn’t going to back down.

“You can talk all the trash to him in practice and when you look up he’€™s staring you right in the eyes and he’€™s going nowhere,” Rivers said a few weeks ago. “I think our veterans really appreciate that in him.”

Even with all the injuries, nothing is guaranteed for Bradley. The Celtics have options, not necessarily ideal options but options nonetheless. Marquis Daniels has done spot duty as a backup point guard and Pierce and Ray Allen are more than capable of bringing the ball up the court and initiating the offense. So, the onus is on Bradley to take advantage of this opportunity.

In the end, everyone agrees that he has a bright future. He is a tenacious on-the-ball defender who is not afraid to get up on his man and force the action. “He’€™s very physical,” Rondo said. “He gets through the picks, he gets up into you, he turns you, makes you dribble with your back to the basket.”

His offensive game is still developing and while his size — 6-foot-2, 180 pounds — says point guard, he may be better suited playing off the ball where he can work his mid-range game. The comparison has been made to a smaller version of Tony Allen, without the turnovers, and if he reaches that point this season the Celtics would be thrilled.

But all of that is in front of him. He missed valuable time this summer after undergoing ankle surgery, which kept him out of the Orlando summer league and the majority of training camp. Once the season began, he rolled over Pierce’s foot in practice, which caused him to miss another week.

The learning curve will be steep, but the best thing Avery Bradley has going for him is that he’s willing to learn.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo,

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce star in ‘True Grit’ – Celtics style

12.17.10 at 10:24 am ET
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John Wayne and Jeff Bridges have nothing on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Garnett inspired the weary and wounded Celtics with 17 points and 14 rebounds while Pierce restored order to the offense as Nate Robinson was finding his way. KG and Pierce were the two biggest reasons the Celtics ran their winning streak to 12 games in a 102-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden on Thursday night.

The 12-game run matches their longest since they set the franchise record of 19 back in the 2008-09 season. Glen Davis had 18 points off a shorthanded Celtics bench. How shorthanded?

The team found out just before the game they would be without Rajon Rondo for couple of weeks as GM Danny Ainge told WEEI that his sprained left ankle needed time to heal. Robinson started and – after a rocky first half – provided an emotional boost with 14 points and five assists in 41 minutes.

Shaquille O’Neal missed his fourth straight game with a strained right calf. Von Wafer came up with a sore back in the first half and was unavailable in the second half, giving the Celtics four healthy bench players. Semih Erden scored 10 points in 24 minutes, starting in place of O’Neal for the fourth straight game.

For the final 2:44 of the first quarter, Doc Rivers had Pierce on the court with Davis, Marquis Daniels, Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody.

‘€œWe were playing with Semih, two rooks, and then Von went down at halftime,” Garnett said. “So it’€™s not enough to say [gritty]. I mean, ‘€˜P’€™ said it before the game: This is going to me more mental than anything. I think everybody’€™s playing, is giving everything they have. And in order for us to win these games, we’€™re just going to have to grind it out.

“You know, until we get the guys back. We just got the news about Rondo; Shaq wasn’€™t available today. So what’€™re you going to do? You either quit, you put your clothes on and go home, but that ain’€™t the way we do things around here. We work. So that, pretty much ‘€“ gutsy is an understatement.’€

Playing on fumes for most of the first half after an emotional win in New York 24 hours earlier, the Celtics came alive late in the second quarter, going on a 10-2 run to take a 44-43 lead at halftime. They opened the second half with a 20-12 run to assume control of the game.

‘€œI don’€™t know if I’€™m surprised or not,” Rivers said of his team’s true grit. “I trust our guys. They just play well. They’€™re executing well. I thought ‘€“ second half was terrific for us. I thought the first half, it was a grind. I mean, you could just feel it, emotionally, too, probably, coming off of last night’€™s game. And then in the second half, you know, it was terrific ‘€“ we couldn’€™t get Ray [Allen] going in the first half, and so we just changed the passer and made it Paul.

While Garnett was providing his typical fire and inspiration, Pierce turned back the clock to 2006 and ran the offense as a point-forward in the second half, while Robinson found his bearings.

“I knew I was going to have to be more of a play-maker,” Pierce said. “Truthfully, I really didn’€™t think like that. I just tried to feel the game out, and you know, try to give it what it needs. I didn’€™t need to try to have a great scoring night because of the guys we had going. I mean, Ray got it going in the second half, Baby was consistent all game, and Kevin set the tone. So, I just let the chips fall where they may, and the guys, they stepped up. And so, it sort of, kind of, ended up that way. And it played out perfectly. And if that’€™s what it’€™s going to take, that’€™s what it’€™s going to take. You know, a lot of guys out. Guys are going to be asked to play multiple roles. And that’€™s what we’€™ve got to do.’€

“Paul basically became the point forward in the second half,” Rivers added. “And it really worked out for us. I don’€™t know if we stumbled on it if we kind of were forced to do it. But it was terrific. And Paul enjoyed it, which is even better. And then our defense kicked in too.’€

And the defense will always be the true grit of this Celtics show.

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Jeff Bridges, John Wayne

Irish Coffee: Top 5 Pop-A-Shot performances

12.17.10 at 8:00 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Five randomly selected people will get the chance to compete against Nate Robinson in Pop-A-Shot at Modell’s Sporting Goods in Saugus on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. Now, I have a million legendary Pop-A-Shot stories, so I’ll spare you and give you just one:

While I was a student at Boston University, there was a guy at The Sports Depot challenging anybody and everybody to Pop-A-Shot. If he won, you had to buy him a shot. He beat a few people, and he took a few shots.

Once people caught onto the fact that he was a Pop-A-Shot Shark, he started betting everyone he could beat them left-handed. He beat a few more people, and he took a few more shots — but his game never wavered.

After a while, everybody pretty much gave up on trying to beat him, so he started giving everyone 20-point cushions. He got a few more takers, beat them and took more shots. Yet, he always put up 100 points a minute.

And he never lost.

Based on the shots consumed and point spread offered to his opponents, it was the greatest shooting display I’ve ever seen. Not to mention I saw the same guy doing the same thing a year later at the Beacon Hill Pub.

All I’m saying is, if this guy shows up in Saugus, Robinson has no chance. So, without further ado, I give you the top five Pop-A-Shot performances on YouTube …

1. THE WORLD RECORD: Jay Kletecka is right where I picture the Pop-A-Shot world record-holder to be: In his mother’s basement. I do enjoy how he calmly drains 166 straight and has no reaction when he finally misses.

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Nate Robinson, NBA, Rajon Rondo

Doc Rivers to Nate Robinson: Don’t worry, you don’t suck

12.17.10 at 12:34 am ET
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Doc Rivers could tell early on that Nate Robinson was having trouble getting into the flow of the game as he struggled with his passes and running the Celtics offense in the first half Thursday night against Atlanta.

There was a bullet pass from Robinson to Semih Erden in the low post that didn’t quite make it there as Josh Smith stepped into the lane for the easy steal. There was a pass intended for Ray Allen that sailed out of bounds later in the first half.

How bad was it? Even when Nate was hustling his rear off to grab a loose ball headed toward the Hawks basket, he flipped to the lane – expecting Kevin Garnett to catch and slam. But instead, the pass was picked off by Mike Bibby, who fed Jordan Collins for an open three, which Collins hit to add salt to the wound.

All of that added up to seven points, only two assists and four turnovers in the first half for the man who will be filling in for Rajon Rondo over the next two weeks as Rondo heals a sprained left ankle. Rivers said he had to have a heart-to-heart with Robinson, telling him to keep his head up and remind him that he didn’t think Robinson “sucked” just because he was having trouble finding his game.

“You know what I told Nate at halftime?” Rivers began. “I said, ‘€˜Nate, just a notice for you. You’€™re the starting point guard now, and I’€™m going to give you a lot of instruction. It’€™s not criticism.’€™ You know, and Nate tends to ‘€“ he gets coaching at times, he hangs his head, and it was at a point in the second quarter I couldn’€™t even give him a play because he thought I was going to tell him, ‘€˜Nate, you suck’€™ or something.”

Robinson seemed to take Rivers’ words to heart.

“Just keep playing, play through adversity,” Robinson said. “Just turn the page. I was being a little timid in first half. Second half, he told me to just be me. I think I did that.”

Rivers knew full well that he might be dealing with a point guard that was getting overwhelmed.

“I don’€™t know what he thought I was going to say,” Rivers said. “And he was great. He even started laughing at halftime. I thought that relaxed him, and allowed him to play a little bit more. But with Rondo, you know, I’€™m so used to telling him what I need everybody ‘€“ ‘€˜Rondo, tell Paul this.’€™ I was doing that with Nate and Nate was like, ‘€˜Enough! No more. I don’€™t want’€”’€™ and he finally got what I was doing. I guess he just has to get used to that.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
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