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Journey to the D-League, Part 2: The Red Claws

03.24.10 at 11:00 am ET
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(Editor’s note: Paul Flannery recently spent some time with the NBA Development League’s Main Red Claws, who are affiliated with the Celtics. He documented his observations about the organization, the players and the fans, who regularly fill to capacity the team’s home arena. Here’s Part 2 of his four-part series.)

PORTLAND ‘€“ From the moment I arrive on an unseasonably warm and sunny day, it’€™s clear that Friday night’€™s game against the Iowa Energy is a big one; both for the team and for the Red Claws franchise.

It’€™s ‘€™70s Night, and that means everyone from team president Jon Jennings to team mascot Crusher will be in their polyester finest. Crusher, in fact, will be decked out in a white suit, ‘€œSaturday Night Fever’€ style.

The team has sprung for a halftime act — the Amazing Christopher, a staple on the NBA circuit — who performs a one-man tribute to the Village People that is both hilarious and horrifying. Another sellout crowd at the Expo is expected, which is the norm for this expansion franchise.

Not to be lost in the celebration of the Me Decade is the importance of the game, and even in a league known more for individuals than teams, a big game is a big game. The Energy have the best record in the league and are in first place in the Eastern Conference (the Red Claws were in second at the time).

Jennings, whose background includes a stint as a Celtics assistant coach during the Larry Bird era and a successful career in politics that took him from a key position in the Clinton White House to a run for congress in his native Indiana, believes that he is in the unique position of being able to sell the game to a fan base that he says is ‘€œvery sophisticated about the game of basketball.’€

If there has been a criticism of the Red Claws from the locals, it’€™s the unsettled roster. Twenty-six players have played for them this season and only two, Billy Thomas and Darnell Lazare, have been with them from the start of the season. There have been five D-League assignments from the affiliates in Boston and Charlotte and one NBA call-up: Mario West.

Behind Jennings’€™ desk in the team’€™s downtown Portland office is a large whiteboard with the names of all the players in the league organized by team, and a separate list of available talent. He makes the personnel calls independent of the team’€™s affiliates, although he does solicit the opinion of Danny Ainge and his Charlotte counterpart, Rod Higgins. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Celtics-Nuggets

03.24.10 at 10:58 am ET
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In some ways, the Denver Nuggets are the Bizarro World version of the Celtics. The Nuggets win games with their offense, and their defense is just good enough to be able to do it at a very high level. Their offensive attack has balance between shooting 3-pointers and scoring inside, and they live at the free throw line, where the lead the league in attempts.

When the Nuggets are clicking, as they were in the first quarter in their earlier meeting with the Celtics, they can be devastating. Carmelo Anthony and his 29 points a game get a lot of attention, but Chauncey Billups is having a career season in terms of shooting efficiency and J.R. Smith remains one the of the league’s great X-factors.

As the Celtics begin a stretch of six straight home games against some of the best teams in the league, this is perhaps the most compelling matchup they will face.

CELTICS (45-25, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 98.8

Points Allowed: 94.4

Differential: +4.4 (9th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.2 (14th)

Defensive Efficiency: 102.4 (1st)

Pace: 91.7 (20th)

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

Injuries: None.

NUGGETS (47-24, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 107.5

Points Allowed: 102.4

Differential: 5.1 (6th)

Offensive Efficiency: 112.4 (2nd)

Defensive Efficiency: 107.0 (15th)

Pace: 95.1 (12th)

Likely Starters: Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, Joey Graham, Carmelo Anthony, Nene

Injuries: Kenyon Martin (Knee), Ty Lawson (Shoulder, Questionable) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Nuggets, Preview,

Inside the Game: Nate Robinson and the art of high energy basketball

03.24.10 at 12:54 am ET
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Growing up, Nate Robinson was supposed to stay away from sweets. All that sugar would keep him awake, his mother told him. He found a way to get into it anyways.

But Robinson never needed sweets and sugar to get going. He has been high-powered for as long as he can remember. The 25-year-old is the oldest of nine siblings (the youngest is 4 years old), and being a ringleader of energy was something he says fell into his lap.

‘€œIt just came naturally, I guess,’€ he said. ‘€œI was always energized and always wanted to have fun and mess with people. I always wanted people to have as much fun as I’€™m having. I think that’€™s what it was for me. I feel like if other people are not having fun or not being energized, I think that I didn’€™t do my job that day. So I always have to bring that energy.’€

Robinson has made a career out of channeling that energy on to the basketball court. The former University of Washington standout was selected by the Suns with the 21st pick in the 2005 draft. He spent past 4½ seasons providing an instant spark for the Knicks in a backup role before being traded to the Celtics in February.

Robinson’€™s ‘€œready whenever’€ mentality was showcased this season in his return from being benched for 14 straight games with the Knicks. On Jan. 1, he exploded for 41 points in just 38 minutes off the bench. He scored 11 of the Knicks’ 13 overtime points in a victory over the Hawks. To Robinson, he was just doing his job.

‘€œIt’€™s funny,’€ he said. ‘€œI felt the same like I always do.’€

Robinson instant energy has enhanced the C’s second unit in the second half of the season. While the Celtics lost one sharpshooter in Eddie House, they gained another confident offensive player who has the potential to make an impact in the postseason. After less than two months on the team, Doc Rivers told WEEI’€™s Dennis & Callahan show, ‘€œNate is a guy who has the chance to be a one-game sensation. He’s going to win a playoff game for us.”

Robinson may not know when Rivers is going to call his name, when he does, he’€™ll be ready to go.

‘€œFor them, they don’€™t need much because they’€™re a smart team,’€ Robinson said of the Celtics. ‘€œThey’€™re a fun team. Baby [Glen Davis], he brings the energy as well, so they have guys that do that. Me, I’€™m just adding a little more fuel so they can go a little faster.’€

As part of WEEI.com’€™s ‘€œInside the Game’€ series with the Celtics, Robinson explains what it means to be a high-energy player:

Call him ‘Garbage Man’€™: Providing a spark off the bench may not be appealing to every player, but Robinson enjoys doing the dirty work on the court.

‘€œIt’€™s kind of like, it’€™s a job that has to be done. It’€™s kind of like a garbage man, that’€™s how I look at it, kind of like a garbage man. Everybody needs their garbage picked up and I’€™m that guy to do it. I’€™m the energy guy. I’€™ve got to bring enough energy for everybody, enough for the whole building.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Nate Robinson,

Journey to the D-League, Part 1: The ‘D’

03.23.10 at 3:41 pm ET
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(Editor’s note: Paul Flannery recently spent some time with the NBA Development League’s Main Red Claws, who are affiliated with the Celtics. He documented his observations about the organization, the players and the fans, who regularly fill to capacity the team’s home arena. Here’s Part 1 of his four-part series.)

Part 2: The Red Claws

Part 3: Journey to the D-League

Part 4: The Game

PORTLAND, Maine ‘€“ The first thing to understand about the NBA’€™s Development League is that it is not a true minor league. The Maine Red Claws, while affiliated with the Celtics, do not have the same relationship as Pawtucket with the Red Sox.

Every team in the NBA has a working agreement with one of the 16 teams in the D-League. Some, including Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, actually own and operate their franchises.

But the vast majority of teams have an affiliation agreement with a particular D-League franchise that allows them to send their eligible players down for a period of time. (The Celtics and Bobcats share their affiliation with Maine, which also is a common occurrence). Everyone else is a free agent, available to any and all NBA teams that may want to sign one to a coveted 10-day contract.

This becomes very important when you consider the second thing to understand about the D-League: Every player in the league feels like they can play in the NBA, if only they got the right opportunity.

‘€œIt’€™s a very honest statement,’€ said 34-year-old veteran Billy Thomas, who has had four stints in the NBA during his career. ‘€œYou have to be lucky in this game. That boils down to a lot of factors.’€

The most common refrain you will hear around the D-League is that there is little difference between the top players in the D and the end-of-the-bench players in the NBA.

‘€œThere’€™s no difference,’€ said first-year Red Claws coach Austin Ainge, the son of the Celtics president and general manager. ‘€œYou can see it by the guys that get sent down. Some of the guys that get sent down here aren’€™t very good players in this league. Other guys are really good. That doesn’€™t mean there’€™s a lot of rotation players in the D-League. The difference between the top eight and the 13th man can be pretty significant.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

How Antoine Walker lost $110 million

03.23.10 at 3:32 pm ET
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Here’s ESPN’s look at what happened to Antoine Walker. Note: WEEI’s own Cedric Maxwell at the five minute mark, commenting that Walker was “addicted to gambling.”

Fast Break: Jazz run by Celtics

03.22.10 at 11:36 pm ET
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For 22 minutes the Celtics played an almost perfect road game. They rebounded better than Utah, got superior play from their bench and got to the free throw line at a steady clip. All that afforded the C’s a double-digit lead, but Utah was able to slice it back to five by halftime and the Jazz then opened the second half with a 16-4 run in a 110-97 victory, Monday night.

The loss snaps the Celtics four-game winning streak and ends their three-game road trip with a 2-1 record. The Celtics got some momentum back with Friday and Saturday night wins over Houston and Dallas, but the Jazz proved too tough. The C’s return home to the Garden to play six straight games at home against some of the best teams in the Western Conference.

Monday night’s game wasn’t pretty. The two teams have combined for 64 free throws, 51 fouls, and 36 turnovers. In that way it was typical of the last game on a short, but grueling trip.

Player of the Game: Deron Williams was great for Utah with 22 points and 11 assists and Mehmet Okur recorded a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds, but C.J. Miles was the biggest reason for Utah’s win. Not even a starter for most of the season and playing big minutes for Andrei Kirilenko, who missed the game with a calf strain, Miles scored 23 points and was 8-for-16 from the floor before fouling out.

Turning Point: In hindsight, one could feel the momentum shift late in the first half, but the Jazz took control of the game in the third quarter by scoring 11 of the first 13 points. Okur , who has missed time with the flu, made three 3-pointers tin the third that helped give Utah a 73-63 lead.

* The Celtics bench outscored Utah’€™s 26-11 in the first half and continued to play well in the second. Glen Davis scored 13 points (all in the first half) and Michael Finley and Marquis Daniels picked up the second half

* Foul trouble affected both teams all game. Kendrick Perkins and Carlos Boozer each got two in the first quarter. Boozer and Paul Millsap each have three fouls for the Jazz, while Rajon Rondo got his third right before the end of the half and his fourth a few minutes into the third quarter.

Rondo stayed in the game and tallied his 2,000th career assist with a sweet behind-the-back move that resulted in a dish for a Ray Allen 3-pointer

* With Millsap and Boozer out, the Celtics enjoyed a 21-11 edge on the boards in the first half. Utah had just one offensive rebound and the Celtics have six. But that changed completely over the final 24 minutes.

* Doc Rivers got ejected in the final minutes by ref Ed Malloy. It was the second ejection of the season for Rivers.

Halftime: Celtics-Jazz

03.22.10 at 10:16 pm ET
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The Celtics won the first two games on their road trip, but after one half in Utah it’s clear that they want the three-game sweep. Glen Davis scored 13 points off the bench and made all seven of his free throws, while Nate Robinson added eight points on just three shots and the Celtics have a 54-49 lead.

The Celtics bench has outscored Utah’s 26-11. Ray Allen scored 10 points and Paul Pierce, who was named the NBA’s Player of the Week, added nine points and four rebounds. It hasn’t been pretty. The two teams have combined for 32 free throws 23 turnovers and 21 fouls.

Foul trouble affected both teams early as Kendrick Perkins and Carlos Boozer each got two in the first quarter. Boozer and Paul Millsap each have three fouls for the Jazz, while Rajon Rondo got his third right before the half.

With Millsap and Boozer out, the Celtics are enjoying a 21-11 edge on the boards. Utah has just one offensive rebound and the Celtics have six.

It’s also been a half of runs. The Celtics opened up a 13-6 lead before Utah came back and scored eight straight. The C’s then ran off their own 8-0 run to take control of the game. Late in the first half, an Allen 3-pointer gave them a 54-42 lead, but the Jazz sliced it to five with a 7-0 run. C.J. Miles and Deron Williams have kept Utah in the game with 13 points apiece.

Read More: Celtics, Utah Jazz,
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