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Notes and numbers: First quarter

03.23.09 at 8:11 pm ET
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At the end of the first quarter … Celtics 31, Clippers 18

- KG watch: 9 minutes, 8 points, 1 rebound, 1 foul

- Leading scorer: Rajon Rondo (10 points)

- Leading rebounder: Zach Randolph (5 boards)

- Leading ball handler: Rondo and Baron Davis (3 assists)

- Hot shot: Celtics 68.4% FG, Clippers 45.0% FG

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A slump for Pierce?

03.23.09 at 8:06 pm ET
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Paul Pierce has been carrying the Celtics through the second half of the season, especially in the wake of injuries to Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, but after going 3-for-16 against the Spurs and 2-for-6 against Memphis a few of the writers wanted to know if anything was up with the Captain. “He’s human,” Doc Rivers said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in. I was very in touch with that emotion when I was a player.”

Before that Pierce had gone off for 37 points against Chicago and 36 against the Heat, but the bigger number has been 40, as in the amount of minutes he’s been playing in the month of March. Rivers acknowledged that he has to get that number down.

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The boys are back in town

03.23.09 at 7:46 pm ET
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It’s been 30 days … But tonight the Big Ticket returns to the Garden … Are you ready?

For the first time in over a month the true Boston Celtics starting five is taking the court. After a dramatic introduction on the Jumbotron,  Kevin Garnett looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. After the lineups were announced he got in Kendrick Perkins face and shouted who-knows-what. He acknowledged each of the Clippers and then ran to the corner of the court to address the crowd, lifting fans to their feet with every point of his finger. There is something different tonight — maybe the Garden is trying new lighting — but the energy in the air is undeniable.

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And Now, Your Celtics Injury Update

03.23.09 at 7:37 pm ET
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There really isn’t one, except for maybe this. Doc Rivers said before the Celtics game with the Clippers that Tony Allen might be the closest to a return. But then he added that no one among the Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Leon Powe group is really that close to coming back. “None of them are playing any time soon,” Rivers said.

Of the three Doc is probably most concerned with Scalabrine as he has just now doing bike work. “Scal, that’s a tough one,” Rivers said. “He can’t run at all. He can’t do any conditioning. That might put him back further.”

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NBA already thinking playoffs

03.22.09 at 7:02 pm ET
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Believe it or not the Celtics will be heading to the postseason in less than 30 days. The NBA is already asking the question, “Where will amazing happen this year?” (via RedsArmy.com)

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A professional effort

03.21.09 at 10:44 pm ET
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There is nothing better than the NCAA Tournament. The games are exciting, the emotion is unparalleled and the size of the field and the format is perfect. It is the best post-season in all of sports, and this comes from an NBA guy who thinks the college version of hoops is a vastly inferior product and is far more interested in Lionel Hollins’ rotations than Coach K’s histrionics.

But as awesome as it is to see Siena take down Ohio State, there is something to be said for putting together a win like the Celtics did last night. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable to watch and the atmosphere inside the Grizzlies building was like the BPL at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. (Did you catch the guy sleeping in the fifth row with about four minutes left?) One shining moment it wasn’t. (Click here for a recap).

But the Celtics were, in a word, professional. One night after taking down the Spurs they went into Memphis with tired legs and did what they had to do. This was a solid step forward for the C’s who had lost a little bit of their swagger last week.

Six more observations from a subdued Saturday in the middle of March madness:

1. When Kevin Garnett is in the game everything changes. The defensive intensity picks up, the offense flows better, the tempo gets faster. Rivers experiment with KG is a noble one and it’s to his credit that he has resisted the urge to play him more minutes. There are a lot of coaches who talk a good game about things like this and then push the panic button when things get tough. Credit Doc for that one.

Credit Garnett for his 10-point, four-rebound effort, as well. The plan appears to be to give him a little more work on Monday against the Clippers (four minutes in the second, four in the fourth). That seems like a workable idea. The test will be Wednesday when the C’s go to Orlando.

2. You could do a lot worse in your bracket then going with a team that has Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Darrell Arthur and Hakim Warrick. The problem with the Grizzlies is the only veteran on the roster is Greg Buckner. If they get a little time to develop, and if Marc Gasol continues to be an effective presence inside, they might have something there. But what are the odds that owner Michael Heisley keeps the team together? The Grizz are just treading water until the next collective bargaining agreement.

3. Doc made a conscious effort to keep Paul Pierce’s minutes down and that also seems like a very good idea. The Truth has logged major playing time this year and while it’s tempting to keep him out there at all times (especially without an obvious backup) keeping him somewhat fresh will be a major challenge down the stretch.

4. Interestingly, Rivers opened the second quarter sans Big Three and then went to a Stephon Marbury, Eddie House, Ray Allen lineup for a significant stretch of the second and fourth quarters.He seems intent on doing a little tinkering with the second unit, which is exactly what he should be doing right now.

5. Big Baby had a huge first half, following up on his solid effort against San Antonio. Before he got hurt Leon Powe was turning some heads with his play. It remains to be seen what the backup big man rotation is going to look like come playoff time but right now Baby and Powe are making their case to play big roles.

6. Safe to say that the acquisition of Marbury has accomplished at least one thing so far. House has flourished as the designated shooter while Marbury handles the ball. E-House is averaging over eight points a game and shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range playing off Marbury, while Steph looked cool and calm running the offense last night, as well. Granted it’s not like the Memphis guards were channeling TR Dunn, but it was a good night for Marbury.

6A. If Bill Walker isn’t in the slam dunk context next year, there ought to be an investigation. In the spirit of Darryl Dawkins, that dunk he threw down on Arthur, the former Kansas forward, should be called the: Rock Chalk In-yo-face-Jayhawk Tomahawk Jam.

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Garnett makes most of minutes

03.20.09 at 11:43 pm ET
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Perhaps more frustrating than an injured Kevin Garnett in street clothes is a restricted Garnett in uniform.

After missing the last 13 games with a strained knee, Garnett returned to the Boston Celtics starting lineup in Friday night’s win against the San Antonio Spurs. (RECAP HERE) As a precautionary measure, head coach Doc Rivers capped his minutes at just 15, leaving the Celtics without their big man down the stretch.

However this game had a different result than the last time Garnett returned from a lengthy absence:

February 19, 2008 vs. Denver Nuggets

Last season Garnett was sidelined for nine games in January/February with an abdominal strain . After going 7-2 without Garnett, the Celtics dropped the first three games with KG back in the lineup. His return was spoiled by a 124-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets following the All-Star break. Garnett scored just 4 points (2-7 FG) in 27 minutes and committed four turnovers. After the game Rivers deemed Garnett’s performance “not very good” and thought he looked “rusty.” Garnett bounced back the following night, posting 17 points and 15 rebounds in the Celtics two-point loss to the Golden State Warriors.

March 20, 2009 vs. San Antonio Spurs

Garnett had been averaging more than 32 minutes per game before suffering his knee injury in February. Knowing his playing time would be limited, Garnett came out aggressive in his return. He attempted his first shot 15 seconds into the game and finished the night with 10 points (5-9 FG) in just 15 minutes. He also grabbed four rebounds. Unlike his return last season, Rivers was full of compliments for Garnett this time around. “He was playing terrific right before we took him out,” he said after the game.

The Celtics intend to limit Garnett’s minutes on Saturday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.

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