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Fast Break: Celtics hold off Nuggets

03.24.10 at 9:47 pm ET
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One of the most overused cliches in sports is saying a regular season game had “a playoff intensity” to it, and so without going that far it’s fair to say that Wednesday night’s game between the Celtics and Nuggets was as hard-fought a regular season game as you’re likely to see in the month of March.

Despite playing the second night of a back-to-back, the Nuggets hung around and sliced a 21-point third quarter lead to seven. But the Celtics were too much for them in a 113-99 victory. With the win the Celtics clinched a playoff spot.

The news wasn’t all good for the C’s as the Hawks finally figured out a way to beat the Magic. Boston and Atlanta remain tied for third place.

Both teams did what they wanted to offensively. The Celtics pounded the ball inside and wound up outscoring the Nuggets 58-28 in the paint. Denver, meanwhile, thrives on getting to the free throw line and they shot 37 free throws. Fortunately for the Celtics, they also missed 12 of them.

There were good signs throughout for the C’s who held off several Denver runs and despite allowing the Nuggets to shoot 49 percent played good defense for most of the game.

Player of the Game: You can make a strong case for Rajon Rondo who recorded a triple double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists or Kevin Garnet (20 points, 10 rebounds), but Paul Pierce was the star of the show. Any time he plays Carmelo Anthony it’s a chance to reassert himself as one of the dominant small forwards in the league. Pierce started the game aggressively and continued to play that way throughout en route to a 27-point performance.

Turning Point: With the Nuggets down 11 early in the fourth quarter, J.R. Smith picked up an ill-advised technical foul. That, combined with a shooting foul on Ray Allen, gave the Celtics three free throws and Allen cashed them in. The Celtics pushed the lead up to 17 and were afforded some much-needed breathing room.

* The Celtics turned it over just four times in the first half, which helped them put up 46 shots. They also assisted on 19 of their 25 made field goals.

* J.R. Smith scored 10 points in the second quarter and made all four of his shots from the field, but he was 2-for-5 from the free throw line.

* Tony Allen gave the Celtics great minutes in the second quarter when Pierce picked up his third foul. Allen finished the half with 10 points including a vicious dunk off a no-look pass from Rajon Rondo and a layup just before the final buzzer. Allen also played rotation minutes in the second half in place of Marquis Daniels and was on the floor down the stretch when Doc Rivers went to a small lineup.

* Michael Finley scored seven points in just six minutes and made three of his four shots. Finley continues to be an asset off the bench.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Nuggets,

Halftime: Celtics vs. Nuggets

03.24.10 at 8:19 pm ET
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The Celtics rebounded nicely from their second-half fade on Monday night by claiming a 61-51 lead over the high-powered Denver Nuggets at the break.

The exclamation point on the outstanding play was a spectacular Tony Allen dunk on a beautiful feed from Rajon Rondo with 1:23 left and a layup with 0.1 seconds remaining in the half. Allen had 10 points off the Celtics bench.

This game was played at a breakneck tempo right out of the gate, with both teams executing their offenses at a high level.

The Celtics came out and appeared ready to make a statement against a Nuggets team that is expected to be the chief competition out West to the defending champion Lakers this spring. The Celtics made 13-of-21 shots from the floor and outscored Denver 20-8 in the paint to take a 30-27 lead after one.

Paul Pierce again showed he is ready to assume leadership of the team heading into the home stretch as he poured in a game-leading 16 points. That offset an equally impressive first half from Carmelo Anthony, who had 14.

The Celtics bench again saw a significant amount of playing time, bridging the first and second quarters effectively, and even building the lead up to nine points late in the second quarter. The down side to that was foul trouble.

In addition to the three first half fouls that sent Pierce to the bench early prematurely, Marquis Daniels also picked up three and Glen Davis two as 16 fouls were called on the Green in the opening 24 minutes.

But again the ball distribution was outstanding as the Celtics racked up 19 assists, led by seven from Rondo.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets, NBA

Ainge on The Big Show: We’re finally there

03.24.10 at 5:23 pm ET
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Celtics president Danny Ainge made his weekly appearance on The Big Show Wednesday. Here are some highlights from the interview. To listen, click here.

The idea of the NCAA tournament expanding to 96 teams:

I don’t think they should. Sixty-four is good, I think it’s just right. Good the way it is.”

Why the team is playing so well at this point (won five of last seven):

“I think it’s mostly health. I feel good about this team. I think we’re finally there. Just a question of Doc getting the pieces to fit. I feel like our team … I feel that the hope is there. You can see that they really want it.”

Is he concerned about not getting the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs?

“No, no. It’s just not the focus. I follow it each day, but we aren’t talking about it internally. [We are] focusing on what we need to do to go out and play.”

Why the team has played so well on the road (second-best record in the NBA) but struggled somewhat at home (13th-best record):

“No I can’t [figure it out]. We haven’t been as good a team. We had three or four Gino games at the Garden, which we haven’t had in a while.”

On the downfall of Antoine Walker:

It’s hard to imagine. $110 million …  too many guys in sports with nothing to show for it. A high percentage. With Antoine [the entourage consists of] people he chose to pay, he wanted to. He needed an entourage, wanted to show that he has this money, go gamble and party. He’s a very generous person as well. Where does $110 million go?”

If the entourage scene is still as prevalent as it was in Walker’s early years:

“A little less in the last few years. It was the thing to do. Guys parking cars, washing cars, cook. I don’t know where $100 million goes. The story of Kenny Anderson [he] made $60 [million], $70 million in his career. Rumeal Robinson living on the street, he made $20 million.”

If the Celtics talk to the young players about stories like Walker:

“We’ll make sure all the players will see that tape.”

On the highlights of Walker playing basketball in Puerto Rico:

“I’m glad he’s posting up, not shooting 3’s.”

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’€™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 »

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