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Fast Break: Celtics vs. Spurs

12.03.09 at 11:22 pm ET
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The Celtics and Spurs entered Thursday’s game on five-game winning streaks. At the end of a tense fourth quarter the Celtics came out on top, 90-83, while the Spurs hit a skid.

Kevin Garnett led all players with 20 points while Rajon Rondo orchestrated an all-around attack with 12 points and 12 assists. Paul Pierce had another quiet night, scoring eight points for the second straight game.

The Spurs received very little help from their starting lineup tonight. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker could not win this game alone and the rest of the first unit did little to help. Richard Jefferson scored just six points while while Antonio McDyess and Keith Bogans were scoreless.

Player of the game: His team may not have won but Spurs rookie DeJuan Blair made the biggest impact down the stretch. Blair was a steal at the 37th pick in this year’s draft and proved tonight that he was underestimated. His 18 points were the driving force behind the Spurs fourth quarter run and he showed no signs of intimidation going up against veterans Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. More importantly, he crashed the boards on both ends of the court. The Celtics grabbed just two offensive rebounds as a team while Blair grabbed five offensive and six defensive. Expect to see more of Blair this season.

Turning point: The Spurs cut the Celtics lead to four points late in the fourth and looked to draw even closer as Tony Parker drove the lane on a fastbreak with just over 22 seconds to go. Rondo reached in to strip the ball, which bounced out of bounds off of Parker’s leg. The Celtics regained possession and the Spurs were forced to put them on the line.

– Garnett hit his stride and nailed shot after shot from mid-range (9-15 FG). He added seven rebounds and committed zero turnovers.

– The Spurs shot just 7-for-17 from the free throw line. The Celtics hit 14-of-19.

– The Celtics were outrebounded 55-32. Duncan had 15 boards to Kendrick Perkins seven.

– Rasheed Wallace was a reliable force off the Celtics bench. He posted 13 points, including 3-for-5 three-point shooting.

Grande to Broadcast 1,000th Game

12.03.09 at 3:44 pm ET
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On Thursday night, WEEI Celtics radio broadcaster Sean Grande will call the 1,000th NBA game of his career when the Celtics take on the Spurs in San Antonio. Grande will become just the third broadcaster behind Marv Albert and Ian Eagle to call 1,000 NBA games before the age of 40. He called his first NBA game on December 23, 1997 and has been broadcasting Celtics games for WEEI  since 2001.

Albert “Scooter” Vertino, a senior producer for TNT, met Grande more than 10 years ago when Grande was a television broadcaster for the Timberwolves. He says Grande still exhibits the same qualities that impressed him back then.

“The thing that impresses me most is his preparation. I am sure that most people in his position put in the hours and work hard, but he doesn’t miss a trick. I have seen the numbers he crunches and the quantity is pretty incredible,” Vertino said via email. “The funniest moment I can recall was the Knicks game at Boston two seasons ago. The game was a huge blowout. Pretty sure it was James Posey that dove over the scorer’s table and landed in Sean and Cedric Maxwell’s laps. Posey’s presence was mentioned, but the game call continued.”

The Celtics WEEI pregame program will begin tonight at 7:30 EST. The game will kick off at 8pm.  Click here for the official press release on the 1,000th game milestone.

Q&A: ‘Basketball Prospectus’ author Kevin Pelton

12.03.09 at 11:58 am ET
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The basketball community has been graced with a number of exceptional books to start the 2009-10 season. From Bill Simmons’€™ epic tome to Jackie MacMullan’€™s fantastic look back at the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson era, we are in a golden age of basketball books after a long fallow period.

But for the current season, one stands out above the rest. Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle have finally put together a book that echoes the best of the Baseball and Football Prospectus traditions by reviving the Pro Basketball Prospectus annual. Using new statistical metrics, the duo breaks down and analyzes all 30 NBA teams in an informative and entertaining volume.

If you are a fan of the other Prospectus books, it will open your eyes to all the nuances of the NBA game. If you are a fan of basketball, the Pro Basketball Prospectus is required reading, even if you’€™re a little unfamiliar with the concept of usage rates.

We talked with Kevin Pelton via phone and asked him about the book process, why former Sonics scrub Russ Schoene is so important, and how good he thinks Rajon Rondo can be (hint: really, really good).

How did the book come out?

Baseball Prospectus wanted to focus on publishing baseball books. We decided to go the print on demand route. We were fortunate that Football Outsiders tread the exact same path a few months ahead of us, so we were able to learn from what they did and use the same layout. That worked out really well for us. Doing a book had always been a goal since we started doing the website. We’€™ve always loved the prospectus books across multiple sports.

What were some of the things you learned from the process?

The only details you’€™re going to learn about individual players come when you sit down and focus on each of them. That’€™s not something you do during the season. You watch games and look for numbers as they stand out. When you have to do two paragraphs on DJ Mbenga, you learn something you didn’€™t know before.

The other thing you pick up are trends. Every time I had to write, ‘€˜This is why you don’€™t overpay for role players in free agency,” that was something I thought before, but when you’€™re looking at all these contracts for terribly mediocre guys that get signed for the mid-level exception, it really hammers that home.

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Read More: Basketball Prospectus, Kevin Pelton, SCHOENE,

Celtics-Spurs Preview

12.03.09 at 11:36 am ET
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After nailing down their fifth straight win on Tuesday night, a 108-90 thumping of the Charlotte Bobcats, it appears the Boston Celtics (14-4) might be regaining their swagger.

Meanwhile, a certain team in San Antonio (9-6) might be hitting its own stride. After making a splash this summer by trading for former New Jersey Nets star Richard Jefferson (career 17.6 ppg), it appeared the Spurs positioning themselves to contend for another NBA title. But after a three-game skid dropped their season record to 4-6, questions began to surface about age, chemistry and hunger for winning.

So much for that.

Five straight victories for San Antonio and they’€™re right back in the title talks. That being said, the black and silver has been beating up mostly on second-tier teams; their game Thursday night against the Celtics will be another matter.

Both teams teams have been hot of late, and neither is a stranger to the NBA spotlight. The Celtics dominated the league in 2007 en route to their 17th NBA Championship, meanwhile seemingly every year the Spurs are on the brink of grabbing one of their own, including winning four titles in the past 10 years.

Tonight’€™s 8 p.m. clash has just about everything: the names, the legacy, and the anticipation. But how does everything else pan out? Let’€™s take a look:

Recent Performance

On A Roll ‘€“ Both teams come in winners of five straight, though neither streaks have been star studded. Aside from Boston’€™s 92-85 win on Sunday over the 10-5 Miami Heat, none of the Celtic’€™s past five victories have come against opponents above .500. In fact, before taking down the Heat, the last time the Celtics beat a team with more notches in the win column than the loss column was back on Nov. 11, a 105-96 win over the now 10-7 Utah Jazz.

Similarly, San Antonio has benefited from a rather smooth stretch in their schedule, helping them get back on track after losing three straight in mid-November. The only above .500 team in the Spurs’€™ past five wins? The 10-8 Houston Rockets, whom San Antonio disposed of 92-84 back on November 27. But you’€™d have to travel all the way back to that same Nov. 11 to find the last time the Spurs beat an above .500 team prior to the Rockets, a 92-83 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

Head to Head

Strangely Familiar ‘€“ They may not meet that often, but when they do, chances are it’€™ll be memorable. Boston and San Antonio have yet to collide this season, but last year they met two times – as they do every season ‘€“ and both games were spectacular. The Spurs took the first game, a 105-99 nail-biter that had San Antonio taking the lead with 20.4 seconds left off a Roger Mason three, stunning a packed house at the Garden. The second game, however, was taken by the Celtics in an equally exciting matchup, an 80-77 victory at the AT&T Center in Texas. Kendrick Perkins netted the game-winner for the Celtics, who escaped San Antonio with KG on the bench for the entire fourth quarter – in part thanks to the Spurs’€™ six consecutive free-throw misses to close out the game.

Boston swept the two-game series in 2007-08, but the two split again back in 2006-07 with both teams winning their home matchups.

Scouting Report

Defense Wins Championships ‘€“ It’€™s no secret to anyone in the NBA how the Spurs run their team: a combination of stout defense and scoring mainly from anyone on the floor named Duncan, Parker or Ginobli. But the addition of Richard Jefferson this season has helped alter that perception a little, giving the Spurs a potent fourth option when it comes to putting the ball in the net. So far in 2009, Jefferson has averaged a solid 13.5 points a game, a nice complement to point guard Tony Parker (16.5) in the absence of guard Manu Ginobli (groin injury). But regardless of how much or how little Jefferson steps up, the Spurs are still the same old Spurs, and they live and die by perennial All-Star forward and team-leader, Tim Duncan.

As a result, the most exciting matchup within the Spurs-Celtics rivalry is as it has been for the past three seasons ‘€“ Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett. Seeing those two do battle in the paint is like watching history collide. Whenever two NBA greats the likes of Garnett and Duncan meet on the hardwood, it’€™s bound to be exciting, particularly considering that the two play the same position and will literally be matching up head-to-head.

Key Statistic

.833 ‘€“ After posting a very less-than-Allen .259% from beyond the arc in his past six games, Ray Allen heated up in a big way in the Celtics win over the Bobcats. Allen nailed five of six shots from three-point range on Tuesday night, was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line and finished the night with a game-high 27 points. The Celtics would like that hot shooting to carry over to tonight’€™s game against a tough defensive squad in the San Antonio Spurs, who are surrendering 96.5 points a game, 10th in the NBA.

3/4 ‘€“ the amount of major statistical categories in which Tim Duncan leads the Spurs, furthering the notion that the black and silver go as No. 21 goes. So far in 2009, Duncan leads San Antonio with 18.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and an intimidating 2.00 blocks per contest. He even ranks third on the team in assists with 3.7, a rarity for a power forward with the size of Duncan.

Health/Injuries

The Ginobli We All Know and Love ‘€“ He’€™s back on the injured list ‘€“ again. Oh wait, never mind, he’€™s off. Wait, no, he’€™s back on. Okay, forget it ‘€“ he’€™s off it now. Ginobli finally returned to the Spurs lineup on Sunday, a 97-89 win over the 76ers that had the Spurs’€™ star bench-player contribute 17 minutes on the court, netting only eight points and grabbing three rebounds. Obviously a sub-par game for Ginobli, who is averaging 13.5 points a game in ‘€™09, but it’€™s apparent he doesn’€™t have his sea legs back yet after injuring his groin in the Spurs’€™ loss to the Jazz back on Nov. 19. Since then, the injury has kept the Argentinean born guard out for five-straight games until returning on Sunday. He’€™s only appeared in 10 games this season, and may not be at full-strength tonight against the Celtics, something that will undoubtedly hurt the Spurs both on the offensive and defensive ends.

On the other hand, San Antonio’€™s backup guard, Roger Mason (7.1), who was a thorn in the Celtics’ side last season, may be cleared to play Thursday night. The Spurs’€™ off-the-bench hot shooter has been dealing with a hamstring injury that held him off the court in Sunday’€™s win over the 76ers, but he is expected to be available for Thursday night’€™s clash with the Green. In his last two games before injuring the hamstring, Mason posted a combined 28 points, shooting a torrid 66.7 percent from the field.

Nothing new for the Celtics on the injury front, as the usuals — Glen “Big Baby” Davis” and Tony Allen — will be sidelined for tonight’€™s matchup. News for Tony Allen is that the Celtics will be without the 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard for the entirety of their four game road-trip, and he will be re-evaluated when the club returns to Boston.

Quotable

Big Four? - “Those situations were created by that little guy. He was excellent tonight, really. … I thought he controlled this game as well as anybody and I don’t know if his stat line is really as indicative of how much impact he had on this game.” – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Celtics’€™ point guard Rajon Rondo after Sunday’€™s game.

He’€™s no longer a secret in the NBA. Rajon Rondo continues to improve daily, and the Celtics have all the confidence in the world in him, evident in his new five-year, $55 million contract. It will be another tough night for the point guard however, as he goes toe-to-toe with perennial All-Star Tony Parker, who is averaging 16.5 points a game this season. It’€™s apparent that a lot of this game hinges on Garnett vs. Duncan ‘€“ but make no mistake about it, it will be no small battle at the point.

Read More: Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Spurs

NBA Power Rankings 12/3

12.03.09 at 10:34 am ET
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1. LA Lakers (7): I had to sip on some of Ron Artest’s Hennessy to put them here without grimacing. They’re a matchup nightmare with all their height and skill, and it doesn’t hurt that Kobe still plays like he has something to prove.

2. Orlando (3): We all know Dwight Howard is a double-double machine. Question is, how many double-doubles will he accumulate before we see Magic fan Tiger Woods at another game sitting courtside?

3. Boston (5): I’d be lying if I told you I never thought, “Maybe they’re not that good …” at one point this season. But that was when KG was dragging his leg and looking like Mikki Moore on defense. Since then, he’s barely missed a shot and you can see him gaining more trust in the knee.

4. Dallas (4): If you needed to X and O your way out of a problem quickly and you could call a friend, wouldn’t Rick Carlisle be on speed dial? Man, this guy can REALLY coach.

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Read More: NBA, power rankings,

Fast break: Celtics-Bobcats

12.01.09 at 9:34 pm ET
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Coming into Tuesday night’s action, the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference were Boston and Charlotte. Despite their inconsistent play the Celtics had reeled off four straight wins. Despite being the Bobcats, Larry Brown’s crew had also won four straight, including a decisive victory over the Cavs.

Additionally the Celtics came in with the best road record in the league, while the Bobcats owned a 6-1 mark at home. But what looked like an intriguing matchup quickly turned into a rout as the Celtics played their best game since the first week of the season in a 108-90 win. Ray Allen broke out with 27 points, while Kevin Garnett continued his hot shooting, scoring 16 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists

Player of the Game: Kendrick Perkins. The Celtics center has very quietly put together a strong season, but he may not remain a secret for much longer after scoring 21 points to go with 12 rebounds. It was Perk’s second double-double in as many games and his third in the last six. He scored easily and efficiently against Tyson Chandler, showing a nice variety of low-post moves.

Turning point: Midway through the second quarter the Bobcats had cut the Celtics lead to 12, 42-30, when the starting five came back on the floor. They proceeded to go on an 11-1 run, highlighted by deft passing and great defensive work. The Bobcats never got back in the game.

* The Celtics were 17-for-17 from the free throw line in the first half. Among the encouraging signs: Garnett had six free throws and Rajon Rondo and Perkins were a combined 5-for-5.

* The Bobcats racked up 13 offensive rebounds but that number is a little deceiving. Most of them came on just a handful of possessions so it wasn’t like the C’s were getting beat on the boards all night and a few of them were, shall we say, generously awarded.

* Allen and Paul Pierce were 7-for-9 from beyond the arc. Eddie House and Rasheed Wallace were 3-for-8.

* Hard to say that the Celtics played “great” defense because the Bobcats looked so disorganized offensively, but they held Charlotte to 41 percent shooting.

* Once again things got testy between these two teams. Garnett and Nazr Mohammed had to be separated and Rondo and Chandler picked up double fouls away from the ball.

Read More: Bobcats, Celtics, Fast Break,

Celtics-Bobcats Preview

12.01.09 at 1:15 pm ET
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The Charlotte Bobcats have come a long way from their season-opening stomping at the hands of the Celtics, a humiliating 92-59 defeat. After falling to 3-9 following a seven-game losing streak, Charlotte (7-9) rolls into Tuesday night’€™s rematch as winners of four straight, including a 94-87 victory over LeBron James and the Cavaliers and a 92-76 beat-down of the Washington Wizards.

The Celtics (13-4), meanwhile, are in the midst of ‘€˜righting the ship’€™ after some mid-month struggles, riding their own four-game win streak – including a hard-fought, come-from-behind win over Dwyane Wade and the Heat on Sunday.

The two collide tonight at 7:00 pm in Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, the Bobcats looking to settle the score after their miserable showing to open the season, and Boston looking to continue its return to dominance in the NBA.

Here’€™s how things are shaping up heading into tonight’€™s game:

Recent Performance

Heating Up ‘€“ Both teams head into Tuesday night winners of four straight, each with highlights in their streaks. Charlotte is fresh off a bombing of the Wizards in Washington, and before that a fairly convincing seven-point win over LeBron and his Cavs. Before that? A 116-81 punishing of the Raptors, a team that took Boston to the final quarter in the Garden.

The Celtics aren’€™t exactly flying low either, however, coming off a solid win over a Miami squad that had every reason to beat them last Sunday. The most important thing to take from the Celtics’€™ past four games, however, hasn’€™t been just the W’€™s so much as it’€™s been the play of Kevin Garnett. Amidst all the worries and concerns about his knee injury and recovery, Garnett answered critics with an 11-for-12 shooting night Sunday versus the Heat, posting 24 points and 8 rebounds ‘€“ and, more importantly, putting Boston on his shoulders to seal up a win.

Head to Head

Tough Customers ‘€“Glancing at their overall records the past few seasons, you’€™d assume Boston usually has its way with Charlotte. In fact, it hasn’€™t exactly been that easy. Aside from their season-opening blowout of the Bobcats to open Charlotte’€™s 2009 season, Boston has disposed of the Cats in regulation only once in their past three meetings ‘€“ a five point nail-biter. The other two times Charlotte took Boston to overtime, and one of them was a Celtic loss. Tuesday’€™s game marks the second of three games the two will play against each other this season, with Boston holding a 1-0 edge in 2009.

Scouting Report

The Bobcats added some punch to their offense when they traded for the Warriors’ Stephen Jackson a few weeks ago. He has totaled 17.4 points per game since he joined Charlotte. That being said, it still remains Gerald Wallace’€™s team. Wallace leads the Bobcats (aside from Jackson’€™s seven-game stat sample) in both points per game (15.9) and rebounds per game (11.8). During their four-game win streak, Wallace has led the Cats in boards in every single match, and topped the team in points in three of the four, including back-to-back 31 point nights against the Raptors and Cavaliers.

That being said, in Charlotte’€™s season opener against the Celtics, Boston was able to corral Wallace, holding him to a season-low 10 points.

The Bobcats do run a fairly diversified offense however, with Boris Diaw (11.7), Raymond Felton (10.3), and Flip Murray (10.3) getting in on the action when they’€™re called upon.

Key Statistic

.259 – Ray Allen’€™s three-point shooting percentage over the past six games. The veteran sniper has been struggling with his stroke to say the least. In fact, Allen has only hit multiple three-balls once in his past six games ‘€“ and twice in his past 10. It hasn’€™t exactly killed the Celtics, because amidst it all they’€™ve won four straight. But if No. 20 does not heat up, it could start hurting the Celtics down the road.

6 ‘€“ The amount of games in a row that Gerald Wallace has hit double figures in rebounds. He is a beast on the boards, and it’€™s going to be a key for Boston to keep him off them. If they don’€™t, he can dictate a game (20 boards, 24 points Nov. 2 vs. New Jersey).

Health/Injuries

Same Old ‘€“ Nothing new for the Celtics, who are still without Big Baby and Tony Allen. Ray Allen had missed last Sunday’€™s practice because of his son’€™s illness, and his status for the Miami game was in doubt, but it appears it won’€™t be an issue for Tuesday’€™s match-up. Similar story for Charlotte, which is operating with a full complement of players after the recent return of Tyson Chandler following his back spasms earlier in the season.

Quotable

Pedal to the Metal – ‘€œThis is a time where you have to concentrate more. We understand what being a successful road team is about in the past. It will give us more focus time. I think we understand being on the road, we have to focus a lot more. You can’€™t play the way we’€™ve been playing at home on the road because you won’€™t get those wins.’€

Celtics Captain Paul Pierce knows these games are important. The Bobcats aren’€™t a division rival. They aren’€™t really even a conference rival, and at 7-9, aren’€™t considered a playoff threat. But it doesn’€™t matter. The Celtics know they need to get all the wins they can find, and Tuesday night is no different.

Read More: Charlotte Bobcats, gerald wallace, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen
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