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Fast Break: Celtics-Suns

12.30.09 at 11:28 pm ET
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The losing streak is now three games, and while there were extenuating circumstances, this was the worst of the three. Yes the injuries are piling up and yes, the trip was long and tiring, but the Celtics had less pop than day-old champagne and provided decidedly less buzz. The Celtics clearly have bigger issues than one game, and in truth it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Phoenix Suns were able to blow them off the court Wednesday night, 116-98.

The big news came before tip-off as Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis (again) joined Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels on the injured list, and it looks like it will be a little while before Garnett returns. The Celtics are saying that Garnett suffered a hyper-extended knee when he got kicked against the Warriors, which they are saying is different than the thigh bruise that kept him out last week and different than the knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs.

With more than a week between now and a Jan. 6 game at Miami and only one more game in between against the Raptors on Saturday, this seems like an ideal time to give Garnett some rest. That’s how the Celtics are playing it, but there will certainly be questions about Garnett’s injuries, which coincidentally or not, have all affected the same leg.

Despite all that the Celtics did come out with the best of intentions. They went into the post repeatedly in the first quarter in an effort to play from the inside out and they took the ball hard to the basket and lived at the free throw line for most of the second quarter. Those good intentions couldn’t mask a lack of players, energy or hustle, however.

Player of the Game: Amar’e Stoudemire. The Suns forward dominated the Celtics in the first quarter, making nine of 10 shots and scoring at will. He was far too quick for Kendrick Perkins, which is just one place the Celtics missed Garnett. If not for persistent foul trouble, Stoudemire might have gone for 40 points. Instead he settled for 26 and seven rebounds.

Turning Point: Unlike most Phoenix runs, the Suns decisive move didn’t happen quickly. But it did happen early. Lasting 1o possessions and carrying on through a timeout, they turned a 12-8 deficit into a 26-14 lead. From that point on, the Celtics were in deep trouble.

* Those waiting for the kids, i.e. Bill Walker, J.R. Giddens and Lester Hudson to get some run will have to continue the vigil. If ever there was a night for them to play it was Wednesday. Instead all three were idle until the fourth quarter when the game was well in Phoenix’s grasp.

* This could have been a night for Rasheed Wallace to pick up some of the slack, but he struggled against the quicker Suns. He failed to take advantage of what should have been a mismatch against Channing Frye and played just 29 minutes. Wallace was 3-for-11 and 0-for-4 from 3-point range.

* Rajon Rondo played despite his sore hamstring and seemed to lack his usual burst to the hoop. Even playing the defensively-challenged Steve Nash, Rondo rarely took it to the rim and was content to settle himself about 20 feet from the basket most of the night. In 31 minutes Rondo scored 13 points and recorded eight assists, which were solid enough numbers but it was clear that Rondo wasn’t at his best.

* Perkins picked up his 10th technical foul, which ties him with Wallace for most in the NBA. He would be subject to a one-game suspension if his count reaches 16 techs.

* The Celtics were able to stay in the game for a time with a small-ball lineup of Rondo, Eddie House, Ray Allen and Brian Scalabrine along with Wallace and Perkins. But every time they inched closer the Suns shot them right back out of the game.

* Shelden Williams had 14 points and five rebounds, which was his most productive outing in weeks.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Suns,

Celtics recall Hudson from NBDL

12.30.09 at 3:19 pm ET
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The Celtics recalled rookie Lester Hudson from the NBA Development League’s Maine Red Claws, the team announced on Wednesday. Hudson has played in five games for the Red Claws this season, averaging 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

Hudson was called up on the same day it was reported Rajon Rondo (hamstring) is questionable tonight against the Phoenix Suns.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Lester Hudson, Maine Red Claws, Rajon Rondo

Report: Rondo and Garnett questionable

12.30.09 at 2:00 pm ET
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CSN New England’s A. Sherrod Blakely is reporting that Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett are both questionable for tonight’s game with the Suns. Per Blakely, Doc Rivers told the press after practice that of the two, Rondo is more likely to play. Rondo is dealing with a sore hamstring. Rivers also said that he may wind up sitting Garnett for the next week, specifically citing a game against Miami on Jan. 6 as a potential target date. That would mean Garnett would miss two games; tonight and Saturday against Toronto.

If Garnett can’t go, Rasheed Wallace would likely get the start in his place. Rivers has been reluctant to play Wallace and Kendrick Perkins together, preferring that each man the center spot, but Wallace started for Garnett against Philadelphia after Garnett came down with a thigh bruise

UPDATE: The Herald’s Steve Bulpett files from Phoenix that the Celtics are saying Garnett’s latest problem is not related to his surgery, but that he got kicked in the knee against the Warriors, Monday.

Read More: injuries, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo,

Here come the Cavs

12.30.09 at 1:50 pm ET
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A small detail from Tuesday night’s NBA games. The Cleveland Cavaliers slipped past the Celtics by a half game for the best record in the Eastern Conference. At 23-7 the Celts are still up a game in the loss column (Cleveland’s 25-8) and hold a few percentage points if you want to get technical about it.

This isn’t about that. This is about how the Cavs are hitting their stride. Earlier in the season, when Cleveland was losing three of its first six, there were questions about how well Shaquille O’Neal was really going to fit alongside LeBron James, and if Delonte West could get his life back together, let alone his game.

Safe to say they’ve figured it out. The Cavs have won 10 of their last 11 with a road loss to the Mavs serving as the spoiler and it’s not just that they’ve been winning. They’ve been destroying teams. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, LeBron James,

Preview: Celtics-Suns

12.30.09 at 10:59 am ET
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It’s funny what a couple of losses can do to a team. Just last weekend everyone was hailing the Celtics resiliency and toughness after they found a way to beat the Magic in Orlando. Now, they’re careless and sloppy and not quite as dominant as everyone thought. Or maybe, they just miss Paul Pierce, especially late in games.

The C’s play the Suns Wednesday night and it’s a matchup that should have been circled back when the schedule came out because it’s two good teams who play an entertaining, but completely different, brand of basketball. If the Celtics lose, which they might, it would be three straight defeats and the ship will be sinking. Or something.

Do they need to tighten up? Absolutely. Do they need to play better? Sure. Are they headed for an inevitable playoff fall after a couple of lackluster games on the road in late December? Um, no. For one night, forget about the playoffs. Forget about wherever this team is eventually heading and just enjoy the hoops.

CELTICS (23-7, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.5

Points Allowed: 91.9

Differential: +8.7 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 99.5 (First)

Pace: 92.0 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Paul Pierce (knee), Marquis Daniels (wrist), Glen Davis (ankle)

SUNS (20-12, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 109.8

Points Allowed: 106.0

Differential: +3.8 (Ninth)

Offensive Efficiency: 114.6 (First)

Defensive Efficiency: 110.6 (27th)

Pace: 95.8 (Fourth)

Likely Starters: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Channing Frye

Injuries: None.

Key Matchup: Nash vs. Rondo

Nash won a couple of MVP’s earlier this decade that in retrospect most feel he probably shouldn’t have won. That’s not a knock on Nash who has been one of the game’s great guards of this or any other era, just the reality of suspect MVP voting. What’s interesting, however, is that Nash may be having an even better season than his MVP years. He ranks first in every assist category in the league, and in free throw shooting. He is the top-ranked guard in True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage and owns the best Offensive Efficiency Rating in the NBA. He’s the key to everything the Suns do and represents yet another test for Rondo.

Celtics in a Paragraph: The Celtics turn the ball over a lot. They average a little more than 15 per game, which puts them in the lower half of the NBA. It’s even worse when you factor in pace where they rank near the very bottom of the league. More than a quarter of their possessions end in turnovers, which puts their 26-turnover performance in a 100-possession game against the Warriors in a little better perspective. That said, turnovers have always been an issue for the Celtics in this era. They had been doing a better job managing them this season, but even a little slippage in this area turns an issue into a full-blown problem.

Suns in a Paragraph: In the past 10 games the Suns have defeated the Lakers, Spurs and Magic and lost to the Blazers, Nuggets and Cavs. They remain a very good team in a hyper-competitive conference that is good enough to beat anyone, but probably not good enough to get to the Finals. That’s a shame for anyone who loves watching well-executed fast-break basketball. Until they break through, their style will always be suspect, but when the Suns did try to play a more conventional game they were not only boring, they were mediocre. For a league that prides itself on its creativity, the NBA can be surprisingly conservative.

What to watch For: Phoenix has four players that have already launched at least 100 3-pointers this season: Nash, Richardson, Frye and former Boston College star, Jared Dudley. Each of them shoot a high percentage, and as a team the Suns are shooting over 42 percent from 3-point range. Not coincidentally, Phoenix owns the best offensive efficiency rating in basketball. The Celtics are the top rated defense in terms of efficiency, so something has to give.

In their first meeting, Phoenix was able to spread the floor with high pick and rolls and with Nash running it there are no good options for defending it. The pressure will be on Rondo to fight through screens and provide pressure on the ball and the Celtics bigs to not leave Frye open for pick and pop jumpers.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Suns,

Report: Davis Ankle Injury May Not Be Serious

12.30.09 at 12:18 am ET
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Glen Davis‘ right ankle sprain may not be as serious as first thought, the Boston Globe reported. The injury occurred during Monday’s loss against the Warriors when Davis got tangled up with Rony Turiaf and fell to the ground. He reportedly left Oracle Arena on crutches and wearing a protective boot following the game.

“I haven’t heard anything, which means nothing is serious,” Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge told the Globe. “I sent (trainer) Eddie (Lacerte) a text and I haven’t heard anything and usually that means it’s not much.”

In other injury-related news, Ainge told the Globe Paul Pierce will have his right knee evaluated this week, while no definitive date has been set for his return.

The Boston Herald also reported Kevin Garnett, who was kicked in the right leg against the Warriors, and Rajon Rondo, who tweaked his left hamstring, received attention from Lacerte on Tuesday as well. Both players are expected to play on Wednesday against the Suns in Phoenix.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo

Fast Break: Celtics-Warriors

12.29.09 at 1:18 am ET
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Playing the Warriors can sometimes be as much an exercise in restraint as anything else. There are so many open shots and available fast break opportunities that it can be incredibly enticing to settle for the first good thing that presents itself. The Celtics, who play such a tightly controlled form of basketball, were easy marks most of the night, especially after dominating the first quarter.

In retrospect, the first 12 minutes may have been the Celtics’ undoing in a 103-99 loss. (Recap.) Playing one of their best quarters of the season, the Celtics destroyed Golden State and took a 35-22 lead. But while those easy looks remained there all night, the Celtics never settled down and played their game, with 24 turnovers one of the results.

Instead, they played way too fast and way too much like the Warriors wanted them to play at right around 100 possessions. The Celtics average a tick over 91.This is the second time they have succumbed to the temptations of playing run and gun. The Phoenix Suns performed a similar helter-skelter number on the Celtics earlier in the season, although that game was played at a pedestrian pace compared to Monday night’s sprint.

Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. It’s getting repetitive, but Rondo is the engine and the catalyst that makes the Celtics offense go. The Warriors went with various modifications of the “leave Rondo alone in the halfcourt” defense. Taking a page from the Knicks playbook (via Jared Jeffries), they sometimes utilized 6-foot-10 Anthony Randolph playing way off Rondo and inviting him to shoot. Most of the time, Monta Ellis just sagged off him and hung back in the paint. The result was a 30-point, 15-assist effort for Rondo, who will continue to see gimmick defenses the rest of the season. Better that he sees them now.

Turning Point: In the second quarter, C.J. Watson had six steals and seemed to live in the Celtics passing lanes. He, along with Ronny Turiaf, completely changed the momentum and helped the Warriors get back in the game.

* This was a night when the Celtics dearly missed Paul Pierce. As much as Rondo controls the offense, Pierce acts as the calming influence. Halfcourt calm was in short supply against Golden State.

* In a game that featured a lot of physical play, and some uneven whistles, Glen Davis got hammered going up for a shot and appeared to be in pain when he came off the floor in the fourth quarter. The initial diagnosis was a sprained ankle and he did not return. His comeback was put on an accelerated timetable for this trip and it remains to be seen if he was actually physically ready to return to the court.

* Doc Rivers played a limited rotation and Ray Allen logged 44 minutes. That’s entirely too many, but with the Warriors’ small lineups, it did make sense. Allen’s increased minutes are yet another function of Pierce’s injury.

* Give the Warriors credit for executing correctly in the final seconds. With a three-point lead and five seconds remaining, Golden State intentionally fouled Allen rather then let him attempt a 3-pointer. It remains a mystery why more teams don’t do that automatically.

Read More: Celtics, cj watson, Fast Break, Rajon Rondo
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