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Celts’ struggles, by the numbers

11.23.09 at 2:37 pm ET
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After 14 games, the Celtics are 10-4, comfortably in first place in their division and just one game behind the league leaders (Atlanta, Orlando and Phoenix, who all beat the Celtics in the last 10 days). The Celtics also have the NBA’s best point differential at +8.8, and point differential is a more reliable indicator than record.

Despite all that, something seems wrong with the Celtics, who needed overtime to get past a dreadful Knicks team and have lost three of their last five, with all three losses coming against the aforementioned teams with better records. So, what gives?

First, their record and point differential are skewed from the first five games of the season, when the C’s ran roughshod over the league and people started seriously considering 72 wins. The Celtics won the next game, 92-90, against Minnesota, but that’s when their play started to slip.

FIRST FIVE

Record: 5-0

Point differential: +21.6

Points for: 101.4

Points against: 79.8

NEXT NINE

Record: 5-4

Point differential: +1.7

Point for: 96.7

Points against: 95

By far the biggest slip in terms of individual offensive numbers belongs to Rasheed Wallace, who made 15 of his first 33 3-point attempts through the first five games and has been 7-for-48 from beyond the arc ever since. Wallace has acknowledged that he’s in a slump, but the general consensus is that he is taking good shots and they’re just not falling for him. That happens. On the positive side, it has not affected Wallace’s defense.

Ray Allen has been a similar 3-point shooting slump, although not nearly as pronounced. Through five games, Allen was 9-for-21. He is 7-for-29 in the last nine. Despite shooting 32 percent from 3-point range, Allen has continued to be a productive offensive player by shooting 57 percent on his 2-point shots (60-for-106).

Digging a little bit deeper, 82games.com has Allen as the Celtics’ most productive player in terms of on-court plus/minus with Wallace second, so while their shooting slumps may account for the Celtics’ drop offensively, the real issue is a defense that went from giving up less than 80 points a night (a number that is skewed by holding Charlotte to 59 points) to one that is surrendering 95.

After we plow through the numbers on 82games.com, a few things stand out.

The C’s defense on jump shots is worse than last year (.433, 48.1 points per game vs. .417, 43.4 points per game) and they are also struggling defending teams at the end of the shot clock compared to last season (.491 compared to .447). This brings up something Doc Rivers said last week:

“Some of our defensive sets have been very good, and then with five seconds left on the clock the guy dribbling the ball gets all the way to the basket and that’€™s not just the guy guarding the ball.”

That speaks to effort, fatigue or just plain understanding the defensive system. It’s probably safe to rule out effort with this group, and “understanding the system” should work itself out in time, but it does explain Rivers saying that the team was “making stuff up” after the Orlando loss. That leaves fatigue, and it’s worth noting that the Celtics’ biggest wins during this stretch ‘€” Utah and Golden State ‘€” came after multiple days off.

That, in a nutshell, is what makes people wary about the Celtics come playoff time. The good news is that we are a long way from April, and most teams would love to struggle out of the gate at 10-4. To be sure, there are other issues, particularly a lack of offensive rebounding and fewer trips to the free throw line, but age will continue to be the dominant theme from here on out.

Read More: Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen,

Celtics Community Roundup

11.23.09 at 12:06 am ET
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The Celtics stay involved in the community year-round and are beginning to gear up for the holiday season:

  • On Monday, November 23 Tony Allen will take 15 students from Timilty Middle School grocery shopping and teach them about budgeting their money. Each student will receive $100 to purchase a Thanksgiving meal for their family at Whole Foods in Boston, where Allen will help them select food and keep track of their choices with a budget sheet. All of the students come from families in need and were chosen for their academic achievements.
  • As part of his Ray of Hope Foundation, Ray Allen will provide 275 families with Thanksgiving meals on Tuesday, November 24 at the Shelburne Community Center in Roxbury. These families were pre-selected by the Boston Center for Youth and Families. The non-cooked meals will include a turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, salad, green beans, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie, and beverages. Costco Wholesale, Vitamin Water, and American Express will also help serve the meals.
  • The Celtics Women’s Group will continue collecting new shoes, boots, and socks for Cradles to Crayons on Wednesday, November 25 prior to the Celtics home game against the 76ers. Collection areas will be set up at the main turnstiles of the TD Garden from 5:00pm ‘€“ 7:30pm.
  • During the Friday, November 27 game against the Raptors, the Celtics and Simon Malls will present the ‘€œTake a Shot’€ promotion. Fans can win prizes ranging from Celtics tickets to $700 in Simon Boston Celtics Giftcards. Click here for locations to enter and additional ‘€œTake a Shot’€ promotional dates during the season.

Fast break: Celtics-Knicks

11.22.09 at 4:12 pm ET
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Depending on your point of view, the Celtics 107-105 victory over the Knicks in overtime Sunday at Madison Square Garden was either a gritty gut-check, or a further sign that things are not right with the C’s.

Kevin Garnett hit the winning shot, but was 4-for-15 for the game. Ray Allen made a huge 3-pointer late in regulation, but was 3-for-13. Rasheed Wallace continued his slump missing all six shots. And on the defensive end, the Celtics held the Knicks to 43 percent shooting, but allowed Al Harrington to drop 30 points on them off the bench, which contributed to the C’s blowing a 14-point lead in the second half.

Either way, it’s a win the Celtics will take after losing three of their last four.

Player of the game: Paul Pierce. The Celtics captain had been content to play distributor at times this season, but with the memory of so many slow starts in his head, Pierce elected to take over early and often. He scored 17 of his 33 points in the first half and lived at the free throw line, all while helping handle some of the point guard duties. There are lot of things that are “off” with the Celtics right now, but Pierce is not one of them.

Turning point: There were so many ebbs and flows that it’s hard to pick one moment as the turning point, but as big shots go it was hard to top Allen’s corner 3-pointer in transition that gave the Celtics a 96-94 lead late in regulation. New York came back to tie the game on a couple of occasions, but never regained the lead.

* It’s still too early to judge Garnett on his comeback, but the judgments will start to come after yet another lackluster performance, despite his game-winning shot. Doc Rivers has acknowledged that Garnett is still a work in progress but he continues to insist that KG is 100 percent healthy.

* Kendrick Perkins played the role of unsung hero with 16 points and 13 rebounds in what might have been his best game of the season. He also refused to get into anything extra with Eddy Curry who has returned to the Knicks a far more feisty player than when they banished him. Curry was sent to the bench, and assessed a flagrant foul, after whacking Rajon Rondo in the back of the head. That came after Perkins stymied him on the block.

* Where was Nate Robinson down the stretch? Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni did the Celtics a favor by keeping Robinson on the bench in favor of Chris Duhon, who is neither a good shooter nor a good creator with the ball in his hands.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Knicks,

Rondo helping Hudson improve defense

11.21.09 at 3:33 pm ET
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WALTHAM ‘€“ With the Celtics departing for New York in less than an hour, it was nearly impossible to pull Rajon Rondo and Lester Hudson off the court.

The two point guards were in the midst of an intense post-practice drill and neither wanted to stop. Rondo drove, pulled up for shots, and tried to shake Hudson on the way to the basket. Hudson buckled down and tried to stay one step ahead of him.

‘€œI just play defense and he’s on offense the whole time,’€ Hudson explained.

The drill, while competitive, was friendly in nature — ‘€œMe and Lester are pretty close. I like Les,’€ said Rondo. They decided some extra practice time would help Hudson improve on defense and Rondo was happy to help him out.

‘€œ[I've learned] you’ve got to be ready,’€ said Hudson. ‘€œThere are multiple pick-and-rolls in practice. Just he’s very quick so he’s going to help me out guarding quicker guards in the NBA, so hopefully I can get my defense right.’€

Rondo participated in similar drills as a rookie against Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West and knows the benefits of additional time on the court. It is especially valuable for Hudson, who has clocked just 37 minutes so far in his first season.

‘€œHe can play D, he’s long, he’s athletic, he’s quick,’€ Rondo said of Hudson. ‘€œHe’s going to be a great player in the league one day. He’s young, he’s just trying to learn the way and try to find his way on the team.’€

Hudson also learned about Rondo’s game as well. Rondo is shooting 55.9% from the field this season, the second best percentage among all guards behind Chris Paul, but his offense has been criticized in the past.

‘€œHe can shoot better than I thought he could. He’s very quick, so it helps me on my defense. I’m trying to get my defense up,’€ Hudson said. ‘€œHe can shoot from the three. In one-on-ones he’s been hitting, so I think he can shoot it. He just has to shoot the ball.’€

Neither player keeps score in this drill. It just comes down to shots and stops.

Said Hudson, ‘€œWe just go til we say we’re done.’€

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chris Paul, Delonte West, Lester Hudson

Celtics assign Walker to NBDL

11.21.09 at 2:33 pm ET
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On Saturday the Boston Celtics assigned second-year forward Bill Walker to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League. Walker has appeared in one game this season after suffering a knee injury during Training Camp. He has played a total of two minutes this season for the Celtics.

Read More: Bill Walker, Boston Celtics,

Magic know formula to beat Celtics

11.21.09 at 12:05 am ET
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BOSTON ‘€“ It has been nearly a year since the Magic faced a healthy Celtics squad. On Friday they proved they can beat the Celtics with or without Kevin Garnett.

‘€œIt’s very important especially when they are full strength to show you that we’re still a good team,’€ Rashard Lewis told WEEI.com after the Magic’s 83-78 victory (Recap). ‘€œYou know they’re a great team. This is only one game, it’s early in the season and I definitely would not count them out at all. Every time we play the Boston Celtics it’s going to be a tough, tough game.’€

The Celtics were 0-2 last regular season against the Magic without Garnett and were eliminated from the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Magic without him. But the truth is, the Magic have held their own against the Celtics in recent years. They improved to 5-3 against the Cs since the 2007-08 regular season.

‘€œI think the biggest thing playing their team is not allowing them to get a lot of second chance points, hold them to one shot, and then run,’€ said Dwight Howard.

The Celtics actually outshot the Magic 87-to-70 from the floor, but the Magic shot 10-for-22 from three-point range while Celtics were a mere 2-for-19. Vince Carter attempted 29 field goals — ‘€œAll of them weren’t open, I’ll be the first to tell you that,’€ he said with a laugh — the same number as Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combined. Stifling the Celtics offense was a must-do for the Magic.

‘€œYou’ve got to play defense,’€ said Lewis. ‘€œI think every time we play this team we really buckle down on the defensive end and we try to take their main guys out ‘€“ Ray Allen at the three-point line, and we try to crowd Paul Pierce and make other guys beat us. Tonight I think we did a good job of that.’€

The Celtics lost their lead just three minutes into the first quarter, and the Magic held off a 17-12 fourth quarter run after Rasheed Wallace tied the game at 78 apiece. Lewis said his team regained their composure after coach Stan Van Gundy called a timeout and buckled down, realizing how easily the Celtics can fight back from a double-digit deficit. The Magic diminished the Celtics homecourt advantage and held on in the TD Garden’s playoff atmosphere.

‘€œWe’re not going to do that [back down] to anybody,’€ said Jason Williams. ‘€œI mean, we feel that we’re just as good as anybody else. So if we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to win more times than not.’€

On Friday night, like they have so many times in recent games against the Celtics, the Magic came out on top. Neither team can read too much into this victory, though. While the Magic know how to beat the Celtics, but they also know either team is capable of winning at any time.

‘€œI don’t want to say we got their number because anything can happen on any given night,’€ said Lewis. ‘€œTonight the ball kind of bounced our way and towards the end of the game we were able to get away. It’s not like we blew them out. We won by like four points so it could have easily gone the other way.’€

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard, Jason Williams, Kevin Garnett

Fast Break: Celtics – Magic

11.20.09 at 10:47 pm ET
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BOSTON ‘€“ It took less than three minutes for the Celtics to lose control over the Magic on Friday night. After going up 6-5 with 9:43 left in the first quarter, the Celtics never regained the lead in their 83-78 loss.

Player of the Game: Vince Carter led the Magic with 26 points. He shot 10-for-29 from the field and attempted the same amount of shots as Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combined.

Turning Point of the Game: Rasheed Wallace tied the game at 78 apiece late in the fourth quarter but that was as close as the Celtics would get. Carter drained a jumper to push the lead back up to two and the Magic held on to the game at the line.

-Wallace shot 0-for-8 from three-point range. The Celtics as a team shot 2-for-19. The Magic on the other hand shot 10-for-22.

Dwight Howard averaged 16.8 points, 15.5 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks against the Celtics last season. Tonight he posted 9 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks. His 15 boards were the most the Celtics allowed to one player all season.

– The first half was a tale of two quarters. The Celtics scored season-low 13 points in first quarter. Their previous low was 18 points against the Nets. They gave up a season high-tying 29 points to the Magic, which they also gave up to the Suns. In the second quarter the Celtics outscored the Magic 27-14, one point shy of their season high (28 points against Jazz).

– With this loss the Celtics fell to 1-3 on Fridays, their worst daily record.

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